Sociology: The Comparative Method


Sociologists have embraced what is known as the comparative method as
the most efficient way to expose taken-for-granted \'truths\' or laws that people
have adopted. But what is this comparative method and how does it work? Are
there any advantages/disadvantages to exposing these false \'truths\'. What forms
or variations of the comparative method exist? In the pages to follow I will
attempt to give you some insight and understanding of what the comparative
method is, and how it works.
The comparative method, simply put, is the process of comparing two
things (in our case societies, or the people that make up society) and seeing if
the result of the comparison shows a difference between the two. The
comparative method attempts to dereify (the process of exposing misinterpreted
norms. Norms that society consider natural and inevitable characteristics of
human existence) reified (the human created norms or \'truths\') beliefs.
Obviously there are various ways in which a nomi (a labeled, sometime
constructed, norm or truth) can be exposed. Which form of the comparative
method should one use however? The answer, whichever one applies to the \'truth\'
in question. For example, you certainly would not do a cross-gender form of
comparison if you wished to expose whether or not homosexuality has always been
feared and looked down upon by most people throughout history. No, rather you
would perform a historical comparison of two or more different societies to see
if these beliefs always existed, or, whether or not this is a newly constructed
belief.
Let\'s look at little more closely at the above mentioned historical
comparison and see how the comparative method works with a specific example.
There is no question that in today\'s western society there is a lot of
fear and trepidation towards people who are labeled \'homosexual\'. The question
we will attempt to answer however is whether or not it has always been like this
and is this a universal truth.
In ancient Greek societies people had a very different opinion of men
that slept with men. For example, it was considered quite an honor for a family
with a young boy under the age of 10, to be given the privilege on an older man
of high society taking their son into his house. The young boy would go and
live with this older man. The older man would have sex with the young boy on a
regular basis until the boy developed facial hair. It was not until then that
the boy was considered a man. Society thought that an older mans, of great
reputation, semen would help the boy develop into a fine young man. Once the
boy developed the facial hair, the sex between the two would stop. The older
man\'s job was finished. Obviously this would be considered an atrocious and
disgusting act these days. The older man in this case would certainly go to
jail for the \'crimes\' that he had committed. However, in Ancient Greece this was
not only considered perfectly normal, but as I already stated, it was an honor
and a gift that not every boy was \'lucky\' enough to be given. Therefore, we can
conclude from this comparison that homophobia, as we know it, is not a natural
truth, nor is it a universal belief. Rather it is a socially constructed belief
that many people have taken for granted as an inevitable part of human existence.

It is important at this point to clarify something however. It is said
that the role of the sociologist is a descriptive one as opposed to a
prescriptive one. That is to say that the sociologist should describe the
various practices, customs and structures that exist in various societies rather
than suggest to people which one is actually the correct belief or the \'real\'
truth.
Cross-gender comparisons is another commonly used comparison used to
reveal socially constructed truths. In Carol Gilligan\'s book \'In a different
voice\' we find a fine example of a cross-gender comparison. She states that
most people believe that the majority of people, both men and women, view morale
issues in the same way. However, through empirical data collection, Carol
Gilligan concludes that this is not most often the case. Rather, she states
that men tend to approach moral issues quite differently than women. Where as
men view morale issues with a "don\'t interfere with my rights" view, women focus
more on the "responsibility" end of the morale involved. Thus we can conclude,
thanks to the comparative method, that the constructed truth that all people
view morale issues the same is not a correct one. Another quick example of