Chapter 1.

1. What is the nomothetic-deductive approach to research?

The nomothetic-deductive method is the one that is used by researchers who want to learn something about social regularities — things that apply to people in general. The nom in "nomothetic" appears in words like "autonomy," "economy," and"astronomy"—all words that describe systems of laws or principles that govern different aspects of reality. Nomothetic research attempts to discover what those systems of laws or principles are, while idiographic research is interested in describing only a single event, person, or situation. Since it is interested in discovering the laws or principles that govern aspects of reality, nomothetic research cannot depend on information that describes a single individual. It needs information that describes enough cases so that general patterns or relationships can be seen. (p.5)

2. What is the idiographic approach to research?

An idiographic study is one that explores a single person or event or situation in detail. (p.5)

3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the nomothetic-deductive and idiographic approaches to research?

Although the researcher doing idiographic work would learn a great deal about the idiosyncratic thoughts or behaviors of the person or situation that was investigated, this information would apply only to that specific person or situation. Although it might give the researcher some ideas of what to look for in the wider context, it can't be used to describe the population from which the case studied was drawn. It tells little, if anything, about social regularities — things that apply to people in general.

On the other hand, nomothetic research cannot depend on information that describes a single individual. It needs information that describes many cases -- perhaps hundreds or thousands -- enough so that general patterns or relationships can be seen. Ideally, it would use information that describes all people, events, or situations. Because this is clearly impossible, a different approach is taken. Inferential statistics, a set of logical tools based on the relation between an entire population and a subset of that population, assuming the subset is chosen in the right way, makes it possible to learn about the population by studying the much smaller subset. (p.5)

4. What is the difference between description and explanation? Why is explanation more difficult to do?

In descriptive research, the goal is to obtain a complete and accurate description of events, conditions, circumstances, processes, and relationships surrounding the situation under study. What were the conditions? What were relevant interpersonal, familial, social, economic, political, religious, or educational features of the situation? How many people were involved? What type of people were involved? What kind of relationships did they have with one another? How typical were their experiences? While this kind of research might tell me what was happening, it won't explain the causes of what I saw.

To get at explanations of causal relationships between events and circumstances, a different kind of research would be more useful. When we are interested in causal relationships, we do explanatory research. For example, how do the educational backgrounds of your parents influence the way they relate to you? Is the way parents interact with their children influenced by the number and kind of relationships the parents had with their parents? ...with their siblings? ...with their friends? Is the extent to which parent are socially integrated related to the ability of their children to form strong intimate ties when they become adults? Explanatory research is the most demanding kind of research, and it requires the use of special methods to identify causes and effects. (p.4)

5. Compare and contrast causal explanation, rule-based explanation, and teleological explanation.

There are different kinds of generative forces in theories. Each leads to a particular form of explanation. The simplest kind of generative forces are ordinarily called "causes." A cause is an antecedent condition (something that happens first) that produces a consequent effect (something that happens later as a result of what happened earlier) over which the people involved have no control. The effect happens whether or not the person or people involved want it to; it is an unavoidable consequence of the cause. A theory that explains patterns by reference to uncontrollable antecedents employs causal explanation and is called a law. (ex: Because they are naturally more aggressive and solitary, men make more assertions and give more orders than women; because they are naturally more cooperative and social, women ask more questions and make more requests than men. Men and women behave like this because they are men and women, not because they want to or they think they should.)

A second, more complex, type of generative force is the rule. A theory that explains behavioral patterns by reference to norms or social customs employs rule-based explanation and is called a rule of behaviour. Rules can take many different forms. At Simon Fraser University, for example, people almost always cover certain parts of their bodies when they are in classrooms, regardless of how warm or cold it is. They do this because it is a social norm — a rule. On roads where the traffic goes in both directions, people almost always drive on the right side of the road. They do this for two reasons: first, because there is a law (a particular type of rule) that says you should do this; second, because they do not want to crash head-first into a car coming the other direction. Note that it is quite possible to break these rules, although there is usually a price to be paid if you are caught.

A third type of generative force is the reason. A reason refers to the preexisting goals, needs, and desires of a person that explain patterns of behavior and social activity. A theory that explains patterns by reference to goals or subjective reasons for acting is called a teleological explanation. (ex: In order to receive a degree in Communication from Frozen Salmon University, I enroll in courses I would rather avoid.) A great deal of research energy is directed toward understanding the dynamics of human behavior by focusing on how people's goals and their efforts to achieve them affect how they interact with one another. (p.9)

6. What are generative forces and what do they do?

Generative forces are what make things happen. They are the connections between causes and effects; they are the social forces, customs, pressures, and motivating forces that govern the behaviour of people in social groups; they are the rewards and goals which people try to attain and the costs and pain they try to avoid. Each type of generative forces resuires its own particular form of explanation. It is important that you choose the right type of explanation for the generative force acting in the situation you are trying to explain. For example, causal explanations are good for explaining why people fall on icy sidewalks; rule-based explanations are appropriate for descriptions of what people say in particular ceremonial social situations; teleological approaches are probably the best ones to use when you are interested in how people behave when they are trying to achive a desired goal. If people's behaviour is determined by social norms, a causal explanation will be a waste of time. If personal goals are the motivating force, a rule-based explanation will not shed much light. (p.9)

7. What is the difference between deduction and induction?

Induction is a logical process in which you start with information about specific instances and you generalize or extrapolate the result to a wider range of situations or a larger population of individuals. This is a move from the specific to the general. An important example of induction is the formulation of general theories on the basis of events observed in specific sutiations.

