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Durham e-Theses
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The problem of objectivity in sociology and its implications for explanation

Clarke, M. J. (1972) The problem of objectivity in sociology and its implications for explanation. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



1) If men define their situations as real, they are real in their consequences 2) It is not the consciousness of men which determines their being, but rather their social being that determines their consciousness. If (1) is true, societies are social products inexplicable except in terms of their definitions. But these vary with time and place. Many men are aware of the possible real consequences of definitions alternative to those prevailing, which hence are associated with potential conflict and necessarily have evaluative aspects. Hence Weber asserts "The concept of culture is a value concept". This implies (i) any social situation which is described has a value to those described and to the describer; (ii) any theory used to compare and explain social situations will also have evaluative implications. Sociology is concerned with investigating prevailing definitions with a view to providing "better" ones. If (2) is true it contradicts (1), since it implies the superficiality of definitions in social change. But this depends upon the sense of "determines". It cannot mean "directly determines", because action mediates consciousness, "Determines" is thus weakened to mean that men's ideas start from their habitual social practice; hence consciousness must be seen in relation to social being. This still allows the importance of human definitions in their consequences for social reality and in social change. If being determined consciousness directly, change could come only through changes in the physical situation. (2) therefore only implies the existence of continuities between changing definitions. Hence sociology must always recognize and cannot ultimately objectively transcend the actors’ definitions. It can only explain social reality as it currently exists. It cannot predict change except by predicting those fresh definitions which will implement it, and it cannot predict these though it may sometimes be able to indicate their general nature. Sociology is thus partially dissimilar to natural science.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Date:1972
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:18 Sep 2013 09:32

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