Chapter 2. Sociological Research

Chapter 2 Resources and Activities

Key Terms

Type your key takeaways here.
authoritative knowledge: Knowledge based on the accepted authority of the source.

case study: In-depth analysis of a single event, situation, or individual.

carnal sociology: A sociological research method that studies the social world from the point of view of the bodies and bodily practices of the participants.

casual observation: Knowledge based on observations without any systematic process for observing or assessing the accuracy of observations.

code of ethics: A set of guidelines established to foster ethical research and professionally responsible scholarship in sociology or other disciplines.

content analysis: A quantitative approach to textual research that selects an item of textual content that can be reliably and consistently observed and coded, and surveys the prevalence of that item in a sample of textual output.

contingency table: A statistical table that provides a frequency distribution of at least two variables.

control group: In an experiment, the subjects or comparison group who are not exposed to the independent variable.

correlation: When a change in one variable coincides with a change in another variable, but does not necessarily indicate causation.

critical research strategy: Research approach that utilizes positivist, interpretive and reflexive methods to produce knowledge that maximizes the human potential for freedom and equality.

critical pedagogy: An approach to teaching and learning based on fostering the agency of marginalized communities and empowering learners to emancipate themselves from oppressive social structures.

decolonization: The process of dismantling colonial power structures.

dependent variable: Variable changed by the impact of another variable.

empirical evidence: Evidence corroborated by direct sense experience and/or observation.

ethnography: The extended observation of the cultural practices, perspectives, beliefs and values of an entire social setting.

experiment: The testing of a hypothesis under controlled conditions.

experimental group: In an experiment, the subjects who are exposed to the independent variable.

field research: Gathering data from a natural environment without doing a lab experiment or a survey.

grounded theory: The generation of hypotheses and theories after the collecting and analysis of data.

Hawthorne effect: When study subjects behave in a certain manner due to their awareness of being observed by a researcher.

hypothesis: An educated guess that predicts outcomes with respect to the relationship between two or more variables.

hypothetico-deductive methodologies: Methodologies that test the validity of a hypothesis by whether it correctly predicts observations.

independent variable: Variable that causes change in a dependent variable.

inductive approach: Methodologies that derive a general statement from a series of empirical observations.

institutional ethnography: The study of the way everyday life is coordinated through institutional, textually mediated practices.

interpretive methodology (approach): Research approach based on systematic, in-depth understanding of the meaning, interpretation, or context of a social phenomenon for research subjects.

intervening variable: An underlying variable that explains the correlation between two other variables.

interview: A one-on-one conversation between a researcher and a subject.

literature review: A scholarly research step that entails identifying and studying all existing studies on a topic to create a basis for new research.

nonreactive research: Unobtrusive research that does not include direct contact with subjects and will not alter or influence people’s behaviours.

operational definitions: Specific ways of rendering abstract concepts in terms of measurable and observable criteria.

overgeneralization: Knowledge that draws general conclusions from limited observations.

participant observation: Immersion by a researcher in a group or social setting in order to make observations from an “insider” perspective.

population: A defined group serving as the subject of a study.

positivist methodology (approach): Research approach based on a hypothetico-deductive formulation of the research question, systematic empirical observation, and quantitative data.

primary data: Data collected directly from firsthand experience.

qualitative data: Information based on systematic interpretations of meaning.

quantitative data: Information from research collected in numerical form that can be counted.

random sample: A representative subset of a population selected without bias. Every person in a population has the same chance of being chosen for the study.

research design: A detailed, systematic method for conducting research and obtaining data.

sample: Small, manageable number of subjects that represent the population.

scientific method: A systematic research method that involves asking a question, researching existing sources, forming a hypothesis, designing and conducting a study, and drawing conclusions.

secondary data analysis: Using data collected by others but applying new interpretations.

selective observation: Knowledge based on observations that only confirm what the observer expects or wants to see.

surveys: Data collections from subjects who respond to a series of questions about behaviours and opinions, often in the form of a questionnaire.

textually mediated communication: Institutional forms of communication that rely on written documents, texts, and paperwork.

thick description: A thorough ethnographic description which describes observed behaviour and the layers of meaning that form the social context of the behaviour.

traditional knowledge: Knowledge based on received beliefs or the way things have always been done.

validity: The degree to which a sociological measure accurately reflects the topic of study.

value neutrality: A practice of remaining impartial, without bias or judgment, during the course of a study and in publishing results.

variable: A characteristic or measure of a social phenomenon that can take different values.