Deduction goes the other way. You move from the general to the specific. Based on a general theory, you make predictions about what will happen in a specific situation. When you want to verify theoretical explanations you use deductive logic. If a theory is true, you would expect to see evidence of the logical implications of the theory if you look in the right places. Since theories are statements about relations between concepts, you would expect to see the same relations between specific concrete instances of the concepts if the theory is valid. In other words, if a theory is true, the hypotheses logically implied by the theory should also be true. This is deduction — you have just moved from the general to the specific. (p.10)

8. What is grounded theory and how is it related to the theory used in nomothetic-deductive research?

"Grounded theory" is a name for the results of the data-to-theory method of theory construction. When the scientist begins by making observations and then constructing a theoretical explanation that would account for the observed patterns, the logic is called data-to-theory and the logical method being used is inductive. The logical pattern is to move from the specific to the general. This approach is useful for the creation of theories in areas where there hasn't been much previous research. However, one weakness of this approach is that theories created in this fashion always match the data upon which they are based. Looking to see how well the theory "fits" the data only tells how good a job the theorist did while describing the data; the data cannot be used to test the theory. For this reason the data-to-theory approach is combined with the theory-to-data approach.

When the scientist begins with a theory and then tests it against observed data, the logic is called theory-to-data and the logical process being used is deductive. The pattern here is to move from the general to the specific — exactly the opposite of the inductive method. In the theory-to-data method, data are used to test the theory. A failure of the data to fit the theory is usually taken as an indication that there is something wrong with the theory, with the measurement methods (and thus with the data), with the methods being used to compare the data to the theory, or with the logic leading the researcher to expect the theory to fit the data.

In practice, the two logical modes are complimentary: the inductive approach is used in the development of theory and the deductive approach is used in the verification of theory. Used together, the two methods are much stronger than either one used separately. (p.10)

9. Parsimony and perspicuity are important characteristics of a good theory. What is the difference between the two and how are they different from utility?

Perspicuity is clearness. A perspicuous theory is clear, lucid, readily understandable, and unambiguous. Because it is precisely stated, it leads to clear, unequivocal predictions.

Parsimony is defined by my dictionary as "extreme care in spending money; reluctance to spend money unnecessarily." In the context of theory, it means "extreme care in the use of concepts; reluctance to use more concepts than are absolutely necessary." Is the theory parsimonious in its use of concepts and relations, or is it a complex network of relations tying numerous concepts together in several different ways? A parsimonious theory is one which uses few concepts and relationships among them. In this sense, it is more straightforward, more likely to be internally consistent. Because it is not a complicated mess of many concepts tied together in many ways, it is easier to connect with reality and more likely to lead to unambiguous and unequivocal predictions.

Utility in this context means three things: First, does the theory go "where no one has gone before"? Does it explain previously inexplicable phenomena? Does it explain things previously thought to be unrelated? Second, does it have heuristic value—does it set the stage for further conceptual developments and empirical research? Does it suggest new areas for research? Third, should anyone care about the theory? Does it matter in the sense that the knowledge based on the theory will have an effect on peoples lives? (p.12)

10. Which approach is better — quantitative or qualitative? Justify your answer?

Please read the discussion of this issue on pages 12-13 of the book and think about how you would answer this question. If you are interested in this, you may want to read Garrett Hardin's Filters against folly: how to survive despite economists, ecologists, and the merely eloquent. (1985) New York, N.Y.: Viking. This paperback is also in the library and its call number is GF 50 H36.

11. Compare and contrast laboratory and field research methods and discuss their strengths and weaknesses.

Laboratory research is conducted in an artificial environment, all aspects of which are controlled by the researcher. Field studies take place in a natural environment where people normally are found in the course of day-to-day life. Laboratory studies are useful because the high degree of control allows the researcher to rule out possible disturbances or "contaminations" that would probably cause the results to be less reliable or valid than they otherwise would be. Field research, on the other hand, leaves the research open to the complexities and messiness of ordinary life. The researcher who wants to learn about how people in small communities behave when their houses are destroyed by a tropical storm can't answer the question with a controlled laboratory study; he has to wait for a hurricane or typhoon to develop. With field research you can address issues in the context in which they ordinarily occur. With a laboratory study, you must isolate the focus of inquiry from its normal context in order to prevent biasing the results. This clearly poses a dilemma: are the complexities of the field a greater threat than the certain distortions caused by the decontextualization demanded by laboratory research? (p.13)

12. What does it mean to say that empirical research is "positive"?

To say empirical research is "positive" means that it deals with questions about what is and why it is, rather than what ought to be. The book mentions a master's thesis about assisted suicides. The researcher asked who participated in the suicides, how they felt about what they did, and what arguments they made about the correctness or appropriateness of their actions. These were all valid topics for scientific enquiry. Science could not, however, determine whether it is wrong to assist someone to commit suicide. This is a question of societal norms, personal values and individual beliefs. While an empirical researcher can ask what people believe and what their personal values are, the researcher who argues that one set of beliefs or values are better than another has left the research arena and stepped onto the realm of the politician, the preacher, or the ideologue. (p.8)