Week 2, Chapter 2
Chapter 2- Theory & Social Research
1) Social theories explain recurring patterns, not unique or 1-time events.
2) Social theories are explanation for aggregates, not particular individuals. Aggregates are collections
of many individuals, cases or other units (businesses, schools, families, clubs)
3) Social theories state a probability, chance, or tendency for events to occur, rather than stating that 1
event must absolutely follow another.
What Is Theory?
Social theory: A system of interconnected abstractions/ideas that condenses & organizes knowledge
about the social world. It is a compact way to think of the social world.
The classical social theorists (Marx, Weber, Durkheim) played an important role in generating
innovative ideas about the workings of social life in particular. They developed original theories
about how society was organized & functioned that laid the foundation for subsequent generations of
social thinkers. Great thinkers, in contrast, are often associated w/ a particular issue (often political).
Social theorists, on the other hand, create explanations around the workings of society & the
interaction b/w members of social groups.
The Parts of Theory
All theories contain concepts & concepts are the building blocks of theory.
Concept: an idea expressed as a symbol or in words. Concepts have 2 parts: a symbol (word or term)
and a definition.
Concept Cluster: a collection of interrelated ideas that share common assumptions, belong to the
same larger social theory, and refer to one another.
Classification Concepts: a means of organizing abstract, complex concepts using a combination of
the characteristics of simpler concepts.
Ideal Type: a pure model about an idea, process, or event. One develops it to think about it more
clearly and systematically. It is used both as a method of qualitative data analysis and in social theory
Scope: concepts vary by scope. Some are highly abstract, some are at a middle level of abstraction &
some are at a concrete level (i.e they are easy to experience directly w/ the senses). More abstract
concepts have a wider scope → they can be used for a much broader range or specific time points &
situations. More concrete concepts are easy to recognize but apply to fewer situations.
Less abstract, more concrete → skin pigmentation, casting a ballot in an election. More abstract, less
concrete → racial group, democracy & maturity.
Assumptions: concepts contain built-in assumptions, statements about the nature of things that not
observable or testable.
Assumption: A part of a social theory that is not 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.
Relationships: theories contain concepts, their definitions & assumptions. More imp, theories specify
how concepts relate to one another or if they are related at all. Theories also give reasons for why the
relationship does or doesn't exist.
Proposition: a basic statement in social theory that two ideas or variables are related to one another.
It can be true or false, conditional, and/or causal.
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Week 2, Chapter 2
The Aspects of Theory
To simplify, we can categorize a theory by (i) the direction of its reasoning, (ii) the level of social
reality that it explains (iii) the forms of explanation it employs & (iv) the overall framework of
assumptions & concepts in which it is embedded.
Direction of Theorizing: researchers approach the building & testing of theory from 2 directions.
Deductive Approach: you begin with an abstract, logical relationship among concepts, then move
toward concrete empirical evidence. You may have ideas about how the world operates & want to test
these ideas against "hard data". Deductive reasoning is all about testing theories w/ data - usually
Inductive Approach: you begin w/ detailed observations of the world & move toward more abstract
generalizations & ideas. When you begin, you may have only a topic & a few vague concepts. As you
observe, you refine the concepts, develop empirical generalization & identify preliminary
Grounded Theory: social theory that is rooted in observations of specific, concrete details.
Range of Theory
Empirical generalization: A quasi-theoretical statement that summarizes finding or regularities in
empirical evidence. It uses few, if any, abstract concepts and only makes a statement about a
recurring pattern that researchers observe.
Middle-range theory: slightly more abstract. Focuses on a specific substantive topic area, includes a
multiple empirical generalization, and builds a theoretical explanation.
Theoretical framework: more abstract.
Levels of Theory
Social theories can be divided into 3 broad groupings by the level of social reality w/ which they deal.
Micro-level theory: deals w/ small slices of times, space or numbers of people. The concepts are
usually not very abstract. Ex: 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 b/w a
broad and narrow scope, such as the development and operation of social organizations, communities,
or social movements over a 5 yr period
Macro-level theory: social theories and explanations about more abstract, large-scale, and broad-
scope aspects of social reality, such as social change in major institutions in a whole nation across
Forms of Explanation
Prediction & Explanation:
Prediction: a statement about something that is likely to occur in the future.
Explanation: Theoretical → a logical argument that tells why something occurs & how concepts are
connected. Refers to a general rule or principle. Ordinary explanation → makes something clear or
describes something in a way that illustrates it & makes it intelligible.
Causal explanation: most common type. Used when the relationship is one of cause & effect.
Def: A statement in social theory about why events occur that is expressed in terms of causes and
effects. They correspond to associations in the empirical world.
Need 3 things to establish causality: temporal order, association & the elimination of plausible
alternatives. An implicit 4th condition is an assumption that a casual relationship makes sense or fits
with a theoretical framework.
Temporal order: In establishing causation, the cause must come before the effect.
Simple causal relations are unidirectiona