Section Summary

2.1 Approaches to Sociological Research
Using the scientific method, a researcher conducts a study in five phases: asking a question, researching existing sources, formulating a hypothesis, conducting a study, and drawing conclusions. The scientific method is useful in that it provides a clear method of organizing a study. Some sociologists conduct scientific research through a positivist framework utilizing a hypothetico-deductive formulation of the research question. Other sociologists conduct scientific research by employing an interpretive framework that is often descriptive or inductive in nature. Critical research strategies utilize positivist, interpretive, and reflexive methods to produce knowledge that maximizes the human potential for freedom and equality.

2.2 Research Methods
The many methods of research available to sociological researchers — including experiments, surveys, field studies, and secondary data analysis — all come with advantages and disadvantages. The strength of a study depends on the choice and implementation of the appropriate method of gathering research, which in turn depends on the topic and the purposes of the research. Trade-offs occur based on available sources of data, reliability of methods, validity of methods, type of data (qualitative or quantitative), and the purposes of the research.

2.3 Ethical Concerns
Sociologists and sociology students must take ethical responsibility for any study they conduct. They must first and foremost guarantee the safety of their participants. Whenever possible, they must ensure that participants have been fully informed before consenting to be part of a study. The Canadian Sociological Association (CSA) maintains ethical guidelines that sociologists must take into account as they conduct research. The guidelines address conducting studies, properly using existing sources, accepting funding, and publishing results. Sociologists must try to maintain value neutrality. They must gather and analyze data objectively, setting aside their personal preferences, beliefs, and opinions. They must report findings accurately, even if they contradict personal convictions.


Quiz: Sociological Research

2.1 Approaches to Sociological Research

  1. A measurement is considered                  if it actually measures what it is intended to measure, according to the topic of the study.
    1. reliable
    2. sociological
    3. valid
    4. quantitative
  2. Sociological studies test relationships in which change in one                  causes change in another.
    1. test subject
    2. behaviour
    3. variable
    4. operational definition
  3. In a study, a group of 10-year-old boys are fed doughnuts every morning for a week and then weighed to see how much weight they gained. Which factor is the dependent variable?
    1. The doughnuts
    2. The boys
    3. The duration of a week
    4. The weight gained
  4. Which statement provides the best operational definition of “childhood obesity”?
    1. Children who eat unhealthy foods and spend too much time watching television and playing video games.
    2. A distressing trend that can lead to health issues, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
    3. Body weight that is at least 20% higher than a healthy weight for a child of that height.
    4. The tendency of children today to weigh more than children of earlier generations.

2.2 Research Methods

  1. Which materials are considered secondary data?
    1. Census information
    2. Photos and letters
    3. Information from previous sociological research
    4. All of the above
  2. What method did Andrew Ivsins use to study crack cocaine users in Victoria?
    1. Survey
    2. Experiment
    3. Field research
    4. Content analysis
  3. Why is choosing a random sample an effective way to select participants?
    1. Participants do not know they are part of a study.
    2. The researcher has no control over who is in the study.
    3. It is larger than an ordinary sample.
    4. Everyone has the same chance of being part of the study.
  4. What research method did Latour and Woolgar mainly use in their Salk Institute study?
    1. Secondary data
    2. Survey
    3. Ethnography
    4. Experiment
  5. Which research approach is best suited to the positivist approach?
    1. Questionnaire
    2. Case study
    3. Ethnography
    4. Secondary data analysis
  6. The main difference between ethnography and other types of field work is:
    1. Ethnography is based on the systematic observation of an entire community.
    2. Ethnographic subjects are unaware they are being studied.
    3. Ethnographic studies involve tribes, or tribe-like groupings.
    4. There is no difference.
  7. Which best describes the results of a case study?
    1. It produces more reliable results than other methods because of its depth.
    2. Its results are not generally applicable.
    3. It relies solely on secondary data analysis.
    4. It demonstrates sociological principles from surveys of legal decisions.
  8. Using secondary data is considered an unobtrusive or                  research method.
    1. non-reactive
    2. non-participatory
    3. non-restrictive
    4. non-confrontive

