Sociology Today: Instrumental Positivism and Continuing Challenges
Periodically, social scientists have argued that their disciplines are in “crisis.” This is true for fields as diverse as economics, history, political science, and sociology. The recurring crises in the social sciences have been explained in a number of different ways. In the decades since the 1950s, many sociologists have worked to shape contemporary sociology into a field whose prestigious departments have often emphasized survey research, demographic methods, and quantitative analytical approaches, usually to the detriment of other research procedures. This type of instrumental positivism typically involves the aggregation of survey data, the development of formal hypotheses, the adoption of specified falsification procedures, and the grounding of theories in statistical measurement and data. Countersystem sociologists reject a narrow instrumental positivism because “knowledge is not simply a reflection of an inert world ‘out there’ but is an active construction by scientists and theorists who necessarily make certain assumptions about the worlds they study.”.