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Methodenstreit methodology


surveys, both structured interviews and postal

questionnaires, but other examples are content

analysis in studies of documents and mark-recapture

methods of population estimation. Qualitative

methods are primarily those of in-depth interviews,

ethnography, focus groups, and discourse analysis,

but other examples are life histories, group interviews,

and rapid assessment techniques.

The growth in popularity of qualitative methods

in the 1960s and 1970s – and the concomitant

dissatisfaction with quantitative methods – was

part of a revolt against positivism, a concern that

sociology was studying what could be measured,

rather than developing measures for social reality.

However, the distinction between quantitative

and qualitative methods has been overdrawn.

Thus, qualitative methods of data collection have

often been subjected to realist/positivist methods

of analysis (see, for example, Rory Williams’s use

of “logical analysis” in A Protestant Legacy, 1990,

his ethnography of the health beliefs of elderly

Aberdonians). And best practice in large-scale

quantitative surveys has long embraced the need

for complementary qualitative work. This is

seen most obviously in pilot studies, such as focus

groups used to develop and refine measures

and to test the comprehensibility of research instruments,

but the best examples of such complementarity

are found in the multi-disciplinary,

community-based, randomized controlled trials

of health services research, where qualitative

methods are typically deployed to generate

the “process evaluation” component of the study,

that is, to explain why the service being

evaluated appears to be more effective in some

service-delivery settings – or with some subgroups

of clients – than others.

The criticisms of a preoccupation with research

method have continued to multiply. Critics have

suggested that such preoccupations lead to a disabling

scientism and political quietism, manifested

in a failure to engage with oppressions

such as racism. Or they have suggested that the

claim to scientific status based on methodological

expertise is a political claim to the privileges and

rewards associated with professional autonomy;

or that the same claim of expertise serves to distance

the sociologist from his/her research subjects

who lose the right to influence the research

findings and collaborate in the scientific representation

of their social world; or that the claim

that one can accurately analyze the social phenomena

of late modernity by carefully following

rules of scientific practice, is simply a claim: a

postmodern analysis would seek to examine how

representations of method serve to advance

claims to scientific status.

Yet sociological research flourishes despite

these buffets from activists and action research,

from Science and Technology Studies, from discourse

analysis, and from postmodernism. It

flourishes under two dispensations, that of counter-

reformatory realism, and that of a reformed

methodology which incorporates reflexive awareness

of its own limitations. The counter-reformatory

position draws on the philosophy of Karl

Popper to argue that, by following rigorous

methodological procedures, sociologists can be

led to reject a pre-existing theoretical assumption

or hypothesis as negated by the research

evidence and therefore false: research methods

assure us of the scientific basis of the investigation

because they provide for the possibility of

the falsification of a hypothesis. The reformist

position recognizes that the unthinking application

of rules of methodology cannot of itself

guarantee scientific reliability, that no rule can

specify all the occasions of its use, and that the

everyday application of scientific methods is a

matter for pragmatic interpretation by researchers

in the situation of action. Instead, the reformist

position commits the researcher to the skillful

use of certain practices to ensure outcomes such

as relatively complete descriptions of the setting/

activity, “saturation” of the analytical categories

derived, and the demonstrable credibility of the

provisional findings for collectivity members

and/or other fellow sociologists. In effect, the

reliability of the findings depends on the practical

accomplishment of a reflexive researcher,

keenly aware of the pitfalls and the limitations

inherent in the research process: research

methods (including the analysis and write-up)

are craft skills practiced with varying degrees

of success. The reformist position has been

defended from a philosophy-of-science perspective,

most notably by Roy Bhaskar’s “critical realism”

in Reclaiming Reality (1989) and by Martin

Hammersley’s “subtle realism” in What’s Wrong

with Ethnography? (1992). Of course, much sociological

research takes place owing nothing to

Popper on the one hand or Bhaskar and Hammersley

on the other, but strictly speaking such

research employs the methods, not of sociology

but of cultural studies, the methods of textual


The study of research methods has progressively

broadened from a preoccupation with procedures

of research design, data collection, and analysis.

Good ethical practice has become a matter for

methodology methodology


external regulation and professional self-regulation

as well as academic writing. Methodological writing

now also embraces topics such as the negotiation of

research access, fieldwork relationships, leaving the

field, researcher safety, and public participation in

the research process. Much recent writing has been

concerned with the authorial voice and the processes

of sociological representation, so that reflexive

awareness of research practice now extends to

the writing of research itself.