2.3 Ethical Concerns

  1. Which statement illustrates value neutrality?
    1. Obesity in children is obviously a result of parental neglect; therefore, schools should take a greater role in preventing it.
    2. In 2003, states like Arkansas adopted laws requiring elementary schools to remove soft drink vending machines from schools.
    3. Merely restricting children’s access to junk food at school is not enough to prevent obesity.
    4. Physical activity and healthy eating are proper parts of a child’s education.
  2. Which sociologist defined the concept of value neutrality?
    1. Karl Marx
    2. Dorothy Smith
    3. Plato
    4. Max Weber
  3. To study the effects of fast food on lifestyle, health, and culture, from which group would a researcher ethically be unable to accept funding?
    1. A fast-food restaurant
    2. A nonprofit health organization
    3. A private hospital
    4. A governmental agency like Health and Social Services

[Quiz answers at the end of the chapter]

Short Answer

2.1 Approaches to Sociological Research

  1. Write down the first three steps of the scientific method. Think of a broad topic that you are interested in and which would make a good sociological study; for example, ethnic diversity of university professors, eating rituals, decolonization, or teen driving. Now, take that topic through the first steps of the process. For each step, write a few sentences or a paragraph: 1) Ask a question about the topic. 2) Do some research and write down the titles of some academic articles or books you would want to read about the topic. 3) Formulate a hypothesis.

2.2 Research Methods

  1. What type of data do surveys gather? For what topics would surveys be the best research method? What drawbacks might you expect to encounter when using a survey? To explore further, ask a research question and write a hypothesis. Then create a survey of about six questions relevant to the topic. Provide a rationale for each question. Now define your population and create a plan for recruiting a random sample and administering the survey.
  2. Imagine you are about to do field research in a specific place for a set time. Instead of thinking about the topic of study itself, consider how you, as the researcher, will have to prepare for the study. What personal, social, and physical sacrifices will you have to make? How will you make contact with the subjects? What means of recording, writing down, transcribing, reviewing, or organizing the data will you use?
  3. Choose a research question that interests you. Which of the four types of sociological method would be best suited for the topic? What are the strengths and limitations of each of the four types of method for this topic? How does choice of method affect the types of question you can ask?

2.3 Ethical Concerns

  1. See the Canadian Sociological Association: Statement of Professional Ethics ( Why do you think the CSA crafted such a detailed set of ethical principles? What type of study could put human participants at risk? Think of some examples of studies that might be harmful. Do you think that, in the name of sociology, some researchers might be tempted to cross boundaries that threaten human rights? Why?
  2. Would you willingly participate in a sociological study that could potentially put your health and safety at risk, but had the potential to explain an important, but previously unresearched phenomenon?

Further Research

2.1 Approaches to Sociological Research

For a historical perspective on the scientific method in sociology, read “The Elements of Scientific Method in Sociology” by F. Stuart Chapin (1914) in the American Journal of Sociology.

2.2 Research Methods

Information on current real-world sociology experiments, Seven Examples of Field Experiments for Sociology by Karl Thompson (2016) from the Revise Sociology website.

2.3 Ethical Concerns

The Social Sciences and Humanities Council criteria for ethical conduct in research involving humans are outlined in Chapter 1 of the Tri-Council Policy Statement-Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS-2) 2018 [PDF], which can be found on the Government of Canada website.


2.0 Introduction to Sociological Research

Cohen, T. (2013, April 25). String of terror incidents no reason to ‘commit sociology’: Stephen Harper. National Post.

Pape, R. (2005). Dying to win: The strategic logic of suicide terrorism. Random House.

2.1 Approaches to Sociological Research

Blackstone, A. (2012). Principles of Sociological Inquiry – Qualitative and Quantitative Methods. Saylor Foundation.

Brym, R., Roberts, L., Lie, J., & Rytina, S. (2013). Sociology: Your compass for a new world (4th Canadian ed.). Nelson.

Carroll, W. (2004). Introduction. Critical Strategies for Social Research. Canadian Scholars Press.

Dalgaard-Nielsen, A. (2010). Violent radicalization in Europe: What we know and what we do not know. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 33(9), 797–814.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Continuum.

Glaser, B., & Strauss, A. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. Aldine.

Hartnagel, T. (2004). Correlates of criminal behaviour.  In Criminology: A Canadian  perspective (5th ed.). Nelson.

Lengermann, P. & Niebrugge, G. (2007). The women founders: Sociology and social theory 1830–1930, a text/reader. Waveland Press.

Marx, K. (1977/1845). Theses on Feuerbach.  In David McLellan (Ed.), Karl Marx: Selected writings (pp. 156–158). Oxford University Press.

