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The Logic of Social Science Research. A lecture by. Sociology 3522 29 Jan. 2008. Dr Christopher Kollmeyer. Epistemology: How do we know when something is true?. Natural Sciences  Scientific Method Social Sciences  3 Research Orientations Positivism (often quantitative research)

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the logic of social science research

The Logic of Social Science Research

A lecture by

Sociology 3522

29 Jan. 2008

Dr Christopher Kollmeyer

epistemology how do we know when something is true
Epistemology: How do we know when something is true?
  • Natural Sciences  Scientific Method
  • Social Sciences 3Research Orientations
      • Positivism (often quantitative research)
      • Interpretivism (often qualitative research)
      • Realism
the scientific method
The Scientific Method


Support or Refute Theory

Research Question

Unexplained Phenomenon


Observable Prediction


Tentative Explanation


other characteristics of the scientific method
Other Characteristics of the Scientific Method:
  • Falsification
    • Karl Popper (1959) “The Logic of Scientific Discovery”
    • Either reject or support hypothesis, but never “prove” it
    • Not falsifiable = philosophical question
  • Verifiability (Replication)
    • Repeatable (hopefully with same results)

 peer reviewed

  • Science is Dynamic
    • Scientific ‘laws’ = Theory and facts match over numerous experiments
    • But ‘laws’ can be overturned with new evidence

 knowledge changes

Key Epistemological Question for the Social Sciences: Can the social world be studied with the same methods used in the natural sciences?
  • YES  Positivism (Emile Durkheim)
      • Typically Deductive Research
  • NO Interpretivism or Verstehen (Max Weber)
      • Typically Inductive Research
  • YES Realism (Karl Mark, Sigmund Freud)
      • No methodological preference
social science tradition 1 positivism
Social Science Tradition (1):Positivism
  • Knowledge derived from observations (empiricism)
    • Theory alone is not scientific knowledge  philosophy
    • Scientific knowledge: theories supported by data
  • Research is deductive

Theory  Hypothesis  Collect Data  Findings 

 Findings confirm or reject hypothesis  Revise theory

  • Social science should be value free
    • Social scientist’s personal opinions shouldn’t matter
building blocks of positivism theories hypotheses and variables

Building Blocks of Positivism: Theories, Hypotheses, and Variables

Theory: Plausible explanation for a particular social phenomenon.

Theory explains the ‘causal relationship’ between social variables.

The data determine the ‘correlation between variables’.

Spurious theories

Founding Theories of Sociology

Karl Marx (Capitalism and Society)

Max Weber (Religion and Capitalism)

Emile Durkheim (DOL and Anomie)


Variables: An important “object” within a theory that can take on two or more different values or categories.

Examples of Sociological Variables:

Economic systems: capitalism, socialism, mixed economies.

Social Class: upper class, middle class, working class, lower class.

Gender: male, female (perhaps transgendered)




Measurement Validity

Proxies: A variable that represents (albeit imperfectly) a more complicated sociological concept. Proxies enable researchers to measure abstract social phenomena.


Concept PossibleProxy

Community disorder ---- ASBOs issued per year

Gender Equality -- Gender pay gap

Political participation --- Voter participation rates

National Prosperity --- Income per capita


Hypothesis: A short and empirically testable statement, derived from theory, which predicts a certain outcome.

Possible hypotheses for classical theories in sociology:

Marx: The more the economy is privately owned, the more economic inequality will grow in that society.

Weber: Protestant-dominated countries have stronger economies than Catholic-dominated countries.

Durkheim: The more advanced a society’s division of labor, the more people in that society will suffer from anomie.

Important note: All of these hypotheses can be tested; thus they are said to be ‘falsifiable’.

in class exercise

In-Class Exercise:

1) Write out a one sentence hypothesis that offers a plausible explanation for the following social problems:


gender inequality in the workplace

anti-social behavior among teenagers

2) Identify the variables in your hypotheses

3) How you would measure these variables?