Convenience samples study people who are easily accessible to the researcher

Chapter 2

What Do Sociologists Do?

This Chapter Will Help You:

Understand the difference between common sense and sociological research

Outline the major perspectives in sociology

Identify the difference between qualitative and quantitative research

Identify the various types of research methods that sociologists use

Understand the importance of ethics in social science research

What is Common Sense?

Knowledge we get from our lived experience

May be accurate, but is not always reliable

Things that are commonly known are not necessarily factual

Fake News

Have you seen this meme?

It was circulated widely on social media as “factual”

In reality, research shows that this information is completely inaccurate

Major Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology

What is a Theory?

A set of propositions intended to explain social phenomena

May be used to explain or predict a phenomenon

Theories can help us understand the relationships between variables

Major Theoretical Perspectives: Functionalism

Functionalism focuses on social stability

Functionalists view society as a set of interconnected parts

This is similar to how the human body works

Social institutions persist because they help society to survive

Functionalism, cont’d – Talcott Parsons

Society tends toward balance or equilibrium

As one part of society changes, other parts must adjust to maintain social stability

Functionalism, cont’d – Robert Merton

Manifest Functions

The intended outcomes generated by a social institution

Latent Functions

The unintended or less visible outcomes of a social institution


A system that is not functioning properly is dysfunctional

Functionalism: Emile Durkheim

Studied how rapid social change affects social stability

As societies grow more complex, people have fewer commonalities

Less social solidarity

This may result in anomie:

A feeling of normlessness

Major Theoretical Perspectives: Conflict Theory

Conflict theorists focus on the importance of conflict and change

They study inequality and exploitation

They see social life as a continuing struggle for fairness, security, and respect

Conflict Theories, cont’d – Karl Marx

Marx focuses on capitalism’s mode of production:

A way of producing the material things we need to survive

The capitalist mode of production produces a particular social order:

The bourgeoisie own the means of industrial production

The proletariat work for a wage and produce profits for the bourgeoisie

Conflict Theory cont’d – Karl Marx

Marx believed that the capitalist social order exploited the proletariat

Class consciousness:

Marx believed that if the workers recognized their common exploitation and their common power, they could overthrow the business owners

Major Theoretical Perspectives: Symbolic Interactionism

Symbolic interactionism studies people’s everyday lives closely

Interactionists focus on the meanings, definitions and interpretations that individuals share

How certain behaviours come to be defined in certain ways

How we learn to engage in everyday activities

Symbolic Interactionism cont’d – Erving Goffman

Front Stage Interactions

Situations in which you perform in the way that people expect

Display the parts of ourselves that we want others to see

Back Stage Interactions

Situations in which you behave in a more relaxed or “real” fashion

Symbolic Interactionism cont’d – George Herbert Mead

Mead argued that we develop our sense of self through social interaction

That is, by observing how others treat us and react to us

Significant Others

Family members and close friends

Play a major role in shaping our sense of self

Symbolic Interactionism, cont’d – George Herbert Mead

Mead argued that our self has two parts:

The I

Our unsocialized self

Impulsive, creative, spontaneous

The Me

Socialized by significant others

Reflects the values and attitudes of society learned through interaction

Diversity and Marginalized Voices in Social Theory

The founders of the major theoretical perspectives are not from diverse backgrounds

All are white, male, and European or American

White men held a great deal of social power in the 19th and early 20th centuries

However, people of diverse backgrounds contributed to social theory, but were not acknowledged at the time

Diversity and Marginalized Voices in Social Theory – W.E.B. DuBois

Key founder of American sociology

Examined racism as a structural constraint

Double Consciousness:

Seeing oneself through the eyes of a racist society

Tension between how you see yourself and how other (racist) people see you


All forms of feminism focus on gender inequality


A cultural system that promotes the idea that men should play the dominant roles in society

An example is the father of the bride “giving” her to the groom

Historically women were the property of men

First Wave Feminism

1880 – 1920

Resulted in (some) women gaining the right to vote

Feminism, cont’d

Second Wave Feminism

Demanded wider social equality for women

Treated women as a group with common experiences

Dorothy Smith

Introduced standpoint:

A view of the world from a marginalized status

Feminism cont’d

Third Wave Feminism

Focus on intersectionality:

A woman’s experience of oppression is unique to her particular circumstances

bell hooks

Both race and gender impact women’s lives and oppressions

Sociological Research Methods

The Research Cycle: Research Idea

What is the topic that you are interested in?