Martineau, H. (1838). How to Observe Morals and Manners. Charles Knight and Co.

Merton, R. (1973/1942). The normative structure of science. In The sociology of science theoretical and empirical investigation (pp. 267-278). University of Chicago Press.Merton, R. (1968/1949). Social theory and social structure. New York Free Press.

Mikkelson, B. (1999, November 9). Grandma’s cooking secret. 

Office of the Correctional Investigator. (2020). 2019-2020 annual report. Government of Canada. Catologue No.: PS100E-PDF.

Patel, F. (2011). Rethinking radicalization. Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law.

Popper, K. (1963). Conjectures and refutations: The growth of scientific knowledge. Routledge.

Thambinathan, V. &  Kinsella, E. (2021, May). Decolonizing methodologies in qualitative research: Creating spaces for transformative praxis. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 20, 1–9.

Zeitlin, I. (1997). Ideology and the development of sociological theory. Prentice Hall.

2.2 Research Methods

Cotter, A. (2014). Firearms and violent crime in Canada, 2012. Juristat (Statistics Canada catalogue No. 85-002-X).

Department of Justice. (2015, January 7). Firearms, accidental deaths, suicides and violent crime: An updated review of the literature with special reference to the Canadian situation. Government of Canada.

Forget, E. (2011). The town with no poverty: Using health administration data to revisit outcomes of a Canadian guaranteed annual income field experiment. Canadian Public Policy, 37(3), 283–305.

Franke, R., & Kaul, J. (1978). The Hawthorne experiments: First statistical interpretationAmerican Sociological Review, 43(5), 632–643.

Geertz, C. (1977). Thick description: Toward an interpretive theory of culture. In The interpretation of cultures: Selected essays (pp. 3-30). Basic Books.

Gilens, M. (1996). Race and poverty in America: Public misperceptions and the American news mediaThe Public Opinion Quarterly, 60(4), 515–541.

Haney, C., Banks, W. C., & Zimbardo, P. G. (1973). Interpersonal dynamics in a simulated prison. International Journal of Criminology and Penology, 1, 69–97.

Ivsins, A. (2010). “Got a pipe?” The social dimensions and functions of crack pipe sharing among crack users in Victoria, BC [PDF] (Master’s thesis, Department of Sociology, University of Victoria).

Ivsins, A.,  Roth, E., Benoit, C., & Fischer, B. (2013). Crack pipe sharing in context: How sociostructural factors shape risk practices among noninjection drug users. Contemporary Drug Problems. 40(4), 481–503.

Latour, B. & Woolgar, S. (1985). Laboratory life: The construction of scientific facts. Princeton University Press.

Little, W. (2012). Leaving a life of political violence: A neo-Nazi steigt aus. New German Critique. 39 (1(115)), 139–167.

Lowrey, A. (2013, November 12). Switzerland’s proposal to pay people for being alive. The New York Times Magazine.

Marshall, B. D. L., Milloy, M. J., Wood, E., Montaner, J. S. G., & Kerr, T. (2011). Reduction in overdose mortality after the opening of North America’s first medically supervised safer injecting facility: A retrospective population-based study. Lancet, 377(9775), 1429–1437.

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Sennett, R. (2008). The craftsman. Yale University Press.

Smith, D. (1990). Textually mediated social organization. In Texts, facts and femininity: Exploring the relations of ruling (pp. 209–234). Routledge.

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Wacquant, L. (2004). Body and soul: Notebooks of an apprentice boxer. Oxford University Press.

Wacquant, L. (2015). For a sociology of flesh and blood. Qualitative Sociology, 38, 1–11.

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2.3 Ethical Concerns

Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. (2018). Tri-Council Policy Statement-Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS-2) 2018 [PDF].

Canadian Sociological Association (CSA-SCS Policy, Ethics, and Professional Concerns Subcommittee). (2021). Statement of professional ethics [PDF]., J. (1972). Knowledge and human interests. Beacon Press.

Weber, M. (1949). Methodology of the social sciences (H. Shils & E. Finch, Trans.). Free Press.

Solutions to Quiz: Sociological Research

1 C, | 2 C, | 3 D, | 4 C, | 5 D, | 6 C, | 7 D, | 8 C, | 9 A, | 10 A, | 11 B, | 12 A, | 13 B, | 14 D, | 15 A, [Return to Quiz]


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