SOAN 2120 Chapter Notes - Chapter 2: Network Theory, Verstehen, Bureaucracy

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Week 2
Chapter 2: Theory and Social Research – page #23-46:
Introduction:
Small-scale social theories are a type that researchers use when conducting a study
Theory has an important role in research and is essentially ally for the researcher
Researchers use theory differently in various types of research, but some type of theory is
present in most social research
Researchers interweave a story about the operation of the social world (the theory) with what
they observe when they examine it systematically (the data)
People who seek absolute, fixed answers for a specific individual or a particular one-time
event may be frustrated with science and social theories
To avoid frustration, it is wise to keep in mind 3 things about how social scientific theories
work:
1. Social theories explain recurring patterns, not unique or onetime events
2. Social theories are explanations for aggregates, not particular individuals
a. Aggregates are collections of many individuals, cases, or other units
3. Social theories state a probability, chance, or tendency for events to occur, rather than
state that one event must absolutely follow another
What is Theory?
Social theory was defined as a system of interconnected abstractions or ideas that
condenses and organizes knowledge about the social world
The classical social theorists (Durkheim, Weber, Marx, and Tonnies) played an important role
in generating innovative ideas
They developed original theories that laid the foundation for subsequent generations of social
thinkers
People study the classical theorists because they provided many creative and interrelated
ideas at once they radically changed the way people understood and saw the social world
Almost all research involves some theory, so the question is less whether you should use the
theory than how you should use it
Being explicit about the theory makes it easier to read someone else’s research or to conduct
your own
Blame Analysis:
Blame analysis is a type of counterfeit argument presented as if it were a theoretical
explanation it substitutes attributing blame for a causal explanation that is backed by
supporting empirical evidence
Blame belongs to the realm of making moral, legal, or ideological claims; it implies intention,
negligence, or responsibility for an event or situation
Blame analysis clouds discussion because it confuses blame with cause; it gives an account
(or story) instead of a logical explanation with intervening causal mechanisms; and it fails to
explore empirical evidence for and against several alternative causes
The Parts of a Theory:
Concepts:
A concept is an idea expressed as a symbol or in words
Natural science concepts are often expressed in symbolic forms, such as Greek letters, or
formulas
Most social science concepts are expressed as words words are symbols too; they are
symbols we learn with language
Language is merely an agreement to represent ideas by sounds or written characters that
people learned at some point in their lives; learning concepts and theory is like learning a
language
Concepts are everywhere, and you use them all the time
It represents an abstract idea about physical relations
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Week 2
A new concept from a social theory may seem just as alien when you encounter it for the first
time
People can express the abstract idea to one another using the symbol alone
Concepts have two parts: a symbol (word or term) and a definition
Everyday life is filled with concepts, but many have vague and unclear definitions
Likewise, the values, misconceptions, and experiences of people in a culture may limit
everyday concepts
We create concepts from personal experiences, creative thought, or observation
Most social science concepts are more complex and abstract they are defined by formal,
dictionary-type definitions that build on other concepts
Abstract concepts refer to aspects of the world we do not directly experience they organize
thinking and extend understanding or reality
Social theory requires well-defined concepts the definition helps to link theory with research
A valuable goal of exploratory research, and of most good research, is to clarify and refine
concepts
Weak, contradictory, or unclear definitions of concepts restrict the advance of knowledge
Concept Clusters:
Theories contain collections of associated concepts that are consistent and mutually
reinforcing
Together, they form a web of meaning
Some concepts take on a range of values, quantities, or amounts (e.g., amount of income,
temperature, density of population, years of schooling, and degree of violence) these are
called variables
Other concepts express types of nonvariable phenomena (e.g., bureaucracy, family
revolution, homeless, and cold)
Theories use both kinds of concepts
Classification Concepts:
Some concepts are simple; they have 1 dimension and vary along a single continuum
Others are complex; they have multiple dimensions or many subparts
You can break complex concepts into a set of simple, or single-dimension, concepts
Classifications are partway between a single, simple concept and a theory
They help to organize abstract, complex concepts
To create a new classification, a researcher logically specifies and combines the
characteristics of simpler concepts
The ideal type is well known as classification ideal types are pure, abstract models that
define the essence of the phenomenon in question; they are mental pictures that define the
central aspects of a concept
Ideal types are not explanations because they do not tell why or how something occurs
They are smaller than theories, and researchers use them to build a theory; they are broader,
more abstract concepts that bring together several narrower, more concrete concepts
Scope:
Some are highly abstract, some are at a middle level of abstraction, and some are at a
concrete level
More abstract concepts have wider scope; that is, they can be used for a much broader
range of specific time points and situations
Theories that use many abstract concepts can apply to a wider range of social phenomena
than those with concrete concepts
When you think explicitly about the scope of concepts, you make a theory stronger and will
be able to communicate it more clearly to others
Assumptions:
Concepts contain built-in assumptions, statements about the nature of things that are not
observable or testable
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We accept them as a necessary starting point
Concepts and theories build on assumptions about the nature of human beings, social reality,
or a particular phenomenon
All concepts contain assumptions about social relations or how people behave
Relationships:
Theories contain concepts, their definitions, and assumptions; more significantly, theories
specify how concepts relate to one another
Theories tell us whether concepts are related or not if they are related, the theory states
how they relate to each other
In addition, theories give reasons for why the relationship does or does not exist
When a researcher empirically tests or evaluates such a relationship, it is called a hypothesis
After many careful tests of a hypothesis with data confirm the hypothesis, it is treated as a
proposition
A proposition is a relationship in a theory in which the scientific community starts to gain
greater confidence and feels it likely to be truthful
The Aspects of Theory:
Theory can be baffling because it comes in so many forms
To simplify, we can categorize a theory by:
1. The direction of its reasoning
2. The level of social reality that it explains
3. The forms of explanation it employs
4. The overall framework of assumptions and concepts in which it is embedded
Fortunately, all logical possible combinations of direction, level, explanation, and framework
are not equally viable
Direction of Theorizing:
Researchers approach the building and testing of theory from two directions
Some begin with abstract thinking they logically connect the ideas in theory to concrete
evidence, then test the ideas against the evidence
Others begin with specific observations of empirical evidence on the basis of the evidence,
the generalize and build toward increasingly abstract ideas
Deductive:
In a deductive approach, you begin with an abstract, logical relationship among concepts,
then move toward concrete empirical evidence
Group Position Theory states that dominant and subordinate racial-ethnic groups are in
competition for resources and status in a multiethnic society that has a racial hierarchy, and
such competition affects racial beliefs and attitudes
o Dominant groups believe they are entitled to privileges and a position of superiority,
and they fear losing their privileges
o Subordinate groups believe their position can be enhanced if they challenge the
existing order
Inductive:
If you use an inductive approach, you begin with detailed observations of the world and move
toward more abstract generalizations and ideas
When you begin, you may have only a topic and a few vague concepts
As you observe, you refine the concepts, develop empirical generalizations, and identify
preliminary relationships
You build the theory from the ground up
Grounded theory is part of an inductive approach in which a researcher builds ideas and
theoretical generalizations based on closely examining and creatively thinking about the data
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