What is Social Science All About

What is Social Science All About PowerPoint PPT Presentation


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What is Social Science All About

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1. What is Social Science All About? Strives for knowledge about the social world (e.g., attitudes, behaviors, trends, etc.,), and how social variables relate to each other. What sets social science apart is the methodology that it employs. Three common methodological approaches: Positivist, Interpretive, and Critical. The Positivist approach is dominant (especially outside universities) and views the natural & social sciences as using similar logic, methods, and analyses.

3. Positivism is an objective approach that strives to minimize bias. Attempts to be impersonal & seeks authority in empirical facts. Is a logical approach that employs induction & deduction. Is a systematic approach that organizes data & uses statistical analysis. Hopes to generate reliable, valid knowledge that can improve our ability to predict social behavior.

4. Positivist Assumptions about Science and Human Behavior: All behavior is naturally determined. Humans are part of nature. Nature is orderly and regular. All objective phenomenon are eventually knowable. Nothing is self-evident. Truth is relative Knowledge comes from experience.

5. The positivist sociologist searches for ways to test theories of human behavior. This process begins by developing hypotheses. . Then measuring relevant variables. And finally statistically analyzing the hypothesized relationship between variables. Others attempt to replicate the research. Positivists are very interested in identifying the key cause(s) of some social variable.

6. Researchers should set aside their personal values in the conduct of research. Positivist research designs include: experiments, quasi-experiments, surveys, secondary data analysis, and focus groups. Usually analyze data using statistics.

7. The Interpretive Approach: Inspired by Max Weber’s emphasis on “verstehen”, or the empathetic understanding of human behavior. Focus on understanding individual’s feelings, motivations, & meanings using empathy. Examines how people make sense of and define social situations, how their “sense of self” develops in interaction with others. Theoretical approachesinclude: symbolic interactionism, ethnomethodology, and grounded theory.

8. Interpretive sociologists argue that values are relative & what is deemed appropriate or inappropriate varies across time & societies. Researchers should try to understand (empathetically) & explain values of people being studied. Research designs favored by interpretive sociology include: participant observation, in-depth interviews, and focus groups. Key question for interpretive sociologists is does the explanation make sense to the people whose behavior is being explained. Interpretive research does not lend itself to generalization or replication.

9. Critical Approach: Theories associated with this approach include: conflict theory, conflict functionalism, critical theory, and some feminist theories. Common desire is to improve the condition of humanity. Assume that behavior involves different groups attempting to promote their own interests at the expense of other groups. Researchers should advocate for social justice. Favored methods include: historical materials, secondary data analysis, and survey research. Focus is on macro-variables rather than micro-variables.

10. Doing Research on Terrorism…. Comte saw the natural & social sciences using similar methodologies but warned that sociology could not be reduced to “lower-order” sciences such as psychology or biology. So in doing research on terrorism…. A sociologist would focus on social variables (educational & family backgrounds; values & attitudes…and how these relate to other social variables (e.g., rise of religious fundamentalism, globalization & anti-Americanism). A psychologist / psychiatrist might focus on early childhood experiences, individual traumas, group brainwashing & personality/ brain/ genetic, disorders.

11. Sociology and Social Facts Social Facts are ways of acting, thinking, and feeling that are external to us (exist independently of us ), and yet influence out actions, thoughts, and feelings. Social facts include: norms, values, customs, fads, fashions, laws, trends, attitudes, etc. Sociology attempts to explain & predict social phenomenon using social variables! Sociologists assume that social variables cause or create social behaviors. Few social phenomenon are purely individual or random…even something like suicide is related to several social variables (has social causes)!

12. Key Assumptions of the Positivist Approach to Social Research: Nature is orderly. Humans are part of the natural world. All natural phenomenon are knowable. Knowledge is derived or obtained from our experience (our observations/measurements). Natural phenomenon have natural (as opposed to supernatural or magical) causes. Nothing is self-evident (all truths must be tested & demonstrated). Truth is relative or contingent…never absolute.

13. Why is the positivist approach to social reseach dominant? The positivist approach emphasizes quantitative more than qualitative methods. Quantitative methods are more compatible with statistical analysis, modeling, & simulation.

14. Three Levels of Quantitative Research: Theoretical Level…abstract, general statement of a research problem (e.g., Merton’s Theory of “Anomie” as a general explanation of criminal or deviant behavior ) . Good theories help determine important social variables. Conceptual Level…conceptually (verbally or linguistically define) key social variables. Often obtained from dictionaries and/or research done by others. Good conceptual definitions help develop good observations or measurements of key variables. Operational Level…how we empirically observe or measure the key variables (e.g., what question(s) on a survey will measure political views).

15. Operationalization = Measurement: Intelligence is “operationalized” using various IQ tests. One’s aptitude for a career in law is “operationalized” using the LSAT. We would “operationalize” what it means to be a “rich person” by asking a series of survey questions on various sources of income. Good theories help identify key variables and how they might be related; Good conceptual definitions help us to operationalize (develop measures) of the key variables.

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18. Deduction involves two or more propositions that support a conclusion. If the propositions are true, the conclusion must be true. By testing the conclusion, we also test the propositions. Because few propositions about social phenomena can be stated as universals, sociologists use probability ,

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21. Induction moves from specific observations or measurements to generalizations. Induction assumes that what is true (or observed) in specific individuals in a social category, is true (or would be observed) in all individuals in that social category. However, since we can never be certain that the specific things we have observed are typical of things we have not observed, inductive logic is vulnerable to errors of overgeneralization and selective observation!

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