Social theories explain recurring patterns, not unique or one-time events. Social theories are explanations for aggregates, not particular individuals.
AGGREGATES are collections of many individuals, cases, or other units (business, schools, clubs, cities, nations). Social theories state a probability,
chance, or tendency for events to occur, rather than stating that one event must absolutely follow another.
SOCIAL THEORY is a system of interconnected abstractions or ideas that condenses and organizes knowledge about the social world.
Concepts are the building blocks of theory. A CONCEPT is an idea expressed as a symbol or in words. Concepts have two parts: a symbol (word/term)
and a definition.
Concept clusters - a collection of interrelated ideas that share common assumptions, belong to the same larger social theory, and refer to one another.
Variables are included in this in order to make a cluster.
Classification Concepts – some concepts are simple; they have one dimension and vary along a single continuum. Other are complex; they have
multiple dimensions or many subparts. You can break complex concepts into a set of simple, or single-dimension, concepts.
• Classifications – a means of organizing abstract, complex concepts using a combination of the characteristics of simpler concepts. They are
partway between a single, simple concept and a theory.
• Ideal-type – a pure model about an idea, process, or event. Researchers use this to build a theory. It’s used as a method of qualitative data
analysis and in social theory building
Scope – concepts vary by scope. Some are highly abstract, some are at a middle level of abstraction, and some are at a concrete level (easy to
experience directly with the senses such as sight/touch). More abstract concepts have a wider scope: that is, they can 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.
Assumptions: a part of social theory that isn’t tested but acts as a starting point or basic belief about the world. These are necessary to make other
theoretical statements and to build social theory. Concepts and theories build on assumptions about the nature of human beings, social reality, or a
Relationships: theories specify how concepts relate to one another or if they are related at all. If they are related, the theory states how they relate to
each other. After many careful tests of a hypothesis with data confirming they hypothesis, it is treated as a proposition. A PROPOSITION is a basic
statement in social theory that two ideas or variables are related to one another.
The aspects of theory: we can categorize a theory by
1. The direction of its reasoning,
2. The level of social reality that it explains (3)
3. The forms of explanation it employs,
4. The overall framework of assumptions and concepts in which it is embedded. (on page 27)
Direction of Theorizing
• Deductive: an approach to inquiry or social theory in which one begins with abstract ideas and principles then works toward concrete, empirical
evidence to test the ideas. Deductive reasoning is all about testing theories with data (statistical data)
• Inductive: you begin with detailed observations of the world and move toward more abstract generalizations and ideas. You begin, you have 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: many researchers who adopt an inductive approach use the grounded theory. This is when a researcher builds ideas and
theoretical generalizations based on closely examining and creatively thinking about the data. This is a qualitative research method that uses a
systematic set of procedures to develop an inductively derived theory about a phenomenon
Range of Theory
• An empirical generalization is the least abstract theoretical statement and has a very narrow range. It uses few concepts to only make a
statement about a recurring pattern that researchers observe. • Theoretical framework (also called paradigm or theoretical system) has many different levels and different approaches to theorizing (deductive,
• Sociology and other social sciences have several major theoretical frameworks. The frameworks are orientations of looking at the social wrld. They
provide collections of assumptions, concepts, and forms of explanation.
• Frameworks have many theories (theories of crime, theories of family). Therefore, there can be structural functional theory, an exchange theory,
and a conflict theory of family.
• Structural functionalism: society is a system of interdependent parts that is in balance. Society can evolve frm a simple to complex type that has
specialized parts. The parts fulfill different needs of the social system
• Exchange theory: human interactions. How it is similar to economic transactions. People give and receive to try to maximize their rewards while
avoiding pain, expense and embarrassment.
• Conflict theory: society is made up of groups that have opposing interests.
Levels of Theory
• Micro-level: deals with small slices of time, space, or numbers of people. They’re social theories, and explanations about narrow level of reality,
like face-to-face interaction in small groups during a 2 month period.
• Meso-level theory: social theories and explanations about the middle level of social reality between a broad and narrow schope. Like the
development and operation of social organizations, communities, or social movements over a 5 year period.
• Macro-level theory: theories and explanations of more abstract, large scale and broad scope aspects of social reality. Like social change in major
institutions (family, education) in a whole nation across several decades.
Forms of explanation
• A theory’s primary focus is to explain. There are two meanings or uses of the term explanation. Researchers focus on theoretical explanation, a
logical argument that tells why something occurs and how concepts are connected. Second type is ordinary explanation which is making
something clear or descrives something in a way that illustrates it and makes it intelligible.
• Prediction is a statement that something will occur.
• Casual explanation: most common. When the relationship is of cause and effect. You need three things to establish causality:
o Temporal order
o Elimination of plausible alternatives.
o An implicit fourth condition is an assumption that a causal relationship makes sense or gits with broader assumptions or a theoretical
• Temporal disorder: co