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Chapter 2: Sociological Inquiry

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The goal of sociology is the same now as it was from the start: to use a systematic and scientific approach to investigate the interrelationships among human interactions to understand society better.

Auguste Comte (1798-1857) developed the concept of sociology based on the methods used in the physical sciences. 

scientific methodthe process a sociologist uses to develop and test theories 

– Define the Question or Problem

– Review the Literature

– Develop Hypothesis

– Choose a Research Design and Method

– Collect the Data

– Analyze the Data

– Develop Conclusions

– Report Results and Pose New Questions


Step 1 : Define the Question or Problem

American Sociological Association (ASA), a national organization for sociologists dedicated to advancing sociology as a scientific discipline and profession serving the public good

Step 2 : Review the Literature

peer reviewa process by which research is evaluated by a group of experts in the specific subject area

Step 3 : Develop Hypotheses

hypothesis, an educated guess about a relationship between two or more situations, events, or factors

independent variablea factor that causes a change in another variable

dependent variablea factor that is changed by another variable

validitythe extent that the study measures what it claims to measure

operational definitiona clear, concise, and observable measure of the variable

reliability, the extent to which a study yields the same result in repeated studies

Step 4 : Choose a Research Design and methods

quantitative research designdata collection that focuses on exploring correlations by using systematic, numerical, and other objective measures to generalize across groups of people

qualitative research designdata collection using interviews, fieldwork, observation, photos, text, and other subjective measures 

representative samplea subset of the population whose characteristics accurately reflect those of the larger population from which it is drawn.

Step 5 : Collect the Data

Institutional Review Board (IRB), a committee that reviews research proposals to protect the rights and welfare of human participants in research 

informed consenta signed statement by participants indicating full knowledge of the risks involved, and acknowledgment of the procedures to withdraw from the study at any time willingly

Anonymityconcealing the identities of participants within the research project

confidentialityguarding who has the right of access to the data provided by the participants

Step 6 : Analyze the Data

 Once the data is entered and ready for analysis, it is important to refer back to Step 1: Define the Question or Problem, and ask, “What am I trying to discover?” 

Step 7 : Develop Conclusions

Look back at the hypotheses developed in Step 3. Based on the analysis of actual research, you can draw conclusions regarding each hypothesis. 

Step 8 : Report Results and Pose New Questions


Secondary Analysis

A – Existing data is plentiful and study can be conducted quickly

D – Available data may not fit research questions


A – Cost-effective and convenient

D – Inflexible design and potential low response rate


A – More control over design and stronger validity and reliability

D – Inability to generalize data

Longitudinal Studies

A – Provides broad and detailed data

D – Expensive and requires a multi-year commitment

 secondary analysisthe use of data previously collected for other purposes

surveya series of questions used to extract specific information from respondents

experimentthe use of two or more groups in which one group is exposed to a factor being examined

experimental groupthe study subjects exposed to the independent variable

control groupthe study subjects who are not exposed to the independent variable and are used as a reference group

experiment confederate – an individual who appears to be a participant but is actually a researcher

longitudinal designthe repeated observation of the same subjects over a duration of time


In-depth Interviews 

A – Ability to explore different angles and levels

D – Focuses on individuals and transcribing field notes can be time-consuming

Participant Observation

A – Unrestricting access to observe social behavior

D – Difficult to document details and can potentially be unethical

Focus Groups

A – Ease of implementation and quick results

D – Groupthink can occur and moderators can skew the results

Content Analysis

A – Does not involve human subjects and cost-effective

D – Researchers must “read between the lines”

in-depth interviewa one-on-one open-ended method that probes for deeper meaning and understanding of the responses of the interviewee

participation observationalso called participant observation, a method in which the researcher takes part in the social phenomenon being studied. (most controversial)

ethnographya descriptive account of social life and culture in a particular social system derived from the researcher being embedded over time within a group, organization, or community

Covert observation of behavior is when the researcher secretly participates and does not reveal their identity. 

ocus groupa small group interview or guided discussion using a moderator to gain insight into the participants’ opinions on specific topics

groupthinkthe tendency of group members to yield to the desire for consensus rather than expressing individual or alternative ideas

content analysisa systematic method of assigning codes to text, video, music, and other media to analyze and infer patterns


Sustainability – the idea that current and future generations should have equal or greater access to social, economic, and environmental resources

General Social Survey (GSS)a national survey on contemporary American society to monitor and explain trends and constants in attitudes, behaviors, and attributes


snowball sampling, a process in which people in the group being studied introduce the researcher to other people to study


time diary methoda research method in which subjects track their actions at various points in time over several days

Hawthorne effectthe tendency of people to change their behavior when they know they are being watched

ethicsprinciples of conduct about how you are supposed to behave in a given situation

debriefinga follow-up review of the research

code of ethicsa set of guidelines of appropriate behavior established by an organization for its members to follow 

value neutrality, also known as objectivitythe effort to eliminate bias from the research

sample of conveniencea research sample based on the ease of accessibility of the research subjects


case studyan in-depth analysis of a particular person, place, or event over a significant period.

the advantage of such an individually or situationally specific investigation is that you gain a deeper understanding of the person or issue being studied. The disadvantage of a case study is that while it may give you incredible insight into the subject being studied, the findings may not apply to any other situation


verstehen (vûrst e hen), an empathetic approach to understanding human behavior 


Anna Julia Cooper (1858-1964) was a prominent African American author and educator. – A Voice from the South

Beatrice Potter Webb (1858-1943) was an English sociologist whose tutors included British social theorist Herbert Spencer. 

Sophonisba Breckinridge (1866-1948) was born into the Kentucky elite, attended Wellesley College, received her law degree, and was the first woman admitted to the Kentucky bar association. – cofound the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration.

Marianne Weber (1870-1954) was an important figure in the German feminist movement. She authored nine sociology and social analysis books and was the first woman elected to the German parliament

Radical Feminism – most associated with intersectionality – overlaps between different kinds of oppression 

liberal feminism – liberal feminism contends that sex discrimination and sex-biased laws are a product of prejudice and stereotyping by society.


Builders (1925-1945)-Data Analysis, Pen & Paper Surveys 

Baby Boomers (1946-1964) – Polling, Focus Groups, Mall Intercept, Phone Interviews, Expert Consultations, Audience Ratings 

Gen X (1965-1979)- Consumer Satisfaction Surveys, Mystery Shopping, Observational Research, Social Research, Sensory Testing, CATI (Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing)


Gen Y or Millennials (1980-1994) –Generational Research, Online Forums, Discussion Boards, Video-Based, On-site Research, Ethnography, Video Diaries, Online Surveys


Gen Z (1995-2010) – Audience Response, Community forums, Co-creation Groups, Social Media Monitoring, Location Analysis, Cloud-based Research Community, Mobile Tracking, Big Data, Smartphone Polls, Tablet Interviews, App-based Research, Online Communities, Online Focus Groups, Multimedia Diaries