Williams (2003) 'The Problem of Representation: Realism
and Operationalism in Survey Research'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 8, no. 1, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/8/1/williams.html>
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Received: 17/6/2002 Accepted: 7/2/2003 Published: 28/2/2003
Firstly, if using the new measure, the theoretical proposition is not supported, how do we know whether it is our new measure that is invalid: the theory may be wrong or the measure of the other concept (class) may be invalid. Second, we must avoid developing a test so that it supports the theory. If we use a theory to validate our measure and then use the (valid!) measure to test the theory then we have established nothing. de Vaus 1996: 57.
Although a concept such as 'mass ' may be conceived theoretically or metaphysically as a property, it is only pious opinion....'mass' as a property is equivalent to 'mass' as inferred from pointer readings. Blalock 1961: 6
Things exist and act independently of our descriptions, but we can only know them under particular descriptions. Descriptions belong to the world of society and of men; objects belong to the world of nature... Science, then, is the systematic attempt to express in thought the structures and ways of acting of things that exist and act independently of thought Bhaskar 1997: 250
As an emergent entity the cultural system has an objective existence and autonomous relations amongst its components (theories, beliefs, values, arguments, or more strictly between the propositional formulation of them) in the sense that they are independent of anyone's claim to know, to believe, to assert or assent to them. Archer 1989: 106-7
The real may not become actual because causal mechanisms are complex and contingent and the effects may be blocked. The actual may not become empirical because it is not necessarily observed. Byrne 1998: 38
these case studies show remarkable similarities in terms of their explanatory and measurement strategies. None of them relies on common sense categorisation in establishing the measurement properties of key explanatory variables [...] All of them meet the requirement of defining class positions prior to and independently of any operational criterion [...] All of the theories receive support from empirical data and that evidence exonerates not only the substantive theories but also the measurement and classificatory units that go to make up the theories (Pawson, 1989: 186- 187)
one fundamental generative and real process, which must be disentangled from externalities and describedor
there may be manifold mechanisms, processes, events recipes of action, and other phenomena that are tapped by alternative measurements of stratification (1996:194).
2I do not suggest that the problem of operationalisation applies to all phenomena the survey researcher measures. Measurement of age, educational achievement, visits to the dentist last year are only technical challenges. Measurement of attitudes or behaviours raise both technical and conceptual issues, but these are of a different kind to the measurement of, what might be termed, sociological variables.
3What counts as an ethnic minority? The Irish have only been commonly classified as such since the 1980s (unless born in Ireland. Dale and Marsh 1993:34) and the Cornish much more recently, being coded in the Census in 2001 for the first time (Aldous and Williams 2001).
4Though I think informally many would describe themselves as 'realists'.
5What I describe here as 'naive realism', elsewhere (Williams 1998) I describe as naive operationalism. I think they are much the same thing and the appropriateness of the description depends whether one emphasises the epistemological / methodological aspects (operationalism) or the ontological (realism). Here my emphasis is, of course, on the ontological.
6The above cited SEC is derived from the Goldthorpe version.
7 In this article I have used the term 'critical realism' to describe the approach of Pawson, Byrne and Carter. However the 'critical' epithet is these cases is irrelevant to the methodological position in so far that it relates to the emancipatory part of Bhaskar's project and as Hammersley (2002) has suggested - a non sequitor.
8Though I have argued elsewhere (Williams 2001) homelessness as an emergent property can end up taking on structural characteristics in particular contexts.
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