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Chapter 2

Chapter 2- Theory and social research.docx

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Jayne Baker

Chapter 2: Theory and Social Research Introduction  Social theories explain recurring patterns, not unique or one-time events  Social theories are explanations for aggregates, not particular individuals o Aggregate: collection of many individuals, cases, or other units  Social theories state a probability, chance, or tendency for events to occur, rather than stating that one event must necessarily follow another What is theory?  Social theory: system of interconnected abstractions or ideas that condenses and organizes knowledge about the social world; compact way to think of social world  Classical social theorists (Marx, Weber and Durkheim) played important role in generating innovative ideas about workings of social life; developed original theories of how society was organized that laid the foundation for subsequent generations of social thinkers Parts of Theory Concepts  Concepts are the building blocks of theory  Defn: an idea expressed as a symbol or in words  Represents abstract idea about physical relationships  Two parts of concepts: symbol (word or term) and definition  People learn concepts in everyday language (i.e. height) and share them Concept Clusters  Defn: collection of interrelated ideas that share common assumptions, belong to the same larger social theory and refer to one another  Theories contain collections of associated concepts that are consistent and mutually reinforcing; together, they form web of meaning Classification Concepts  Concepts with multiple dimensions or many subparts  Classification: means of organizing abstract, complex concepts using a combination of the characteristics of simpler concepts  Ideal type: pure model about an idea, process or event; one develops it to think about it more clearly and systematically, used both as a method of qualitative data analysis and inn social theory building o Well-known classification o Mental pictures that define central aspects of a concept o Researchers use them to build theories; broader, abstract concepts that bring together several narrower, more concrete concepts Scope  Concepts vary by scope  More abstract concepts have wider scope- they can be used for broader range of specific time points and situations o More concrete concepts easy to recognize but apply to fewer situations Assumptions  Defn: part of social theory that is not rested but acts as a starting point or basic belief about the world; necessary to make other theoretical statements and to build social theory  Concepts contain built-in assumptions that are not observable or testable Relationships  Theories specify how concepts relate to one another or if they relate at all  Theories also give reasons for the existence or lack of relationship between concepts  Proposition: basic statement in social theory that two ideas/variables are related to one another; relationship in theory in which scientific community starts to gain greater confidence and feels it is likely to be truthful Aspects of Theory  Theories can be categorized by direction of its reasoning, level of social reality that it explains, forms of explanation it employs and overall framework of assumptions and concepts in which it is embedded Directions of Theorizing  Researchers approach building and testing of theory from two directions: abstract thinking or specific observations of empirical evidence o Abstract thinking- logically connect ideas in theory to concrete evidence and then test ideas against evidence o Specific observations…- generalize and build toward abstract ideas based on evidence o In practice, researches use both approaches at various points in study  Deductive approach: approach to inquiry or social theory in which one begins with abstract idea and principles then works toward concrete, empirical evidence to test the ideas; testing theories with data  Inductive approach: approach to inquiry or social theory in which one begins with concrete empirical details, then works toward abstract ideas or general principles; begin with detailed observations and more toward abstract generalizations/ideas o Grounded theory: social theory that is rooted in observations of specific, concrete details; widely used approach in qualitative research (pg. 29)  Qualitative research method that uses systematic set of procedures to develop inductively derived theory about a phenomenon  Purpose is to build theory that matches the evidence Range of Theory  Empirical generalization: quasi-theoretical statement that summarizes findings or regularities in empirical evidence; uses few, if any, abstract concepts and only makes a statement about a recurring pattern that researchers observe o I.e. more men than women choose engineering as a university major- summarizes pattern between gender and choice of major, easy to test  Middle range theories more abstract than empirical generalizations or specific hypothesis; focuses on specific substantive topic area, includes multiple empirical generalization, and builds a theoretical explanation  Theoretical framework (paradigm) more abstract than middle range theories- orientations, or sweeping ways of looking at the social world; provide collections of assumptions, concepts and forms of explanation o Include many formal or substantive theories and can be a structural functional theory, exchange theory
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