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Sociology%20-%20Theories%20and%20Methods%20Revision

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A2 AQA Sociology – Theories and Methods
A2 AQA Sociology – Theories and Methods ...................................................................... 1
Methodology Revision ..................................................................................................... 3
Assessing Research Findings ...................................................................................................................3
Qualitative and Quantitative Methods and Data .................................................................................3
Validity and Reliability ........................................................................................................................3
Triangulation........................................................................................................................................3
Reflexivity ............................................................................................................................................3
Dialogic Research.................................................................................................................................4
Methodological Pluralism ....................................................................................................................4
Sociology and Science ..............................................................................................................................4
Auguste Comte – Positivism ................................................................................................................4
Durkheim – Sociological Methodology ................................................................................................ 5
Karl Popper – Deduction and Falsification ......................................................................................... 5
Kuhn – Paradigms and Science ................................................................................................................ 5
Realist Approaches (Open and Closed Systems)..................................................................................6
Interpretivist Sociology ...........................................................................................................................6
Max Weber (Social Action, Verstehen) ................................................................................................6
Blumer – Symbolic Interactionism ......................................................................................................6
Phenomenology ....................................................................................................................................6
Two Sociologies? .................................................................................................................................. 7
Postmodernist Methodology.................................................................................................................... 7
Feminist Methodology ............................................................................................................................. 7
Sociology, Methodology and Values ........................................................................................................ 7
Values and the Study of Deviance ........................................................................................................8
Relativism ............................................................................................................................................8
Sociology and Social Policy......................................................................................................................8
The Founding Fathers ..........................................................................................................................8
Shaping Social Policy ...........................................................................................................................8
Sociology, Social Policy and Labour (Giddens – Third Way) ..............................................................9
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Theories Revision .......................................................................................................... 10
What is Sociological Theory?................................................................................................................. 10
Classical Sociology and Modernity ........................................................................................................ 10
The Enlightenment............................................................................................................................. 10
Karl Marx (1818-1883) ....................................................................................................................... 10
Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) ............................................................................................................. 10
Max Weber (1864-1920) .....................................................................................................................11
Establishment of Sociological Theory ....................................................................................................11
Functionalism (Parsons and Merton) .................................................................................................11
Marxism (Gramsci and Althusser) ..................................................................................................... 12
Symbolic Interactionism (Mead, Blumer and Goffman) ................................................................... 13
Structure and Action in Sociology ......................................................................................................... 13
Structuralism (Levi-Strauss and Barthes [Semiotics]) ...................................................................... 13
Ethnomethodology (Garfinkel) and Phenomenology ........................................................................ 13
Unification of Structure and Action (Giddens).................................................................................. 13
Challenges of Sociological Theory ......................................................................................................... 13
Globalisation (Giddens, Beck) ........................................................................................................... 13
Postmodernism (Lyotard) .................................................................................................................. 14
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Methodology Revision
Assessing Research Findings
Qualitative and Quantitative Methods and Data
Quantitative Data – numerical (questionnaires, structured interviews) – i.e. official statistics
Qualitative Data – written (unstructured interviews, observation)
Validity and Reliability
Validity – refers to accuracy – data is valid if it gives a true picture of social life. It could be
argued that qualitative data gives a truer picture of social life than quantitative data.
Reliability – methods and data are reliable when different researchers using the same methods
obtain similar results. A reliable method allows studies to be replicated.
Triangulation
Triangulation is a means of testing the validity and reliability of methodology and data (Denzin,
1970)
Investigator Triangulation – Using different researchers (observers / interviewers)
Data Triangulation – Collecting data at different times, in different places and from different
people.
Methodological Triangulation – there are two types of methodological triangulation. ‘Withinmethod’ is using the same method with different approaches – i.e. open and closed interviews. The
other is ‘Between-method’ using a combination of research techniques – interviews, observation,
questionnaires etc.
