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SOCA01H3 Lecture Notes - Participant Observation, Dependent And Independent Variables, Grounded Theory

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Sheldon Ungar

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The main methods of sociology
Field methods:
Field research: research based on the observation of people in their natural settings.
Detached observation: involves classifying and counting the behaviour of interest according a
predetermined scheme.
Problems with direct observation:
1.Hawthorne effect(Reactivity): when the presence of the researcher affects the behaviour of the
people being observed
2. Meaning of what is being observed might remain obscure to the researcher
Ethnographic research: describes the entire way of life of people
Going native: when the research abandons his research role and becomes a member of the group he is
Participant observation:
Participant observation: when the researcher attempts to observe a social situation objectively and take
part in the activities of the people he is studying.
-Opting for pure observation or pure participation compromises the researcher’s ability to see the world
sociologically. Instead participant observation requires the researcher to keep walking a tightrope between
the two extremes of subjectivity and objectivity.
Most participant observation studies begin as exploratory research researchers have only a vague sense
of what they are looking for and perhaps no sense at all of what they will discover in the course of their
They are equipped only with hunches. They treat these hunches as hypothesis unverified but testable
statements about the phenomena that interests the researchers.
Purposively choosing observations results in the creation of a grounded theory an explanation of a
phenomenon based not on speculation but on the controlled scrutiny of subjects.
Participant observation is often deficient when it comes to establishing reliability, generalizability, and
Methodological Problems:
Variables: concepts that can have more than one value; i.e. can vary. Some variables can be dependent or
independent according to the situation. e.g. religion, SES (socioeconomic status)
Independent variable (IV): the cause in any cause and effect relationship; comes first in time. Some
variables are always independent e.g. gender, year
Dependent variable (DV): the effect in any cause and effect relationship
Operationalization: deciding which observations to link to which variable
Researchers must establish criteria for assigning values to variables. To determine a variable you can ask
or test/look. Testing/looking is more accurate e.g. what gender are you?
Reliability, Validity, Generalizability and Causality:
Reliability: the degree to which a measurement procedure yields consistent results. Consistency.
Validity: the degree to which a measure actually measures what it is intended to. Precision.
Generalizability: exist when research findings apply beyond the specific case examined. Relevance.
Causality: assessing cause-and-effect relations among variables. It means that a change in the
independent variable (x) produces a change in the dependent variable(y). Relationship is not spurious (not
cause by a third variable, always look for an alternative explanation). In analyzing survey data, we
establish causality by demonstrating that:
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