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Chapter 2

Chapter 2.docx

Sociology and Anthropology
Course Code
SOAN 2120
William Walters

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Chapter 2: pg. 24 – 34
Theory is one of the least well understood terms
oIt is important in research
oAn essential ally for the researcher
Researchers use theory differently in various types of research
oHowever, some type of theory is present in most social research
oIt is less evident in applied or descriptive than in basic or explanatory research
How social scientific theories work:
o1) they explain recurring patterns, not unique or one-time events
Ex. Can’t explain why terrorists attacked the WTC in NY, but they can explain patterns,
such as the conditions that generally lead to increased levels of fear in people
o2) they are explanations for aggregates, not particular individuals
Aggregates: collections of many individuals, cases, or other units
Ex. Can’t explain why Josephine decided to major in nursing over engineering, but can
explain why females more than males choose nursing over engineering as a major
o3) they state a probability, chance, or tendency for events to occur, rather than state that one
event must follow another
Ex. Instead of saying that an abused child will later abuse his own children, the theory
may say that an abused child is more likely to become abusive as an adult
What is Theory?
System of interconnected abstractions or ideas that condenses and organizes knowledge about the
social world
oCompact way to think of the social world
Some confusions when it comes to theory:
oThe history of social thought and social theory are not the same
Classical social theorists played an important role in generating innovative ideas
They are studied because they provided creative and interrelated ideas at once
oA hunch or speculative guessing is not the same as theory
Guessing differs from serious social theory that has been built and debated for years by
researchers who found support through empirical tests
oWhat people consider a fact is not the same as what scientists refer to as theory
People use simple theories without making them explicit or labelling them
oCompared to the theories of social scientists, these are less systematic, less well formulated,
and harder to test with empirical evidence
Blame Analysis
A type of counterfeit argument presented as if it were a theoretical explanation
It substitutes attributing blame for casual explanation that is backed by supporting empirical evidence
Implies an intention, negligence, or responsibility for an event or situation
It assume there is a party/source to which a responsibility can be attached
It clouds discussion
oConfuses blame with cause
oGives an account instead of a logical explanation
Blame analysis first presents an unfavourable event/situation, identifies responsible parties, and then
provides selective evidence that shields certain parties/sources

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The Parts of Theory
A concept is an idea expressed as a symbol or in words
They are everywhere and used all the time; ex. Height
A concept has two parts: a symbol (word or term) and a definition
oA definition can be learned in many ways
Social scientists borrow concepts from everyday culture, but they refine these concepts and add new
Many concepts begin as precise, technical concepts in social theory
oEventually they diffuse into the larger culture and become less precise
Concepts are created from personal experience, creative thought, or observation
Classical theorists originated many concepts
Some concepts like book or height can be defined through a simple nonverbal process
Most social science concepts are more complex and abstract
oThey are defined by formal, dictionary-type definitions that build on other concepts
Often, simple concepts are combined to create more abstract concepts
Concept Clusters
Concepts are rarely used in isolation
They form interconnected groups, or concept clusters
Theories contain collections of associated concepts that are consistent and mutually reinforcing
Some concepts are variables: take on a range of values, quantities or amounts
Others express non-variable phenomena
Classification concepts
Some concepts are simple, have one dimension and vary along a single continuum
Complex concepts can be broken down into a set of simple concepts
Classifications are a partway between a simple concept and a theory
oThey help organize abstract complex concepts
oThe ideal type is a well-known classification
Concepts vary by scope
Some are highly abstract while others are at concrete level
More abstract concepts have a wider scope
oCan be used for a much broader range of specific time points and situations
More concrete concepts are easy to recognize but apply to fewer situations
Theories that used abstract concepts can apply to a wider range of social phenomena
Concepts contain built-in assumptions: statements about the nature of things that are not
Concepts build on assumptions about a particular phenomenon
Assumptions often remain hidden or unstated
Ex. The concept book assumes a system of writing, people who can read, and existence of paper
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