Reflexivity
Reflexivity is recognition of the reflexive nature of research. Researchers should question whether
their presence affects the actions of the people they are studying. This awareness will help to produce
a more valid picture of society.
How Can Sociologists Reduce Their Influence On Research?
Asking the Researched – Whyte (1955) studied an Italian-American gang in Boston, he
discussed his findings with the leader of the gang (Doc). Doc assessed Whyte’s interpretation from
an insider’s point of view.
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Playing the Part – Cicourel (1976) spent four years studying probation officers in California. Part
of this time was spent as an unpaid probation officer. His aim was to discover the meanings used by
probation officers to define young people as delinquent.
Presenting the Data – In ‘The Social Organisation of Juvenile Justice’, Cicourel presents lengthy
extracts from conversations between probation officers and juveniles giving other researchers the
opportunity to assess Cicourel’s interpretations.
Comparing Results – if researchers look at similar studies they can question their results and
findings and the extent to which their own beliefs and values may have affected the research.
Critical Self Awareness – None of these methods is fool-proof but they do encourage a critical
self-awareness which can only benefit the validity of research.
Dialogic Research
Awareness of reflexivity has also led some sociologists to examine the relationship between the
researcher and the researched. They argue that the relationship is unequal.
Dialogic Research involves dialog between the researched and researcher. The researcher lets go of
power and inviting the researched to set the agenda, to decide what’s important and how to express it
(Puwar, 2001).
Cohen (1996-97) – provides an example of this research methodology. He gave young people in
East London cameras and tape recorders and asked them to record their social world in their own
way.
Dialogic Research offers an opportunity to capture people’s outlook, priorities, hopes and anxieties
with a minimum of intrusion by the ‘official’ researcher.
Methodological Pluralism
Methodological pluralism recognises the strengths and weaknesses of different research methods and
aims to build up a fuller picture of social life by combining different research methods and different
types of data.
Eileen Barker’s (1984) study of The Moonies shows the strengths of methodological pluralism.
She conducted in-depth interviews, participant observation and questionnaires. Barker claimed that
combining different methods gave her a fuller picture than if she had just used one method or data
source.
Sociology and Science
Auguste Comte – Positivism
Comte (1798-1857) invented the word sociology. He argued sociology should be based on the
methodology of the natural sciences. This would result in a ‘positive science of society’. He insisted
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that only observable ‘facts’ were acceptable evidence for his science of society. The facts of society
should be objectively measured and quantified.
Durkheim – Sociological Methodology
Durkheim saw society in terms of ‘social facts’ that could then be quantified and be subject to
statistical analysis. Durkheim’s famous study of suicide (1897) argued that rate of suicide was
found in society, not the psychology of individuals. Suicide rates are social facts, as well as the
product of other social facts. Durkheim examined official statistics on suicide from a number of
European countries and he found that:
1.
Suicide rates within each country were fairly consistent over a number of years.
2.
There were significant differences between societies and between social groups within the
same society.
Durkheim found correlations between suicide rates and a number of social facts – for example –
religion, location, age and family situation.
Protestants < Catholics
City Dwellers < Rural Dwellers
Older Adults < Younger Adults
Unmarried < Married
Married with Children < Married without Children
More on this study later…
Karl Popper – Deduction and Falsification
Durkheim argued that theories should come from evidence – gathering, describing, classifying and
analysing social facts – from this theories can be generated. This is an inductive approach.
A deductive approach reverses Durkheim’s inductive approach. It starts with a theory and uses
data to test that theory.
According to Popper rather than looking for evidence that confirms their theories, scientists should
do their best to disprove their theories (falsification). Popper argues that Marx’s theory of history
fails in this respect because it cannot be falsified and is therefore unscientific.
Kuhn – Paradigms and Science
For Kuhn (1962), natural sciences are paradigmatic – they are dominated by a single theory
currently Einsteinian and formerly Newtonian theory. Because sociology is pre-paradigmatic (lots
of theories – functionalism, Marxism, feminism, postmodernism) it is therefore pre-scientific.
