First year · Sociology

Sociological Imagination: Skills Workbook

COMPONENT ONE: List the advantages and disadvantages of Official Statistics


  • Official statistics use large samples, which increases the reliability,
  • Cost and time: official statistics are most of the time accessible and free, which gives more time for data analysis,
  • Use of rigorous sampling techniques because information is collected in a standardized way,
  • Opportunity for longitudinal analysis,
  • Opportunity for cross-cultural analysis (use data from different nation states) so one can make correlations,
  • Re-analysis may offer new interpretations,
  • Respect of ethical values.



  • Snapshot/ Outdated,
  • Repurposing / Potential bias,
  • Lack of validity and familiarity with the data,
  • Complexity of the data which can be hard to understand,
  • No control over data quality because there is sometimes an absence of key variables,
  • Longitudinal.



COMPONENT TWO:  Define reliability and validity


Reliability is a perfect measure and characteristic for a research which can be repeated at another time, by another researcher, and the result will be the same. There are three main factors. The research will be unreliable if the variability is too high which means that it has to be stable. Then, internal reliability refers to the consistency of the indicators and signs. Finally, inter-observer consistency verified if the researcher use several observers.


The validity shows the value or quality of a scientific empirical research. If the research is valid, the conclusions will be reliable and true. There are three forms of validity: measurement, internal and external. The measurement validity is the level of how the research indicates the developed concept. An internal validity refers to a good match between the observations and the concepts which are developed. An external validity considers whether the researcher can generalize the finding or not.


COMPONENT THREE: Distinguish between random and non-random sampling


Two methods are used to obtain representative samples: the probabilistic method, or random, and the non-probabilistic method.


The probabilistic method is to take the interviewees in random conditions. It requires having all the subjects of the studied population, and ensuring that everyone has the same chance of being chosen. The validity of this method, which is the most stringent thus depends on the quality of the list, which often makes it impossible to use. For example, given a population of 2000 subjects, if I want to draw a random sample from the population, each member of the population should have an equal chance of being selected. This type of printing assures only the representativeness of the sample if the sample size is large enough.


This sampling frame poses fewer problems in statistical analysis. Quota samples are not random so therefore non-probabilistic. Unfortunately, the statistics cannot absolutely guarantee meaningful results for this kind of sample. The quota method is to reduce the parent model population, and the statistics will be proportional. Sex, age, housing, income levels are all variables that will be retained or not. For each variable taken in consideration, quotas are established. This method gives good results and has the advantage of being more economical and faster than the random method.


COMPONENT FOUR: Outline the advantages and disadvantages of quantitative methods



  • Empirical methods are built on the natural world scientific model,
  • Easier to generalize the participant’s results, wider in scope and representative,
  • Primes objectivity, researcher at a “distance” so does not influence the answer,
  • Test hypothesis and illustrate theories by describing characteristics,
  • Easier to access and replicate.



  • Strictly positiveandempiricistvision, so natural science model does not apply to social world,
  • Relationship between concepts and measures assumed,
  • Not all participants read the questions the same way, the questionnaire responses are not spontaneous but aroused. Therefore, they cannot be held reliable indicators of behaviors that actually occur in the situation. There is indeed a difference between what people say and what they do, between discourse and behavior. A respondent may not have personal views on the question.
  • How questions relate to the everyday social reality of respondents,
  • Assume a social reality separate from the individuals.



COMPONENT FIVE: Outline the advantages and disadvantages of qualitative methods



  • Rapport
  • Good for sensitive topics: thick description
  • Discover material unattainable by other methods
  • Subjective life story
  • Voice to the powerless
  • Data not pre-defined
  • Flexible
  • If taped can refer back



  • Interviewer bias: that all interviews are not conducted by the same interviewer is important in the case of a qualitative approach. Training of interviewers is essential.
  • Time consuming and expensive
  • Subjective
  • Cannot be replicated
  • Can an outsider understand properly?



