RESEARCH IN SOCIOLOGY

I.                    Sociology as the scientific study of social organization and behavior.

A.     What is science?

1.  Science as a body of knowledge.

2.  Science as a method of gaining knowledge about the world.

3.  Characteristics of science.

a.       Science is empirical.

b.      Science is critical and skeptical.

c.       Science is systematic.

d.      Science is objective.

e.       Science is logical.

                              4.  The role of theory and research.

B.    Sociology as a science.

C.  The importance of sociological research.

 

II.                 What is research?

A.     Research involves the use of carefully prescribed methods and procedures to systematically observe, collect, and analyze empirical data.

B.     The functions of research.

1.      Description.

2.      Exploration.

3.      Explanation.

C.     There are a variety of research methods used in social research, each with its own set of procedures, carefully designed to insure precision and accuracy of observation and analysis.

D.     Sociological research methods are usually classified as either quantitative or qualitative.

1.      Quantitative methods attempt to measure social phenomena quantitatively. They attempt to assign numerical scores or values to empirical observations of the social world so they can be analyzed statistically.

2.      Most quantitative researchers are social positivists.

a.       Origins of social positivism.

i.         Compte and social positivism.

ii.       Durkheim's "social facts."

b.      Social reality is seen as objective, concrete, and existing independently of human experience and acknowledgement of it. It can be discovered, measured, and analyzed objectively using the scientific method.

c.       Humans are self-interested and rational, driven by internal wants and desires, but influenced by external social forces. These forces affect all people alike, giving behavior a certain consistency and regularity, resulting in relatively stable and predictable patterns of activity. Individual interpretations, perceptions, and understandings are ignored, denied as unreliable, or viewed as unproblematic due to intersubjectivity.

d.      The central goal of sociology is to discover and confirm a set of probabilistic causal laws that can be used to explain and predict general patterns of human social organization and behavior. These laws are seen as universal and can be discovered and identified through scientific research. While deterministic explanations are the ideal, it is recognized that social behaviors have multiple causes and that all of the causes of any particular behavior are seldom, if ever, known. Thus, probabilistic explanations are the best that can be achieved.

e.       Research emphasizes deductive logic. Hypotheses are derived from theory then tested using empirical data. The goal of research is to test and substantiate theory about the universal laws of social organization so that this knowledge can be used to better social life.

f.        Methods preferred by quantitative researchers include:

i.         Surveys.

ii.       Experiments.

iii.      Analysis of existing data.

iv.     Content analysis.

3.      Qualitative methods categorize, classify, and describe social phenomena verbally (i.e., using words). They attempt to interpret and describe the social world narratively.

4.      Most qualitative researchers are interpretivists.

a.       Origins of interpretive sociology.

i.         Dilthey's distinction between the human and natural sciences.

ii.       Weber's verstehen and the analysis of socially meaningful action.

iii.      Mead, Blumer, and symbolic interactionism.

iv.     Schutz's phenomenology and Berger and Luckman's social construction of reality.

b.      Social reality is seen as being produced and sustained in ongoing social interaction. It is symbolic and exists only in that social actors agree that it exists and attest to its existence in what they say and do. For some interpretivists, there is no external, objective social reality, at least not that can be known or studied. The only reality we have access to is reality as it is experienced, interpreted, and made meaningful by social actors. Others argue that there are external, objective social forces that impact human social behavior, but they emphasize the importance of collectively negotiated and produced symbolic perceptions of these realities.

c.       Humans are seen as acting based on the symbolic meanings that they assign to objects rather than on some objective feature or characteristic of the objects themselves. Humans are constantly interpreting, defining, and assigning meaning to the objects they encounter. They actively create meaningful social worlds rather than passively responding to fixed external social forces. During interaction, humans negotiate and assign meanings to situations, objects, and each other as they attempt to order and structure their daily lives in a meaningful and purposeful way. Through communication and negotiation, they arrive at meaningful definitions of reality that make social life orderly and sensible.

d.      The central goal of sociology is to develop valid understandings of the social world as perceived and made meaningful by social actors. The emphasis is on understanding how social actors create and sustain a common and meaningful sense of social reality, how they assign and interpret meanings, and how they order and organize their everyday interactions. There is little effort at causal explanation. Classifications and typologies are developed that describe the social world as experienced by those being studied. Understanding is the goal, not causal explanation.

e.       Research emphasizes inductive logic. People are observed creating and sustaining social order, then conceptual and theoretical systems are devised from the observations to increase our understanding of the processes involved. The goal is to develop theory grounded in empirical observations, furthering our understanding of how social life is constructed, ordered, and made meaningful in everyday interactions, thus helping us understand ourselves, others, and the social processes that make our lives meaningful.

f.        Methods preferred by qualitative researchers include:

i.         Case studies.

ii.       In depth interviewing.

iii.      Ethnographic research.

iv.   Content Analysis.

 v.     Historical and comparative research.

5.      Some positivistic quantitative researchers are extremely critical of qualitative methods while some interpretive qualitative researchers are extremely critical of quantitative methods. However, this is not always the case.

a.       Some positivist use qualitative methods.

b.      Some interpretivist use quantitative methods.

c.       Some sociologists (both positivist and interpretivists) argue both methods should be used to get a full and complete understanding of social reality. This is sometimes referred to as "triangulation."