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Sociology is criticized for being merely common sense and

stating the obvious but in more detail than what we already

know. Read and be informed…

Sociology and other social sciences focus on the study of certain aspects of human behavior. Yet
human behavior is something with which we all have experience and about which we have at
least a bit of knowledge. In our daily lives, we rely on common sense to get us through many
unfamiliar situations. However, this knowledge while sometimes accurate is not always reliable
because it rests on commonly held beliefs rather than systematic analysis of facts.

Common sense is knowledge and awareness that is held communally (shared by majority of
people). It does not depend on specialist education and in some respects states the obvious.
Sociology is study of society and of people and their behavior. Positivists claim that it produces
scientific knowledge.

Many people argue that sociology merely state the obvious by reporting what common sense
already tells us. In other words, sociology is criticized for being merely common sense and
stating the obvious but in more detail than what we already know. Many sociologists have
responded that common sense is wrong and obvious truths are not so obvious.

Common sense ideas and explanations represent a form of social perspective since they claim to
represent the things that everyone knows about the social world and / or human behavior. These
ideas are not necessarily incorrect but they seem to be different from sociological forms of

Differences between sociology and common sense:

1. Common sense views are based on people’s immediate and often limited experiences. This
leads to a distorted view of reality. Hence common sense knowledge is statement of the obvious
which is simply based of assumption.

Sociological views are based on rigorous research and therefore evidence based. This can either
be based on large scale quantitative research or in-depth qualitative research. Sociology
knowledge is, therefore, the product of theory development and testing.

2. Common sense views tend to reflect social traditions and conventions and therefore tend to
reinforce the status quo and resist social change.

Conflict approaches in sociology raise serious questions about the status quo and call for social
3. Common sense views tend to be historically and culturally specific and are often based on
stereotypical images.

Interactionist / social action theories recognize that social life is socially constructed and relative
to time and place. It actively challenges stereotypes.

4. Common sense views lack validity and reliability.

Sociological knowledge has relatively greater reliability and validity. Sociological views based
on quantitative data are high in reliability and those based on qualitative data are high in validity.

Whether sociological knowledge is superior to common sense forms is a matter of debate. Some
postmodernists would claim that sociological knowledge is not superior to common sense
knowledge. This is because they claim that there is no such thing as the truth and therefore all
knowledge is uncertain. Sociologists of course stand up for sociology over common sense.
Sociology is more important than common sense as it is evidence based and challenges common
sense views of the world and enhances human life and freedom. Giddens claims that sociological
knowledge often becomes common sense knowledge.

Most sociologists describe common sense in very negative terms. They see it as biased,
subjective and incomplete. Common sense is shown to be not only wrong but also contradictory.
E.g. out of sight out of mind and absence makes the heart grow fonder. But there are also many
cases in sociological writings where beliefs long held as factual have proven to be wrong or
unsubstantiated. On most important issues in sociology there are two or more theories and
statements often contradicting each other.

Common sense – knowledge and understanding of social life – must be correct some of the time
otherwise people who are not sociologists could not survive. Some people possess more valid
and empirical knowledge than others and this knowledge is indispensable for social life. As
sociology becomes a profession, practitioners have more time to study individuals, groups and
societies thereby having more advantages over most other people. However, there are instances
where people have profound understanding of the social world gained through careful, repeated
and varying observations of the world. Common sense is often wrong but that does not prove
that all common sense wrong.

Like other social scientists, sociologists do not accept something as fact because ‘everyone
knows it’. Instead, each piece of information must be tested and recorded, then analyzed in
relationship to other data. However, this method is also partial and limited.

Sometimes sociological findings confirm the common sense view; sometimes they do not. The
only way to test common sense assumptions about society is to do it scientifically. Sociology
relies on scientific studies in order to describe and understand a social environment. At times, the
findings of sociologists may seem like common sense because they deal with facets of everyday
This does not mean that there is no place for intuition or common sense in sociology. These
approaches are rich sources of insights. But they can provide only hunches. The hunch must be
tested by the methods of science.

Read more:

It is important that we view social research as something more than simply

asking people a few questions, getting their opinions and then trying to make
some sort of sense out of the whole process. In this unit we are going to begin
by looking at the idea that social research is planned and organised to reflect the idea that it
involves such things as:

• Putting forward ideas that can be tested.

• Collecting data to test these ideas in a systematic way.
• Analysing the collected data.
• Drawing conclusions based on sociological evidence.

This Unit, therefore, is mainly concerned with what are usually called
questions of methodology.

We will look at the concept of methodology in more detail in a moment,

but we can begin to understand the idea of a research process by This idea, in basic terms,
thinking about the difference between common sense and sociological relates to the and,
knowledge principles
extension, why this distinction should be important. we use as a means of
providing a framework
for our research (in short
a “research process”).
We can start, therefore, by noting that the objective of all research is to produce knowledge
and the point of “doing research” is to produce knowledge that is true.
Sociologically we usually
express this as “not
The key question, therefore, is why do we need to “do research” in order false”. We’ll see why this
to “produce knowledge”? distinction is important

The basic answer to this question is that we don’t. People, in their daily lives, produce and
consume knowledge all the time without ever “doing research” (sociological or otherwise). This
everyday knowledge (or common sense) has, however, at least one crucial difference from
sociological knowledge; it is, by and large, “taken for granted” (if common sense knowledge
is “what everyone knows”, then it follows that it goes unquestioned).
Examples of “taken for granted”
This is not to say that sociological knowledge is never sociological knowledge from our
“taken for granted” - it would, after all, be impossible to society might include the idea that
live in any society without taking some things for granted. the powerful exploit the weak, that
we live in a class-based society and
that gender inequalities exist
between men and women.
Rather, it is to say that sociological knowledge has been
tested in some way. It is, in short, knowledge that is not
simply assumed to be true. In addition, one of the main
assumptions that sociologists take
This is not to say that common sense knowledge is
for granted is that the social world
always wrong, nor that sociological knowledge is always is characterised by certain patterns
right (the relationship is much more complex than this). of behaviour (regularities) that
must have a social cause.

Additionally, sociological knowledge is not always

Just as social scientists
opposed to common sense knowledge - sociologists,
(Sociologists, Psychologists
like any other social or natural scientists may, after all,
etc.) study the social world,
actively contribute to the store of human knowledge that natural scientists (Physicists,
appears “self-evidently true” (until, of course, someone Chemists, Biologists, etc.)
else comes along and shows it to be false…). study the natural world.

However, without overstating the case, the distinction I’ve made between common
sense (untested) and sociological (tested) knowledge is a device that helps us to
think generally about the way knowledge can be produced and, specifically, about how
sociological knowledge can be produced. It does, in short, lead us towards a
consideration of sociological methodology or, if you prefer, the process of
sociological research.

Before we look at this question of methodology, there are two further points we can
note arising from the distinction between common sense and sociological knowledge:

• Firstly, it suggests there are at least two ways of interpreting “social

reality”, since if it is possible for common sense and sociological knowledge
say different things about the same phenomenon, it follows that they cannot
both be right.

• Secondly, it suggests that sociological knowledge is superior to common

sense knowledge because it is based on evidence that comes from the
systematic testing of ideas through research.