CHAPTER 2: THE SOCIOLOGICAL
RESEARCH PROCESS
(& SCIENTIFIC METHOD)
WHY RESEARCH SOCIOLOGY?

Common sense versus research


Often mutually exclusive…consider suicides
Common sense

“People who threaten suicide,
don’t commit suicide”


In most cases the opposite is true
Research

Emile Durkheim, perhaps the first to use the scientific
method in sociological studies
Suicide and issues of cohesiveness
 High suicide rate associated with large scale societal
problems (dysfunction: Functionalist approach)

SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE


In Sociology, used to debunk fallacies and interpretations in
society.
 (Unmasking or correcting mistaken ideas)
 Must first acknowledge values and beliefs
Normative and Empirical
 Normative: uses religion, habits, law, etc. to answer questions
about beliefs
 Empirical: uses systematic collection and analysis of data to
derive answers
 Descriptive
 (Facts about whom, where, and when)
 Explanatory
 (Facts about cause and effect)
THEORY AND RESEARCH

Describe, predict, collect

Deductive approach


Theory
Hypothesis
Generalization
Observation
Inductive approach

Observation
Hypothesis
Generalization
Theory
QUANTITATIVE AND QUALITATIVE
RESEARCH
Quantitative


Scientific Objectivity
 Comparing data to
variables
Numbers rather than
words
 “Quant-” is like
quantity
Qualitative




Example: the temperature
outside is 37°C
Interpretive Description
 Subject to opinion, or
misunderstanding
Words rather than
numbers
 Qualitative is opinion
Example: it is hot outside
HYPOTHESIS AND VARIABLES


A hypothesis is a statement of the relationship between two
(or more) concepts
 Concepts are abstract elements like “loneliness” or “social
integration”
A variable is any concept with measurable traits or
characteristics (and are subject to change from situation to
situation)
 They are the observable (or measurable) counterparts of
concepts
 Example: “Suicide” is a concept, the “rate of suicide” is
a variable
 Two types of variables, independent and dependent
INDEPENDENT AND DEPENDENT
VARIABLES
Independent

Is presumed to “cause”
the dependent
variable

Age, sex, or affiliation
are often used as
independent variables

Cause
Dependent

“Depends” on the
independent variable

In suicide, the rate of
suicide depended upon
social integration

Effect (of change in
independent variable)
o Operational Definition: explanation of an abstract concept
• Example: You receive an “A,” but what exactly does an “A”
mean, put it into perspective, or operationalize it


Egoistic, Altruistic, Anomic, and
Fatalistic
Egoistic: Isolation from social group, i.e.
loneliness
 Altruistic: Excessive integration, i.e. loss
of cause and of self, and thus loss of will to
live
 Anomic: Lack of shared values, i.e. rapid
social change
 Fatalistic: Excessive regulation, oppression
i.e. suicide of slaves, prisoners


Validity and Reliability

Validity: extent to which study measures
what was supposed to be measured
DURKHEIM’S RESULTS ON SUICIDE
Durkheim’s analysis of about 26,000
suicides, classified from age to
method of suicide, revealed that
there were four distinct categories of
suicide
Durkheim
concluded that the
degree of social
integration
contributed to
suicide rates, low
integration resulted
in higher rates.
This is an Inversecausal relationship.
(or indirect variable)
Causal would be
high integration and
high rates.
(or direct variable)
Whereas Multicausal would
analyze more than
one factor in
establishing
variables.
RESEARCH METHODS

Specific strategies or techniques for systematically
conducting research.

There are four widely used (and acceptable) methods
for collecting data, both quantitatively and
qualitatively.
Quantitative
 Survey (Questionnaires)
 Secondary Analysis (Unobtrusive research)
 Experiments (Laboratory or Natural setting)
 Qualitative
 Survey (Personal Interview)
 Secondary Analysis (Cultural artifacts)
 Field Research (Case studies, Ethnography,
Unstructured Interviews)



Secondary analysis
 Unobtrusive (statistical) research
 Using existing material to analyze data (trends or
correlations) gathered by others
 Often gathered from public research sites, uses raw
data
Experiments
 Laboratory setting
 Designed to recreate “real-life” situations, while
monitoring a multitude of variables
 Experimental group (exposed to independent
variable) or Control group (not exposed to
independent variable to maintain baseline)
 Natural setting
 Real setting, such as flood or other disaster, provides
researchers with “living laboratories”
 Cannot be replicated (in almost all circumstances),
nor would it often be ethical to do so
Survey, Pros and Cons:
QUANTITATIVE RESEARCH

Survey
 Questionnaire
 Printed research instrument, with a series of items for
subjects to respond
 Often self-administered, “agree or disagree”
responses
Pros: Able to reach large
populations, multiple
variable friendly, able to
monitor social change
on large scale
Cons: Respondents may
or may not fit category,
truthfulness?,
sometimes cannot
display “hard facts”
(like laws or policy)
Secondary Analysis,
Pros and Cons:
Pros: Inexpensive and
readily available, low
bias risk, historical
context
Cons: May be
incomplete or
unauthentic, may not be
correlated, difficult to
categorize
(Pros and Cons of methods
continued on next slide)


Secondary Analysis
 Cultural Artifacts
 Examination of cultural artifacts or forms of
communication to extract thematic data about social
life
 Typical materials include: written records (diaries),
visual texts (movies), material culture (music,
clothes), and even behavior residues (wear marks in
a floor)
Field Research
 Participant Observation
 Collecting data while being a part of the activities of
the group of study
 Case Study
 An in-depth multifaceted investigation of a single
event, person, or group.
 Ethnography
 Detailed study of a group by researchers who may live
with that group over a period of years
 Unstructured Interview
 Extended, open-ended interview, often in-depth
Experiments, Pros and
Cons:
QUALITATIVE RESEARCH

Survey
 Personal Interview
 Data-collection encounter in which interviewer asks the
respondent questions
 Can be subject to bias; misinterpretation of
questions, altered behavior towards interviewer
Pros: Degree of control
over variables, limited
number of subjects,
high degree of
replication
Cons: Not truly real
scenarios, prone to
bias, sometimes hard
on subjects,
“Hawthorne effect “ the
changing of behavior
as a result of observer
Field Research, Pros
and Cons:
Pros: Most realistic
setting, large amounts
of data, everyone can
be a part of study
Cons: May or may not
be indicative of larger
population, cannot be
precisely measured
REFERENCES AND
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
o
o
o
Sociology In Our Times (Seventh Edition)
o By: Diana Kendall
Notes incorporated
o By: James V. Thomas, NIU Professor (Emeritus)
o Formatted By: Jacob R. Kalnins, NIU student
Pictures Incorporated
o Clip Art (PowerPoint: 2007)
o Google Images: Sociology In Our Times
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Chapter 2 - Power Point summary