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Making sense of social research by Malcolm Williams

By Malcolm Williams

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It would not be a good test, for example, of embourgeoisement4 theory just to go into the local shopping centre and ask people what class they are – though it would tell you what class they think they are, which might be interesting in itself. Operationalization is a process and a key part of the design of research. Usually we think of it as applying to survey research, but although less formalized, it is still necessary to define and refine one’s concepts, even in interpretive research, but that is a topic I will consider in the next chapter.

I will discuss this further in the next chapter. In truth very little exploratory research is about developing theories from scratch. Even most pilot studies have at least a loose theoretical framework which can be later tightened. Then comes building and testing theory. Very little research is about developing brand new theory and typically only research conducted in academia 36 From Question to Method is consciously about theory building. The aim is usually to further develop, sharpen, or clarify an existing body of theory, or theoretical propositions.

The history of both natural and social science would bear out that this is indeed so. Developments in methodology have nearly always been linked to contextual goals. The rapid industrialization of the United States in the first half of the twentieth century coincided with the growth of scientific sociology, both survey method and experiment (Madge, 1963; Platt, 1996). Likewise it was not just idle curiosity that led to the development of urban ethnography by the Chicago School, but the perception that the poverty that grew out of urbanization was a serious social problem.

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