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An Argument Against Sociology Being a Bullshit Study

So, as a Sociology major I have (perhaps inevitably) come across people who have voiced their opinions on why sociology is a crock, convoluted, an unacceptable method for conducting science, and not a valid (impractical) study. I hope to address these issues and give a thorough defense of my field, for (obviously) if I had no defense, I should not be a sociology major. I do completely welcome criticism and comments to what I write, and in fact I would love some. I thoroughly believe that the best analysis is derived from discussion and (logical) argumentation.
I have put in bold the main points since I realize many of you probably do not want to read my god-knows-how-long argument. 
SO on with it. I guess I will address the different arguments I have come across one by one
Sociology is not credible because it borrows from so many other fields
Indeed, Sociology is extremely interdisciplinary, but I think the complexity is what makes it so grand. We could limit Sociology by arbitrary definitions if we so well please, but that just deducts from any kind of holistic approach on the matter. If one wants to study say socioeconomic class without utilizing gender and woman’s studies, feminist theory, and the intersectional approach then you are left with a simplistic and not very valid interpretation of socioeconomic class. If one wants to study intersexed people and transgender people in society, It would indeed help to have a thorough understanding of biology to understand their unique experiences. If one were to understand sexism it would help to know historical facts. If one wanted to study romantic relationships, it would sure be helpful understand something about neurotransmitters such as serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin and prolactin. 
I guess I may be talking too vague. So taking the example of sexism and history. If one tries to dissect sexism in society some other disciplines might help to create a more holistic approach on the matter. In recent history it was necessary for men to know that the children their wives were birthing were indeed their own. This is because traditionally in America we had a patriarchal society in which inheritance was passed down to the eldest sons, thus chastity for women was an essential part of this patriarchy. It helps to also understand Intersectionality (which is in the gender and woman’s studies department and feminist theory department). It helps to understand that the experiences of sexism for black women, white woman, chicana women, disabled women, lesbian woman, intersexed woman, and transgendered woman is going to be unique and different from that of the white middle class woman.
For understanding romantic relationships and their dynamics, one might use the neuroscience to describe the biological elements to that relationship. This would not only give the analysis more credence but would look at the problem holistically.
So in order to holistically understand various sociological problems or ideas, it is necessary in my opinion to utilize different fields. Indeed the different “fields” sometimes seem like arbitrary definitions in it of themselves. For instance in the ‘grey line’ between sociology and psychology one has to wonder what pieces falls under which category.  Why does it matter? I understand for practical purposes of education we need to make distinctions somewherebetween fields because it is impossible to encompass all fields, but if the fields overlap for the sake of a more holistic approach is that really such a bad thing? I don’t think so, I think it makes it more complex, and thus more grand.
Sociology is an unacceptable method of conducting science (being that it is not a physical science)
Does sociology not predict events? Does it not utilize mathematics, qualitative and quantitative data?  It is important to note that sociology deals with humans and human structures, not chemicals, physics, or DNA sequences. Humans are predictable on a grand scale, but not necessarily on an individual one, does that make sociology unreliable? No. Should we forsake any type of analysis and scientific approach on humans and human structures just because we cannot make  predictions with 100% certainty? No.
 I guess I am realizing I need to know what it is that people think make it unacceptable as a science to answer this question more fully. Is it that it isn’t always 100% accurate at predicting? Is it because it at times uses qualitative data? If someone wants to write a more thorough argument as to why sociology is unacceptable I’ll be able to better tailor my argument.
I think another big thing to consider is that sociology is a relatively new science, it is kind of a frontier science if you will. We are not going to understand with exact certainty what we are looking at yet, but by wallowing in its complexity we may hope to find ways to dissect and analyze what exactly we are looking at.
I think people are afraid to wallow in the complexity of sociology. I think people too easily use the complexity of sociological research as a means to dismiss the science itself. For instance, because there are so many theories in which to analyze people, so many philosophies in which to analyze say oppression, so many fields which can be utilized that people say it is convoluted. I think that people forget the beauty of complexity. I think that when we look at problems with their full complexity, we get closer to the truth. Just because early astronomers had to wallow in the complexity of what was the heavens, and try to carve out paths of understanding doesn’t mean that astronomy as a science is invalid. Also just because early psychologists like Sigmund Freud had to wallow in the complexity of the human psyche (and get some things wrong along the way) to birth modern psychology, does not mean the science itself is a crock. Indeed in the beginning levels of any science we need a theoretical framework from which to grow.  