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Rules for investigating society: Durkheim

In his Rules of Sociological Method, Durkheim described the methods to be used in the study of society including the nature of the phenomena to be studied.  Durkheim saw the direct connection between the social nature of a rate and the suicide statistics for different societies. Although the rates may vary from one society to another ,some societies having high rates ,some having low rates ,each individual society seemed to have a similar rate from year to year. This observation suggested to Durkheim that suicide rates emanate from the social conditions of a society.They are thereby social facts. Fashions are another example of a social fact. A fashion is a collective phenomenon ; it is something which involves the collective action and sentiments of many persons. Durkheim argued that in their emergent existence ,over and above or external to any individual case,social facts constituted a distinctive and separate reality. It was a social reality ,the reality of a society. It was the reality that sociologists should study.  These separately existing phenomena exercised constraints on individuals.They had a coercive influence over people. In Rules of Sociological Method,Durkheim outlined a set of procedures for doing sociology.No one had provided such a clear set of methodological directives in the same detail before and they still greatly influence  the way many sociologists conduct their research tody.His main aim was to make sociological research as objective and scientific as possible.His own work shows in practice  what difficult aims these are. He said the investigator should eradicate all his preconceptions,i.e he should approach the phenomenon under study with as open a mind as possible, he should try to forget his biases. He should concentrate on the external characteristics of social facts ,on those characteristics which other investigators will clearly be able to see. He should not use his own subjective interpretations. By concentrating on these observable and external characteristics, the researcher will be able to produce clear unambiguous definitions of the social facts he is investigating. Social facts according to Durkheim are of two different kinds and their differences need to be taken into account in any sociological study. There are normal social facts and pathological social facts. Social facts are normal when they are widespread or general in a society. He also argued that social phenomena that are general to all societies must be normal. For example because crime is found in all societies in one form or another it is a normal social phenomenon. The way in which he used the concept normal implied that those social phenomena that could be so labeled were necessary for the operation of a healthy, well ordered society. As crime can be found in all societies, it is normal which in turn means that it is an integral part of any healthy society. Durkheim also suggested that though some social facts may be general in a society, they might not really fit the conditions for that society. It is suggested that though some social facts may be general in a society they may not really fit the conditions for that society. For a social phenomenon to be out of date because it belongs to a past form of society. Therefore he modified the simple condition of generality with the condition that the social fact had to be bound up with the general conditions of the collective life of that particular type of society, at that particular stage in the evolution or development of that type of society. Durkheim makes value judgment about what is good or bad for a society. He continues his analysis of social facts by suggesting that some system of classifying societies is required in order to determine whether social facts are normal or pathological. He suggested that societies could be categorized according to their degree of composition or organization. At one end of the scale there is the simplest form of society, the horde. There is increasing complexity  - the clan, the tribe, the city etc. In each classification, further distinctions can be made between societies according to their degree of coalescence. The classification of societies was also required as a precondition for the use of the comparative method that Durkheim saw as the most useful procedure for establishing sociological proofs. He was very concerned that sociological theories should be testable and as experimenting with total societies was impossible, the comparative method should be used as a method of quasi –experiment, a method of indirect experiment. In making his investigations, the sociologist should compare his findings from one society with those of other societies of the same and of different types.

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