COMPONENT SIX: Identify the key ethical principles for sociological research


  • Voluntary participation requires that people not be coerced into participating in research. This is especially relevant where researchers had previously relied on ‘captive audiences’ for their subjects (prisons, universities)
  • Informed consent: prospective research participants must be informed about the procedures and risks involved in research and must give their consent to participate.
  • Risk of harm as both physical and psychological.
  • Confidentiality: identifying information will not be made available to anyone who is not directly involved in the study.
  • Anonymity: the participant will remain anonymous throughout the study, even to the researchers themselves. The anonymity standard is a guarantee of privacy, but it is sometimes difficult to accomplish in situations where participants have to be measured at multiple time points.
  • Right to service: use of a no-treatment control group, a group of participants who do not get the treatment or program that is being studied. But when that treatment or program may have beneficial effects, persons assigned to the no-treatment control may feel their rights to equal access to services are being curtailed.




Chosen Essay Title: How can sociological theory explain the fact that societies are remarkably ordered with occasional episodes of social deviance?


Societies are generally very orderly, which means that everything happens according to commonly accepted patterns of social behaviour. As a result, the very actions of individuals are normative behaviours towards the norm, morality and other standards such as religion or the vote. Each society establishes its standards and defines what is non-standard according to its own principles. An ordered society is based on many laws, regulations, institutions but also mores that define standards but also inherently contain deviant behaviour. In this context, is deviant what deviates from the average. The first investigations in this area come from one of the founders of social psychology, Muzafer Sherif who, in 1936, described the functioning of normalization (the process by which a group eventually converges towards a common standard). He concluded that standards can be prescriptive (what is valorized to and/or not to do) or descriptive (what is done by the majority), and are created by social groups, which either have the ability to persuade the majority group to adhere to these norms or to impose them (The Psychology of Social Norms, 1936). Human sciences explain deviant behaviour as a behaviour that diverges from what is commonly accepted, and can be negative (not valued by the group) or positive (valued). Thus the concept of deviance becomes a social object in a reciprocal relationship with social processes. Theories of deviance highlight especially two broad conceptions: either it is the society with its numerous norms and mores which inevitably produces (even invites) deviant behaviours, or it is the individual who positions him/herself outside the mainstream norms, and joins a social group labelled as deviant. Therefore since deviance is intrinsically part of any well-ordered society, sociological theory provides several explanations to analyze how societies maintain equilibrium. Consequently, in the first part, this paper will demonstrate the point of view of the structural functionalist, or otherwise order perspective, and then, it will focus on the symbolic interactionist theory.



Standards are useful to guide individual behaviours in accordance with the values ​​of a group. One of the characteristics of a society is to ensure that these standards are internalized because they have the power to organize social life. The system of rules is therefore based on an integrator system. The theory of social reaction, or strain theory considers that deviance appears during the weakening and even the disintegration of social control. This analysis is centered on the mechanics of social control. One of its major proponents is American sociologist Robert Merton who considers that culture and the structure of society require people to adapt potential deviant behaviour, and includes deviance in his five types of adaptation: conformity, ritualism, retreatism, rebellion and innovation (Web 2). Conformity and ritualism are the guarantee of social stability. On the other hand retreatism and rebellion are far more threatening and disrupting because they represent an extreme contestation of the rules. Finally, innovation is the reaction of an active minority of individuals who when facing the system of norms and rules, propose reforms, thus introducing new values. It is a type of deviance which in the end produces change and progress (“Social structure and anomie”, 1938).

Another representative of the “order” perspective is Durkheim who, in his book Suicide (1982), shows that the male suicide rate depends on marital status. Married men commit suicide less than single, divorced and widowed men, because marriage is the situation in which standards are extremely well-defined. According to Durkheim, the effect of standards is precisely to set limits to the expectations of individuals. In a situation he defines as anomie, that is to say an absence or weakening of the standard, individuals have no benchmarks to guide their conduct, and their expectations are no longer limited by boundaries. This can create situations of frustration and anxiety that can in extreme cases lead to suicide. Thus a widower has lost his standards so is more likely to get suicide. For Durkheim the punishment of deviance will lead to a reaffirmation of the moral commitment to the norm and boundaries among the conformist population. To sum up, temporary disturbance due to deviant acts should be dealt with by the social and cohesive social structure, and equilibrium should be reinstated (Web 1). Durkheim is the forerunner of the second most important theoretical perspective, which is the symbolic interactionism.



