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   Course Title    Introduction to Social Research
Lecturer    Nazgul Djainakova
Institution    Kyrgyz State National University
Country    Kyrgyztan


I have been teaching the course of Sociology (Introduction to Social Research) for BA students at the departments of International Relations and Oriental studies, which are parts of the Institute for Integration of International Educational Programs, Kyrgyz State National University. Participation in CRC session on Sociology in May 2002 has enabled me to revise the course in accordance with the requirements of present-day higher educational standards.

 

I. AIM OF THE COURSE

The course is designed to provide students with a comprehensive knowledge of contemporary social problems and an introduction to basic sociological principles and concepts. The aim of the course is to prepare students for their future independent sociological research, i.e. enable them to conduct sociological surveys on various issues of contemporary society. Although the primary focus of the course is sociological, I also draw from other disciplines, including history, political science, gender studies, economics, psychology, statistics for ideas that make possible a more complete understanding of the subject matter. Thus the course is an interdisciplinary one in its content.

The course objectives are the following:

1. Introduce students to contemporary social problems, the ways of their study by means of sociological research.

2. Familiarize students with sociological perspectives on social problems.

3. Prepare students for use of sociological instruments, such as sampling, research design, case studies, interviews and questionnaires, participant observation, content analysis, collecting oral histories, collection and analysis of data, writing analytical reports.

4. The students should be familiar with the basic statistical methods for sociological research, be able to use statistical methods for analyzing data; SPSS statistical program.

5. Upon completion of the course, the students are expected to gain basic knowledge on sociological research, social theory, and social issues. Also, they are expected to use sociological methods for research and to be able to undertake the research of their own.

6. Upon completion of the course, the students are required to submit a term paper (of about 3,000 words in length) with analytical report on their own small survey.

 

II. ROLE OF THE COURSE IN THE OVERALL DEGREE CURRICULUM

The course is taught for students of International Relations, Oriental Studies and Kyrgyz-European departments. It takes 130 credit hours of lectures and tutorials (1st semester of 2nd-year). These departments deal with training specialists in humanities and social sciences, so a basic knowledge of sociology is expected.

Sociologists use the tools and methods of scientific inquiry to discover the social world - even if what one observes goes against conventional wisdom, one's own view of the world, or established belief. The method of sociology that makes this possible is empirical observation. Empirical investigation means that one must observe social facts, using the various research methods that sociological analysis provides. Because the observed facts may not always fit preconceived ideas, the methods of sociology is one that challenges common sense interpretation of social problems and bases its analysis on the scientific study of social life. Sociology is an interdisciplinary subject and has roots both in the sciences and humanities, though scientific methodology is the basis for most sociological inquiry. Social researches have discovered that many popularly held assumptions and interpretations of social reality are the product of traditional prejudices, misperceptions, and unenlightened guesswork. Often these popular methods of knowing contradict the knowledge gained through even the most basic methods of scientific inquiry. If knowledge is to be regarded as a prerequisite for understanding, the investigative methods of sociology are necessary and pertinent to clarifying social problems.

 

III. METHODS USED

The course is taught in lectures, seminars, classes and tutorials. Different methods are used to enable students not only accumulate a certain volume of knowledge but also prepare them for independent work on social issues. Different methods are appropriate for different parts of the course. But there remains a solid core of teaching based around the University tutorial, for which students write essays and during which their work and their ideas are subjected to rigorous scrutiny and critical examination. Tutorials are intended to help the students express themselves clearly and articulately, and engage in argument. In addition to tutorials, classes, seminars and lectures provide a range of ways of introducing students to a variety of subject matter and a range of concepts, methods and data. Both students and faculty evaluate the course. Upon completion of the course, the students evaluate the course by means of filling in the anonymous questionnaire, which is distributed among them. A panel of experts evaluates the course by means of reading term papers of the students and attending lectures and seminars.

