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Chapter 20

New Society - Sixth Edition - Chapter 20.docx

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Adam Green

SOCIOLOGY REVIEW CHAPTER 20: RESEARCH METHODS INTRODUCTION:  Social research involves systematic, purposeful study  The systematic nature of sociological research comes, in part from the methods sociologists use  Systematic sociological study integrates sound theory with careful methods SCIENCE AS A SOCIAL PRACTICE:  Science is organized to minimize error  Science needs subjectivity but it cannot be overwhelmed by subjectivity  What appears to us as reality is filtered or screened  Values and expectations influence our perceptions of reality, but they do not completely determine what we see  The key point is that if our perception of reality can be affected by our values, then how can scientists ever know for certain that what they see is true?  Reality does not exist as some natural scientific judge  Pure observation does not rule supreme  OBSERVER BIAS = making unconscious mistakes in classifying or selecting observations; is now commonly discussed as a danger to good methodological procedure  Good research methods are designed to minimize the types of errors; these methods do not eliminate the biasing effect that values and expectations have on scientific research, but seek to minimize their impact MINIMIZING BIAS IN SOCIAL PRACTICE:  Scientific ideas become accepted only after scrutiny by the scientific community  Links must be demonstrated by presenting research findings at scientific conferences, subjecting findings to peer review, and ensuring that research results can be replicated  The scientific community is organized to promote critical scrutiny  Scrutiny is not enough if it is not rigourous and probing, then it is of little value  Scientific practice also encourages skeptical reasoning  New ideas are accepted only after others have critically examined them, only after they have withstood a barrage of questions from doubters  Scientists are also trained in methods of research designed to minimize the influence of their personal values and expectations on the results of their research work  Scientists learn to collect and analyze information according to rules that reduce the risk that results will be affected by bias  Science has prospered because of this healthy skepticism and public scrutiny  Science would be substantially weaker without values and expectations  Expectations and values are in tension within he scientific enterprise; without them the spark of creativity and passion would be low, but with them we can be led to false conclusions  OBJECTIVITY = stresses that observations should be free of the distorting effects of a person’s values and expectations  Subjectivity is essential to change and innovation  A hallmark of science is its creativity  Science depends on both the creativity of new explanations about how things work and the assessment of whether these explanations are plausible  In sociology this dual character resides in a division between theory (explanations of how the world works) and methods (ways of assessing the veracity of explanations) SCIENTIFIC VERSUS NONSCIENTIFIC THINKING:  Before the 1700s and the rise of science, our ancestors knew many things about the world  Religious knowledge held centre stage in community life  Religious doctrine and common sense remain powerful in many societies, but scientific ways of knowing have increasing authority in industrial nations  Hume argued that no matter how many observations you make, you cannot infer your next observation = THE PROBLEM OF INDUCTION (Example: no matter how many white swans you see, you cannot logically infer that all swans are white; observing one black swan is sufficient to refute he claim)  The collection of facts is useless unless you understand how to interpret them  Science is not a collection of facts; it is a method of collecting facts  Sociological theory provides guidance for the hunting and gathering  K. Popper claimed that observations refuting a well-conceived idea are always more important than evidence supporting or proving a theory (Example: observing one black swan was more important than observing yet another white swan)  It starts with a question or hunch, or in his words, a well-conceived conjecture  Two core ideas about distinguishing scientific thinking from other ways of thinking have been presented earlier: public scrutiny and skeptical reasoning  Popper added the principles of testability and uncertainty; for an idea to be scientific it must have testable implications; it must be falsifiable; if an assertion is false, this can be demonstrated by evidence  Science cannot proceed without the possibility of observation that could refute a scientific claims NATURAL VERSUS SOCIAL SCIENCE:  There is a difference between the subject matter of the natural and the social sciences  Human beings are conscious and creative; we think, act, reason and decide  Sociologists study meaningful actions; activities are meaningful to the people involved  Because of this difference in subject matter, sociologists have developed an array of methods to help in understanding and explaining human activity METHODS OF SOCIAL RESEARCH: A. EXPLANATION - Sociologists have shown repeatedly that the years of