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  • 1. ANALYSIS of THEORIES and EXPLANATIONS In order to analyse, the following points must be clearly demonstrated in essays: ! The breaking down of information to its essential or component parts ! Making sociological sense of arguments, data or sources to draw relevant conclusions ! Comparing and contrasting – this will enable similarities and differences to be highlighted ! Sustained evaluation of strengths and weaknesses (see below) ! Arguments for/against particular viewpoints ! Evidence in support/against particular viewpoints in order to justify above two points ! Clear focus of all points on exact demands of the question set ! Acknowledge subtleties, complexities and ambiguities – don’t just stick to stereotypes In sociology, five key evaluation points you can ask are: 1. How was the evidence gathered? (Could better evidence have been collected by a better method?) 2. When was the research carried out? (Will research from the past explain the present? Does it provide indicators?) 3. Can the evidence be checked? (Could it be repeated? If yes, would the same results be produced?) 4. Does the writer have a theoretical bias? (In other words, have his/her conclusions been influenced by their sociological perspective or standpoint?) 5. Are ethnicity, class and gender taken into account? (in the evidence or conclusion). If the question was “Analyse the differences between apples and oranges”, then the answer should not be: “Apples are red and make apple pie and grow in my garden. Oranges are juicy and have a thick peel”. This is simply a description. To analyse the differences, you should say: “In terms of colour, apples are red, and oranges are orange. In terms of use, apples can be eaten raw or cooked, but oranges are usually eaten raw. In terms of growing conditions, apples can be grown in the British climate, but oranges can’t. In terms of texture, apples are crunchy and oranges are juicy. In terms of peel, apples have thin, edible peel, oranges have thick, inedible peel.” Therefore, you need to spell out for the reader what the key areas of difference are.
  • 2. Answers to these questions should help you to determine the usefulness of a theory or piece of research. Remember that good evaluation, although sometimes called ‘critical sociology’, looks at the good and bad points of a theory or piece of research. It is not just a matter of criticising the sociologist. Mukerjee puts it as follows: “Generally speaking, for an evaluative stance, take on the role of ‘judge and jury’ – hear competing claims, consider the evidence put forward by each. Which do you believe to be the most convincing and why? Then produce your ‘verdict’ giving clear justifications for your choice.” Options for conclusion (how do we make sense of all of this?): OPTION 1 – CHOOSE ONE (“Theory A is best”) OPTION 2 – CHOOSE ALL (“We need to accept them all, although they give conflicting and incompatible viewpoints”) OPTION 3 – INTEGRATE (“The apparent contradictions can be resolved like this”) J Gregory

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