4 posts from January 2019

January 28, 2019

What Makes a Research Question Sociological?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

In your sociology research methods class, you will likely be asked to design and maybe even complete a sociological research project. As sociology major, this should be an exciting prospect: you get the opportunity to learn more about something specific to your interests.

At the core of any research project is coming up with a research question. A research question is basically the question that you hope your research project answers, or what you are hoping to learn from conducting your study. It is typically more general than a research hypothesis, which should be very specific and concrete. A research question should also be the “so what” of why you are conducting research. Ideally, your research will help you answer a particular question.

One of the biggest challenges new sociology students face is creating research questions that are sociological. What makes a research question sociological?

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January 21, 2019

Online Media Dystopia

Colby (1)By Colby King

Concerned about online misinformation and fake news, I made a few revisions to the syllabi for my Introduction to Sociology courses before the start of the semester this past fall. I created an information literacy assignment based on the ongoing debate about the “marshmallow test.” But, I also made space to discuss Zeynep Tufekci’s research, particularly her analyses of how digital platforms and their algorithms shape how we collect information, share ideas, and interact with each other. Many students responded enthusiastically to these topics. And, while most were not surprised by the various concerning issues that Tufekci raises about digital platforms, many did report that understanding her research was causing them to reconsider the ways in which they engage online.

Zeynep Tufekci is an Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina in the School of Information and Library Science with an affiliate position in UNC’s Department of Sociology. Her book Twitter and Tear Gas, provides a vivid analysis of the ways in which social media supported social movements including the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement, while also describing the challenges created by these same platforms.

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January 14, 2019

Applying Verstehen: Understanding the Transgender Experience

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

It is very easy to fear what we don’t understand, and it is also easy to fear people who seem to be different from us. Our language enables this: the previous sentence contains the words “we” and “us,” suggesting that “they” and “them” are another group. As Peter Kaufman wrote two years ago, there is a danger in “othering” people that can mask our similarities.

People who identify as transgender get placed into the “other” category often, largely because many people don’t understand what it means to identify as any gender other than the one assigned at birth. When I came of age in the late twentieth century, I knew of no one who openly expressed gender identity issues—of course, that doesn’t mean no one I knew had these issues, just that they were hidden.

The concept of identifying as transgender was new to me, just as it was for many people. As sociologists, we strive to better understand people from their perspective. Sociologist Max Weber’s concept verstehen calls upon us to use research for the purpose of understanding people we study. This has led me to begin to read the growing body of sociological research on how people who identify as transgender come to this realization.

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January 07, 2019

Getting Excited about Sociological Research Methods

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

In our department, Research Methods is a required course that many students put off taking until their junior or even senior year. For several reasons, this class is often viewed as one of those requirements that you just have to get through, rather than as one to eagerly anticipate.

I aim to change that. Here’s why you should be excited to take a research methods course:

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