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Thinking About and Researching the Social World

What is a theory? • Theory: “A set of interrelated ideas that have a wide range of application, deal with centrally important issues, and have stood the test of time” (Ritzer, 2016). ▫ Theories condense concepts in order to organize the social world ▫ Sociologists use theories in order to identify and frame ideas Influences on the Emergence of Sociological Theory • The Industrial Revolution • Political revolutions (French and American revolutions) • The rise of socialism • The civil/women’s rights movements • The growth of science, the replacement of faith by science Early Theorists • Auguste Comte (1798-1857) ▫ French philosopher  Originally termed his studies “social physics” he eventually coined the term “sociology” to distinguish his work from others.  He believed sociology could use science to understand, predict, and control human behavior for the welfare of humanity.  The “Religion of Humanity”  Tenets: altruism, order, progress, introduction, admission, destination, marriage, retirement, separation, incorporation Early Theorists • Harriet Martineau (1802–1876) ▫ Born and Educated in England  Credited with bringing sociology to England  Argued that sociologists must focus on all aspects of society  Including women  First to look at issues such as marriage, children, domestic and religious life as well as issues of race  Argued that sociologists must do more than just observe, but should also act in ways that benefit society  Was active in the women’s rights and emancipation movements  Wrote Society in America after extensive travels in the 1830’s Early Theorists • Herbert Spencer (1820–1903) ▫ Primarily interested in the root cause of social change, specifically evolution in the physical, intellectual, and social domains. ▫ Was a polymath  Philosopher, biologist, anthropologist, and political theorist ▫ Coined the term “survival of the fittest”  Believed privileged members of society earned their status and thus a higher quality of life  Government should not interfere with improving life chances of individuals – against the natural order The Big Three • Karl Marx (1818-1883) ▫ German – born to the middle class ▫ Macro-theorist who focused on the structure of capitalist society ▫ Defined capitalism as an economic system based on the bourgeoisie (the owners of the means of production) exploiting the proletariat (the workers).  Wrote in conjunction with Fredric Engles  The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital The Big Three • Karl Marx (1818-1883) • Concepts from Marx ▫ Capitalism as a system based on exploitation ▫ Workers also experience alienation on the job ▫ False consciousness – an erroneous set of beliefs ▫ Class consciousness – a set of beliefs about an individual’s social positioning • Theorists have built on his work and others have created theories opposing his work The Big Three • Max Weber (1864-1920) ▫ German born ▫ His principal work is The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism written in 1905  Was interested in the idea of rationalism  Social structures are replaced by more direct or efficient ones ▫ For Weber, rationalization has negative consequences as well; particularly creating what he called an “iron cage.”  Guided by efficiency rather than ethics The Big Three • Emile Durkheim (1858–1917) ▫ French born ▫ Macro-theorist whose major concern was social facts, such as social structures and cultural norms and values, that impose themselves on people ▫ Called the shared beliefs of a society the collective conscience. ▫ Wrote the book Suicide in which he stated that the cause of suicide was not to be found within individuals, but rather in social facts. Early Theorists • W.E.B. Du Bois (1868–1963) ▫ American born – Grew up in Massachusetts • Pioneering researcher who was crucial to the later focus of sociology on race ▫ Wrote The Souls of Black Folk and Black Reconstruction in America ▫ Popularized the idea of the “color line” ▫ Also espoused the idea of African Americans having a double consciousness.  Being both American and African American Contemporary Sociological Theory • Structural/Functional Theories ▫ Examines both social structures and their functions. ▫ The dominant view is that if certain structures exist they provide a function. • Manifest functions ▫ Positive consequences that are purposely brought about. • Latent functions ▫ Unintended positive consequences. • Dysfunctions ▫ Negatively affect the ability of a given system to survive. Contemporary Sociological Theory • Structuralism ▫ Focuses on structures but is not concerned with their functions. ▫ Interested in the social impact of hidden or underlying structures (for example, gender relations). ▫ Value of products comes not from supply and demand but from the labor that goes into the products that come entirely from the workers. ▫ Was Marx a structuralist? Contemporary Sociological Theory • Conflict Theory ▫ Focus is on what is negative about society. ▫ Society is held together by coercion. ▫ Ralph Dahrendorf: emphasizes the ever-present possibility of social change – authority resides not in individuals but in positions and various associations of people. Contemporary Sociological Theory • Critical Theory ▫ Feminist Theory  Is critical of the social situation facing women.  Offers ideas on how women’s situations can be bettered.  The majority of feminist scholars argue that gender differences are socially constructed (not biologically determined).  Women face extraordinary problems related to gender inequality, so extraordinary solutions are necessary.  