 

IV. COURSE CONTENT

1. Introduction to Sociology - 4 hours of lectures and 2 hours of seminars.

Our complex, rapidly changing, multifaceted society contains many problems that are serious concerns among the population. Polling for problems, relying on decision-makers to identify problems that can be corrected, evaluating the seriousness of the problem through sociological research, and seeing sociological problems as social movements can identify social problems. Social problems are defined as problematic conditions in the society affecting individual and social well being, as identified through a process of collective definition and subject to sociological analysis of the relationship of these conditions to social structure and social change. Sociologists are social scientists who study the patterns of interpersonal relationships within society. In studying social problems, they collect and analyze data within the context of the society they are studying, using methods common to all science. A sociological perspective on social problems distinguished between private troubles (matters that may cause individual misery and suffering but do not necessarily affect substantial segments of the social system) and public negative impact on larger number of people). The sociologist studying social problems is concerned not with private troubles but with matters involving the operation and functioning of major social institutions and with conditions affecting the welfare of significant portions of the population. Sociologists rely on the scientific goal of objectivity to enhance their analyses, but sociological knowledge is not purely objective and it does not represent a panacea for understanding and ameliorating social problems. Sociological knowledge can be distorted, depending on how it is used. Background assumptions of sociologists influence their research and interpretations. Sociological studies are biased when they take only the perspective of the dominant group and when they omit women, sexual minorities, ethnic, and other racial or class groups from their research. Whether researchers are optimistic or pessimistic can also influence their sociological interpretation of social problems.

Topic for discussion in seminar:

"How the sociological perspective differs from that of other social sciences?"

2. Framework in sociology - 2 hours of lecture.

Three frameworks are used in sociology for analyzing social problems: functionalism, symbolic interactionism, and conflict theory. Functionalism sees social problems as stemming from value conflicts, social disintegration, and deviance in the society. Symbolic interactionism sees social problems as involving subjective and often conflicting definitions by different social groups. Conflict theory sees social problems as stemming from the activities and interests of powerful groups in the society. No one of these perspectives is adequate for explaining social problems. Each reveals different aspects of a problem. Conditions giving rise to social problems tend to be interrelated, with overlapping causes and consequences. The interrelated nature of social problems at both the institutional and individual levels plays a major role in our understanding of social problems and of their solutions. Social problems are difficult to solve because of lack of agreement on what problems are their causes and possible solutions. Changes in the social structure itself will be necessary to solve most social problems.

3. Introduction to social research: research as a social process; types of sociological research; population and sample; sample survey; case studies; interviews and questionnaires; participant observation; content analysis; statistical analysis - 4 hours of lectures, 2 seminars, 1 practical workshop.

Although sociological research is based on scientific method, most sociologists also understand that research is itself a social process. The scientific method itself establishes certain relationships between the researcher and what he or she studies. The process of scientific investigation is more that a set of rules those guides the search for facts and relationships among them. Scientific investigation begins with the investigator's ideas about the phenomena to be studied. From these ideas, questions are formulated that will define the research. As the investigator collects and interprets information about social problems, he or she often enters a relationship with those being studied. In fact, researchers are never completely "outside" the research situation. Even in a scientific laboratory, the social structure of the lab itself can influence what topics are studied, how the scientist proceeds, how the data are collected, and what conclusions are reached. Although the goal of the scientific method is to be objective, the characteristics of the research process shape the results.

The purpose of one's research determines the research design and the most suitable methods and technique of investigation. The research design enables the sociologist to approach phenomena more objectively. If other researchers wish to replicate the study, the original design can be used as a reference in deciding which procedural changes might yield better results. In deciding how to design a study, the investigator must consider the kind of data being sought and the way they may be examined. In gathering these facts, the sociologist may employ one or a combination of research methods appropriate to the question under investigation. Sample surveys, interviews, questionnaires, content analyses, participant-observer studies, case studies and controlled experimentation are some of these methods. The coding of data - the way data are organized and systematically represented - is also planned into the research design stage. The actual technique used in analyzing data may be designed to include various mathematical computations and statistical procedures.