I think that it is in this wallowing that we come to a more complete understanding of something. I think that by trying to simplify fields like sociology we are getting such a small speck of what is actually occurring that that speck of information becomes arbitrary. I think if we need to wallow in complexity to more holistically understand a phenomena than so be it. I would rather that than be content with a shallow representation of the issue at hand. Sure I could look at historical sexism and understand the basic notions of patriarchy for white women and say that by being able to work and earn their own resources they may be a means to liberate themselves. But this would largely leave out other groups. Black females wouldn’t see working as a means to liberating themselves, indeed it has always been their chore. Chivarly may not be their enemy, for they were never treated like ladies to begin with. When you analyze the experience of a black woman in terms of sexism, you realize that the intersectionality of her blackness, and femalenesss combine to create new and unique experiences. That is only the tip of the iceburg. I hope to show with this example that to compartmentalize or section off the complexity of sociology, you are left with only a fraction of the real situation.
I want to go back to what I said about sociology not being 100% predictive on the INDIVIDUAL LEVEL. Sociology is highly based on correlational studes. Yes, correlation is not causation, but that does not mean it isn’t useful. For instance when analyzing sex education in America there are several sociological studies you can draw upon, I hope to with this example show that the research is valid and has a real world practical application (another common argument against sociology is that sociology has no real world credence)  SO just for simplifications sake, I will only go through a couple of studies (understand that this is only a portion of the entire story)
Eroptphilic versus erotophobic personalities
Eroptophobic personalities are definied as people who have an aversive stance to sexuality (hence phobic). This based on statistically reliable questionnaires.
Erotophillic people embrace sexuality.
Some correlations. Erotophillic people tend to have more sexually liberal parents, embrace sexuality, are more content with their virginity loss, lost their virginity on average a year later than erotophobes, were less promiscuous in oral sex before virginity loss, and were much more likely to use contraceptives
Erotophobes on the other hand were much more likely to have religious parents, to be taught abstinence,  and then all of those comparisons I just noted (lost their virginity an year earlier, more disturbed by virginity loss etc etc)
Similarities of experiences of shame and guilt during sexual activity
A study was conducted and the abstract was basically as follows: People who were taught abstinence tend to have more shame, guilt and negative feelings during sex/virginity loss. They tend to believe that contraceptives are less effective than they are.
Cross cultural comparisons
When we cross-culturally compare the Netherlands, france and germany (all leading the way in low STD and teen pregnancy rates) to the United States we see fundamental differences. For instance, similarities between these countries include more discussion of sex by parents, school, and other institutions (it is not as taboo a topic as in the U.S.) there are specific clinics for contraceptives that are available and accessible to teens. Sex education is largely focused on contraceptive use and love for ones partner. Many use a sex positive approach, which  means that they embrace sexuality in close relationships while making crucial the need for contraceptives.
I want to interject something about statistics. If you’ve taken a stats course you know that means vary much less than individual scores, thus while some of these studies may not be 100% accurate at predicting INDIVIDUAL BEHAVIOR (an abstience only taught person may not always think contraceptives are less effective than they are) but they can be quite accurate at predicting behavior on a larger scale (a statiscally siginificant amount of people who are taught abstinence only education think contraceptives are less effective than they are) 
SO what is the real world application? Hopefully from these three qualitative articles you can see that you can start to create an idea of how we might reform sex education in America. We can see from these articles that a sex positive approach seems to have beneficial statistics for contraceptive use on both the individual and national level. Through these qualitative studies we may begin to formulate ideas of how to create more sex positive approaches in schools. I hope to show with this example that you do not necessarily need quantitative data to have a real world application. Sometimes research and philosophical approaches alone can do great things and have real world impacts.  We can however further this research with quantitative research or even attempt experimental research based on the qualitative findings.
I again want to note that qualitative research wallows in the complexity to try to create meaning.  We can then test those meanings using quantitative data. Just like we could not quantify psychological disorders without earlier framework of what exactly those disorders were. Qualitative data is necessary because it allows a framework in which to quantify data.  You need to know what you are looking at before you statistically analyze it. I think that is important to understand.
I suppose I will just kind of end it here, I have already written so much. I understand I only addressed a very narrow scope of the possible arguments against sociology. If you have a particular ‘beef’ with sociology and are wondering my opinion, I would be happy to talk about that particular ‘beef’ and my ideas about it.
Again if you still disagree, let’s talk about it :)