The socialization theory, or labelling theory considers deviance as a learning mechanism. The deviant individual is one that society defines as such, in other words: how does one become an outsider? In the 1950s, American sociologist Howard Becker undertook a study by participant observation of two worlds filled in his opinion with “outsiders” (Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance, 1963): marijuana smokers and jazz musicians. At the time, the way of life of jazz musicians could be considered as marginal, and therefore unconventional, even deviant. According to him, deviance is a product of a social interaction during which a transaction takes place between an individual who has transgressed a norm, and a social group. Becker distinguishes a twofold process: the individual behaves and acts without following the norm, and the group considers the act as deviant, which is a social judgment. With this division, Becker introduces a temporal dimension in his theory: one enters a “deviant career” in the same way as one evolves in a professional career. The deviant behaviour is the result of a learning process in which one practices a deviant activity, and then reconstructs the representation of this activity to maintain an acceptable image of oneself. For Becker, the deviant career goes through four stages. Firstly, the transgression of the standard means that, to enter a deviant career, one will have to cross the “threshold” of standards, disobey the norm by adopting a non-standard behaviour or attitude. This transgression has to be regular, or at least repeated. For example, marijuana smokers will first be placed in a smoking situation, then they will smoke, and finally learn to smoke for pleasure. Secondly, the commitment involves that, by regularly adopting a deviant behaviour, one adopts a different lifestyle, learns to participate in a sub-culture, and adopts a new social identity: this is the socialization of deviance. Gradually, marijuana smokers adopt a lifestyle compatible with the act of smoking, consider themselves “smokers”, and share a common culture and rites associated with this act. Thirdly, the public designation generates a public recognition of the deviant individual, and will affect not only the interactions with social life, but also the self-image itself. One is changing in the look of others, identified as deviant and treated as such. Finally, the adherence to a deviant group implies that this membership will have two consequences: develop the rationalizations to justify deviance (for instance, the rationalization of cigarette smokers who are always hearing that their behaviour is bad, and thus will reply “with nuclear threat, why not continue”, or “we all die of something, at least I do what I want”) and facilitate the perpetuation of practices.

One becomes fully deviant when someone else refers to it as such (and possibly punishes it), and this means that a norm is being activated. If this standard is applied, this implies that someone has called attention to the offense and had an interest in punishing the transgression, and that someone is responsible for the explanation and application of standards. Becker called the “someone” moral entrepreneurs, and illustrated this in his book (Outsiders: Studies in the sociology of deviance, 1963) with the fact that marijuana became illegal in the United States following a campaign by moral entrepreneurs. In summary, the theory of social regulation, or control theory considers deviance as a result of the conflict between individual desire and membership imposed by a social group. Thus deviance is the detachment of the individual from a social group, and the problem is the individual, not the social environment which remains stable and ordered.
To conclude, deviance is always the product of initiatives from others and is there only if someone has previously made ​​a standard exist. Deviance is a relative concept, which largely depends on the social context. Apparently we would do our utmost to avoid deviance. This is due to the processes of social influence, that is to say when an influence manages to change the beliefs or attitudes. But it can also be due to the tendency to conform. Deviance can be experienced in different ways; for example it can be a stigma, or a proof of originality, or it can even allow the “disadvantaged” groups to create a positive social identity, etc. This can be a delinquent deviance which has more or less serious consequences for society and for individuals. But it can also be an incivility deviance, which breaks the daily order. To explain the fact that societies have always been remarkably ordered with some occasional episodes of deviance, there are loads of theories adopting diverse theoretical perspectives. However, all sociological theories agree on the fact that deviance is an integral part of society despite the fact that each society manages its deviants in a different way. In his book Discipline and Punish (1977) Michel Foucault explains how different human societies have faced deviance, which does not fundamentally put society in danger. In premodern societies, deviants such as homosexuals were labelled but integrated (Tahiti). Before the 18th century, deviance was dealt with by removing the body shell of the deviance (death). With the Enlightenment and this is true of nowadays, the governing institutions seek to educate deviant behaviours.




  • Becker, H. (1963) Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. New York, Free Press
  • Durkheim, E. (1982) The rules of sociological method. New York: Free Press.
  • Foucault, M. (1977) Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. New York: Vintage
  • Merton, R. “Social structure and anomie”, (1938) American Sociological Review5: pp.672–682.
  • Sherif, M. (1936) The Psychology of Social Norms. Harper & brothers


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