Points to patriarchy (male dominance).  Many argue that feminist theory generally reflects the experiences and perspectives of white women while ignoring those of women of color. Contemporary Sociological Theory • Critical Theory ▫ Queer Theory  Based on the idea that there are no fixed and stable identities that determine who we are.  Advocates believe that modern Western culture cannot be understood without critiquing modern definitions of homosexuality and heterosexuality.  The focus is not on homosexuality itself but the dynamics between heterosexuals and homosexuals.  Some queer theorists posit that there are more than two genders, using the term queergender to connote a third gender.  Others believe that it is possible to be pangender or identify as all genders. Contemporary Sociological Theory • Critical Theory ▫ Critical Race and Racism  Race matters globally and racism adversely affects people of color  Argue that color blindness ignores the unique experiences of racial minorities and that color blindness is the new racism.  Intersectionality is the idea that racism cannot be considered in isolation.  A poor black lesbian faces different challenges than a poor person, a black person, or a lesbian The Scientific Method in Sociological Studies • Empiricism ▫ Sociologists use their senses to gather information in order to test it through the scientific method • The Scientific Method ▫ A structured way of finding answers about the world ▫ A systematic search attempting to find a thorough understanding of the world. The Scientific Method in Sociological Studies • Steps in the Scientific Method ▫ Uncover questions in need of answers. ▫ Review the relevant literature. ▫ Develop hypotheses (tentative statements about the relationship between two or more variables). ▫ Choose a research method. ▫ Collect data. ▫ Analyze the data The Scientific Method in Sociological Studies • Qualitative and Quantitative • Qualitative Research ▫ A scientific method that does not require statistical methods for collecting and reporting data. ▫ Observation and open-ended questions are two examples. ▫ Capture descriptive information The Scientific Method in Sociological Studies • Qualitative and Quantitative • Quantitative Research ▫ Involves the analysis of numerical data typically obtained from the administration of surveys and experiments. ▫ Can help us describe and understand observable social realities.  Descriptive statistics are used to compare trends over time.  Inferential statistics rely on data from small groups to speculate on the behavior of larger groups. The Scientific Method in Sociological Studies • Observational Research ▫ The most common observational methods used by sociologists are participant and nonparticipant observations and ethnography The Scientific Method in Sociological Studies • Observational Research ▫ What are some of the issues with observational research?  Degree to which those being observed are aware that they are being observed.  Degree to which the presence of the observer may affect those being observed.  Degree to which the process is structured. The Scientific Method in Sociological Studies • Observational Research ▫ Participant and nonparticipant observation  In participant observation the researcher plays a role in the group or setting being observed.  In nonparticipant observation the researcher plays little or no role in what is being observed. The Scientific Method in Sociological Studies • Observational Research • Ethnography ▫ The creation of an account of what a group of people do and the way they live. ▫ Entails much more intensive and lengthy periods of observation. ▫ Global ethnography: a type of ethnographic grounding in understanding globalization. ▫ Netnography is using the internet and social networking places and events as the evaluative space of study. The Scientific Method in Sociological Studies • Types of Instruments in social research ▫ Interviews  Information is sought from participants who are asked a series of questions.  Prestructured  Unstructured The Scientific Method in Sociological Studies • Types of Instruments in social research ▫ Surveys  Questionnaires that are self-administered, written sets of questions.  Descriptive  Explanatory The Scientific Method in Sociological Studies • Key Terms ▫ Population = The entire group of individuals or objects the researcher is interested in. ▫ Sample = a sample is a representative portion of the overall population.  Random  Stratified  Convenience The Scientific Method in Sociological Studies • Experiments ▫ Involves the manipulation of one or more characteristics of an independent variable in order to examine the effect of that manipulation. ▫ So what are variables?  Two kinds  Independent variable  The condition being manipulated  Dependent variable  The result of the manipulation The Scientific Method in Sociological Studies • Experiments The Scientific Method in Sociological Studies • Experiments ▫ Types of experiments  Laboratory  Controlled setting or other simulated environment  Lots of control over the variables  Natural  A natural setting in which to conduct an experiment  Very little control of the variables  Field  At least some control over the participants and variables The Scientific Method in Sociological Studies • Experiments ▫ Reliability  Involves the degree to which a given measure produces the same results time after time.  Concern is with consistency. ▫ Validity  Involves whether a researcher is measuring what he/she claims to be.  Concern is with accuracy

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