metropolitan fringe

This concept describes a region between 16 and 64

km outside major urban centers where traditional

rural industries are giving way to residential, commercial,

and industrial development. This new

development is mainly located along highways

and in the countryside rather than in established

settlements. It is often unclear where suburbs end

and the fringe begins. One criterion is to register

changes in the size of parcels of land through the

use of a GIS map in order to identify transformations

of relatively small plots to larger parcels of

four or more hectares. Many people who live in

the fringe have suburban lifestyles, commuting

long distances to jobs in the suburbs, edge cities,

and the central city. The fringe is attractive because

it offers open space, potentially cleaner air

and water than a city or suburb, less congestion

and noise, and less crime. In the information economy

these features give the fringe significant economic

development potential. Firms are more

mobile than previously, and workers prefer to

live in a pleasant environment with access to cultural

amenities. The fringe combines environmental

advantages with proximity to suburban

and urban activities. Since the 1980s developed

societies have seen population movement from

the suburbs (the predominant growth area of the

mid twentieth century) to the fringe, sometimes

called “exurbia.” There is a debate about whether

this new growth is substantively different from

what preceded it and some dispute claims that

counter-urbanization in developed societies

represents a dramatic break from previous growth

patterns. Rather, the development on the metropolitan

fringe may be simply the latest incarnation

of continued suburbanization. LARRY RAY

Michels, Robert (1856–1936)

A cosmopolitan political theorist, Michels made

an enduring contribution to sociology in his

“iron law” of oligarchy as developed in his book

Political Parties (1911 [trans. 1966]). His argument,

which is neither a law nor as unyielding as the

word iron implies, nonetheless offers acute insights

into the general relation between bureaucracy

and democracy. Using an empirical case

study of the German Social Democratic Party

(and associated organizations) to illustrate his

general point, Michels observes that bureaucracies,

which are organized solely for their effectiveness,

can be effective only by relying on a small

group of officials with specialized knowledge and

skills. These upper-level bureaucrats ultimately

become indispensable to administrative operations,

especially when bureaucracies are under

competitive or political pressures to achieve goals.

Even organizations founded on democratic ideals

ultimately cede day-to-day authority to these bureaucratic

oligarchies. Though the idea is now ubiquitously

known as the “iron law of oligarchy,” it

was anticipated in many other works, beginning

with the arguments regarding democracy made

by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–78) in On the Social

Contract (1792 [trans. 1913]), and including Moisei

Ostrogorski (1854–1919) in his brilliant comparative

study Democracy and the Organization of Political

Parties (1902 [trans. 1964]), and Max Weber’s analysis

of bureaucracy. Union Democracy (1956) by

Seymour Martin Lipset, M. Trow, and James S.

Coleman demonstrated the (uncommon) structural

conditions for the persistence of democracy

in a bureaucratized trade union. Alvin Gouldner

went so far as to coin a counter concept of the

“iron law of democracy,” which maintains that

oligarchy always generates opposition from the

dominated (see “Metaphysical Pathos and the

Theory of Bureaucracy,” American Political Science

Review, 1955).

Because of its stress on the unassailability of

elites, Michels’s thought is often associated with

a broad theoretical tendency, the so-called theory

of elites. I RA COHEN


– see macrosociology.

micro–macro theory

For several decades, sociological theorists have

been concerned with how to link conceptualizations

of face-to-face interpersonal processes to theories

about more meso- and macro-level processes.

This concern is often seen as a micro–macro

theory “gap” because no theory in sociology fully

integrates various levels of social organization. If

metropolitan fringe micro–macro theory


we visualize the social world as unfolding at three

basic levels — the micro-level of face-to-face interaction

in encounters, the meso-level of structures

revealing a division of labor (groups, communities,

organization) and social categories (social

class, ethnicity, gender, age, and the like), and the

macro-level of institutional systems, societies, and

inter-societal relations — theories tend to focus on

one of the three levels. Despite sociology’s concern

about the lack of theoretical integration across

levels of social reality, the problem is not unique

to sociology; all sciences, including the most advanced

theoretical science of all, physics, have

been unable to develop a unified theory that explains

the operative dynamics at all levels in their

respective universes.

Within sociology, there are several basic strategies

for trying to close the micro–macro conceptual

gap. At opposite extremes are micro- and

macro-chauvinists who posit the primacy of one

level of social organization. Micro chauvinists view

meso- and macro-reality as ultimately constructed

from microsocial processes, such as symbolic interaction

or interaction rituals, aggregated over time

and across space, whereas macro-chauvinists argue

that all micro-processes are constrained by macrosocio-

cultural systems. Between these extremes are

a variety of alternative strategies.

One approach involves building “a conceptual

staircase” from conceptions of elementary actions

and micro-level units to conceptualizations of

ever-more-macro processes and structures, and

vice versa. A related approach employs simulation

techniques to posit an elementary dynamic at

both the micro- and macro-levels that, through

iterations, generates, respectively micro- and

macro-outcomes. Still another approach comes

from formal sociology and revolves around conceptualizing

common processes that are isomorphic

across levels of reality, ignoring the

nature of the unit and, instead, focusing on the

form of social relations among all micro-, meso-,

and macro-units. Still another mediating approach

tries to use the logic of deductive theory

to cut across levels of reality by positing axioms

about the behavior of individuals from which all

propositions about meso- and macro-structures

and processes can be deduced. Yet another approach

is to invoke the ceteris paribus clause to

bracket out, for purposes of analysis, other levels

of reality in order to focus on the dynamics of one

level, with the presumption that what is

bracketed out can be incorporated later into a

more robust theory. Another approach is to emphasize

the embeddedness of social phenomena

whereby micro-units are embedded in meso-level

units that, in turn, are embedded in macro-level

units, with the emphasis on how the more inclusive

unit constrains the operation of the forces

driving the formation and operation of embedded

units and processes.

