Since the origins of humanity, our species has eagerly pursued knowledge, trying to catalog and define it through clear and well-distinguishable concepts. In ancient Greece, scholars decided to establish a concept that would encompass knowledge, science.
It is necessary to clarify previously that a set of information acquired through experience or introspection is called knowledge and that it can be organized on a structure of objective facts accessible to different observers. Science is called that set of techniques and methods that are used to achieve such knowledge. The word comes from the Latin scientia and, precisely, means knowledge.
The systematic application of these methods generates new objective (scientific) knowledge, which takes a specific form. First a prediction is made which is put to the test through the scientific method and subjected to quantification. On the other hand, these predictions of science can be located within a structure thanks to the detection of universal rules, which allow describing how a system works. These same universal laws are what make it possible to know in advance how the system in question will act under certain circumstances.
Science can be divided into basic science and applied science (when scientific knowledge is applied to human needs). There are also other classifications of the sciences, such as those proposed by the German epistemologist Rudolf Carnap, who divided them into formal sciences (they have no concrete content, such as logic and mathematics), natural sciences (their object of study is nature. Example: biology, chemistry, geology) and social sciences (dealing with aspects of culture and society, such as history, economics and psychology).
Although each science has its characteristic research modality, scientific methods must meet several requirements, such as reproducibility (the ability to repeat an experiment anywhere and by anyone) and falsifiability (a theory must be able to be placed against evidence that manage to contradict it).
The steps inherent to the scientific process are observation (a sample is taken), detailed description, induction (when the general principle implicit in the observed results is extracted), hypothesis (which explains the results and their cause-effect relationship), controlled experimentation (to test the hypothesis), the demonstration or refutation of the hypothesis and, finally, universal comparison (to contrast the hypothesis with reality).
In the social sciences, where the pragmatic value lies in understanding our species, some requirements of this method cannot be applied. It should be clarified that one of the fundamental objectives of the existence of social sciences is to achieve a greater understanding of the human being, as an individual and as a social being.
For this reason, to carry out a deep study of human behavior it was necessary to create different scientific spaces where to work independently on each topic, in this way psychology, anthropology, economics and sociology arose, which study behavior within a cultural context. It is about making an impartial observation and gathering data that helps to understand the matter and draw conclusions as objective as possible.
An important difference that must be mentioned is the one that exists between the exact sciences and the human ones, in the former every time an event wants to be repeated to carry out its verification it can be done through the hypothetico-deductive method, however in the human sciences it is impossible to repeat the phenomena, because the elements that interfere are social and temporary and can never happen in an identical way. This led the social sciences to develop a diverse method that is the qualitative method, in which data from one environment are collected and compared with others taken in another circumstance or in another environment, in order to reach an accurate conclusion of social statistics and cultural of a town or group of individuals.
In anthropology, one of the scientists who managed to establish a study method was Bronislaw Malinowski who devised the participant observation method, through which he managed to understand the way in which the primitive peoples of the islands found in northern Australia lived. This method applied to a community of native settlers could be summarized in the following steps:
* Choose an autochthonous community.
* Gather as much information about it as possible.
* Deeply document yourself about it.
* Make hypotheses about the life of these settlers.
* Learn to communicate in your language.
* Organize the work in a theoretical-practical structure to carry out the research.
* Analyze everyday aspects and social events (relationships, economic activities, etc.) with equal detail.
* Establish differences between what we have observed and the interpretation of it.
According to Herskovits, to make an anthropological analysis it is necessary to observe as much as we can, participate in what the settlers allow us and discuss our hypotheses and experiences with as many natives as we can. So we would be putting Malinowski’s method of observation into practice.
In addition there are other methods that can help to understand the social facts and the behavior of a people, such as the structural method and specific methodologies according to each branch of science.
To finish, it only remains to clarify that science is the methodology that allows one to approach knowledge through the completion of a certain number of steps. The set of these steps is called a method and, according to the type of knowledge that you want to reach, it will be necessary to use one or the other method, as appropriate.