- Because sociology deals in generalizations and not laws, people don’t always behave and think in the patterns sociologists predict. For every sociological generalization, there are many exceptions.
- Personal experience, common sense, the media, expert opinion, and tradition are all valuable sources of knowledge about various aspects of society, but they often present a limited or erroneous view of these aspects.
- Sociological research follows the scientific method. A major goal is to test hypotheses suggesting how an independent variable influences a dependent variable. Hypotheses can concern several units of analysis: the person, the organization, and the geographical region.
- The major stages of sociological research include (a) choosing a topic, (b) conducting a literature review, (c) formulating a hypothesis, (d) measuring variables and gathering data, (e) analyzing data, and (f) drawing a conclusion.
- The major sociological methods for gathering data are surveys, experiments, field research, and existing data. Surveys are the most common research method in sociology, but field research provides richer and more detailed information. Experiments are rather uncommon in sociology, but field experiments may provide very valuable information. Sociologists also analyze existing data gathered by government agencies and other sources, and nonprofit organizations often use existing data to shed light on the social issues with which they are concerned.
- To be sure that an independent variable affects a dependent variable, we must be certain that the two variables are statistically related, that the independent variable precedes the dependent variable in time, and that the relationship between the two variables is not spurious.
- Several ethical standards guide sociological research. Among the most important of these are the rights to privacy and confidentiality and to freedom from harm. Some sociologists have risked imprisonment to protect these rights. Such vulnerable populations as prisoners raise special issues in regard to informed consent.
Imagine that you are the mayor of a city of about 100,000 residents. Similar to many other cities, yours has a mixture of rich and poor neighborhoods. Because you and one of your key advisers were sociology majors in college, you both remember that the type of neighborhoods in which children grow up can influence many aspects of their development. Your adviser suggests that you seek a large federal grant to conduct a small field experiment to test the effects of neighborhoods in your city. In this experiment, 60 families from poor neighborhoods would be recruited to volunteer. Half of these families would be randomly selected to move to middle-class neighborhoods with their housing partially subsidized (the experimental group), and the other 30 families would remain where they are (the control group). A variety of data would then be gathered about the children in both groups of families over the next decade to determine whether living in middle-class neighborhoods improved the children’s cognitive and social development.
You recognize the potential value of this experiment, but you also wonder whether it is entirely ethical, as it would be virtually impossible to maintain the anonymity of the families in the experimental group and perhaps even in the control group. You also worry about the political problems that might result if the people already in the middle-class neighborhoods object to the new families moving into their midst. Do you decide to apply for the federal grant? Why or why not?