Study Questions: Chapter 3
1. What is the difference between qualitative and quantitative research? Give an example for each.
Answer: Quantitative research focuses on social elements that can be counted or measured, which can therefore be used to generate statistics. It often involves working with questionnaires and polls. Qualitative research involves the close examination of characteristics that cannot be counted or measured. Unlike quantitative research, which is typically used to find the patterns governing whole structures or systems, communities, and so on, qualitative research may be used to study those individual cases that don’t fit into the larger model. Qualitative methods include ethnography and the case study approach. (p. 53)
2. Why might sociologists use content analysis when doing sociological research?
Answer: Content analysis involves studying a set of cultural artifacts or events by systematically counting them (to show which ones dominate) and then interpreting the themes they reflect. Cultural artifacts include children’s books, billboards, novels, newspaper articles, advertisements, artwork, articles of clothing, clinical records—even textbooks. These items all have two distinct properties not normally found in the subjects studied using other types of qualitative methodology. First, they have a natural, or “found,” quality because they are not created specifically to be studied. Second, they are non-interactive, in that there are no interviews used or behaviours observed to gather the data. (p. 61)
3. What are the two levels of discourse analysis? Give an example of each.
Answer: There are two types or levels of discourse analysis used by sociologists. The first analyzes discourse as it is traditionally defined—that is, as a conversation, a speech, or a written text. Sociologists may examine the “discourse” found in a given ethnography, in an open-ended interview, or in a narrative. They might also focus on “texts” such as court transcripts, newspaper stories, movie trailers, and advertisements. The second level of discourse analysis looks at a broader definition of “text” that goes beyond individual works and authors to include large “fields” of presentation of information over a certain period of time: movies in general or in the early twenty-first century, for instance, reality shows, introductory sociology textbooks, Canadian historical writing, and so on. (p. 62)
4. What are independent and dependent variables? Why are they necessary for sociological research?
Answer: Independent variables are variables presumed to have some effect on another variable, and dependent variables are those that are assumed by the sociologist to be affected by an independent variable. Both dependent and independent variables are key to understanding and carrying out quantifiable research (and even certain forms of qualitative research). (p. 68)
5. Why is it necessary to approach statistics critically?
Answer: To be critical is to recognize that all statistics are flawed to some extent, and that some flaws are more significant than others. Some important questions to ask of statistics include: what might be the sources for this number? How could one go about producing the figure? Who produced the number, and what interests might they have? What are the different ways key terms might have been defined, and which definitions have been chosen? (p. 71)
6. What is institutional ethnography? How would one use it to study an organization?
Answer: Institutional ethnography is a relatively new method of research, based on the theories of Dorothy Smith. This method of research differs from traditional sociological research in that it does not reflect the view that a neutral stance is necessarily more scientific than an approach that explicitly involves “taking sides.” Institutional ethnography recognizes that any institution or organization can be seen as having two sides, each associated with a different kind of data. One side represents ruling interests (the interests of the organization, particularly its administration), and the other side of an organization is that of the informant (someone who works in the institution outside of management or the administration, the upholders of ruling interests). (pp. 55–56)
7. What is the relationship between correlation and causation? Support your answer with examples.
Answer: While correlation is relatively easy to prove, causation is usually not. Claiming that a cause-and-effect relationship exists based on correlation alone, without sufficient evidence, is known as spurious reasoning. Spurious reasoning, the false assumption of causation when only correlation is present, is illustrated by the following example: there is a correlation in Canada between birds flying south and leaves falling. We can see both phenomena occurring roughly at the same time, but it would be spurious reasoning to say that the birds see the leaves falling and therefore decide to migrate. If we look for a third factor, we’ll find that the angle of the sun’s rays affects both dependent variables. (pp. 68–70)