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

A.     Sociologists study social organization and behavior.

1.      Cultures and societies.

2.      Social institutions.

3.      Groups and organizations.

4.      Social behavior and interaction.

5.      Socially produced meanings and understandings.

6.      Social selves and identities.

B.      Sociologists study social organization and behavior scientifically.

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.

f.        Science is communal.

4.      Theory and research in science.

a.        The wheel of science.

b.       Deductive and inductive logic.

c.        The importance of theory and research.

C.      Other sources of knowledge about the social world,

1.      Faith and intuition.

2.      Political, religious, and family authorities.

3.      Tradition and common sense.

4.      Personal observations.

5.      Science’s critique of other sources of knowledge.

D.     Science as a human product.

1.      Scientists are human and subject to human error.

2.      Science is affected by culture, politics, power, economics, class, race, gender, etc.

3.      Scientific knowledge is social constructed knowledge.

a.        Scientific knowledge, like all knowledge, is humanly produced.  It is what scientists at a given point in time collectively agree to accept as true.

b.       Scientific facts are collective agreements.  They are negotiable and can and do change.

c.        It can be argued that scientific knowledge is simply one “truth” among many possible truths.


II.            The role of 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 often 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.                Comte 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."

6.      What type of researcher am I?

a.        If you are interested in the effect of social forces on behavior or knowing the “facts” about social organization and prefer causal explanations and relationships, you are most likely a positivist and should use quantitative methods.

b.       If you are interested in how people make sense of and come to understand their everyday experiences, how they perceive, interpret, and make sense of the world around them, and prefer typologies and narrative descriptions over causal explanations, you are probably an interpretivist and should use qualitative methods.

c.         If you are unsure, look at the research topics and the types of research questions that interest you.

i.                Questions that ask about causes and consequences, how variables are related, make comparison, or that look at effects "social forces" on behavior should probably be addressed using quantitative methods.

ii.              Questions about how people make sense of, perceive, understand and assign meaning to things; or that focus on the way groups come to define and see the world should probably be addressed using qualitative research.

d.       If you are still unsure which method to use, you should probably use quantitative methods.  Most people think more like quantitative sociologists than qualitative sociologists and quantitative research is easier to design.  For this class, you are required to be a quantitative researcher.

E.      Sociological research is often classified as basic and applied.

      1. Basic research is conducted to expand knowledge and understanding by either developing or testing theory.  Its focus is knowledge for knowledge's sake.  It is typically what we think of when we think of scientific research.
      2. What is theory?
        1. Theory is a carefully constructed set of interrelated concepts and statements that explain or interpret some phenomenon.
        2. Theory is never proven, only supported.
        3. Researchers are constantly challenging and questioning existing theory.
        4. The goal of basic research is to develop theory that is supported by empirical evidence, or more precisely, that empirical evidence does not contradict or refute.
        5. Theory in a given field consists of those theoretical statements and propositions that have not yet been refuted.
      3. Components of theory.
        1. Assumptions.
          1. All theories are based on assumptions.
          2. Positivistic and interpretive assumptions.
        2. Concepts.
          1. Concepts are abstract symbols (words) that represent some phenomena, idea, or entity.
          2. Concepts can be very abstract (romantic love) or they can be more concrete (income).
          3. Concepts can be complex and multidimensional (political liberalism) or simple and unidimensional (weeks unemployed). Often concepts that appear simple can be conceived and defined more complexly (gender).
          4. Concepts that represent phenomena that can take on different values, quantities, or intensities are called variables.
          5. The different values variables can take are called their attributes.
        1. Statements and propositions.
          1. Statements and propositions make declarations about relationships between concepts and variables.
          2. Statements and propositions are often causal, but may also be correlational or even declarative in nature.
          3. Statements and propositions may be simple or complex.
      1. Variations in the scope and abstractness of theory.
        1. General theoretical frameworks.
        2. Mid-range theories.
        3. Hypotheses and sensitizing concepts.
      1. Types of theory.
        1. Causal theory.
          1. Causal theories attempt to explain social phenomena by making statements about causal relationships between two or more variables.
          2. Causality, explanation and prediction.
          3. Multiple versus single causes.
          4. Necessary, sufficient, and contributing causes.
          5. Causality and association.
          6. Causality and time order.
          7. Causality and extraneous factors.
        1. Interpretive theory.
          1. Interpretive theory attempts to describe and interpret social phenomena, thereby increasing understanding. It tends to be narrative and discursive, with little interest in causality.
          2. Descriptive and definitional theory.
          3. Typologies and classification schemas.
          4. Metaphor and analogy.
      1. The relationship between theory and research in basic research.
        1. The wheel of science.
        2. Inductive and deductive logic.
        3. The importance of both theory and research.
          1. Theory alone is speculation or at best philosophy.
          2. Research alone is blind empiricism, offering little in terms of real explanation.
    1. Applied research is research conducted to further the development of effective policies and programs.   It collects and analyzes empirical data to provide knowledge that can be used to develop new policies and programs or evaluate existing ones.
      1. What are policies and programs?
      2. Types of applied research.
        1. Needs assessment.
        2. Program evaluation and outcome assessment.
        3. Client, patient, employee, and product satisfaction research.
        4. Cost-benefit analysis.
        5. Social impact assessment.
        6. Action research.
        7. Operations research and organizational analysis.
        8. Market research and utilization studies.
        9. Public opinion and political polling.
        10. Quality assurance research.
      1. Applied research uses the same methods of data collection and analysis as basic research, but applies them slightly differently.
        1. Use of experimental and quasi-experimental designs in evaluation research.
        2. Use of surveys in needs assessment and political polling.
        3. Use of time series and regression discontinuity analysis of existing data in policy analysis.
    1. Basic and applied research revisited.
      1. Applying basic research.
      2. The role of theory in applied research.