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Chapter 2

SOC200H Chapter 2 Paradigms Notes

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University of Toronto St. George
Alexandra Marin

st September 21 , 2012 Chapter 2 Paradigms, Theory, and Research - Theories function three ways in research: o First, they prevent our being taken in by flukes  I.e. if we can’t explain why polls like Ma’s Diner have been so successful in predicting elections, we run the risk of supporting a fluke. If we know why it has happened, we can anticipate whether or not it will be successful in the future o Second, theories make sense of observed patterns in ways that can suggest other possibilities  I.e. if we under why broken homes product more juvenile delinquency than intact homes – lack of supervision, for example – we can take effective action, such as after-school youth programs o Third, theories can shape and direct research efforts, pointing toward likely discoveries through empirical observation Some Social Science Paradigms - Paradigm: a model or framework for observation and understanding, which shapes both what we see and how we understand it. The conflict paradigm causes us to see social behaviour one way; the interactionist paradigm causes us to see it differently - There are benefits in recognizing that we are operating within a paradigm o First, we are better able to understand the seemingly bizarre views and actions of others who are operating from a different paradigm o Second, we can sometimes profit from stepping outside our paradigm. It opens our eyes to new ways of seeing and explaining things. That’s not possible if we mistake our paradigm for reality - Paradigms play a fundamental role in science - Thomas Kuhn drew attention to the role of paradigms in the history of the natural sciences - Kuhn says scientific paradigms typically become entrenched, resisting any substantial change. Thus, theories and research alike take a certain fundamental direction. Eventually, as the shortcomings of a particular paradigm became obvious, a new one emerges and supplants the old one - Social scientists have developed several paradigms for understanding social behaviour - Natural scientists generally believe that the succession from one paradigm to another represents progress from a false view to a true one (differs from Kuhn) - Paradigms are not true or false; as ways of looking, they are only more or less useful. Each can open up new understandings, suggest different kinds of theories, and inspire different kinds of research Macrotheory and Microtheory - Macrotheory: a theory aimed at understanding the “big picture” of institutions, whole societies, and the interactions among societies. Karl Marx’s examination of the class struggle is an example of macrotheory st September 21 , 2012 - Microtheory: a theory aimed at understanding social life at the intimate level of individuals and their interactions. Examining how the play behaviour of girls differs from that of boys would be an example of microtheory - Topics of study for macrotheory include the struggle among economic classes in a society, international relations, etc - Macrotheory deals with large, aggregate entities of society or even whole societies - Microtheory deals with issues of social life at the level of individuals and small groups - Dating behaviour, jury deliberations, and student-faculty interactions are apt subjects for a microtheoretical perspective - Symbolic interactionism and ethnomethodology are more often limited to the microlevel - Conflict paradigm can be pursued at either the micro- or the macrolevel Early Positivism - Comte identified society as a phenomenon that can be studied scientifically  Religious paradigms generally predominated in explanations of changes in society  Comte separated his inquiry from religion. He felt that religious belief could be replaced with scientific study and objectivity  Comte's "positive philosophy" postulated three stages of history o A "theological stage" predominated through the world until about 1300 o During the next five centuries, a "metaphysical stage" replaced God with philosophical ideas such as "nature" and "natural law" o The third stage is in which science would replace religion and metaphysics by basing knowledge on observations through the five senses rather than on belief or logic alone. He felt that society could be observed and then explained logically and rationally, and that sociology could be as scientific as biology or physics  Comte's view that society could be studied scientifically came to form the foundation for subsequent development of the social sciences Conflict Paradigm  Karl Marx suggested that social behaviour could best be seen as the process of conflict: the attempt to dominate others and to avoid being dominated  Marx primarily focused on the struggle among economic classes o Specifically,. he examined the way capitalism produced the oppression of workers by the owners of industry  The conflict paradigm is not limited to economic analyses  Simmel noted that conflicts among members of a tightly knit group tended to be more intense than those among people who did not share feelings of belonging and intimacy  Chossudovksy's analysis concluded that the interests of hte banks and corporations tended to take precedence over those of the poor people, who were the intended beneficiaries. Moreover, he found many policies were weakening national economies in the Third World, as well as undermining democratic governments  Though the conflict paradigm often focuses on class, gender, and ethnic struggles, it may be applied whenever different groups have competing interests o I.e. it could also be fruitfully applied to understanding relations among different departments in an organization, student-faculty-administrative relations, etc st September 21 , 2012 Symbolic Interactionism  Marx chiefly addressed macrotheoretical issues- large institutions and whole societies in their evolution through the course of history - Georg Simmel was more interested in how individuals interacted with one another (micro issues)  Simmel began by examining dyads (groups of two people) and triads (of three people)  Cooley introduced the idea of the "primary group", those intimate associates with whom we share a sense of belonging, such as our family, friendship cliques, and so forth  Cooley also wrote of the "looking-glass self" we form by looking into the reactions of people around us o I.e. if everyone treats us as beautiful, we conclude that we are  Mead emphasized the importance of our human ability to "take the role of the other", imagining how others feel and how they might behave in certain circumstances  As we gain an idea of how people in general see things, we develop a sense of what Mead called the "generalized other"  Mead also had a special interest in the role of communications in human affairs o He felt that most interactions revolved around the process of individuals reaching a common understanding through the use of language and other symbolic systems, hence the term symbolic interactionism  This paradigm can lend insights into the nature of interactions in ordinary social life, but it can also help us understand unusual forms of interaction (i.e. stalking) Ethnomethodology  From contemporary sociologist Harold Garfinkel's perspective, people are continually creating social structure through their actions and interactions - they are, in fact, creating their realities o I.e. when you and your instructor meet to discuss your term paper, even though there are myriad expectations about how you both should act, your conversation will differ somewhat from any of those that have occurred before, and how you each act will somewhat modify your future expectations. That is, discussing your term paper will impact your future interactions with other professors and students  Garfinkel suggests that people are continuously trying to make sense of the life they experience  One technique ethnomethodologists use is to break the rules, to violate people's expectations o I.e. if you try to talk to your professor about your term paper and he or she keeps talking about football, this might reveal the expectations you had for your professor's behaviour. We might also see how you make sense out of his or her behaviour ("Maybe he/she is using football as an analogy for understanding social system theory.")  