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Socy 1101-Introduction
to Sociology
Professor: Rosemary L. Hopcroft
Office: 490B Fretwell
E-mail: [email protected]
Outline: What do
sociologists do?
The scientific method and sociological investigation
What do sociologists do?
What is a theory?
Theories and beliefs
What are social groups?
Conclusions and generalization
Post modern critique
Values and the effects of social research
Problems that can arise
III. The Sociological Perspective
IV. Why study sociology?
What do sociologists do?
Sociologists study people in groups
using the scientific method.
Different to what historians,
journalists, novelists and other writers
do. They seek to describe.
Sociologists seek general explanations
and develop theories of social
What is the scientific method?
The scientific method consists of
following the steps in the wheel of
The wheel of science
You can actually start at any point on the wheel,
but the important thing is, no matter where you
start, you complete one full circle of the wheel.
You could begin with an observation. For instance,
you could observe that people in one country
seemed happier than people in another country.
Then you could develop a theory about why that
might be so, draw a hypothesis from it, and test it.
Based on the results of the test, you would draw
conclusions about the theory. Is it supported? Is it
Or you could begin with a theory of
why people tend to be happy, draw a
hypothesis from it, test it, and then
draw conclusions.
What is theory?
Since theory is so important, we had
better define it more explicitly.
Theories are explanations of particular
social phenomena.
They are made up of a series of
A proposition gives the relationship
between two factors or characteristics
that vary from case to case of
whatever we are studying.
Propositions can be general or specific.
The specific propositions are derived
from the more general propositions,
and they must be testable.
The specific propositions are derived
from the more general propositions,
and they must be testable.
Example. Durkheim’s
theory of suicide
For example, one early sociological theorist,
Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), wanted to
explain why suicide rates varied from
country to country.
He theorized that more individualistic
(egoistic) societies would have more suicide
than less individualistic societies because
they were less socially integrated.
Thought Protestant countries more
individualistic than Catholic countries.
Durkheim’s theory of
as a set of propositions
1. In any country, the suicide rate varies
with the degree of individualism (egoism).
As individualism increases, so does the
suicide rate. (General proposition)
2. The degree of individualism varies with
the incidence of Protestantism. That is, as
the incidence of Protestantism increases,
the degree of individualism increases.
3. Given propositions one and two, the
suicide rate in a country varies with the
incidence of Protestantism. The higher the
incidence of Protestantism, the higher the
suicide rate. (Most specific proposition)
The important concepts in this theory
are in bold: suicide rate,
individualism, and Protestantism.
He then tested this hypothesis by
collecting information about suicide
rates in Protestant and Catholic
Found that Protestant countries did
have higher suicide rates than Catholic
countries - support for his theory of
Turns out that Durkheim conveniently
overlooked some regions in which the
Catholic suicide rate was higher than the
Protestant suicide rate.
Last, there was the glaring exception of
England – a Protestant nation that had a
low suicide rate.
Durkheim tried to explain away England by
pointing to the fact that the Anglican church
was something like the Catholic church.
Unfortunately, many English people were
not Anglicans at all.
Others have revised Durkheim’s theory.
Other studies, for example, show that it is
not so much the type of religion, but
religious commitment that helps prevent
suicide, and that, in general, the
modernization and development of a
country promotes suicide (Stack 1983).
It took nearly 100 years to fully revise
Durkheim’s findings – a testimony to how
slow the production of social scientific
knowledge can be.
Theories versus Beliefs
The most important thing about theory
is that it can generate a testable
hypothesis that can be supported or
falsified with data.
If a statement cannot generate a
testable hypothesis and therefore
cannot be tested, it is not a theory, it
is a belief.
For example, the statement “there is a
god” is not a theory, it is a belief. So is
To recap, sociologists study people in
groups using the scientific method.
What groups do
sociologists study?
Social groups or groups of any number
of people greater than one
A state may be considered a group of
Families, companies, countries are all
groups of people
Social Groups and
Small groups
Sociologists must collect data to test
their hypotheses.
Data in example came from:
Primary methods used in
With experiments, you have two identical
groups of subjects – an experimental group
and a control group
You change one factor in the experimental
Compare results in experimental and control
Change in experimental group is attributed
to factor changed
Field research
Observe human subjects in natural
Survey research
Ask subjects a set of survey questions
Use statistical methods to analyse the
Analysis of existing data
Analyse statistics previously collected (by
governments, organizations, companies,
etc) using statistical and other
This is what we used when examining why
rural states had a higher circulation of Field
and Stream magazine
Conclusions and
After we have collected data, we can
decide whether it supports or fails to
support our hypotheses
Then we make conclusions about how
our results support, or fail to support,
our original theory
Problems that can arise
People can see what they want to see.
E.g. Millikan and the charge on the
The Post-modern critique
Post-modern critique says that
researchers are embedded in a
particular culture (their own), so
complete objectivity is impossible
There are no truly objective "facts."
We can accept that people see things
differently without accepting that there
are no objective facts
The scientific method helps us
discover these objective facts
It is designed to minimize the effects
of investigator biases
In doing social research, we ourselves
change the social processes we are
This is called the problem of reactivity
E.g. Elton Mayo and the Hawthorne
Electric Plant studies
Values and the effects of
social science research
Some scholars argue that some things
are best left unstudied
E.g. sex differences
Ethics and the limits to what social
scientists can study
The Sociological
Understanding people’s actions and
behaviors as in part a result of their social
That social context is made up of many
factors – an individual’s position in a social
network, their culture, religion, group and
institutional setting, and the prevailing
demography of the society.
This was Emile
Durkheim’s insight
In work’s such as Suicide, Durkheim
showed how something as personal as
suicide is influenced by social factors.
Individual psychology and human
nature itself also influence how
individuals respond to their social
This was Edvard
Westermarck ’s insight
Westermarck showed how early social
contexts influence later incest
This is innate to human biology.
Why study sociology?
We as humans are a highly social
Understanding being social is
fundamental to understanding the
human condition
Sociology is useful in all endeavors in life,
whether it be in business (marketing, for
example), architecture and design, finance
and economics, education, politics etc.
We can design better public policies if we
understand what contexts work and what
contexts do not work to produce the social
behaviors we prefer.
Overview of class
Fundamentals of sociological analysis
Used in all sociological studies
– Biology
– Culture
– Social groups and social networks
– Institutions
– Demography
Research areas in sociology
Social stratification
Global inequality
Gender inequality
Race and ethnicity
Crime and violence
Biosociology of health
Economic sociology
Sociology of the environment
Political sociology and social change