However, Lakatos (1970) disagrees that the history of science is dominated by a single paradigm
but that the development of science is a development of constantly competing paradigms (theories);
similarly to sociology which Lakatos argues means sociology can still be seen as scientific.
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Realist Approaches (Open and Closed Systems)
Sayer (1992) distinguishes between open and closed systems – laboratories are closed systems.
This allows them to reveal “more clearly the operation of mechanisms”
Because human behaviour takes place in an open system it is more difficult to predict its course with
any degree of accuracy.
However, structures constrain human behaviour but human beings are not simply directed by
structural constraints. Realists accept the Marxist view of false consciousness – that socially
constructed meanings can distort reality (Blaikie, 1993).
Interpretivist Sociology
Max Weber (Social Action, Verstehen)
Weber defined sociology as “a science which attempts the interpretative understanding of social
action in order to thereby arrive at a casual explanation of its course and effects” (1964).
Social action is action that involves other members of society – it is based on the meanings of in the
minds of the social actors which direct their actions. Weber was particularly interested in motives
and direct social action to achieve certain goals.
Verstehen – translated as empathetic understanding, the researcher places themselves in the
position of the researched to try and understand their motives within social action. (Criticism: this is
not reflexive!)
Blumer – Symbolic Interactionism
Symbolic Interactionists tend to focus on small scale interactions and the meanings within these
situations. Blumer (1962) developed a methodology for the study of social interaction.
Symbolic Interactionists accept that to some extent social interaction is structured and meanings are
not constantly reinvented, social interaction is often routine and repetitive but this doesn’t mean that
negotiation and interpretation aren’t important aspects of interaction.
See Also: Symbolic Interactionism in Theories
Phenomenology
Phenomenologists argue that as a human being our only reality consists of meanings. The job of
the sociologist is to find those meanings.
This approach can be found in Atkinson’s study ‘Discovering Suicide’ where he seeks to discover
who deaths are categorised as suicide. He sees ‘suicide’ as a meaning and has no reality beyond this.
Atkinson’s reach attempted to discover the meanings used by coroners to classify suicides.
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Atkinson’s research does not concentrate on ‘social facts’ as in Durkheim’s study. They do not
believe that suicides are objective facts that can be explained, they are meanings. To try and discover
the causes of suicide will simply result in uncovering meanings that are used to classify suicides.
Two Sociologies?
Halfpenny (1984) argues that there are ‘two sociologies’ one based on scientific methodology
and ‘hard’ quantitative data (positivism) and the other based on interpretivist methodology and
‘soft’ qualitative data (interpretivism).
However, Pawson (1989) rejects this view; he sees the distinction as a ‘methodological myth’.
Postmodernist Methodology
Postmodernists challenge the entire basis of research methodology in the social sciences. They
question the possibility of making definite statements about social reality. They argue that findings in
research reports are simply sociologist’s construction of reality rather than a valid
description of society.
From a postmodernist view, research reports are not objective they are constructions which are
designed to persuade, to give the impression of rational, analytical thinking and to convince the
reader that the researcher’s view is ‘the truth’ (Alvesson, 2002).
Postmodernists are particularly hostile to metanarratives which try to give a single explanation to
the entire make up of social reality, such as Marxism and functionalism. For postmodernists there are
multiple (if not infinite) interpretations of the social world, who is to say which is ‘right’ or ‘best’?
Feminist Methodology
The ‘weak thesis’ (Pawson, 1992) in feminist methodology states that androcentricity (a malecentred view of the world which assumes male dominance and superiority) and over generalisation
are found in all aspects of the research process.
Research methods in themselves however are not sexist but sociologists need to learn how to
conduct their research and their methodology in a non-sexist way.
The ‘strong thesis’ (supported by Oakley, 1981) states that feminism requires its own research
methods – for example, feminist interviewing.