Research within the ethnomethodological paradigm often focuses on communications  People always have an expectation to all behaviours Structural Functionalism  Structural functionalism (or "social systems theory") grows out of a notion introduced by Comte and others: A social entity, such as an organization or a whole society, can be viewed as an organism st September 21 , 2012  A social system is made up of parts, each of which contributes to the functioning of the whole  The view of society as a social system looks for the functions served by its various components  Structural functionalism looks to explain the functions performed by each part of society  Emile Durkheim suggested that crimes and their punishment provide an opportunity to reaffirm society's values  When researchers look for the "functions" served by poverty or racial discrimination, they are not justifying such things. Rather, they seek to understand the roles such things play in the larger society as a way of understanding why they persist and how they could eliminate them Feminist Paradigms  Researchers looking at the social world from a feminist paradigm have called attention to aspects of social life that are not revealed by other paradigms  Feminist theory and research have focused on gender differences and how they relate to the rest of social organization  Feminist paradigms have also challenged the prevailing notions concerning consensus in society o Most descriptions of the predominant beliefs, values, and norms of a society are written by people representing only portions of society  Though George Herbert Mead spoke of the "generalized other" that each of us becomes aware of and can "take the role of", feminist paradigms question whether such a generalized other even exists  Social researchers' growing recognition of the general intellectual differences between men and women led the psychologist Mary Field Belenky and her colleages to speak of Women's Ways of Knowing o In-depth interviews with 45 women led the researchers to distinguish five perspectives on knowing that challenged the view of inquiry as obvious and straightforward o Among the perspectives on knowledge that were derived from their interviews were subjective knowledge - the idea that knowledge may derive from personal, subjective experiences, including intuition - and constructed knowledge - described by the authors as a "position in which women view all knowledge as contextual, experience themselves as creators of knowledge, and value both subjective and objective strategies for knowing  The positivistic paradigm of Comte would have a place neither for "subjective knowledge" nor for the idea that truth might vary according to its context  The ethnomethodological paradigm, on the other hand, would accommodate these ideas  The value of subjectivity and context became increasingly important as a means of allowing the voice and experience of women to be heard and understood  If social science research was to incorporate women, the the methodology itself must be adapted to allow for women's voices  Out of feminist thought rose feminist methodology st September 21 , 2012  For many, traditional, mainstream, positivist sociology - with its emphasis on objectivity and rationality - was inadequate for the study of women's issues  Dorothy Smith and others have stressed that the understanding of social life and its institutions has been represented from the standpoint of men  There is no single voice that can represent the feminist paradigm  The very idea of trying to say "what feminist research is" runs counter to many feminist researchers' philosophy of recognizing difference and incorporating the understanding of diversity into social inquiry  Researchers conducting research from a feminist perspective "have used all existing methods and have invented some new ones as well"  Paradigms help determine which concepts we see as relevant and important Rational Objective Reconsidered  Comte: society can be studied rationally and objectively  Positivistic social scientists have sometimes erred in assuming that social reality can be explained in rational terms because humans always act rationally  Many modern economic models fundamentally assume that people will make rational choices in the economic sector: they will choose the highest-paying job, pay the lowest price, etc. This assumption ignores the power of such factors as tradition, loyalty, image, and other factors that compete with reason and calculation in the determination of human behaviour  A more sophisticated positivism would assert that we can rationally understand and predict even nonrational human behaviour o I.e. the famous "Asch experiment", where a group of subjects is presented with a set of lines on a screen and asked to identify the two lies that are of equal length o Choosing an obviously wrong answer in a simple experiment is an example of nonrational behaviour o Asch showed that experimenters can examine the circumstances that lead more or fewer subjects to go along with the incorrect answer  The criticism of positivism challenges the idea that scientists can be as objective as positivist ideal assumes o Most scientists would agree that personal feelings can and do influence the problems scientists choose to study, what they choose to observe, and the conclusions they draw from their observations  Objectivity is a conceptual attempt to get beyond our individual views. It is ultimately a matter of communication, as we attempt to find a common ground in our subjective experiences o Whenever we succeed in our search, we say we are dealing with objective reality  While our subjectivity is individual, our search for objectivity is social o I.e. while each of us may prefer different foods, we must agree to some extent on what is fit to eat and what is not, or else there could be no restaurants or grocery stores o Without agreement reality, there could be no movies or televisions, no sports  Social scientists as well have found benefits in the concept of a socially agreed-upon objective reality st September 21 , 2012 o As people seek to impose order on their experience of life, they find it useful to pursue this goal as a collective venture  From the 17
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