What are the social sciences supposed to be about? Since Durkheim’s Rules of Sociological Method at the end of the last century it has been an article of faith amongst most sociologists that there is a distinct order of social facts which in any society exist over and above the totality of facts about its individual members1. Durkheim characterised these ‘social facts’ as external to the individuals in any given society, but as nevertheless exerting a constraint on those individuals. Examples of such social facts for Durkheim were laws, norms, roles, institutions, currents of opinion, regular patterns in such statistics as crime rates or suicide rates, and features of natural environment. These social facts were not to be seen as consequences of any inherent psychological characteristics the individual members of society might have, but rather as things which imposed themselves on those individuals from without. Insofar as individuals displayed psychological attitudes and forms of behaviour consonant with the social facts external to them, these ‘individual manifestations’ were the results of independently existing social facts, not the basis of the way society was.
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