Research Methods in Social Science

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Social researchers use a variety of methods and paradigms in doing their research. Each method has its own unique perspective, point of view, and approach and contributes its own way to the realm of social science research. The following are common social research paradigms, along with an example of each:

Conflict paradigm: Asserts that what drives group relationships in society is the process of conflict or an attempt to dominate others and to avoid being dominated. Research example: Are criminal codes merely attempts by the dominating economic class to keep the poor "in their place”?

Symbolic interactionism: Emphasizes the importance of our human ability to assume the role of another, imagining how others feel and how they might behave in certain conditions. Research example: Is our initial impression of another person colored significantly in how he or she speaks? How do our perceptions of the person unfold as we get to know that person more intimately?

Role theory: Focuses on analyzing how people deal with their various role expectations and the conflicts arising from such phenomena as “role strain” and “role conflict.” Research example: What problems do older, more mature students have in interacting with a college environment where most of the students are much younger?

Ethnomethodology: A view that people are constantly creating social structure through their actions and interactions – that they are, in fact, creating their realities. People are always attempting to make sense of the life they experience. Research example: Why do Americans have a “personal space” where if violated (i.e., someone comes too close to us) we feel uncomfortable?

Structural functionalism: Views a whole society as an organism. Like other organisms, a social system is made up of parts, each of which contributes to the functioning of the whole. Research example: What roles do high school “outcasts” (i.e., the unattractive, stereotypical studious students) play in support of the “in crowd?”

Feminist paradigm: Draws attention to the subjugation of women in most societies and highlights how images of social "reality" have often come from and reinforced the experiences of men. Research example: What has been the role of prostitution in U.S. history and how has it contributed to maintaining the power of the patriarchy?

Exchange paradigm: The view that all human behavior can be seen to reflect people’s calculations of costs and benefits. This paradigm suggests that we analyze social situations in terms of the perceived costs and benefits of various behaviors.  Research example: What role do financial/educational incentives play in recruitment for the U.S. armed forces?

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