Empirical research in Europe, Characteristics - History of Sociology

Empirical Research in Europe

Empirical sociology in the form of social studies originated in three European countries - England, France and Germany - as far back as the 17th century, but the greatest success was achieved in the USA in the 20th century.

Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) entered the history of social science as the author of the "Experiment on the Law of Population," or an account of the past and present action of this law on the welfare of the human race. " In this work, there is a provision on the existence of the eternal law of mankind, according to which the growth of population occurs in a geometric progression, and the growth of vital means in arithmetic, which leads to the excess of the population over the volume of living blessings. T. Malthus influenced the development of sociology not only with his theoretical ideas, but also using the mathematical apparatus in characterizing social phenomena. His attempt to derive a strict mathematical formula of socio-demographic processes reflected the development of the XVIII century. the tendency of applying natural science methods to the study of society.

Pierre Simon Laplace (1749-1827), a French mathematician, physicist and astronomer, a member of the Paris and Petersburg Academies of Sciences, pioneered the mathematization of social science, in particular the use of certain theories in the analysis of social processes probability. Social science problems occupied the attention of other well-known naturalists of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. (Buffon, Lavoisier and others), who showed the possibility and feasibility of natural scientific methods of analyzing social phenomena.

Empirical research at first did not have a rigorous scientific methodology, a modern program, methodology and technology. Most often they were conducted by enthusiasts who did not have a special higher education for organizing empirical research in the humanitarian field. The first generation of social empiricists (natural scientists, doctors and public figures) were concerned about the acute problems that arose in society. In short, the empirical studies of that time were inept, but very relevant, timely.

Perhaps the practitioners would turn to theorists for help, but in the 18th and 19th centuries. the latter were guided by the solution of abstract problems, the creation of various kinds of evolutionary schemes and comparative-historical models that did not require empirical confirmation, and therefore did not need to develop a special methodology for data collection and analysis. It was enough to turn to historical facts and illustrate your thoughts.


Empirical sociology in Europe has the following characteristic features.

First line - empirical social studies appeared earlier and have a longer history than academic sociology. In England and France, they were held in the XVII century. since the days of "political arithmetic" and social physics (long before the very appearance of the word "sociology"). English political arithmetic XVII century. (William Petty, John Graunt, Gregory King and Edmund Halley) developed methods for quantitative research of social processes; in particular, J. Graunt used them in 1662 to analyze the mortality levels. The methodology and methodology of empirical research was developed primarily by natural scientists. Many outstanding natural scientists (E. Halley, P. Laplace, J. Buffon, A. Lavoisier) were among its ancestors.

Second feature - the methodology and methodology of empirical research was developed primarily by natural scientists, and theoretical sociology - by philosophers (they were O. Comte, E. Durkheim, G. Simmel, F. Tennis). So, at the end of the XVII century. the famous Swiss mathematician Jacob Bernoulli (1654-1704) proposed using the theory of probability in the study of social phenomena. Her application to the study laid the foundation for the traditions of quantitative sociology.

The study of nature in natural scientists was closely related to the study of social processes. Thus, the work of Pierre Laplace Philosophical essays on probabilities (1795) is based on a quantitative description of the population. P. Laplace continued the work begun by J. Bernoulli. Thanks to him the theory of probability has acquired a finished form. Pierre Laplace - author of fundamental works on mathematics and mathematical physics, primarily the treatise "Analytical Probability Theory" (1812), in which many later discoveries of the theory of probability made by other mathematicians can be found. He was convinced that everything in the world is subject to strict laws and tried to convince the public of the possibility of applying the laws of probability theory to social sciences.

