- Grounded theory
- provides an attempt to identify how non-trivial theory and generalisations
can be made through qualitative research. The approach inverts traditional
quantitative approaches by grounding theory in accounts and observations
of everyday life rather than in the imagination of the speculative theorist
who develops the theory first and then seeks ways of testing it empirically.
(Glaser and Strauss 1967)
- is the process by which external patterns of behaviour, value systems
and beliefs and images are incorporated into the internal structures of
- is a process of naming, or categorising individuals and things. In deviance
theory, labelling theory proposes that acts are deviant only because someone
or some group defines them as such. Deviance is therefore socially constructed
through a process of categorisation and the responses which people make
to being labelled, and in turn the responses made to these responses. After
a period of time individuals construct their identities in relation to the
- this refers to the position that an individual occupies within a given
social structure or system. Individuals can play many different roles according
to context, some of these may be formally set up in an institution, or they
may be informally ascribed or embraced. Role theory tends to fit well within
structuralist perspectives, emphasising system rather than individual. However,
they have also found a place within the dramaturgical (see for example
Goffman; or Eric Berne's Games People Play - transactional analysis) perspectives
deriving from symbolic interactionism.
- Social construction of ....
- this phrase is used to indicate that 'facts' are not so much given, or
'natural' but are the product of human acts of interpretation, judgment,
negotiation. Hence, one talks of the social construction of reality or of
the social construction of illness, or of the patient and so on. This indicates
that reality, illness, or patients are not simply unambiguous 'givens' but
have been accomplished through the work of human beings in interaction with
each other to give meaning to their everyday experience. Different groups
will have different ideas concerning what counts as reality, illness, etc.
- Following de Saussure, the sign is composed of two parts: the signifier
and the signified.
- refers to the 'mark', sound or gesture (i.e., the material content
of the sign) which is arbitrarily associated with the meaning content
of the sign.
- refers to the conceptual object or idea that is associated with
the signifier of the sign. This idea may in turn refer to a real or
- the process through which individuals are inducted into membership of
groups whereby they come to accept as normal (or internalise )the values
and conduct of the group and take on identities appropriate to the group.
Perspectives which stress socialisation have often been criticised as adopting
an overly passive view of people.
- refer to generalised images whereby all individual features which contradict
the typified images/ideas are suppressed. Stereotypical images are gross
overgeneralisations and are often used in acts of suppression.
- Goffman used the term to refer to situations of 'spoiled identity'. It
is as a result of the labelling process. The problem for the individual
stigmatised is how to construct a sense of identity in a situation where
he or she is labelled as inferior in some way.
- this is a process of varying one's perspective on a given object in order
to identify what remains constant, or is common to all the different perspectives.
Typically it involves setting the perspectives of different people into
relation with each other in order to find out whether they talk about a
given object in similar ways, and to see whether they act in similar ways
towards a given object. Thus, concerning the nature of 'illness' one may
triangulate the ideas of doctors, nurses and patients. Or, one may stay
with particular groups (say doctors) in order to triangulate their beliefs
with their actions, or simply to triangulate beliefs across the whole community
of doctors to see how generalisable their concepts and beliefs concerning
- this refers to the process through which social phenomena are formed into
patterns and generalised. The emphasis is upon identifying what is common
to a range of expressions, conducts or events. It reduces the individuality
of phenomena to a set of common characteristics.
- Discourse analysis
- see discourse (under Terms)
- Ethnomethodology, Phenomenology, Symbolic interactionism
- these perspectives focus upon the sense making activities of social actors.
They seek to describe the taken-for-granted structures of everyday life
in order to analyse the social construction of reality for individuals,
groups, sub-cultures, cultures. The 'self' is seen as being socially constructed
rather than 'innate'.
- can be seen as a further variant of the phenomenological approach.
Rather than 'suspension' it talks of 'bracketing' (also a phenomenological
term). Its focus has typically been upon the everyday taken-for-granted
'rational accounting practices' of social actors. That is to say, it
focuses upon how social actors make sense of, and rationally account
for their behaviours and for their experience. Rationality is seen as
a social construction. One form of ethnomethodology deriving from Harold
Garfinkel seeks to 'make trouble' as a method by which to disclose the
tacit or hidden structures of social life. By disturbing the flow of
social interaction, the rules which are transgressed are made visible.
- deriving from the work of Alfred Schutz focused attention upon the
structures of everyday life. It drew heavily on the work of George Herbert
Mead. Its theoretical advance was to insist upon the researcher suspending
his or her research/theoretical interests in the social world being
studied. Through this act of suspension, the research was to generate
descriptions of the social world rather than test theories. It led to
a 'grounded theory' approach (Glaser and Strauss).
- Symbolic interactionism
- George Herbert Mead, as the initiator of the approach, saw the self
as being composed of two parts: the 'I' and the 'me'. The 'I' is the
natural, spontaneous unsocialised side of the self. The 'me' is generated
through how 'significant others' respond to, and interpret the expressions
of the 'I'. By internalising the ways the significant others
respond towards the self, the self constructs it's socialised sense
of self, the 'me'. By over emphasising the role of the 'me' and neglecting
the role of the 'I', symbolic interactionism has often presented an
'over socialised' view of people. Charles Horton Cooley added to the
concept of the self, through his theory of the 'looking glass self'.
