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Chapter 1

Textbook Chapter 1 notes

Course Code
Malcolm Mac Kinnon

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Chapter 2: How Sociologists Do Research
Science and Experience
โ€ขExperience helps us perceive reality, including what patterns we see and whether we are able
to see patterns at all- ex. Daughter asking her father a pattern questions
โ€ขexperience filters perceptions๎€biggest problem in sociological research
oFiltering occurs in 4 stages:
๎€‚Values often help decide which problems are worth investigating
๎€ƒMay reflect typical outlook of class, gender, race etc.
๎€‚Values lead sociologists to formulate and adopt favoured theories for
interpreting and explaining those problems
๎€‚Sociologistsโ€™ interpretations are influenced by previous research, which
they consult to find out what they already know about a subject
๎€‚The methods they use to gather data mould their perceptions
โ€ขGiven that values, theories, previous research, and research methods filter our perceptions ,
you are right to concluded that we can never perceive society in a purely objective form
oBut can use techniques of data collection that minimize bias
โ€ขCan also publicly describe these filters which help eliminate obvious sources of bias
โ€ขObjectivity and subjectivity each play an important role in sociology
oAlthough objectivity is about the reality check, subjectivity leads us to define which
aspects of reality are worth checking on in the first place
Scientific versus Unscientific Thinking
โ€ขIn everyday life our biases easily influence our observations
ooften leads to incorrect conclusions about what we see
โ€ขScientists and sociologists develop ways of collecting, observing, and thinking about evidence
that minimize their chance of drawing biased conclusions
โ€ข10 types of unscientific thinking:
o1). Knowledge based on tradition
๎€‚Ex). Chicken soup helps get rid of a cold- it worked for my grandparents and
it works for me
๎€‚Science is required to separate valid from invalid knowledge
o2). Knowledge based on authority (ex. read from an authoritative paper)
๎€‚We often think something is true because we read it in an authoritative
source or hear it from an expert โ€“but authoritative sources and experts can
be wrong
๎€ƒScientists should always question authority to arrive at more valid
o3). Knowledge based on casual observation
๎€‚Uncertainty can be reduced by observing in a conscious and deliberate
manner by recording observations
๎€ƒEx. The car that hit the cyclist was dark brown- I was going for a
walk last night when I saw the accident
o4).Knowledge based on overgeneralization

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๎€‚Ex. If you work hard you can get ahead- I know because several of my parents
friends started off poor but are now comfortably middle class
๎€‚Scientists thus sample cases that are representative of entire populations
and by repeating research which ensures that they donโ€™t draw conclusions
from an unusual set of research findings
o5). Knowledge based on selective observation
๎€‚Ex. I am right because I canโ€™t think of any contrary cases
๎€‚ignores evidence that challenges our beliefs
๎€‚evidence drawn from representative samples of the population minimizes
bias that arises
o6). Knowledge based on qualification (โ€œexceptions to the ruleโ€)
๎€‚The difference is that in everyday life, qualifications are easily accepted as
valid, while in scientific inquiry they are treated as statements that must be
carefully examined in the light of evidence
๎€‚Ex. Mr. Smith is poor even though the works hard, but thatโ€™s because he has
a disability โ€“people with disabilities are exceptions
o7). Knowledge based on illogical reasoning
๎€‚scientists refrain from illogical thinking and use statistical techniques to
distinguish b/w events that are probably due to chance and those that are not
o8). Knowledge based on the ego-defence
๎€‚Ex. I just canโ€™t be wrong
o9). Knowledge based on the premature closure of inquiry
๎€‚Ex. The matter is settled once and for all
๎€‚involves deciding that all the relevant evidence has been gathered on a
particular subject
๎€‚science committed to idea that all theories are only temporarily true
o10).Knowledge based on mystification
๎€‚science is committed to discovering observable causes of observable effects-
when we canโ€™t find no rational explanation for a phenomenon, we may
attribute it to forces that cannot be observed of fully understood
โ€ขex. Albert Einstein sometimes ignored evidence in favour of pet theories
Conducting Research
The Research Cycle
โ€ขSociological research is cyclical process that involves 6 steps
o1). The sociologist must formulate a research question
๎€‚A research question must be stated so it can be answered by systematically
collecting and analyzing sociological data
o2). The sociologist must review the existing research literature
๎€‚must elaborate their questions in light of what other sociologists have already
debated and discovered
๎€‚Reading the relevant sociological literature stimulates researchers
sociological imagination, allows them to refine their initial questions, and
prevents duplication of effort
o3). Selecting a research method
๎€‚each method has strengths and weaknesses and so each is best suited to
studying a different kind of problem

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๎€‚infrequently, several methods are used simultaneously to study the same
problem which can overcome drawbacks of any one method and increase
confidence in findings
o4). Collecting Data
๎€‚By observing subjects, interviewing them, reading documents produced by or
about them etc.
o5). Analyzing the data
๎€‚This is the most challenging
๎€‚During data analysis you can learn things that nobody ever know before- it is
the time when data confirm some of your expectations and confound others,
requiring you to think creatively about familiar issues, reconsider the
relevant theoretical and research literature, and abandon pet ideas
o6). Publish the results
๎€‚it allows other sociologists to scrutinize and criticize the research
๎€‚errors can be corrected and new research questions can be formed
Ethical Consideration
โ€ขresearches must be mindful of the need to respect their subjectโ€™s rights
oThus they must do them no harm
โ€ขThey have the right to decide whether they want to be studied and in what way
โ€ขThey must have the right to decide whether their attitudes and behaviours may be revealed
to the public and in what way
โ€ขThey have the right to confidentiality
โ€ขThey must be told how the information they supply will be used
โ€ขThey have the right to informed consent
โ€ขEthical issues arise not only in the treatment of subjects but also in the treatment of
research results
oex. plagiarism
โ€ขThe Code of Ethics of the American Sociological Association
oStates that we must explicitly identify, credit, and reference the author when we
make any use of another personโ€™s written work, whether it is published, unpublished
or electronically available
The Main Methods of Sociology
Field Methods: From Detached Observation to โ€œGoing Nativeโ€:
โ€ขThere are dangers in drawing conclusions based on casual observation
oex. Eikoku News Digest column on English social life
โ€ขsome sociologists undertake field research๎€ research based on the observation of people in
their natural settings
โ€ขWhen they arrive in the field, they come prepared w/ strategies to avoid getting things wrong
oOne such strategy is detached observation๎€ involves classifying and counting the
behaviour of interest to a predetermined scheme
๎€‚They know what they are looking for even before entering the field
โ€ข2 main problems confound direct observation:
o1). The presence of the researcher may itself affect the behaviour of people being
observed (The Hawthorne effect๎€Western Electric Companyโ€™s Hawthorne factory
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