Sociological Theory and Methods

Research and Methods

Reliability refers to the likelihood of someone who repeats the same research of the same study to get similar findings

Validity refers to the honesty of the findings of a study ( e.g. have biases influenced the findings/ is the sample representative etc.)

Representative Refers to the generalisability of a group of people in a sample to the general population/ target population

What are the 2 types of Data? 

- Primary Data 

- Secondary Data

Primary Data is data that is collected first hand

Secondary Data is data that is existing information e.g. on the internet


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Feminist Theory

Feminist Theory aims to explain the causes of gender inequalities. They believe society is patriarchal.

 There are 3 main feminist groups; 

- Liberal Feminism

Womens inequality arises primarily from factors like sexist sterotypes, gender role socialisation, lack of positive role models, sex discrimination through outdated laws and attitudes 

- Radical Feminism

Regard patriarchy as the most fundamental (basic) form of inequality with the world spit in 2 'sex classes' (men and women) with men dominating women in all areas and from which all men benefit.
Believe all women have shared interests in challenging men 

- Marxist Feminism 

Argue gender inequality arises primarily from the nature of capitalist society, not from an independent system of patriarchy 

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Action Theories

The main focus of social action theories is on individual behaviour in everyday social situations.Say that people make their own choices, and take their own action, There are three important action theories:

1)Social Action 

  • Weber-  human behaviour needs to be described on two levels: 
  • The level of cause (behaviour shaped by structural factors) 
  • The level of meaning (meanings people attach to actions)

Weber categories meanings into 4 types of action: Instrumentally rational action; efficient means of achieving a goal, Value-rational action taken because something is important for its own sake(cos I like it) Traditional action based on habit, e.g. Affectual action is based on emotion

2)Symbolic Interactionism Refers to the belief that society is built up by interactions between people which take place on the basis of meanings held by individuals. Blumer suggest interactions has 3 features:

  • A)People act in terms of symbols
  • B)These meanings develop out of the interaction
  • C)Meanings arise from an people trying to interpret the meanings others give to their actions

3) Ethnomethodology: refers to way of studying society that looks at how we interact with society and what ideas develop out of this. It states society has no structure or order and that order is an illusion.   


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Sociology and Science

Science uses experiments and observation to test theories. Objective, unbiased and systematic. Popper said some sociological concepts weren’t scientific as couldn’t possibly be proved wrong. Sociology could only be a science if it made hypotheses which could be falsified. Features of Poppers scientific method.

  •  Hypothesis Formation
  • Falsifying
  • The Use of Empirical Evidence 
  • Replication
  • The Accumulation of Evidence 
  • Prediction 
  • Theory of Formation 
  •  Scrutiny

Kuhn believed science uses accepted body of knowledge to solve puzzles. He called it ‘normal science’. He thought scientists based ideas on assumptions or ‘paradigms’. Realists believe that sociology can be scientific, they divide science into two types: 

1) Open systems:Society is too complex a system to lend itself to accurate predictions and experiments

2) Closed systems: this relates to the natural sciences where the researcher can control all of the causal factors.


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Modernity and Postmodernity

Modernists believe we can discover truths about society via rational thinking. These theories study modernist societies, and aim to investigate the world scientifically and explain why societies have evolved to be the way they are.

  • Marxism and functionalism are both modernist theories. 
  • Postmodernism argues society’s progressed from modernity and no one theory can claim a monopoly of the truth. They say society today has moved on from the ordered world of modernity and is in constant state of change.

To summarise: Globalisation-world is becoming increasingly interconnected. Giddens developed the term Disembedding- when you are no longer confined to where you live or confined by time. E.g. the internet.    

Choice, identity and consumption

  • Postmodernists believe nowadays there are few social constraints. Lyotard suggests postmodern societies are characterised by growing individualism; there is now only a mass of individuals with few social bonds connecting them forming their identities              
  • Media- The media use to more or less reflect reality but now, media imageas dominate and distort the way in which we see the world. Baudrillard see’s life in the postmodern era dominated by media imagery and he calls it media saturated.            


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Features of Positivism in Sociology

Positivists argue sociology should be a science and this is made possible by following the scientific approach using the hypothetical deductive method

Positivist’s view=: 

  •  A view human behaviour is  response to observable social facts 
  • Direct Observation and the use of quantitative, statistical methods of data collection should be used to study society.  Without quantification sociology will remain at a level of insight, lacking evidence and it will be hard to make predictions and generalisations 
  •  Research focuses on the search for the social causes of events in society.
  • Focus of sociology is on study of social institutions and the social structure as a whole, not on the individual, as it is these external structures which shape and mould individuals.