The metaphor of the looking glass expresses the passive nature of the
development of the self and its dependence upon images of the self reflected
by the expressions of others. A particularly vicious form of the 'looking
glass self' is expressed in R. D. Laing's 'mirroring strategy'
which is employed to deny the experience of the other.
- is something of an umbrella term which basically points to those largely
rational views of the world inaugurated in the 18th and 19th centuries and
into the early 20th century. It is associated with the rise of the market
economy, urbanisation and articulated the belief that society and human
behaviour could be subjected to scientific analysis and that science would
ultimately solve the major problems (material and social) of the world.
Both capitalism and communism were products of this way of thinking. They
can be seen as providing 'master narratives' about the world, that is, there
is the belief that ultimately (with sufficient research and scientific development)
they could explain the world in its totality.
- is a term applied to those perspectives which emphasise the quantitative
over the qualitative. Positivism considers that if it exists, then it can
be measured. It assumes that reality is 'given' to the senses so that one
has only to 'look and see'. It does not accept the extreme position of the
social construction of reality. It does accept bias and error but assumes
that this is the result of 'subjectivity'. If 'subjectivity' can be excluded
then reality will appear in an objective form that can be measured and described.
- quantitative perspectives seek measurement as the basis for forming generalisations
concerning social reality. They have often been criticised on the grounds
of holding a naive view of what counts as reality, emphasising empirical
'givens' over the social construction of experience. They have also been
criticised for glossing over the complexities of social reality by using
crude tools of data gathering, such as questionnaires which do not allow
for differences in interpretation, misreading, or simply ask the wrong questions.
Moreover, they tend to emphasise stasis as opposed to process, the general
as opposed to the individual. Qualitative perspectives emphasise
'meaning' and seek to uncover the complexities of social interaction in
the generation of 'world views'. That is, qualitative perspectives commonly
focus upon the constructed nature of social reality. They focus upon process.
They have often been criticised for not being able to form generalisations,
and for researching the trivial.
- postmodernism takes a skeptical attitude towards 'master narratives' (see
modernism). The term post-modernism implies that it is still framed
within the achievements and structures of modernism but does not view them
in the same way as the modernists. For post-modernists the focus is not
upon total systems but rather upon a proliferation of alternative communities
of faith, belief and tradition. There is thus a fragmentation. This fragmentation
co-exists within a global network of information systems and multi-national
organisations. Post-modernism is associated with the mid- to late 20th century
developments in global information systems and networks. It is characterised
by a lack of hierarchies. In its pessimistic strand, it is nihilistic believing
that no one set of values is any better than any other. There is no longer
any preference to be given to the original over the copy. In its optimistic
versions, post-modernist visions open up onto a virtually infinite panorama
of possibilities. The human mind is at last liberated from the constraints
of tradition, belief, faith in order to explore the furthermost horizons
of human development.
- Realist analysis:
- Realism analyses social life in terms of an interaction between three
- structures of ideas/concepts - vocabulary used to articulate a particular
philosophy, belief, world view
- conduct/behaviour patterns - learnt patterns of behaviour, patterns
- the material structures or infra-structure of social life (including
mechanisms and procedures): e.g., tools, buildings, patterns of organisational
structure (hierarchical, democratic structures of roles etc), the legal,
political, economic, welfare systems etc.
- is the study of signs and the processes of making meaning and in producing
a meaningful world. It has the object of describing signs in operation as
a system. It also has the object of describing and analysing the articulation
of signs in practice. It therefore analyses the discourse practices and
strategies available to people in given contexts by which they set
into circulation the key images, ideas, and symbols through which identities
and objects are created and reproduced.
- this perspective focuses upon systems. One object is defined in terms
of its relations to, or functions for another object. A 'son' makes sense
only within a system which has a concept of 'father of...', 'mother of..',
'son of...' and hence 'family'. The kinship structure is a paradigm case
of structuralist perspectives. Language too is a paradigm case. The object
is to describe the operation of the system, identifying the function of
the different entities which make up the system, and the rules which keep
the system in operation. As such, it tends to lose sight of people as living
Contact the author at:
Cooley, C. H. (1956) Social Organisation, Free Press
Garfinkel, H. (1967) Studies in Ethnomethodology, Prentice-Hall
Glaser, B. G. and Strauss, A. L. (1967) The Discovery of Grounded Theory.
Strategies for Qualitative Research, Aldine: Atherton
Goffman, E. (1961) Asylums, New York, Anchor
Goffman, E. (1970) Strategic Interaction, Oxford, Basil Blackwell.
Hartley, J. (1982) Understanding News, London and New York, Methuen.
Laing, R. D. (1976 edition) The Politics of the Family, and other essays,
Mead, G. H. (1934) Mind, Self and Society, University of Chicago Press
Saussure, de F. (1960) Course in General Linguistics, London: Owen
Schostak, J. F. (1993 ) Dirty Marks: The Education of Self, Media
and Popular Culture, Pluto Press, London
Schostak, J.F. (2002) Understanding, Designing and Conducting Qualitative
Research in Education. Framing the Project. Open University Press
Schutz, A. (1976) The Phenomenology of the Social World, tr. G. Walsh
and F. Lehnert, London: Heineman
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