Topics for seminars:

"Research design: which method is most suitable for the suggested case study?"

"Participant observation: ethical issues"

Practical workshop: use of SPSS statistical package; sampling from a given population; coding data; statistical analysis.

4. Sociology of Social Change: Order and Disorder; Crime and Violence;

Social Policy - 12 hours of lectures, 3 seminars, and 1 tutorial.

The social disorder spawned by violence and the large number of people affected by it - from suicide on the one hand to war on the other - warrants its emergence into the public consciousness as a serious social problem. Violence occurs in almost every human society. Various theories have arisen to explain its persistence. Biological theories of violence stipulate that human violence is instinctive -, as is the violent behavior of animals - or that it is caused by genetic irregularities. The frustration aggression theory posed by psychologists traces violence to the frustration of purposeful activity. Psychological character, made up both of inborn and learned elements, is also held to explain the violence of certain individuals. Sociological theories of violence focus primarily on the social environment as the cause of violent behavior. Functionalist theories emphasize the threat to social order violence poses, whereas conflict theories see violence as some groups' attempts to advance and others to defend their vested interests.

Topic for seminars:

"Violence in contemporary Kyrgyzstan: causes from different viewpoints"

"Crime and justice. Is there a criterion for justice? Pros and contras for the death penalty"

"Violent behavior among Kyrgyz youth"

Tutorial: Case study of a concrete violent incident.

5. Sexuality and Social Deviance - 8 hours of lectures and 4 seminars.

Sexuality has become an increasing topic of public discussion, as tolerance for diverse sexual life-styles has increased in recent years. But those who are identified as sexually deviant still incur significant risks in this society, ranging from social ridicule and ostracism to discrimination and overt violence. Sexual mores are maintained and supported through law and custom and emerge from the historical origins of our culture. S. Freud's work has been particularly influential in Western concepts of sex, though his ideas have also contributed to sexist assumptions about male and female sexuality.

Contemporary sexual attitudes are more liberal than in the past, and indications are that people are more sexually active than in previous historical periods. The development of birth control has contributed to greater sexual freedom. One of the costs of increased sexual activity is the increased rate of sexually transmitted diseases, including gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, and AIDS. The latter in particular has generated a host of new social problems and taxed existing social institutions, perhaps beyond their ability to respond to demands.

Pornography remains a highly controversial political issue. Legal definitions of obscenity have changed over time, and obscenity is now defined in terms of community standards and laws against censorship. Feminists have argued that pornography is harmful to women, and research shows that the fusion of sex and violence in pornography may contribute to increased rates of aggression and more negative attitudes toward women. Prostitutes are those who accept money in exchange for sexual relations. Myths about prostitution that see it as a glamorous life ignore the fact of poverty, violence and disease most prostitutes experience. Many people have argued that prostitution should be decriminalized, in part because it has been treated as a sex-specific offense. Functionalist theories focus on the structure of social norms and values to understand sexual mores, whereas conflict theories see sexuality as constrained by powerful institutional systems. Symbolic interactions see sexual identity as learned through the acquisition of sexual scripts. Social changes regarding sexuality remains highly controversial but includes numerous possibilities for redefining sexual rights and practices in law and politics.

Topics for seminars:

"Sexual rights: do we have them?"

"Sexual mores and minorities: ways for co-existence"

"Lesbianism and homosexuality in contemporary society: attitudes of young people"

"Pros and contras toward prostitution and pornography"

6. Substance Abuse: a Threat to Human Beings or a Usual Way of Life? - 12

hours of lectures, 2 seminars.