Researchers may choose topics based on personal interest and/or because the issue has become a social problem

Once a topic is chosen the researcher must define the problem to be studied

The Research Cycle: Literature Review

This refers to reviewing the previous material written about the problem

Helps to pinpoint the area for study

The material reviewed should be scholarly research

The Research Cycle: Formulating an Hypothesis


A proposition about the relationship between variables

Will be tested in the research


Traits that vary over time

Dependent variable

The variable that we are trying to predict and explain

Independent variable

The variable that we think will change or influence the dependent variable

The Research Cycle: Research Design

Quantitative Research

Numerical data

Larger samples

Trends over time

Qualitative Research

Focuses on individual experiences

Smaller samples

Individuals’ understandings of their experiences

Mixed methods

Combines the two types of research simultaneously

The Research Cycle: Collecting Data: Experiments

Controlled laboratory conditions

Sociologists rarely use this method because it is very artificial

Sociological researchers refer unobtrusive measures:

Measures unaffected by respondent participation

Collecting Data, cont’d: Content Analysis

Unobtrusive measure

The analysis of the content of public communications

i.e. books, websites, speeches, popular songs, etc.

Collecting Data, cont’d: Participant Observation

The sociologist participates in the social unit being studied

Gain firsthand insight into the activities and attitudes of the group members

Involves certain risks:

The researcher may take on the world view of the group they study and lose objectivity

The researcher may change the processes they observe an participate in

Collecting Data, cont’d: Surveys

Surveys can reach a lot of people in a relatively short period of time

The researcher must first determine the population of interest


The set of all the people who share the characteristics of interest to the researcher

Surveys, cont’d: Samples

It would be expensive and time-consuming to collect data from every member of a population

Researchers use a subset of the population – a sample – to collect data

Systematic random samples are the most accurate

Convenience samples study people who are easily accessible to the researcher

Snowball samples ask participants to suggest the names of other people to study

Collecting Data, cont’d: Questionnaires

A questionnaire provides a set of questions to respondents (through mail or online)

Respondents record their own answers

Response Bias:

Respondents may answer untruthfully or misleadingly

They may provide socially desirable answers

Questions may be constructed to produce certain answers and not others

Collecting Data, cont’d: Interviews

In interviews, the researcher asks respondents questions face-to-face or over the phone and records the answers

Structured interviews:

Each respondent is asked a standard set of questions in the same order

Unstructured interviews:

Questions are open-ended and the respondent answers freely

The interviewer may change the order of the questions or ask other questions based on respondent’s answer

Collecting Data, cont’d: Secondary Data Analysis

Secondary data analysis involves the researcher analyzing and interpreting data gathered by other researchers or the government

For example, researchers may analyze data collected by the Canadian Census

The Research Cycle: Data Analysis

When researchers analyze data, they are concerned with two major issues:

Validity refers to accurately measuring a concept

Reliability refers to the extent to which a measure produces consistent responses

The Research Cycle: Disseminating Knowledge

Once research is collected and the data is analyzed, social scientists must share the knowledge with the public

This can be done by:

Publishing books or academic articles

Presenting at public forums or conferences

Community-based research may be shared directly with the community under study

Research Ethics

Ethical guidelines for research are provided to researchers through professional bodies and research ethics boards

Researchers must share their results openly and truthfully

Researchers must not falsify results

Researchers must not present others’ work as their own

Researchers must also minimize any harm to participants

This includes protecting participants’ identities and allowing them to withdraw from the research at any time

Research Ethics, cont’d

Based on the information provided in the text, can you identify the ethical issues that arise in the following studies?

Zimbardo’s Prison Experiment

Milgram’s Obedience Study

Humphrey’s Tea Room Trade study


This chapter introduced:

The difference between common sense and social research

The central aspects of the four major theoretical perspectives in sociology

The difference between qualitative and quantitative research

The 7 steps to most research projects

The importance of ethics in the research process

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