Why a theory-driven approach?

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The Role of Theory in
Questionnaire Design
An Example Using Bourdieu
Dr. Alice Sullivan, Director British Cohort Study 1970, Centre for
Longitudinal Studies, IOE, University of London
Outline
• Uses of theory in research
• Bourdieu’s theory of cultural reproduction
• Developing a questionnaire to measure
cultural capital
Carrying out original survey work
Pros and Cons
• Hard work and smaller sample size
• Allows conceptual work, developing measures
rather than using proxies
What is theory?
Picture
Map
What is theory?
Post-hoc story telling
Theory as embellishment
Assessing theory
• Clarity: is it comprehensible?
• Substance/Testability: does it have any
implications?
• Insight: does it help to explain interesting
phenomena?
• Usefulness: does it help to generate and guide
research?
Clarity
“I think that…what Spitzer says about Proust’s style
is something I could say about my own writing. He
says, firstly, that what is complex can only be said in
a complex way; secondly, that reality is not only
complex, but also structured…if you want to hold
the world in all its complexity and at the same time
order and articulate it…you have to use heavily
articulated sentences that can be practically
reconstructed like Latin sentences…”
(Bourdieu 1990 ‘In Other Words’ p.51-52).
Research Question
• How to explain social class differentials in
education attainment?
Theory
“By doing away with giving explicitly to everyone
what it implicitly demands of everyone, the
educational system demands of everyone alike
that they have what it does not give. This
consists mainly of linguistic and cultural
competence and that relationship of familiarity
with culture which can only be produced by
family upbringing when it transmits the
dominant culture.”
(Bourdieu 1977 ‘Cultural Reproduction and Social Reproduction’: 494)
Cultural reproduction in a nutshell
Parents’
Social Class
Occupational
Outcome
Child’s
Educational
Attainment
Parents’
Cultural
Capital
Child’s
Cultural
Capital
Hypotheses and mechanisms
H1. Cultural capital should (fully) mediate the
effect of social class on educational attainment
– But what forms of culture constitute capital?
– And what are the mechanisms?
Operationalising ‘cultural capital’
• “…linguistic and cultural competence, and that relationship of
familiarity with culture which can only be produced by family
upbringing when it transmits the dominant culture”
(Bourdieu 1977)
• Bourdieu uses parental education as a proxy
• Some authors use high culture participation – e.g. attendance
at galleries, museums, etc.
• Appropriate operationalisation depends on research
questions and context.
• To determine which elements of culture constitute capital
requires empirical investigation.
Breaking down the concept
1. Activities
i.
ii.
iii.
iv.
Reading: type and amount
Television: type of programmes
Music: listening and playing
Art galleries, theatre, concert attendance
2. Cultural knowledge: test score
3. Language: test scores
Parents’ cultural capital
•
•
•
•
•
Books in the home
Broadsheet newspaper
Type of music listened to
Radio stations listened to
Activities:
–
–
–
–
–
–
–
Going to art galleries or museums
Reading novels
Reading non-fiction
Going to see plays
Going to concerts
Playing a musical instrument
Evening or daytime classes
Parents’ cultural capital …
Which of the following have you heard your
parents discuss? (Often, sometimes, never)
1. Art
2. Politics
3. Books
4. Science
5. Current Affairs
Cultural knowledge test format
Famous people
Each of the following names is a person you may have heard of. For each person
listed, which do you associate him or her with most out of the following categories:
politics, music, novels, art or science? If you do not know, do not guess, just tick
“don’t know”.
Politics
Example:
(a)
Tony Blair
Albert Einstein
Music
Novels
Art
Science
Don’t
know

1
2
3
4
5
6
Science
Novels
Politics
Music
Art
Andy Warhol
Rembrandt
Claude Monet
Pablo Picasso
Vincent van Gogh
George Gershwin
Miles Davis
Johannes Brahms
Rachmaninov
Wolfgang Mozart
Karl Marx
Gordon Brown
Mahatma Gandhi
John F. Kennedy
Bill Clinton
Martin Amis
Graham Greene
Virginia Woolf
Jane Austen
Charles Dickens
Stephen Hawking
Louis Pasteur
Marie Curie
Galileo
Albert Einstein
Correct Response
Figure 1: Cultural Knowledge Frequencies
120%
100%
80%
60%
Total
Non-graduate parents
Graduate parents
40%
20%
0%
Comprehension Test
Underline the word that correctly completes the
sentence. If you do not know which word is correct,
just move on to the next question.
Example:
You (fill, milk, boil, match, paint) water to make
tea.
Piloted active vocabulary tests
1. Open-ended sentence completion test.
Question: The admiral went……….
(add ten words)
Answer: The admiral went to China six times
when he was in the navy.
Taken from Lawton (1968) Social Class, Language and
Education.
Piloted active vocabulary test 2
Write a short essay on one of the following
topics:
• Home
• School
• My life in 10 years time
Final active vocabulary test
Synonyms are words that mean the same or approximately the same
as each other. For example: happy and cheerful are synonyms.
For each of the following questions think of as many synonyms as you
can for each word (stop at five for each word). Here are two examples:
Disgusting
repellent
Big:
enormous
nasty
gigantic
vile
huge
unpleasant
massive
obscene
obese
Question 1:
Question 2:
Question 3:
Small
Stupid
Angry
Question 4:
Question 5:
Sad
Odd
Findings
• Cultural knowledge and language mediated
the effect of cultural participation
• Social class still powerful, even after
controlling for all these variables.
References
• Sullivan, A. 2002. ‘Bourdieu and Education: How Useful is
Bourdieu’s Theory for Researchers?’ Netherlands Journal of
Social Sciences. 38(2) 144-166.
• Sullivan, A. 2001. ‘Cultural Capital and Educational
Attainment’ Sociology. 35(4) 893-912.
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