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December 17, 2014 / C H Thompson

Positivism – the scientific approach to social research

The core principles of positivism are:

  • social scientific research is based on logic with a clear methodologysocial science
  • research must be objective throughout all processes
  • the role of theory is to generate a hypothesis (prediction) which can be tested
  • look for cause and effect (patterns of behaviour) in order to uncover universal laws about the social world – what Durkheim termed social-facts

The core ideas of positivism are:

  1. Positivism is the branch of sociology which argues society can be studied/researched by using principles similar to the natural sciences – biology; chemistry and physics. What is being applied here is sociologists can adopt an objective approach to their research just like the natural sciences do.
  2. The way to understand this is in the same way you might look down a microscope to objectively study some red blood cells what you see has no bearing on the gender, sexuality, age etc of the observer looking down the lens of the microscope – the observer is detached from what they see.
  3. Although sociologists don’t walk around carrying microscopes through which they examine society what they do instead is use quantitative methods to examine society and so in their minds are conducting objective research.
  4. In addition positivists seek to falsify any hypothesis they are examining, which entails looking for any evidence which will undermine a theory. Karl Popper argues why the principles of falsification are important.
  5. This page looks at most of the above points in greater depth
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