SOC200H1 Chapter Notes - Chapter 2: George Herbert Mead, Thomas Kuhn, Feminist Theory

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September 21st, 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
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September 21st, 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
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September 21st, 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
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Document Summary

Theories function three ways in research: 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: second, theories make sense of observed patterns in ways that can suggest other possibilities. 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. 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.

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