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Sociological Perspective

Empirical and Normative Statements

Sociology is an empirically based science, testing ideas about the social world by collecting and interpreting data.

Sociologists seek to describe society and social behavior using empirical statements, made after careful analysis of data. An empirical statement is an assertion based on data collected through careful and systematic observations. Empirical statements are supported by data, which is used to verify or disprove ideas. For example, an empirical statement about gun violence is one that can be verified, such as how many people were shot or killed with guns in a given area during a given time period.

Sociologists often work to analyze, explain, or challenge commonly held assumptions about societies, groups, practices, or behaviors. They do so by examining data and drawing conclusions, rather than by relying on persuasive techniques or emotional appeals. Sociologists develop arguments about the societies, groups, and tendencies they study. However, they often challenge normative statements and assumptions about society. A normative statement is an assertion based solely on value judgments and opinions. The claim that society is more violent today than in the past is a normative statement. It does not use evidence but relies on a feeling or opinion. Sociologists attempt to avoid normative statements. Instead, they work to practice value-free sociology, an objective, unbiased approach to sociological research.

Empirical Statements Normative Statements
The United States has a higher level of economic development than Mexico. Mexico would be better off with more foreign investment.
European colonists extracted resources from many Latin American countries but did not settle there, hindering economic growth in those areas. European colonialism is to blame for problems in Latin America.
The gun-related death rate decreased when Norway implemented stricter gun policies. The United States should put stricter gun laws in place.
Rates of violent crime have been decreasing in the United States for over 20 years. America is more dangerous than it has ever been.

By prioritizing empirical statements, sociology attempts to transcend the norms of a particular society. Sociology often challenges a society's norms and assumptions by presenting nonjudgmental research. For example, in the past, drug addiction was seen as a personal weakness or a moral failing. However, using the sociological perspective, scholars began to understand drug addiction as closely associated with psychological and social factors. Research shows that poverty, lack of opportunity, and weak familial connections all appear to contribute to the risk of drug addiction. This perspective helped to shift the general approach toward drug addiction in many Western societies in the 20th century. Instead of chastising addicts for moral failures, those who work to combat problems related to drug addiction now look for both psychological and social causes that contribute to the risk of addiction.