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Note for Engineering Sociology - ES By Er Ajit Kumar Sahu

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Er Ajit Kumar Sahu
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School of Distance Education MODULE I Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology Page 4

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School of Distance Education DEVELOPMENT OF SOCIOLOGICAL THEORY Definition A Theory is a set of interrelated concepts used to describe, explain, and predict how society and its parts are related to each other. Theories are sets of inter-related concepts and ideas that have been scientifically tested and combined to clarify, and expand our understanding of people, their behaviors, and their societies. Without theories, science would be a futile exercise. A theory is a set of propositions that provide an explanation by means of a deductive or inductive system. The three major functions of theory are description, explanation and prediction. Nature and Characteristics of Theory A theory is a proposed relationship between two or more concepts. In other words, a theory is explanation for why a phenomenon occurs. Without theories to explain the relationship between concepts, we would not be able to understand cause and effect relationships in social life. The major characteristics of theory are given below.  Time boundedness: Scientific theories always seek to transcend the particular and the time bound. Scientific theories are therefore about the generic, the fundamental, the timeless, and the universal.  Objectivity: Another characteristic of scientific theories is that they are stated more formally than ordinary language. Theory is stated in neutral, objective, and unambiguous terms so that the theory means the same thing to all who examine it.  Reliability and Verifiability: A final characteristic of scientific theories is that they are designed to be systematically tested with replicable methods against the facts of particular empirical settings. Elements of theory: Concepts, Variables, Statements and Formats Theory is a mental activity revolving around the process of developing ideas that explain how and why events occur. Theory is constructed with the following basic elements or building blocks: (1) concepts, (2) variables, (3) statements, and (4) formats. Though there are different types of theory, the basic elements are common to all. Concepts Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology Page 5

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School of Distance Education Theories are built from concepts. Generally, concepts denote phenomena. A concept embraces the aspects of the social world that are considered essential for a particular purpose. Concepts are constructed from definitions. A definition is a system of terms that inform investigators as to the phenomenon denoted by a concept. A definition allows visualising the phenomenon that is denoted by the concept. It enables all investigators to see the same thing and to understand what it is that is being studied. Thus, concepts that are useful in building theory have a special characteristic: they strive to communicate a uniform meaning to all those who use them. However, since concepts are frequently expressed with the words of everyday language, it is difficult to avoid words that connote varied meanings—and hence point to different phenomena—for varying groups of scientists. It is for this reason that many concepts in science are expressed in technical or more neutral languages, such as the symbols of mathematics. In sociology, expression of concepts in such special languages is sometimes not only impossible but also undesirable. Hence the verbal symbols used to develop a concept must be defined as precisely as possible so that they point to the same phenomenon for all investigators. Although perfect consensus may never be attained with conventional language, a body of theory rests on the premise that scholars will do their best to define concepts unambiguously. The concepts of theory reveal a special characteristic: abstractness. Some concepts pertain to concrete phenomena at specific times and locations. Other, more abstract, concepts point to phenomena that are not related to concrete times or locations. For example, in the context of small-group research, concrete concepts would refer to the persistent interactions of particular individuals, whereas an abstract conceptualization of such phenomena would refer to those general properties of face-to-face groups that are not tied to particular individuals interacting at a specified time and location. Whereas abstract concepts are not tied to a specific context, concrete concepts are. Although it is essential that some of the concepts of theory transcend specific times and places, it is equally critical that there be procedures for making these abstract concepts relevant to observable situations and occurrences. The utility of an abstract concept can be demonstrated only when the concept is brought to analyse some specific empirical problem encountered by investigators; otherwise, concepts remain detached from the very processes they are supposed to help investigators understand. Some argue for very formal procedures for attaching concepts to empirical events. Those of this view believe that abstract concepts should be accompanied by a series of statements known as operational definitions, which are sets of procedural instructions telling investigators how to go about discerning phenomena in the real world that are denoted by an abstract concept. Others argue, however, that the nature of our concepts in sociology precludes such formalistic exercises. At best, concepts can be only devices that must change with the Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology Page 6

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