The nature of the drug experience is a function of the properties of the chemical; its effects on the brain, dosage, and the characteristics individuals bring to it. Narcotics, which are strongly addictive and produce high tolerances, are selective depressants used medically to minimize pain. Sedative drugs depress the activity of the central nervous system, can produce a physical dependence, and may cause the buildup of tolerance, so

that the user requires increasing dosages. Stimulants excite the nervous system hallucinogenic drugs produce mood, sensory, emotional, and perceptual changes; marijuana is classified as a mild hallucinogen whose effects are similar to those of alcohol. Drugs use cuts across social distinctions, although certain groups of people use specific drugs more frequently than others. This principle applies to age groups, minorities, and men and women. The extent of use of alcohol and other drugs in Kyrgyzstan is difficult to determine because no accurate statistics are available. Studies of the social variables involved in alcoholism have been inconclusive, although racial and ethnic backgrounds seem to have some significance.

Theories that explain alcoholism and drug use in terms of functionalism, symbolic interactionism, and conflict are prevalent in modern sociology. Functionalists see substance abuse as deviant behavior resulting from social circumstances that force some people to choose drugs and alcohol as escape mechanisms. Symbolic interactionists believe that drug and alcohol users may be labeled by others and treated in a unique fashion. Such users may come to accept these labels and internalize the identity of alcoholic or addict. The conflict perspective focuses on the wide public disagreement concerning the effects and consequences of drug use and the issue of which drug should be subject to criminal sanctions. Solutions to the social problems of drug and alcohol abuse are in short supply, but those available range from greater law enforcement to legalization of some substances.

Topics for seminars:

"Prohibition of drugs: offense against human rights?"

"Should drugs be legalized?"

7. Inequality: Wealth and Poverty, Social Stratification, Sociological Perspectives on Inequality - 12 hours of lectures, 4 seminars.

Inequality is and has been perhaps the most controversial problem in all societies. Social policies intended to reduce inequality are highly controversial. Not only are such programs complex, but in addition, not everyone agrees that inequality should be reduced or eliminated. As we have seen, some people claim that inequality motivates people to try to succeed. Moreover, even were a majority to decide that the inequities in the distribution of wealth be eliminated in society, it is unlikely that those with the most power to make such a change would be willing to do so since they have a vested interest in the maintenance of their own power and position. Eliminating inequality also cuts against some of the fundamental values of the Western world. For example, since inheritance is so significant in the accumulation of wealth, one logical way to reduce inequality would be to eliminate the right to inherit property. But would powerful groups support such a change?

Although agreement on specific programs of change is difficult to achieve, there is a broader agreement that poverty is a problem that needs to be addressed. The magnitude of the problems caused by poverty can be overwhelming. Poverty is tied to all other social problems addressed in the course. As a result, single or isolated programs cannot work. Since eliminating poverty altogether does not seem easily attainable, programs to alleviate the immediate problems faced by the poor are provided. Reform of the welfare system is an important priority. Reforms should include the provision of adequate health care and raising current levels of support. Many experts have stressed the need to provide higher levels of benefits so that families and individuals receiving benefits are not forced to live below the poverty line. Also, responsibility for social welfare might be better placed at the state level. Although such proposals go against the current mood to reduce governmental spending, it will be more costly in the long run to face the many social problems generated by inequality.

Sociologists use different perspectives to understand the origins and consequences of inequality. Functionalist theory sees inequality as having positive consequences for society. It argues that inequality motivates people to fill important positions in society. Conflict theorists reject this point of view and believe inequality as perpetuating itself through the power of elite. Symbolic interationists have not developed structural explanations of inequality.

Reducing the problems of inequality requires comprehensive policies that will reorder national priorities and commitments. Reform in the welfare system can help support the needy. Also, policies that integrate work and family life are called for. Funding such programs necessitates cuts in other expenditures and massive reform in the corporate and individual income tax systems. Cross-cultural evidence suggests that the problems of inequality can be addressed and more humane social environments created.

