Methodology::Social science


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Social research

{{#invoke:main|main}} The origin of the survey can be traced back at least early as the Domesday Book in 1086,<ref>A. H. Halsey (2004), A history of sociology in Britain: science, literature, and society, p. 34</ref><ref>Geoffrey Duncan Mitchell (1970), A new dictionary of sociology, p. 201</ref> while some scholars pinpoint the origin of demography to 1663 with the publication of John Graunt's Natural and Political Observations upon the Bills of Mortality.<ref>Willcox, Walter (1938) The Founder of Statistics.</ref> Social research began most intentionally, however, with the positivist philosophy of science in the 19th century.

In contemporary usage, "social research" is a relatively autonomous term, encompassing the work of practitioners from various disciplines that share in its aims and methods. Social scientists employ a range of methods in order to analyse a vast breadth of social phenomena; from census survey data derived from millions of individuals, to the in-depth analysis of a single agent's social experiences; from monitoring what is happening on contemporary streets, to the investigation of ancient historical documents. The methods originally rooted in classical sociology and statistical mathematics have formed the basis for research in other disciplines, such as political science, media studies, and marketing and market research.

Social research methods may be divided into two broad schools:

  • Quantitative designs approach social phenomena through quantifiable evidence, and often rely on statistical analysis of many cases (or across intentionally designed treatments in an experiment) to create valid and reliable general claims.
  • Qualitative designs emphasize understanding of social phenomena through direct observation, communication with participants, or analysis of texts, and may stress contextual and subjective accuracy over generality.

Social scientists will commonly combine quantitative and qualitative approaches as part of a multi-strategy design. Questionnaires, field-based data collection, archival database information and laboratory-based data collections are some of the measurement techniques used. It is noted the importance of measurement and analysis, focusing on the (difficult to achieve) goal of objective research or statistical hypothesis testing. A mathematical model uses mathematical language to describe a system. The process of developing a mathematical model is termed 'mathematical modelling' (also modeling). Eykhoff (1974) defined a mathematical model as 'a representation of the essential aspects of an existing system (or a system to be constructed) that presents knowledge of that system in usable form'.<ref>Eykhoff, Pieter System Identification: Parameter and State Estimation, Wiley & Sons, (1974). ISBN 0-471-24980-7</ref> Mathematical models can take many forms, including but not limited to dynamical systems, statistical models, differential equations, or game theoretic models.

These and other types of models can overlap, with a given model involving a variety of abstract structures. The system is a set of interacting or interdependent entities, real or abstract, forming an integrated whole. The concept of an integrated whole can also be stated in terms of a system embodying a set of relationships that are differentiated from relationships of the set to other elements, and from relationships between an element of the set and elements not a part of the relational regime. A dynamical system modeled as a mathematical formalization has a fixed "rule" that describes the time dependence of a point's position in its ambient space. Small changes in the state of the system correspond to small changes in the numbers. The evolution rule of the dynamical system is a fixed rule that describes what future states follow from the current state. The rule is deterministic: for a given time interval only one future state follows from the current state.


{{#invoke:main|main}} Other social scientists emphasize the subjective nature of research. These writers share social theory perspectives that include various types of the following:

  • Critical theory is the examination and critique of society and culture, drawing from knowledge across social sciences and humanities disciplines.
  • Dialectical materialism is the philosophy of Karl Marx, which he formulated by taking the dialectic of Hegel and joining it to the materialism of Feuerbach.
  • Feminist theory is the extension of feminism into theoretical, or philosophical discourse; it aims to understand the nature of gender inequality.
  • Marxist theories, such as revolutionary theory and class theory, cover work in philosophy that is strongly influenced by Karl Marx's materialist approach to theory or is written by Marxists.
  • Phronetic social science is a theory and methodology for doing social science focusing on ethics and political power, based on a contemporary interpretation of Aristotelian phronesis.
  • Post-colonial theory is a reaction to the cultural legacy of colonialism.
  • Postmodernism refers to a point of departure for works of literature, drama, architecture, cinema, and design, as well as in marketing and business and in the interpretation of history, law, culture and religion in the late 20th century.
  • Rational choice theory is a framework for understanding and often formally modeling social and economic behavior.
  • Social constructionism considers how social phenomena develop in social contexts.
  • Structuralism is an approach to the human sciences that attempts to analyze a specific field (for instance, mythology) as a complex system of interrelated parts.
  • Structural functionalism is a sociological paradigm that addresses what social functions various elements of the social system perform in regard to the entire system.

Other fringe social scientists delve in alternative nature of research. These writers share social theory perspectives that include various types of the following:

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