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Chapter 20

SOC101Y1 Chapter Notes - Chapter 20: Sociological Theory, Intentionality, Ethnocentrism


Department
Sociology
Course Code
SOC101Y1
Professor
Adam Green
Chapter
20

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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

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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

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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
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