Postmodern feminism rejects feminism as a single perspective it emphasises diversity and variation
between different women (such as black, working class and homosexual).
Sociology, Methodology and Values
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Values and the Study of Deviance
Becker (1970) argues that it is impossible to conduct research “uncontaminated by personal and
political sympathies”. He believes that interactionist theories and methods are infused with left-wing
value judgements.
Gouldner (1975) also believes that value-free sociology is impossible. Gouldner argues that values
underlie every sociological perspective; these values influence the way sociologists picture and
examine the social world.
Relativism
Relativists see all knowledge as relative, there is no such thing as objective knowledge since
everything is seen through the lens of our values and culture.
Sociology and Social Policy
The Founding Fathers
The founding ‘fathers’ of sociology believed it should play a part in society, in reforming social
problems and improving the social condition. Comte (d.1857) saw sociology as a practical subject
that should be applied to wider society. Durkheim (d.1917) also focused on the question of order in
society; he was interested in the break down of value consensus due to industrialisation. He saw
sociology as a way of restoring order and strengthening order and social integration. Marx (18181883) saw sociologists working with governments to improve existing societies but he also looked
forward to the overthrowing of governments and their replacement with communist societies.
Shaping Social Policy
During the 19th century the dominant view of poverty was the poor were to blame for their poverty
(Page, 2001). In 1899, Rowntree conducted a systematic study of poverty in York and found
differently, research such as this influenced Liberal governments in the 1900s.
Examples: Old Age Pensions Act (1908) – pensions for over 70s; National Insurance Act
(1911) – sick benefits to manual workers.
Governments listen to sociologists when it suits them, this can be seen from Thatcher’s
Conservative government (1979-1990) – she had no time for sociology except the American rightwing sociologist Charles Murray and David Marsland from the UK.
The Thatcher and Major governments attempted to end a dependency culture (‘nanny state’) by
reducing welfare benefits and introducing measures such as the Job Seekers Allowance and The Child
Support Agency (Page, 2001).
Donnison (2001) claims that “major shifts in policy come about, not when the old questions are
finally answered but when new questions are asked”. For example:
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1.
Initially people asked: Does the death penalty deter people from killing each other? Then
from about 1963, a new question was asked – Is the death penalty acceptable in a civilised
society? Two years later, the death penalty was abolished.
2.
Rowntree’s early study of York looked at absolute poverty. By this definition in the 1960s
poverty was dwindling. Then Abel-Smith and Townsend (1965) developed a new
concept relative poverty and the emphasis of poverty shifted from the old to those on low
incomes with dependant children, this directed a shift in resources to the low paid with
young children.
Sociology, Social Policy and Labour (Giddens – Third Way)
When New Labour came to power in 1997, they offer the ‘Third Way’, neither the left-wing policies of
Old Labour nor the right-wing policies of the Conservatives in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Much of this was influenced by Giddens’ book ‘The Third Way’ (1998), it stressed the importance
of social solidarity and social cohesion. He also saw social exclusion as the main threat to social
order and solidarity.
He believed that exclusion of the poor could be prevented by providing welfare benefits and better
public services (particularly health and education) as well as opportunities to move out of poverty.
Without these measures the poor would be excluded from mainstream society and solidarity would be
threatened (Giddens, 1998; Bennett, 2001).
Giddens’s Third Way is reflected in Labour’s social policy. In their first years of government, Labour
set up the Social Exclusion Unit to find solutions to the problems of exclusion in society. It is
directly responsible to the Cabinet and it attempts to ensure that all policies – health, education,
poverty, crime and urban renewals – are part of a coordinated strategy to deal with social exclusion
(MacGregor, 2001).
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Theories Revision
What is Sociological Theory?
There are two essential elements to sociological theories – models and propositions.
Theories can be evaluated in two ways – logical evaluation (checking for contradictions) and
empirical evaluation (using evidence).