Can sociology be scientific? The five objectives sociology must strive for to be scientific:

  • Value Freedom
  • Objectivity 
  • The use of Systematic Research 
  • The Careful Analysis and Evaluation of Data and Hypothesis in the Light of Evidence and Logical Argument 5)Findings should be Open to Inspection, Critism, Debate and Testing by Other Researchers 
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Sociological Theory and Methods

Classical Sociologists disagree about values in sociology.There is much debate in sociology as to whether it is possible to study society in a value-free, objective way. There are three main positions in the ‘values debate’

  • 1)Sociology should be and can be value-free
  • 2)Sociology cannot be value-free
  • 3)Sociology should not be value-free, even if it were possible. 

Value Freedom= idea that the beliefs and prejudices of researcher should not influence the way research is carried out

Why can sociology be value-free? Because it could be objective and this is because researchers can separate facts and their values and this through studying social facts and using empirical data    

Why is value-freedom not possible? It is impossible for any natural or social scientist to avoid the influence of values completely.       

What are the assumptions of positivists and interpretivists? Positivists:Believe society exists as an objective reality+quantitative data which = regard as reliable because it is untainted by the values of the researcher and can be replicated and checked by other researchers. Interpretivists:Believe society is socially constructed by the actions of individuals who act in the ways they do because of the meanings and interpretations. The way of discovering meanings and producing valid data is to collect qualitative data through close involvements with those being researched, and by a process of subjective interpretation of what those meanings and interpretations are. 

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Why shouldn’t sociology be value free?

Giddens claims the study of sociology gives four practical benefits;                

  • An understanding of the world.          
  • A heightened awareness of the needs of individual groups.                   
  • An assessment of what works (evidence-based policy).                  
  • An increased personal knowledge of ourselves and others.

Social policy is the area of Government that tries to solve social problems or achieve other goals that are seen as important. The 9 ways in which sociology contributes to social policy.

  •  Providing an Awareness of Cultural Differences 
  •  Providing self- awareness and understanding 
  •  Changing assumptions 
  •  Providing a theoretical framework 
  •  Providing practical professional knowledge 
  •  Providing the Evidence 
  • Identifying the Unintended Consequences of Policies 
  •  Assessing the Results 
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Consensus Structuralism

  • Consensus based theories= state everything works together
  • Conflict based theories=state everything works against one another

Functionalism= consensus structural perspective + a macro theory> Talcott Parson "Organic Analogy" 

Functionalist > social change=  slow process of social evolution +  occurs when new functions emerge /or/society adapts + gradually changes values 

Parsons Structural Differentiation> refers to when new needs arise some functions change + become more specialised e.g. 1800's Family= educate us but now 2000's gov educates us

  • Socialisation= taught values and norms via prev generations and social institutions e.g. education
  • Social Control =  various methods used to persuade/ force individuals to conform to dominant + social norms of society
  • Functionalist argue if society changes too quickly then norms are lost before new ones are created. 
  • Durkheim called this an Anomie which is a state of moral confusion + social instability bad for individuals and society
  • Functionalists> all members of society have needs + desires the social system must cater for. These needs can be broken down in to instrumental(material- basic)  needs and expressive needs(emotional).
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Conflict Structuralism

  • The ruiling class (the 'bourgeoisie')             
  • The working class (the 'proletariat')

According to the Marx’s the means of production make up the economic bases of society Economic determinism refers to the economic base which determines the superstructure (the institutions in society e.g. religion, the education system) Superstructure of Society Model 

Top: Family, religion, law, politics, media, education, ideology
Middle: Means and relations of productions
Bottom: Economic base 

What is the job of the superstructure according to Marxist? It is legit the position of the ruiling class

What did Marx say only way the proletariat recognise how they have been oppressed? Marx argues revolution= only way for proletariat recognise how they been oppressed, and a socialist/ communist society would then emerge 

Neo Marxism focuses on ideology and is further development of classic Marxist theories, to make them relevant to the modern world. 

Humanistic Marxism developed by Gramsci = focused on hegemony (the domination of the ruiling class ideology in society) 

Summary of Gramsci theories Marxism is about economy. Humanistic Marxism is about people. 


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Structuralist Marxism

Althusser = structure of capitalist society consists of 3 levels. Althusser believed capitalism would be over thrown when these 3 structures contradicted one another.

The 3 levels of capitalist society 

  • 1) The economic level (=economy + production of goods)
  • 2) The political level (=institutions that control people) 
  • 3) The ideological level (=concerned with ideas, beliefs and values which are controlled through media, education and religion) 
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