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Cover Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Ontology  

Eric Fabri

This chapter addresses ontology, which is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of being. As a branch of metaphysics, ontology is mainly concerned with the modes of existence of different entities (tangible and intangible). Every subdiscipline in the social sciences relies on an ontology that defines which elements really matter when it comes to explaining the phenomenon they set out to elucidate. A specific branch of ontology is devoted to the modes of existence of social phenomena: social ontology. Two main positions emerge: realism and constructivism. Scientific realism assumes that social phenomena have an objective existence, independent of the subject. By contrast, constructivism claims that social phenomena have no objective existence and are a construction of the human mind. Its fundamental axiom is that, even if reality exists outside the subject’s perception, the subject cannot reach it without perceiving it. This implies the mediation of imaginary structures, which are provided by social groups. It is important to note, however, that many other positions exist apart from realism and constructivism.

Chapter

Cover Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Focus Groups  

Trends, Issues, and Debates

Andrew Parker and Jonathan Tritter

This chapter looks at focus groups, which grew out of both a therapeutic and marketing tradition and have been utilized by social scientists for many years. Their format constitutes a type of interview technique where six to twelve people are brought together and encouraged to discuss specific topics for 60–90 minutes in order that underlying issues might be explored. Focus groups are often used to investigate areas about which relatively little is known, and they are premised on face-to-face interactions between participants rather than direct responses to questions. More recently they have been adapted to online settings, particularly for hard-to-reach populations. Focus groups are valuable because they capture and harness group interaction to prompt fuller and deeper discussion and the triggering of new ideas. But in order for these dynamics to develop, it is vital that people’s stories are not already well known to each other.

Chapter

Cover Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Prosopography  

Jacob A. Hasselbalch and Leonard Seabrooke

This chapter discusses prosopography, which is defined as the investigation of the common background characteristics of a group of actors in history by means of a collective study of their lives. The etymology of the word suggests that prosopography is about describing or recording a person’s appearance or life, but prosopography differs from biography in that it analyses structured biographical data of groups of individuals that have something in common. Prosopography emerged primarily as a method for historical research. Outside of historical research, it is more commonly known as ‘group biography’ or ‘career-path analysis’. Prosopography has also been a key element of ‘field-based’ research on social groups and the sociology of professions, and is more of an approach than a method sui generis: it implies the systematic organization of data in such a way that connections and patterns that influence historical processes are revealed. The chapter then details the five stages of prosopography.

Chapter

Cover Comparative Politics

18. Political participation  

Herbert Kitschelt and Philipp Rehm

This chapter examines four fundamental topics relating to political participation. First, it considers different modes of political participation such as social movements, interest groups, and political parties. Second, it analyses the determinants of political participation, focusing in particular on the paradox of collective action. Third, it explains political participation at the macro level in order to identify which contextual conditions are conducive to participation and the role of economic affluence in political participation. Finally, the chapter discusses political participation at the micro level. It shows that both formal associations and informal social networks, configured around family and friendship ties, supplement individual capacities to engage in political participation or compensate for weak capacities, so as to boost an individual’s probability to become politically active.

Chapter

Cover Comparative Politics

18. Political Participation  

Herbert Kitschelt and Philipp Rehm

This chapter examines four fundamental questions relating to political participation. First, it considers different modes of political participation such as social movements, interest groups, and political parties. Second, it analyses the determinants of political participation, focusing in particular on the paradox of collective action. Third, it explains political participation at the macro-level in order to identify which contextual conditions are conducive to participation and the role of economic affluence in political participation. Finally, the chapter discusses political participation at the micro-level. It shows that both formal associations and informal social networks, configured around family and friendship ties, supplement individual capacities to engage in political participation or compensate for weak capacities, so as to boost an individual’s probability to become politically active.

Chapter

Cover Introducing Political Philosophy

5. Affirmative Action and Discrimination  

William Abel, Elizabeth Kahn, Tom Parr, and Andrew Walton

This chapter argues that affirmative action is sometimes justifiable. ‘Affirmative action’ refers to policies beyond anti-discrimination law that directly regulate selection procedures to enhance the representation of members of various socially salient groups, such as those based on gender, race, and ethnicity. The chapter outlines an argument in support of affirmative action by distinguishing three prominent forms of wrongful discrimination and by showing that affirmative action is the appropriate response to the past and present wrongful discrimination suffered by members of socially salient groups. It also adds a second argument for affirmative action that appeals to the importance of enhancing diversity and social integration. The chapter then tackles several objections and reflects on the implications of these arguments for the design of affirmative action policies.

Chapter

Cover The Member States of the European Union

15. The Europeanization of Interest Groups and Social Movements  

Sabine Saurugger

This chapter examines the dynamics of Europeanization of interest groups and social movements in European Union member states. European integration has influenced interest groups and social movements since the beginning of the process in the 1950s. However, transformation has been induced by other elements such as globalization or the transformation of the state. Drawing on findings from empirical studies, this chapter analyses the change in interests, strategies, and internal organizational structures of interest groups and social movements, both in the ‘old’ and ‘new’ member states. It shows that the Europeanization of interest groups and social movements is highly differentiated, according to public policy areas, group types, and national origins. It concludes in analysing more recent developments such as interest group and social movement reactions to austerity politics as well as Brexit.

Chapter

Cover Foundations of European Politics

5. Voting Decisions  

This chapter analyses how citizens in Europe vote across elections. Elections are an integral part of democracy as they allow citizens to shape collective decision-making. The chapter addresses the issue of trying to explain why people vote in the first place. It also looks at the inequality of turnout between citizens: why do some people just not bother to vote at all? The chapter also looks at different explanations of vote choice. This is achieved by introducing the proximity model of voting which assumes that voters and parties can be aligned on one ideological dimension. It presupposes that voters will vote for the party that most closely resembles their own ideological position. Complications can be added to this model, however, that consider the role of retrospective performance evaluations and affective attachments to social groups and political parties. The institutional context also needs to be considered, though, as this can influence voters’s decision-making.

Chapter

Cover Rethinking Political Thinkers

17. Catharine Macaulay and Edmund Burke  

Alan Coffee

This chapter discusses the contrasting philosophies of Catharine Macaulay and Edmund Burke regarding the fundamental nature of political society and the approaches to take on reform. Macaulay’s philosophy revolves around the core ideal of freedom as independence from arbitrary control. Additionally, Macaulay’s work recognized that people’s beliefs are shaped by the social environment but could be manipulated by elites. On the other hand, Burke’s philosophical beliefs are organic, contextual, and pragmatic while addressing the complexity and range of social considerations and human motivations that contribute to a viable and productive state. However, Burke’s philosophy could be challenged as to whether he provides protection against possible abuse of power or not. The chapter also covers the weakness in their philosophical works while considering equal citizenship rights for women and minority social groups.