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Sociology 2206A/B LECTURE 2-2.docx

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Western University
Sociology 2206A/B
William Marshall

Theory in Social Research - “the backbone of the social sciences” - researchers combine a way of thinking about the operation of the social world (theory) with what they observe about it (data), research methods are what connect these two things How Social Theories Work - they explain recurring patterns, not unique or one time events - they are explanations for aggregates, not specific individuals - they state a probability, chance or tendency for something to occur, not an absolute (causal) relationship What is theory? - “a system of interconnected abstractions or ideas that condenses and organizes knowledge throughout the social world” - social theorists create explanations about the workings of society and the interactions between members of social groups  the classical theorists (Marx, Durkheim, Weber) provided the foundation for our understanding of the social world The Value of Theories - almost all research involves some theory  not whether you use theory, but how you use it - even outside of research, many people use theories without making them explicit  however, often less systematic less well formulated and more difficult to test with empirical evidence Parts of a Theory - concepts  ideas expressed as symbols or in words  social theory requires concepts to be well defined, which helps link theory with research  concept clusters- interconnected groups of concepts that share common assumption  variables- concepts that take on a range of values, quantities or amounts  classifications can be used to organize concepts - assumptions  un-observable and un-testable statements about the nature of things  often hidden or unstated - relationships  theories should specify how concepts relate to one another or if they are related at all, and why this relationships exists or not  hypothesis- when a researcher empirically tests or evaluates a relationship  proposition- confirmed hypotheses Aspects of a Theory - to simplify our understanding of a theory, we can categorize it by:  the direction of its reasoning  the level of social reality that it explains  the forms of explanations it employs  the overall framework of assumptions and concepts in which it is embedded Direction of Theorizing Inductive (theory  generalizations  observations) - begin with detailed observations of the world - work towards developing more abstract generalizations and ideas - involves refining concepts, developing empirical generalizations and identifying preliminary relationships - often use grounded theory- research builds ideas and generalizations that are based on closely examining and thinking about the data, purpose is to be very faithful to the evidence and data Deductive (observations  predictions/hypotheses  theory) - begin with an abstract logical relationship among concepts - work towards finding concrete, empirical evidence - involves testing theories with (statistical) data Range of Theory - empirical generalization  least abstract theoretical statement, narrow range  simple statement about a pattern or generalization among two or more concrete examples that are close to empirical reality  easy to test  operates across many periods and social contexts - middle-range theories ( Robert Merton)  slightly more abstract than empirical generalizations  focus on a specific substantive topic  includes a multiple empirical generalization  builds a theoretical explanation  “middle-range theory is principally used in sociology to guide empirical inquiry” (Merton) - theoretical framework  more abstract than a middle-range theory  orientations of looking at the social world that provide collections of assumptions, concepts and forms of explanation  include many formal or substantive theories  rarely directly used in empirical research Levels of Theory - micro-level theory  examine concrete issues, such as face-to-face interactions in small groups  the level that most people think about most of the time - macro-level theory  concerns the operation of larger aggregates such as social institutions, entire cultural systems, and whole societies  usually very abstract  example: elder care may be understood as an overarching system of obligation which requires family membe
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