Empirical evaluation is problematic because of people have false consciousness; evidence based on
their statements may not be valid.
Classical Sociology and Modernity
Sociology emerged in the 19th Century; political revolutions in France and the Industrial Revolution
in England (and later elsewhere) signalled a radical change in society and the advent of modernity.
The Enlightenment
The enlightenment was the change from religious superstition to scientific rationalisation in Europe
from 1800 onwards. The Roman Catholic Church lost control over people’s lives and emphasis was
placed on the human ability to create knowledge, rather than relying on the teachings of the church.
Karl Marx (1818-1883)
Marx did not see himself as a sociologist but his work has had a profound effect on the discipline.
Marx believed that society was based on a conflict between the proletariat and the capitalist
class. The capitalist class (bourgeoisie) exploit the working class by gaining from the surplus value
(profit) that the working class create through their labour. In effect, the working classes are
underpaid by the capitalist class.
He also predicted that the working class would gain class consciousness and would rise up against
the bourgeoisie and replace the capitalist system with communism.
Marx and other Marxist sociologists have identified a number of things that prevent class
consciousness and a communist revolution. Marx saw the state as having a key ideological role. The
state gives the appearance of working in the interests of society as a whole yet, in reality; it is working
in the interests of the capitalist class.
Emile Durkheim (1858-1917)
See Also: Durkheim in Methodology Section
Durkheim saw society in terms of functions (functionalism). Durkheim argued that only by
examining the contribution which each of a society’s parts makes to its overall functioning can we
arrive at a complete understanding of these parts.
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Max Weber (1864-1920)
Weber emphasised the importance of taking into account the points of view of social actors, and the
meanings which they attribute to their own behaviour and that of others.
Weber would say that people’s actions are meaningful, they are not just the product of external forces
over which you have no control, but they are the result of your own interpretations of the world
around you and of the conscious choices you make about your future.
See also: Verstehen
Four categories of action:
1.
Instrumentally Rational Action – the actor assesses both their goals and the means by
which they should be achieved.
2.
Value-rational Action – unlike instrumentally rational action the goal cannot be
abandoned no matter how difficult. Rejecting it would be an example of instrumentally
rational action.
3.
Traditional Action- this does not involve the assessment of goals or means, it is carried
out just because tradition dictates it.
4.
Affective Action – this action is the result of an emotion, Weber believed this was
becoming less significant in industrial societies.
Weber argued that modern societies are characterised increasingly by a process of rationalisation.
In industrial development the increasing adoption of bureaucracy produces a trend towards
disenchantment (or the more literal translation: “taking the magic out of things”) and the
progressive removal of non-rational elements from all spheres of life.
Establishment of Sociological Theory
Functionalism (Parsons and Merton)
Parsons - in his book entitled ‘The Social System’ (1951) Parsons believes that all social systems
inevitably face four problems, which must be solved for the system to survive.
1.
Adaptation – the need for social systems to adapt to their surroundings and environment
and create some mechanism which ensures food and shelter can be obtained. Adaptation
requires normative regulation; in simple societies this is through the existence of customs
and norms, in more advanced societies this is through regulated economies.
2.
Goal Attainment – this refers to the goals that need to be set by societies towards which
the activities of their members are directed. In simple societies, this could be producing
sufficient food to maintain the population. In an advanced society these could be more
complex economic goals such as seeking profit.
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3.
Integration – the need to maintain cohesion within society and to deal efficiently with
deviance which threatens the overall stability of the society.
4.
Pattern Maintenance – the need to maintain the pattern of value commitments amongst a
society’s members. Crucial to this is socialisation and the institutions that this takes place
within – the family and education.
Equilibrium – this relates to the balance of the four elements above. For Parsons, this means that
a change in one part of the social system will produce a change elsewhere in the system such that it
will return to a state of equilibrium. Social systems are therefore, self-regulating.
