2Z03 January 13 Lecture:
*Tutorials every other week.
The Foundations of Social Science
The foundations of social science are logic and observation
Theory provides the logic part of social science research
THEORY: A systematic explanation for the observations that relate to a
particular aspect of life
Example: CRIME we need theory to understand why crime rates increase/
decrease.. why some people commit crimes etc.
CONTROL THEORY: Individuals not constrained by normal social ties are
more likely to commit (minor) crimes. Examines person who commits the crime
Routine Activities Theory: Opportunities to commit crime explain why certain
types of crimes occur. Sometimes two theory conflicts with each other. More
focused on who are the victims of crimes.
Theory Not philosophy or belief
Social theory has to do with what is, not with what should be (although we all
have some ideas of what should be)
Social Science research cannot be used to settle value debates (eg. Smoking in car
with young children in vehicle is bad says social science research)
Based on scientific research we can develop values and create laws to find out
what we believe right or wrong.
Science can help us know what is and why (eg what is changing, why is it
Social Regularities: The search for patterns of behavior and attitudes (eg. Why some
people demand or are more likely to demand certain types of health care systems
compared to others)
The Charge of Triviality Why study what we already know?
Answer: what we studied years ago may have changed, how something works in
one country may be different in another. Nontrivial difference.
What about exceptions? Do exceptions disprove the pattern?
People could interfere Doesn’t free will negate regularities?
*All three of these points are criticisms!
Focus on aggregates, not individuals (mostly)
(Not going to spend time researching each one individually see how the “particular”
people in the sample work)
We are looking at the collective and situations of many individuals (Individual
does not necessarily mean “person” it can mean individual countries, groups,
Focus of Social science is to explain why aggregated patterns of behavior are
regular, even when individuals change over time. (we notice a fair degree of
consistency when looking at aggregates)
Concepts and Variables Concepts: Abstract elements representing classes of phenomena; eg. Social
Variables: Logical grouping of attributes; eg. GINI index, access to clean
water, poverty rate
Attributes: Characteristics/ qualities/ categories of people or things; eg. Low,
medium, high (think of poverty rate)
2Z03 January 15 Lecture: Concepts/ Variables:
• Keep in mind that it is not always clear what variables and attributes best
represent/ measure our concepts
• Attendance at place of worship? (Could ask in a survey, a variable)
• Final Contributions? (Could ask in a survey, a variable)
• Reading of sacred texts (Could ask in a survey, a variable)
This is especially a problem in a social science, where it is difficult to define the things in
which we are interested in; eg. Inequality, justice, quality of life, social class etc.
As social scientists, we are interested in whether or not there is a relationship between our
concepts (as measured by our variables)
Education and Prejudice (N=20)
• When there is not a statistic relationship it is a nonstatistically significant
• If there is a relationship between the two variables it is statistically significant
Independent Variable (IV or X): A Variable with values that are not problematic in an
analysis, but are taken as simply given; hypothesized to influence something else
Dependent Variable (DV or Y): A variable assumed to depend on, or be caused by
another variable (X)
Logic/ Theory often helps sort out which is x and which is y
• Ie. Education and prejudice; age and crime
In the social science it is not always clear which is the independent and which is the
dependent variable ie. Wealth and democracy.
• Exploratory: Usually done at the beginning of a project, to explore the
challenges/ opportunities for further study
• Descriptive: simply describing the social phenomena
• Explanatory: Understanding variation in phenomena by identifying casual
(Most research will have a bit of all three of these)
Some Dialects of Social Research
Idiographic and Nomothetic Explanation • Idiographic: An approach to explanation in which we seek to exhaust the
idiosyncratic/ specific causes of a particular condition of an event
EG. Current civil/ political unrest in Egypt
• Nomothetic: An approach to explanation in which we seek to identify a few
casual factors that generally impact a call of conditions of events.
EG. Current civil/ political unrest in the middle east, over time
Inductive and Deductive research
• Induction (grounded theory): The logical model in which general principals are
developed from specific observations.
EG. Attendance at raves, to understand them from a participants POV
• Deduction: The logical model in which specific hypotheses are developed on the
basis of general principles.
EG. Parents level of education influences child’s level of education
Qualitative/ Quantitative Data
• Qualitative Data: Non numerical data, typically small number of cases; most
• Quantitative Data: Numerical data, typically large number of cases; most often
Pure and applied research
• Pure Research: Gaining “knowledge for knowledge’s sake”; the type of
research normally done at universities
• Applied Research: Putting research into practice ie. Policy evaluation.
The Scientific Method
• Based on observation; collection and analysis of data ie. Empirical
• Grounded in theory and larger body of research
• Used to describe things/ behaviors and find explanations for why things occur
• Theory ▯Hypothesis ▯Observations ▯Empirical generalizations ▯
Theory (goes in a circle) January 20 : 2Z03
The Practice of Social Research: Paradigms and Theories
Paradigm: a model or frame of reference through which to observe and understand,
wages to view the phenomena, which we are interested in.
Theories: help us make sense of what we observe and seek to provide logical
explanations in three ways.
Theories prevent our being taken in by flukes (bad data/bad samples)
Theories make sense of observed patterns and suggest other possibilities or
Theories shape and direct research efforts (hypothesis, concepts, variables).
Social Science Paradigms
When we recognize we are operating within a paradigm, two benefits accrue:
We can better understand seemingly bizarre views and actions of others who
are operating under different paradigms.
We can benefit from stepping outside out paradigms by developing ways of
interpreting and seeing things.
Example: corruption means different things in different countries and from a North
American paradigm, paying officials is corrupt. In other countries they operate in another
paradigm in which this is a normal occurrence.
Paradigms play a fundamental role in science – frameworks within which we examine
problems/issues (used more in the physical sciences).
Paradigms make assumptions about the nature of reality, and influence: the theories we
test, factors we examine and how we conduct our analysis.
Macrotheory: a theory aimed at understanding the big picture of institutions, whole
societies and interactions among societies.
Microtheory: a theory aimed at understanding social life of the intimate level of
individuals and their interactions.
Mesotheory: an intermediate level of theory between the two focusing on situating the
individual within the context of social forces influencing them (such as organizations and
communities). Early Positivism
Comte in the 19th century saw society as phenomena that can be studied logically and
Society is not determined by a divine force/being.
Laid the groundwork for us being able to study society in a systemic manner though
postmodernism challenges the idea of positivism, asking is there really an objective
Social behaviour is best explained as the process of conflict with the attempt to dominate
others and to avoid being dominated.
Feminists call attention to aspects of social life that other paradigms do not reveal.
Concerned with the treatment of women and the experiences of oppression.
Elements of Social Theory
1) Observation – seeing, hearing, the collection of information.
2) Facts – phenomena that has been observed.
3) Laws – universal generalizations about classes of facts; an observed regularity – don’t
explain anything just describe.
4) Theory – a systemic explanation for observations that relate to a particular aspect of
5) Concepts – abstract elements representing classes of phenomena within the field of
6) Variables – a set of attributes.
Example: in a federal election the above concepts are applied as follows:
1) Observations – the collection of electoral data.
2) Facts – Conservatives won in the last federal election.
3) Laws – “People vote with their wallets.”
4) Theory – people vote in retrospective and prospective evaluations of the e