Do you think sociologists should try reform society or study it?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Because they are scientists, I would argue that the role of a sociologist should be limited as much as possible to studying the way people influence society and the way society influences people. Sociologists formulate hypotheses about how social issues may change based on certain criteria. They gather data about...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Because they are scientists, I would argue that the role of a sociologist should be limited as much as possible to studying the way people influence society and the way society influences people. Sociologists formulate hypotheses about how social issues may change based on certain criteria. They gather data about social interactions via observations and interviews. They analyze data, drawing conclusions and then publishing or sharing those findings. Often these conclusions help to shape new policies or thoughts in society.

Once a scientist enters research with a specific reform effort in mind, the scientific method becomes cloudy. Is the sociologist now analyzing the data as it presents itself, or is he interpreting it through a lens that fits his own views?

Although it is impossible to completely remove one's biases, every effort should be given to do so in order to preserve the validity of the research. Thus, the role of a sociologist is that of gathering and analyzing the data of our social lives. The conclusions may certainly guide others to drive reform: teachers, lawmakers, business executives, parents, and many others. In the end, knowing that social theories have been investigated through an impartial lens (as much as is humanly possible) is necessary to trust in the scientific process and in the scientific findings. This is the role of a sociologist.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I believe sociologists should study society and not try to reform it. This is actually a major point of debate in sociology, particularly when it comes to foreign cultures who have inhumane conditions or practices. While it is tempting to aid those cultures by intervening, the sociologists will damage the integrity of the society and will be unable to gain a proper understanding of that culture. These cultures help to develop a cohesive understanding of human nature and society, so it is important to study it.

That’s not to say the sociologist is required to do nothing and leave a bad situation as is. They have every opportunity to reach out to humanitarian aid organizations or other groups to try and improve the culture. The only restriction is that, in the study of the culture, they do their best not to impact it.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In answering this question, it's important to recognize that the two objectives are by no means mutually exclusive. I would argue that, although the primary responsibility of a sociologist is indeed to study society, the data collected by sociological investigation can be used to effect social change. That's certainly how sociologists of the past such as Marx and Comte regarded the matter. They looked upon sociological data as the raw material from which they could craft specific policies to bring about the kind of society they wanted to see established.

The problem with this approach, however, is that it tends to diminish the stature of sociology as a rigorous scientific discipline. If sociologists carry out their studies with some preconceived notion as to how their work ought to be used, then there's an acute danger that bias of one sort or another will be read back into their findings, rendering their status as expressions of disinterested scientific research somewhat problematic.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are appropriate times for sociologists to study society and times when their studies might motivate them to reform society. Auguste Comte developed the idea that positivism, a method that relies on hard evidence such as statistics and quantitative data, should be used to study society and understand how it works. However, he also thought that knowledge gained from positivist approaches could be used to reform society and better the human condition. Even positivist sociologists such as Comte believed that reform of society was one of the goals of the field.

In addition, it is doubtful whether sociologists can ever look at society in totally dispassionate and objective ways. Each person brings biases and judgments with him or her, and sociologists are always part of the society they observe (even if their role is only that of an outside observer). Therefore, since total objectivity is impossible, a sociologist should acknowledge his or her role in the society and, at times, decide to use their role to change the society. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It is my belief that sociologists should study society instead of reforming it. A sociologist studies society and its behavior. They examine cultures, groups, and social institutions that have been developed by people.  They do research, collect data, analyze it, make conclusions, and report on their findings. Once the sociologists have done their work, I believe it is up to others to make or suggest the reforms. The momentum for making these reforms may come from various individuals. Teachers, administrators, politicians, and social workers could use the information gathered by sociologists to correct perceived problems or issues.  For example, journalists could do in-depth reporting on whatever issue may need reforming. Based on their stories, citizens could put pressure on their elected officials to pass laws to improve the situation. Consumers could pressure business owners to change policies to correct an injustice that may exist. During the Progressive Era, this is how many reforms were made.  Journalists wrote about issues in society.  This led to political pressure to change laws.  Therefore, sociologists should study society, analyze data, and prepare reports while leaving it up to other groups to bring about the needed changes.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team