79 posts categorized "Statistics and Methods"

January 27, 2014

What to study? Bingo vs Monopoly

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

I was asked to have a conversation with students about how I picked my research topic. It’s an old question, and the answer is often a mix of factors. Sometimes sociology books include an introduction or appendix on choosing a research project but often they do not. I’ll put it in rather unconventional terms: You’re either a Bingo researcher or a Monopoly researcher.

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December 09, 2013

Sketches in Qualitative Research

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Although it’s not a problem for every sociologist, accurately and affectively describing people in their settings is a challenge for ethnographers. We’re not particularly trained in writing, yet our credibility and reliability often rests upon crafting word-pictures of people in situations.

This opening from Paul Cressey’s 1932 book, The Taxi-Dance Hall, is a good description of a scene:

The patrons are a motley crowd. Some are uncouth, noisy youths, busied chiefly with their cigarettes. Others are sleekly groomed and suave men, who come alone and remain aloof. Others are middle-aged men whose stooped shoulders and shambling gait speak eloquently of a life of manual toil. Sometimes they speak English fluently. More often their broken English reveals them as European immigrants, on the way toward being Americanized… The girls, however, seem much alike. They wear the same style of dress, daub their faces in the same way, chew their chicle [gum] in the same manner, and—except for a few older spirits—all step about with a youthful air of confidence and enthusiasm. But one soon perceives wide differences under the surface… . (p. 4-5).

Nice description of a setting, right?

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September 19, 2013

Comedians and Sociological Questions

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By Karen Sternheimer

No matter what your comedic taste, most stand-up comedians have one thing in common: their jokes are based on observations of human behavior.

Their observations sometimes ring true, or at least entertain others by the conclusions they may draw. Because of the context, comedians can sometimes push the envelope regarding the rules of polite social behavior. Of course they may offend some—maybe a lot of people—in the process.

Comedians are interesting to think about sociologically; what topics do they focus on? What conclusions do they draw?

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September 16, 2013

Failure is an Option: Lessons from Mitty and Sports Journalism

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

I recently saw the trailer for an upcoming Christmas movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, starring Ben Stiller. It is a remake of a classic 1947 film about a mild-mannered man who daydreams about his own fantastical successes and journeys. As an undergrad I often felt assigned books were daydreams too. I would read old ethnographies and then envision myself as the noble researcher: diving into unknown worlds and becoming a member of some group or tribe. Early on, I had no idea how troubling this idea really was.

As a grad student I read a lot of qualitative research with a more trained eye, preparing to embark on my own research, and saw the same storylines of participant-observers struggling to be accepted as members of the groups they study. Sometimes, ferreted away in an appendix, there will be admissions that the ethnographer didn’t quite fit.

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May 27, 2013

Suicide: Data versus Assumptions

SternheimerBy Karen Sternheimer

Back in 2007, I blogged about the many misperceptions about suicide. Many assumptions surround suicide, specifically the notion that suicide is a much bigger problem now than in the past and one that disproportionally affects young people. Both of these assumptions are incorrect.

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May 06, 2013

Thinking Critically About Statistics and Their Sources

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

In the sciences, we use theory and methods to empirically assess “reality”. While we can often play with data to explore the relationships between our concepts(our variables), it is important to frame what we’re doing with good theory.

An interesting graph has made its rounds through social media lately. It shows a strong relationship between Internet Explorer market share and murders in the U.S.

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April 08, 2013

Data are Everywhere

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

From day one in my statistics course, I tell my students that data are everywhere. Even though the word makes it sound like data is everywhere, the word data is plural thus they are everywhere.

Facebook helped me make the point recently when they posted a note and shared information gleaned from posting patterns (empirical data!) during the week that the Supreme Court heard arguments on marriage equality.

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March 11, 2013

Are You Normal or are You WEIRD?

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

What if I told you that if you thought you were normal, you might just be weird?

Some friends of mine have a ten-year-old, and I pulled a book off their shelf to read it aloud. The title asks, Are You Normal? It’s a fun book, published by National Geographic and by Mark Shulman, intended to educate kids on how their favorite foods and activities compared with other kids’ tastes, activities, and home life. If you like your peanut butter chunky, for example, it means you are only like 25% of the population. If you are an only child, you might not be normal because only one in seven don’t have a brother or sister. And so on.

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March 04, 2013

Research Questions: Less is More

SternheimerBy Karen Sternheimer

Robin (not her real name) is a student of mine who came to my office to discuss her research paper for my class, due two weeks from the day she came to see me. She is very excited about her topic, which she selected for the assignment. She would like to study how poverty impacts education.

This is a big question, and an important one at that. But it is too big to explore in any sort of depth, especially within two weeks. Scholars can spend their entire careers researching questions like these; the first step to being able to conduct your own research—especially for the first time and within a tight time frame—is to narrow your focus.

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February 04, 2013

Revisiting Research

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

The journal Social Forces has published many classic studies in sociology in its ninety year history. To celebrate,the publisher has offered free public access. Even better, each of these articles has updates or reflection articles from the original authors.

While new research is always being pursued, it is important to realize that classic work still has an important contribution to make – that’s why you end up reading so much of it in sociology classes. On the other hand, it is important not to just accept the older work as consistently applicable but to reflect, reassess, reapply the findings to see if they retain their power of explanation. If the findings are no longer as relevant, we can  learn about how life has changed or what the research might have missed, created as it is rooted in a particular time and place.

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