Chapter 16: Reading and Understanding Social Research
It is amazing where and how often you might discover sociology rearing its head when you begin to pay attention, look for it, and listen for it. The benefit of having knowledge about sociological research methods is that when sociology does appear in your everyday life, you will be better equipped to understand those brief mentions than you would be without some background in research methods.
Sometimes we might come across sociological research and not even realize it. As you have seen in the examples described throughout this chapter, there are opportunities every day to encounter sociological research or, at the very least, its effects. Sociologists have participated as expert witnesses in numerous other cases. In addition to offering their expert testimony in court cases and law suits, sociologists also play a role in shaping social policy.
Another way that we might inadvertently come across sociology is when we encounter the ubiquitous armchair sociologist. Perhaps you have met some of these folks or even played the role yourself a time or two. Armchair sociologists tend to wax poetic about how society “is” or how various groups of people “are” without having anything more than anecdotal evidence (or perhaps no evidence at all) to support their sweeping claims. Now that you are equipped with a better understanding of how we know what we know, and in particular how sociologists know what they know, you are well prepared to question the assumptions of the armchair sociologists you meet. And by sharing with others what you know about how we “know” things, perhaps you will even help others break the habit of making unfounded assumptions. Understanding sociological research methods is excellent preparation for questioning the everyday assumptions that others make; however, it is important to acknowledge that we probably have all made some unfounded assumptions about the way the world works or about what other people are like at one time or another.