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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
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.
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Gender role, Human behavior, Social psychology, Gender, Truth, Comparative
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