Topics for seminars:

"New social stratification in Kyrgyzstan for the first decade of economic reforms"

"Is market economy a mechanism which creates equal opportunities?"

"The gap between poor and rich in Kyrgyzstan"

"How to reduce poverty?"

8. Education: Educating the Masses; Information Society; Arena for Civil Rights; Sociological Perspectives on Education - 30 hours of lectures, 6 hours of seminars.

Social myths hold that education provides the key to social mobility. Sociologists are interested in exactly how education is tied to social mobility and how education is related to other social institutions. Sociological studies of education have indicated that the social problems in the educational process create obstacles for many. The extension of public education in many countries, including Kyrgyzstan, followed increased immigration and the need to regulate the growing labor force. By the mid-twentieth century, public education increased educational attainment for most groups.

We need educated people to devise new solutions to the social problems we face, but education itself is an institution in crisis. Are there possibilities for change, or must we be prepared for catastrophe?

Sociologists see both education and work as social institutions that not only shape group and individual experience but also are shaped themselves by the cultural and social structures of the society. The different theoretical perspectives within sociology cast these relationships in a somewhat different light. Functionalist sociologists see education as necessary to the integration of culture. From this point of view, the schools perform important social functions, including the transmission of culture, necessary skills, and cultural roles taken on in adult life and as allocating and selecting people for their places in the system of social stratification. Because functionalists see inequality as useful for the society, they see the inequality produced by education as reflective of societal needs. Because schools are functionally interdependent on work one result of social disorganization is that education no longer provides opportunities to whole classes of people. However, schools in advanced societies take on some of the functions of other institutions, namely the family, performing some of the functions that would have been performed by families in less advanced societies. By emphasizing stability, consensus, and integration, the functionalist perspective sees education as contributing to the maintenance and equilibrium of social order.

Conflict theorists see education differently. Primarily, education is viewed by conflict theory as reproducing class interests. This perspective emphasizes that class, race, and gender stratifies schools. Further, the conflict perspective ties educational stratification to stratification in the workplace, since education is seen as serving capitalist interests. The schools instill capitalist values in young children, thereby producing personality types consistent with the needs of capitalist economies. And by being based on race, class, and gender stratification, educational institutions reproduce the inequality on which they are based. Furthermore, the conflict perspective sees what is learned in the schools as representing the experience and worldview of dominant groups in the society. On the whole, conflict theorists see education as a process of social control serving the needs of the dominant class.

Topics for seminar:

"Do we really need to be educated?"

"State doctrine of higher education in Kyrgyzstan: a cadre for the 21st century, what is he/she?"

"Should higher education be free and governmentally supported?"

"Which kind of higher education do we need to meet the requirements of the 21st century?"

"How the system of higher education in Kyrgyzstan should be transformed?"

"What kind of literacy should each person possess?"

9. Lectures, seminars and tutorials overviewing the course. Consultations on writing term papers.

 

Reading

I. Mandatory:

1. Smelzer D. Sociology. - Moscow,1994.

2. Sociology. Textbook for pedagogical higher education institutions - Moscow, 2002.

3. Sorokin P. A. Human. Civilization. Society. - Moscow: Republic, 1994.

4. Yaspers K. The Meaning and the Purpose of History. - Moscow: Republic,

1994.

II. Recommended:

1. Berger P., Lukman T. Social Designing of Reality. Treatise on Sociology of Knowledge. - Moscow, 1995.

2. Manheim K. Diagnosis of Our Time. - Moscow, 1994.

3. Malkey M. Science and Sociology of Knowledge. -Moscow, 1983.

4. Reformulation: Markets, Policies, and Identities in Central and Eastern Europe. (Slavomir Kapralski & Susan C. Pearce, eds.). - Warsaw: IfiS

Publishers, 2000.

5. Scarpitti, Frank R., Andersen, Margaret L. Social problems. 2-nd edition. N.R.: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992.

Also, it is recommended that students read a number of articles on various issues of society.



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