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15 The word optimum in the title of this communication to my colleagues suggests two guidelines that I shall follow. First, the word implies that sociologists have a number of different ways to define the scope of the field and that some ways are better than others. It suggests, therefore, that I should strike an evaluative note in this essay. My account of sociology’s scope should not be only inductive; it should be neither a distillation of definitions from textbooks, nor a recapitulation of the giants of the sociological tradition, nor a descriptive survey of what sociologists do. Rather, my account should explore critically the relations between what sociologists are doing and what they ought to be doing. I am confident that this evaluative emphasis is acceptable, since even those who insist that sociology be value-free acknowledge by that very insistence that we may relax the taboo on evaluation when we converse about the values and norms around which our inquiry should be organized. 1 The Optimum Scope of Sociology (1969) From A Design for Sociology: Scope Objectives, and Methods, edited by Robert Bierstedt, 1–21. Philadelphia: American Academy of Political and Social Science, 1969. 16 e a r l y s e a r c h i n g Second, optimum implies that we sociologists should conceive of ourselves as agents who proceed deliberately, if not always consciously, in creating the scope, limits, and divisions of our field, not merely as passive “discoverers” of an aspect of social life that is given in nature and remains only to be recorded and studied. I shall elaborate this implication later. The word scope also has two connotations, both of which I shall consider in this essay. The first connotation concerns the range of empirical subject matter of the field and the ways in which this subject matter is subdivided. The second connotation concerns the level of generality of propositions , models, and theories in sociology. At one extreme, the scope may be bound closely to identifiable data and limited in theoretical relevance; at the other extreme, the scope may be extended to abstract, comprehensive “grand theory”; or the scope may be pitched at some intermediate or “middle -range” level. It should be evident from these introductory remarks that my emphasis will be academic. I shall examine the discipline as a social science, mentioning its use in society and its applications to social policy only in passing. the conceptual status of sociology One Field, Many Frameworks Sociologists frequently—though often implicitly—assume that their discipline , like other disciplines, covers a determinate range of empirical data. If this assumption were extended, the empirical world would be viewed as consisting of biological data (births, deaths, digestion, and elimination), psychological data (gratification and frustration of needs, expression of emotions), economic data (investments, purchases), and sociological data (interpersonal behavior in institutionalized roles). Following this kind of assumption, we would proceed to define the scope of sociology in an empirical way—that is, by identifying the appropriate range of data. Even cursory examination reveals, however, that such an assumption is not warranted. To illustrate its vulnerability, let us consider a single empirical datum—the act of a man purchasing tickets for four to Hawaii, where he plans to spend two weeks on vacation. Clearly this act has psy- t h e o p t i m u m s c o p e o f s o c i o l o g y 17 chological significance, since the man has motives for purchasing the tickets and for choosing Hawaii as a vacation spot. In addition, the act has economic significance, since the individual is spending his funds for tickets rather than for other goods and services; moreover, his purchase, when aggregated with others, constitutes the economic demand for the airline industry. Finally, the act has sociological significance, in that the other three passengers are the purchaser’s wife and children, and in that his purchase was preceded by a decision-making process within the family that led to the choice of Hawaii. The datum itself, then, can be a datum for at least three disciplines, and it cannot legitimately be limited to one discipline. From this, it must be concluded that sociology does not deal with a special class of empirical data; instead, it deals with data as interpreted within a special type of conceptual framework. Sociology and the other behavioral sciences arise from a common...


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