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What is valid knowledge in sociology? Using a combination of research in action, case studies and expert analysis, this programme looks at some of the different answers sociology has given to this question. It is divided into 5 self-standing parts that can be shown separately or as a whole.

1: Classical Social Theory

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We begin by asking what we mean by science and whether scientific principles are applicable in sociology. We then look at the origins of sociology in the attempts of theorists like Marx and Comte to build a holistic science of society that would reveal the ‘laws of historical development’.

2: Positivism

This section follows students using survey methods to do research on education. The case study material is used to identify the positivist assumptions underlying this method and illustrate some of their limitations. The section concludes by looking at Weber’s argument for an interpretive sociology and asking about its implications for research methods.

3: Interpretivism

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This section introduces some of the key ideas of interpretivism and explores their implications for methods. We follow another group of students researching the same educational topic with open ended, unstructured interviews. We conclude by looking at the ‘imposition problem’ in both approaches.

4: A Case Study

The case study example of suicide provides further illustration of how positivist and interpretivist approaches lead researchers to ask very different questions about this key sociological topic.

5: Realism

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The final section introduces the more recent realist theory, and compares it to classical, positivist and interpretivist approaches. We look at the realist view of science and its implications for sociological research. We conclude by returning to science and asking if sociology can be objective.
Teacher Booklet (PDF Document 1.39 MB.)

Theory and Methods

Running time 45 minutes.

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“If there is just one video you can have, make sure it's this one. It’s a superb resource… and my students certainly reacted very positively... When you can present complex ideas in a way in which students can grasp them without compromising the integrity of the ideas themselves, that is quality education. This video pack has quality written all over it and you simply must get a copy.”

Mark Kirby, Social Science Teacher