  1. The hallmark of sciences its predictive abilities. After a class of sociology(which I admit isn't much), it seems to me that

    a)Sociology is full of jargon that confuses rather than aids understanding
    e.g. Sociological imagination,Cultural relativism,Bourgeoises(wtf?).

    b)Sociology relies alot on hindsight to explain society, rather than being able to predict society in future.
    e.g. Rise of capitalism is because of blablabla
    what will society look like in the future? I don't know.

    c)It is extremely subjective. There are four main perspectives in my course itself all of which are valid in explaining society but contradict one another.

    So I don't know, sociologists are clearly smart people and can write + argue very well(much better than me). But insofar as I can say with my limited exposure to it, it is hardly practical in real life unlike pyschology or economics.

    1. Dear HQJB,

      It's good that you organized your response in a clear manner, and congratulations on taking an interest in an intellectual discussion. Allow me to reply.

      The hallmark of science (natural or social) is its rigor in developing socially-relevant understanding (i.e., knowledge). Predictability in science works in relatively well-understood situations, and humans tend to be extremely complex, a fact which renders predictability difficult if not misguided. Think of it: genetics + epigenetics + experiences + education/enculturation/socialization + changes over time and space = a difficult "laboratory". To continue, I'll address "social sciences" rather than just sociology (as you used terms from anthropology and sociology in your note).

      a) I agree that some authors obscure what they are saying when they use opaque vocabulary. However, I challenge you to read advanced physics or biology books (or even read ingredients to medications) and not be bewildered by words you see. This is technical vocabulary, and it is required in every field of study.

      b) Social science uses data to explain thoughts, behaviors, and objects. This is after the fact, yes. But all science does this. How much would you trust a chemist who told you what was going to happen before he or she put two new chemicals together? Again, predictability in science is fallible, and particularly with humans, potentially dangerous.

      c) All science is subjective. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to fool you. To your point, a scientist strives to eliminate ideological biases in generation and analysis of data, but even chemists must deal with the human impact on their research. And to you "perspective" comment, perhaps see these more as complementary rather than contradictory, as each explains a particular aspect of humans lives.

      To conclude, social science, when done properly, is extremely useful for explaining human behavior, yes, based upon past data. It's predictive power, if you insist upon this, is in the comparison. In other words, "if we see a situation with some or all of the factors present in previous research, what might happen?" Social scientists generally won't make absolute predictions, but they can suggest strongly what might happen. In essence, they are being more intellectually honest than natural scientists (and their apologists) who assume they have the monopoly on Truth.

  2. The juxtaposition between Sociology and Psychology is an interesting one, and as many don't know, a recent one. The advent of neuroscience really changed the way psychology has been viewed. Indeed, it was hotly debated whether neuroscience had any part in psychology. Psychology and Sociology are actually sister sciences. Meaning that they really lend their ideas to each other quite nicely. Of course we can make the arbitrary definition that sociology relates to two or more people and that psychology relates to only one. I think that is a stupid arbitrary definition though to be honest. There are broad sociological concepts, some of which I agree more with (critical race theory), and some which I have qualms with (social constructivism). There are even more broad concepts such as the historical materialism etc by Karl Marx. I would be hesistant to bash Marx without fully reading his works, I think you might be surprised. If we are talking about Karl Marx (the rise of capitalism), then he actually had a quite detailed plan of what the future held. We can obviously have contentions on if that theory has become disproved, or has yet to happen. One think to look into is mixed methods design for sociology experiments. (they are at least my favorite). By this I mean using both quantitative and qualitative data. They provide us with resources to make a quantitative framework (based on numbers), to aid in understanding the qualitative meat (say interviews etc). I think once you get past the broad concepts of an intro course, you might be happy to realize that there some pretty solid methodologies underlying the science.

