Durkheim and Weber on Sociology Essay

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The Sociological Method

The sociological method was viewed very differently by Emile Durkheim and Max Weber. One focused on objectivity, the other on subjectivity. The consequences of their different methodological principles in terms of each author’s understanding of society can be found in how people today view, discuss, think about and manage the development of society. Durkheim’s methodology helped lead to the establishment of the use of statistics in social analysis and the management of what the Frankfurt School would go on to call the culture industry, as the prime dictator of social facts. Adorno and Horkheimer were more influenced by Weber’s antipositivism, however, and Weber’s methodology helped lead to the formation not only of the Frankfurt School but also of the Austrian School of economics, which acknowledged the problem of accurately determining the relative value of goods for which reason no centralized planned economy could ever work efficiently in an organized society. In other words, Durkheim’s methodology led to a focus in the social sciences on ways to control society by studying objective facts, while Weber’s methodology led to a focus in the social science on why society could only be understood in terms of people’s perceptions and could only be regulated by a pure bureaucracy, which was however unlikely to ever really or truly be developed.

For Durkheim, sociology was the science of society and the study of social facts. For Weber, sociology was the interpretation of the subjective understanding of social action. Weber aimed to identify the cause of social perspectives—how points of view were formed. Weber (1904) stated that “all knowledge of cultural reality... is always knowledge from particular points of view.” By this he meant that one cannot understand “social facts” because they are entirely predicated by subjective experiences that have to be understood as personal subjective experiences—not as objective realities like fossils in the earth. He argued that “an ‘objective’ analysis of cultural events, which proceeds according to the thesis that the ideal of science is the reduction of empirical reality to ‘laws’, is meaningless.” Weber viewed it as meaningless primarily because “the knowledge of social laws is not knowledge of social reality but is rather one of the various aids used by our minds for attaining this end.”

Durkheim viewed society as consisting of people who were one part will and one part of the collective conscience.
The will tends to self-interest, while the collective conscience tends towards creating constraints to limit the destructive propensity of the will. By looking for social facts, Durkheim did not take into consideration the subjective experience of people and how that experience altered a thing once it was looked at by another. Instead, he looked at society in the same way an ornithologist might look at birds. Durkheim believed society could be understood objectively, that human beings could be considered as predictable cogs in a machine, which, if programmed correctly, would yield predictable results in society. The outcome of Durkheim’s methodology in terms of how he viewed human society was that he could identify the social facts that predicate human behavior. Durkheim (1895) stated, “A social fact is any way of acting, whether fixed or not, capable of exerting over the individual an external constraint;

or: which is general over the whole of a given society whilst having an existence of its own, independent of its individual manifestations.” Durkheim thus understood society to be a system that could be studied using the scientific method: theories and hypotheses could be developed based on observations and education. These hypotheses could be tested, just as one tests a new drug before it reaches the market to see if it is effective in addressing the problem it was designed to address. One could address the ills or problems of society by observing social facts, developing theories of human behavior, testing the theories, and evaluating the results. Durkheim’s methodology could be said to have influenced the behavioralists in so far as they sought ways to determine and manipulate human behavior.

Weber, on the other hand, viewed society as only perceptible via one’s subjective experience. His methodology was predicated on the idea that human society could not be studied using the scientific method but rather only by way of attending to the phenomenology of experience. As an interpretivist, Weber sought only to look for meaning in the ways individuals interact in society. Through their individual experiences one could distill or discover a sense of….....

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Durkheim, E. (1895). The Rules of Sociological Method and Selected Texts on Sociology and its Method. W. D. Halls (translator). New York: Free Press.

Weber, M. (1904). Objectivity of Social Science and Social Policy. Retrieved from http://anthropos-lab.net/wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Weber-objectivity-in-the-social-sciences.pdf


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