W.F. Ogburn, an American sociologist, is of the opinion that sociology is a science. According to him, a science is to be judged by three criteria: (i) The reliability of its body of knowledge.
(ii) Its organisation, and (iii) Its method. The question whether sociology is a science or not, can be better answered if this question is thought over in the light of these criteria. (i) The Reliability of Knowledge: Science depends upon reliable knowledge.
In this regard sociology has made a promising beginning. Sociological studies of population the family, group behaviour, the evolution of institutions, the process of social change and such other topics are regarded as considerably reliable. Science assumes that all phenomena show uniformities and regularities. It seeks to establish generalisations that are universal. But sociological generalisations are restricted to time and space unlike the generations of Physics or Chemistry. Social data change too much and too fast. Sociology mainly deals with the human material and this human material is irregular and illusive. Social relations are not fixed but flexible.
It is difficult to control the variable, and there are many variables in social data. In spite of the difficulties, sociologists have tried to establish generalisations, which have had great success. For instance, it is a sociological generalisation that societies always regulate marriages in such a way as to prevent incest. Much of the sociological knowledge is becoming reliable. A very good test of the reliability of knowledge is the test of prediction and control. Predictions are difficult to be made in sociology, if not impossible, so also the control/For instance, there are many causes for juvenile delinquency like, unhappy parents, broken home and crowded cities. To test the effect of only one factor, i.
e., broken home on juvenile delinquency, we should control the other variables like crowded cities. This is almost an impossible task. Not in all areas of sociological study, knowledge can be obtained easily. On some areas, measurement cannot be made.
Areas such as religion, art, morality etc. are not very much amenable to scientific method. Further, many publications are made under the title of sociology and some of them consist of only ideas, not knowledge. These are essays, ethical discussions, wise pronouncements, interpretations, theories, programmes, valuations etc. Their practical importance may be even greater than that of science. (ii) The Organisation of Knowledge: Disjointed collection of facts cannot be a science. The science should be organised. The organisation of a science rests upon the relationship, which the parts of knowledge bear to each other.
The value of organisation lies not in a symmetry, but in its value for the discovery of more know ledge. As regards the organisation of knowledge, sociology is not disappointing. In sociology there are many inter-relationships. Which are enough to encourage more discoveries though inadequate to provide a proper synthesis for the whole field. A larger collection of knowledge, it is expected, will eventually provide such a synthesis. (iii) Method: A branch of knowledge can be called science if it follows the scientific method in its studies and investigations. Scientific method starts with a hypothesis. This hypothesis is verified through experimentation.
But an experimentation of laboratory situation is difficult in sociology. The laboratory experiment, which has been a great aid to many natural scientists, is not very common in sociology, because there are some limitations in the experimental method as related to human conduct. One limitation is that people who become aware of the fact that they are being studied, may render the experimental situation impossible. Further, the experimenter himself may have his own bias or prejudices against his subjects of experimentation. Experimental method requires a fixed static situation. But it is difficult in sociology. Social life is actually dynamic and not static. Strictly speaking, laboratory experiment is not possible in sociology.
However, in sociology we can measure the relationships of two variables by employing statistical method. For example, if we want to know whether families with low income have more infant deaths, we can collect the statistics. We must have two groups of families with the same type of feeding, same customs etc. By studying and varying the factor of income and by keeping other factors constant, we can establish a relation between the rate of infant mortality and income. Sociology has quite a number of other methods besides the experimental method. The historical method, case study method, social survey method, functional method, the statistical method, etc, can be cited here as examples. These methods are often found to be fruitful in sociological studies. Sociology has shown itself a growing science.
Of course, sociology as a science is not as accurate as Physics or Chemistry. It is true that social phenomena are hard to measure. Still there is a relative orderliness and approximate predictability in certain classes of social phenomena. With those who charge that experimentation is impossible in sociology and experimentation is the only criterion of science, we may argue that many of the facts and generalisations even in physical sciences are not based on experiments at all. But their facts are mostly gathered through observations and not through experiments. To conclude, we may say that ‘science’, after all, is a method to discover the truth. Experimental method is not the only method of realising the truth.
There are many methods and techniques in sociology and if these are properly applied, sociology will have definitely the characteristics of a genuine science. Right application of different methods in the spirit of objectivity will certainly yield fruitful results.