  3. I love sociology and if I were to go into great lengths, I may have to write a 20 page thesis on the importance of sociology in our everyday lives. But to make a long story short, I just think that the world is full of different talents, and everyone has their different approaches and ways of understanding the world. In that sense, I think sociology especially speaks to, and makes sense for, people who are big picture thinkers and can connect the dots between seemingly unrelated concepts, seeing underlying causes of things happening in front of them and relating it to the greater societal implications. People who don't appreciate sociology, well, I think it's analogous to how me, a sociology enthusiast, will never understand quantum physics (and I don't care if quantum physics affect the greater society's everyday lives!!)

  4. ^I really like what you said there, and I think it is absolutely true.

  5. Free free free/still free free

    All you is Free free free library pass to public library.

    1. Free free free pass to public library

    2. Public internet/web. Free free free.

    social sciences/humanities/arts: Free free free free.

    No a single penny needed to study all this.

    social sciences/humanities/arts: Free free free for all.

  6. sociology is not reductionist... if you can't reduce it, then it's not true knowledge, just information and data... (my philosophical approach to epistemology anyway)

    I have a BA in English, and there are two broad of fields, cognitive linguistics which reduces language to logical forms. Unfortunately, or fortunately, sociology had infiltrated linguistics and they are complexifying instead of reducing.

    What is knowledge to you?

  7. You have a good comment. Perhaps if you can reduce it, we can be MORE sure of true knowledge. But I think the statement, "if you can't reduce it, then it's not true knowledge" at least borders on the line of being a logical fallacy.

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  10. I actually just have a question, i took up sociology as a way to challenge my thinking but the more i read in it the more it seems inundated with excuses on why people can't achieve success. It seems to remove personal responsibility from the equation entirely. I'm a black male and even i am not sold on white privilege etc. All this "bias" talk seems largely just a way for social elites trying to explain away the problems of lower class and minorities with simple and to me condescending answers to problems. It seems like sociology just has a very left-wing liberal Utopian predisposition and i was wondering if you might speak to that because I'm seriously thinking on changing my major when I had previously been very excited about it

    1. That's an excellent point. The obvious reality is that someone's life outcomes are a product of their environment and their personal initiative. But it's not one that get's talked about much.

      I have this same struggle. I grew up in a poor, single-mother family. By most accounts I rose myself up by 'my own bootstraps'. (Now that being said, I also have a lot of privilege that others do not have, including being white).

      But it really depends on the level that you are looking at. Think of looking at an ant with a magnifying glass, or looking at a clay cast of an entire ant nest. You need different tools to look at either one. You are also going to look at and learn different things depending on the level you look at it with (microscope level or whole nest structure level) The same is true in sociology.

      When we talk about structural inequality, we are talking about descriptive facts about the say our society functions. People who are white, on average, get paid more than people who are Black or Mexican-American. If you send in the same resume to an employer (this study was done) with a white sounding name and a black sounding name, the black sounding name is 50% less likely to get a call back.

      As a game of odds, a child who is black is more likely to be born into poverty than a child who is white. And that is thanks to a legacy of red-zoning, stereotypes, slavery, the list goes on.

      So, the way I see it, social inequality means you are more likely to be dealt a bad hand at birth. What you do with that hand is up to you. It's a hell of a lot harder to make it when you grow up poor and with shitty educational resources than a kid who is raised in the suburbs. But it's not impossible. Which is your frustration. Focusing so much on societal inequality can make it feel like people have no autonomy. And that's just simply not true.

      We can talk about structures of inequality without saying anything about an individuals autonomy to work with the shitty hand they were dealt. The point though is, on the grand scale, the system is rigged against certain types of people. It's not to say they can't be smart as hell and make it despite a system not privileging them, but it is to say that it will be a lot harder and take a lot more determination than being born into wealth and privilege.

      Why people like me balk at making the argument that people have autonomy to make a life for themselves regardless of the system around them, is that the wrong people cling onto notions like that. It makes people forget that our society was built on the backs of slaves and that legacy still exists and oppresses people. On a personal level, it's absolutely true, and anyone I meet who is struggling I tell them they are what they make of themselves. But societal, we need things to level the playing field, so that people who have been historically disadvantaged have better odds at birth of making it in this world.

      That was a lot of rambling, but I hope it was at least semi-coherent.


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