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The Methods of Social Research


As to the methods of social research, Montesquieu (1689-1755), Auguste Comte (1798-1857), Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), and Max Weber (1864-1920) each contributed to the development of sociology as a discipline of science. Montesquieu put forth the seedling ideas of sociology by comparing law and politics as integrated systems. Likewise, Comte emphasized the interconnectedness of social elements. Durkheim, who is known for his terminology like “social facts”, “conscience collective”, and “anomie”, laid out the rules of sociological method (1895) stressing above all empirical observation. Finally, Weber was most interested in the individual’s interpretation (German: verstehen) in the midst of social action.


When the social researcher draws insights from the textbooks by John Creswell or H. Russell Bernard, among many others, one is impacted by these seminal writers from the the 19th century and before. They laid the foundation of social research methods upon which we build today.

Although all of us do it, we should not guess about what is and is not real (worldview assumptions) or what ought or ought not to be (values). Social research provides a way of knowing these elements of culture based upon proven methods. You and I have heard many generalizations about people. Are they true? What are some that you have heard? Here are a few that I have heard. Do you think they are true?

  1. Most U.S. Americans eat pancakes for breakfast just about everyday. [Research shows that if breakfast is eaten at home, it would likely be coffee and cold cereal. Pancakes are not even in the top ten!]
  2. Most people in Southern California drive a Lexus, BMW, or Mercedes. [They actually drive the Toyota Prius. This is not surprising given that California has the highest gas prices in the USA.]
  3. Europeans do not speak English. [Most actually do…as a second language. In Sweden the number may be almost 90%. In Hungary or Turkey, the number is closer to 20%.]
  4. Most people in the East place an importance on direction. For example, good energy may come from the east. [This is actually true. Although the underlying assumption may or may not be.]
  5. China is homogeneous, that is, most people are the same culturally. [In point of fact, China is very diverse, ethnically, linguistically, religiously, geographically, economically, and politically. As hard as it is to stereotype a U.S. American or a person from India, so it is true of the Chinese.]
  6. Almost all Muslims are Arabs. [A more accurate percentage is 15%. There are 1.6 Muslims in the world, about 25% of the earth’s population. The largest percentage are from the Asia-Pacific region.]


Global Perspectives can help with social research. Our consultants teach research design collegiately and lead research projects out in the field.



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