Third feature - in the early stages of theoretical and empirical sociology developed in parallel and in isolation from each other. In academic sociology, global evolutionary schemes and the comparative historical method prevailed, which did not require rigorous empirical confirmation, were content with non-critical collection of facts to illustrate a priori schemes. So it was until the end of the XIX century, until Durkheim and Weber closely engaged in the methodology. The teachings of Comte and Spencer were perceived by many as synonymous with speculative philosophy. The rupture of theory and empiricism, under the sign of which the formation of classical sociology of the nineteenth century was passing, was aggravated by the fact that, on the one hand, macrosociological theories fundamentally did not allow verification at the micro level, on the other, they were oriented only to the past (sociology as a whole was formed precisely as historical sociology), and empirical studies were devoted to the topical problems of modern society. Only in the 20-ies. XX century. the combination of theoretical and empirical sociology begins and, as a method of such a connection, a quantitative (in contrast to the qualitative one in Durkheim, Simmel, Tennys and Weber) a methodology, whose bright representatives were P. Lazarsfeld, R. Merton, J. Landburs, and others.

Fourth line: empirical sociology originated outside the sphere of universities (as centers of scientific thought), and in the practical sphere - among public servants, entrepreneurs, doctors, natural scientists, teachers. Its emergence was stimulated by the practical needs of capitalist society, the development of which in the nineteenth century. led to the rapid growth of cities (intensive urbanization), the polarization of poverty and wealth (as a result of intensive industrialization), pauperization of the population and increased crime (unavoidable at the stage of initial accumulation). At the same time, the middle strata and the bourgeois stratum, always advocating order and stability, are rapidly being formed, the institution of public opinion and the press are being strengthened. At that time, there was an increase in various kinds of social movements advocating for social reforms, educating the population and liberalizing morals that adhere to educational and charitable purposes, seeking to draw the attention of the authorities and the public to the social ills and ills that society is undergoing. "In England and the United States, the" movement for social surveys "actively manifested itself.

Thus, for carrying out empirical research, identifying social diseases of society, there are objectively ripe forces that could act as, on the one hand, subjects of the social order, and on the other hand, subjects of its execution, i.e. direct researchers.

If the initiators of the first social studies were mainly scientists enthusiastic loners, then at the beginning of the XIX century. there is a general interest in public issues. The complication and aggravation of social problems inevitably led the public to pay attention to the problem of increasing the number of poor, as P. Monson writes, "of poor workers", as they began to pose a potential threat to the foundations of society. In turn, the government has ceased to satisfy the existing system of obtaining social information through church parishes and state financial inspectorates.

The emergence of a social order for an empirical study of the living conditions and behavioral characteristics of various groups of the population, especially the workers and the poor, leads to the fact that there is a kind of boom of all sorts of censuses, surveys, statistical descriptions that official institutions, charitable societies , various state commissions with the participation of representatives of the public and private individuals (doctors, teachers, natural scientists, entrepreneurs). Private surveys were also conducted by various philanthropic organizations and opposition parties. The purpose of these social surveys was to inform and mobilize the public in order to draw the attention of official circles to the existing "dark" side of social reality. The collection of information was necessary to justify the implementation of social reforms that could alleviate aggravated social problems. Many progressive people at that time believed that the survey data would not only reliably establish the scale of existing negative phenomena in society, understand their causes, but also develop the necessary recommendations on the "treatment of social diseases".

Sociological Workshop

Social order is an important concept for empirical and applied sociology. Think and answer, why it does not happen in fundamental sociology and natural science. Social order in the XIX and XXI century. different or the same?

Empirical surveys carried out by amateurs detached from university centers and professional science often sinned with dilettantism and superficiality. Traditionally, university sociologists engaged mainly in philosophical and historical topics, the real life of society, its statistical study in the early and mid-nineteenth century. they were of little interest. But over time, scientists increasingly began to turn their eyes to social reality and participate in empirical research. As the activity in data collection and analysis was professionalized, the proportion of amateurs decreased, and accordingly the number of professors increased. An example of England is illustrative, where their specific weight increased from 2% in 1834-1854. up to 14% in 1855-1874 and 24% in 1875-1900.

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