Social Evolution – all social systems are involved in an evolutionary process of development from
more simple to more complex systems. The central concept to explain this Parsons called
structural differentiation – the tendency of social institutions to become more specialised.
In advanced societies with greater specialisation there is a need for increasingly broad and general
values capable of regulating a wider range of activities. In modern industrial societies, such values
include a belief in universalism and in achievement.
Merton (1957) – rejects Parsons’ idea of functional unity - that all parts of society are connected
and beneficial (functional) to the running of that society. Merton believes that in a highly
differentiated society there is some degree of functional autonomy.
Merton also challenges ‘universal functionalism’ that all parts of the social system fulfil
someone positive function and this should not be assumed in advance, as Parsons did.
Marxism (Gramsci and Althusser)
Gramsci (d.1937) also highlighted the importance of ideology in ensuring the maintenance of
capitalism. Gramsci’s notion of hegemony (intellectual and moral leadership), argues that the
capitalist class exercise hegemony because their ideas and values are dominant. As a result they are
able to persuade others to consent to their rule. According to Gramsci:
“Revolution is only possible if the working class challenge the hegemony of the ruling class.”
However, he also says that sometimes the working class can force concessions from their rulers.
These concessions can only come from organised working class pressure (sometimes called power
blocs) - for example, the NHS and the welfare (benefits) system. While, these concessions reduce the
profits of the capitalist class (because of increases in taxes), they temporarily prevent a revolution
and maintain the capitalist system, which is in the long term interests of the bourgeoisie.
Althusser – believes that societies exist on three levels: the economic, the political and the
ideological. The later two are not mere reflections of the economic level (as Marx believed – economic
determinism) but they have ‘relative autonomy’ although still having an effect on the economy.
Althusser (1971) – also identifies two kinds of state apparatus used to help maintain the position of
the capitalist class:
‘Ideological state apparatus’ – education and the mass media
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‘Repressive state apparatus’ – the army and police
Symbolic Interactionism (Mead, Blumer and Goffman)
Blumer – it is simply not legitimate to see human behaviour as resulting from the operation of
measurable variables. Instead, individual actions need to be examined from the point of view of the
actor’s interpretation of the situation in which they find themselves.
Goffman (1959) – Sees society as a drama “dramaturgical analogy”
Impression Management - Goffman argues that in everyday social interaction individuals are not
just expressing themselves but also trying to create impressions of themselves in the minds of the
audience.
Structure and Action in Sociology
Structuralism (Levi-Strauss and Barthes [Semiotics])
Ethnomethodology (Garfinkel) and Phenomenology
Documentary Method – taking certain aspects of a situation from an infinite number which could
have been selected, and then using them to define them in a particular way, and this definition is
evidence for some underlying pattern; for example Atkinson’s study of coroner’s and suicide. The
underlying pattern was here was this commonsense view of what constituted a suicide.
Indexicality – people make interpretations of actions based on the context of the situation. (i.e. joke
told at a comedy night, at a convent).
Unification of Structure and Action (Giddens)
Duality of Structure – Action and structure are two ways of looking at the same thing. Structures
are produced by action and action maintains structure.
Challenges of Sociological Theory
Globalisation (Giddens, Beck)
Chernobyl, Beck (1992) – “risk society”
Giddens (1990) – globalisation does not bring about generalisation and uniform action but
opposing tendencies:
1.
Cultural homogenisation vs. differentiation
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2.
New identities vs. Old identities
3.
Centralisation vs. decentralisation
Postmodernism (Lyotard)
Criticisms of Postmodernism:
Philo and Miller (2001):
1.
People are able to make judgements about what is right or wrong
2.
People are aware of the images beyond the media. They recognise that media images are
often one-sided, partial and distorted.
3.
Many people are not free to create their own identities – cannot afford expensive goods.
Lyotard (1992) – criticises metanarratives, this postmodern rejection of metanarratives has also
meant a questioning of science (as a metanarrative). In postmodernism there is a change to hear the
voices
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