schooling people receive is strongly influenced by family background - An explanation would be judged adequate only if it could show how family background actually influences educational outcomes - The relationship between smoking and lung cancer is a good example of the rule that correlation does not prove causation - CAUSATION = involves a relationship between two variables where change in one produces change in a second; criteria: association, time ordering, non-spuriousness, and theoretical rationale - SPURIOUS = an incorrect inference about the causal relations between variables - Accumulated evidence and a more precise notion of the underlying modes of transmission have established that the original correlation is causal - The mechanisms by which causes have effects are essential for adequate explanation - Multiple causes are involved in social-scientific explanations; a single, unitary cause rarely provides a sufficient explanation - Sociologists search for the multiple factors that can help explain some particular state of affairs B. UNDERSTANDING - People make the social world happen, and in doing so they give meaning to their actions and to the actions of others; failure to address these meanings would leave sociology underdeveloped - It is no simple matter to understand what someone or some group means by their actions or utterances - UNDERSTANDING = is the ability to provide a definition of a situation that members of a culture find authentic and valid - One must learn how to proceed with the activity which means being able to participate fully in the activity, knowing what others mean by their actions and utterances, and knowing how others will interpret our actions and utterances - A fundamental social process, called taking the role of the other, captures the idea of understanding; it means coming to appreciate someone else’s point of view - Sociologists focus on the web of relations in which people interact, playing attention to how people understand and interpret the views of others TECHNIQUES OF SOCIAL RESEARCH: 1) EXPERIMENTS - Are the hallmark of scientific research and are commonly equated with science itself - = a controlled test of the causal effects of a particular variable or set of variables on a dependent or outcome variable - Are useful because they enable researchers to isolate causes and measure their effects - By no other method can researchers determine causation so precisely - Random assignment or randomization lies at the heart of experimental design; using a random procedure (Example: rolling a die, flipping a coin), people in an experiment are assigned to an experimental condition on the basis of chance - There are two experimental groups that will contain an approximately equal number of women and men; the average age of the two groups will be similar - The researchers began with a hypothesis (an unverified but testable knowledge claim) - To use a hypothesis, the relationship between two variables must be examined - The independent variable is presumed to affect other variables - The dependent variable is what changes - Many social processes that interest sociologists are not amenable to laboratory experiments - We must be cautious in generalizing the results of laboratory experiments to non- laboratory situations - There is an issue of EXTERNAL VALIDITY = the degree to which experimental findings remain valid in a non-laboratory situation - External validity is often low; relationships discovered in sociological experiments do not always hold in more real-life settings because these settings differ from the laboratory - The relevance of laboratory findings is an empirical question - Often findings from the laboratory apply in other real-life contexts - Field experiments have been used in sociology in an attempt to avoid some of the problems of laboratory experiments, especially problems of external validity - The field experiment, conducted in a natural as opposed to a laboratory setting, reduces problems of artificiality - When people know they are being studied, they often become self-conscious; the fact of being studied may influence their behaviour = HAWTHRONE EFFECT = changes in people’s behaviour caused by their awareness of being studied 2) SURVEY RESEARCH - Is the primary means of collecting social science evidence - Political pollsters, market researchers, labour unions, governments, and university researchers all rely heavily on survey-based knowledge - Survey research is useful because it provides a method of systematically comparing answers to identical questions from a large sample of people, and it allows researchers to generalize the results to the larger population from which the sample was chosen - Questions can be posed either on a self-administered questionnaire or through a personal interview - Increasingly the internet is used as a way to conduct surveys - VALIDITY = refers to accuracy or relevancy; measuring what you want to measure - RELIABILITY = the consistency of measurements and the ability to reproduce the same measurements on repeated occasions - Measurements are reliable if they are consistent or repeatable; if different measures or indicators of the same concept give similar results, the measurements are reliable or consistent - Surveys always invo
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