All of these approaches have produced interesting

theory, but none has fully integrated at a

theoretical level the dynamics operating at the

micro-, meso-, and macro-levels of social organization.

Perhaps the most important strategy is to

recognize that social reality unfolds at all three

levels and, while there are isomorphic processes

across all three levels, there are also dynamics

unique to each level. The goal should be, first of

all, to theorize the dynamics of each level and,

then, to see how the values of the variables in

propositions and models explaining one level are

influenced by the values of variables in propositions

and models of the other two levels. In this

way, bridging propositions are created that can,

on the one hand, recognize what is unique to

each level of social organization while, on the

other, making the theoretical connections

among levels. In this way, the micro–macro

“gap” can be closed or, at least, reduced.


middle class

– see social class.

middle-range theory

– see sociological theory.


A change in permanent residence, often of a year

or more in duration, migration involves a geographical

move that crosses a political boundary.

It is common to distinguish two basic forms by

whether the move involves the crossing of an

international boundary from one country to another,

that is international migration, or whether

the geographical move involves the crossing of a

political boundary, usually a county, within a

country, that is internal migration.

Several migration concepts require attention:

in-migration (or out-migration) refers to the

number of internal migrants moving to an area

of destination (or from an area of origin); the

analogous concepts for international migration

are immigration and emigration. Return migration

is the number of internal migrants who

return to the area of origin; at the international

level the analogous concept is remigration. Net

migration refers to the migration balance of an

micro–macro theory migration


area, consisting of the number of in-migrants (or

immigrants) minus the number of out-migrants

(or emigrants); the net balance may be positive

(representing a net population gain to the area) or

negative (representing a net loss) or, conceivably,

zero. Gross migration is the sum total of migration

for an area and comprises the in-migration into the

area and the out-migration from the area. Rates of

migration are developed by dividing the above by

the number of persons in the area at the beginning

of the migration time interval. Migration efficiency

is an area’s net migration divided by its gross migration.

A migration stream is a body of migrants

departing from a common area of origin and arriving

at a common area of destination during a

specified time interval. A migration counter stream

is the migration stream, smaller in size, going in

the opposite direction during the same interval.

This entry now focuses on internal migration, and

next on international migration.

With respect to internal movement, if the permanent

change of residence does not involve

crossing a county boundary, it is referred to as

spatial mobility but not as internal migration.

Thus all migrations are instances of spatial mobility,

but not all instances of spatial mobility are

migrations. In the United States during the oneyear

period between March 1, 2001, and March 1,

2002, 14.8 percent of the population aged one year

or older changed residences, that is, they were

spatially mobile. Of this nearly 15 percent, fewer

than half – 6.3 percent of the totol population –

were migrants, that is, their changes in residence

involved the crossing of a state boundary. The

reason for making such a distinction is that a

migration is meant to involve a change in one’s

community of residence.

Migration from one area to another has the

effect of decreasing the size of the population in

the area of origin and increasing it in the area of

destination. A migrant is at the same time both an

out-migrant from the area of origin and an inmigrant

to the area of destination. With regard

to the growth dynamics of human communities,

internal migration is the single most important of

the demographic processes (fertility, mortality,

and migration). Differences in birth rates and

death rates in communities of the same country

are typically small compared to differences between

the communities in migration. Migration

is thus the major method for redistributing the

population within a country.

Among the many theoretical models developed

to explain internal migration are: (1) the effects

of distance; (2) income and migration; (3) the

physical costs of migration; (4) information and

migration; (5) personal characteristics and the decision

to migrate; (6) individual expectations and

migration; and (7) community and kinship ties.

The distance model states that long distance

discourages migration because the costs involved

in migration are substantial and closely related

to distance. The income and migration model

argues that income (and job) opportunities provide

a better explanation of in-migration than

out-migration; destination characteristics also

help determine the location to which themigrant

will move. The physical costs model suggests that

physical costs influence resource allocation and

migration by influencing the private costs of

migration. According to Michael J. Greenwood,

in “Research on Internal Migration in the United

States: A Survey” (1975, Journal of Economic Literature),

the information model emphasizes that

“the availability of information concerning alternative

localities plays a prominent role in the

potential migrant’s decision regarding a destination.”

The personal characteristics model argues

that personal demographic characteristics (such

as age, gender, education, number of dependents,

networks, and race and ethnicity) exert

important influences on the individual’s decision

to migrate. The individual expectations model

assumes that the dynamics of migration decision

making are based on individual expectations

about the advantages and disadvantages of the

home community versus possible alternative destination

communities. P. N. Ritchey, in “Explanations

of Migration” (1976, Annual Review of

Sociology), notes that the community and kinship

ties model points out that “the presence of relatives

and friends is a valued aspect of life [that] . . .

encourages migration by increasing the individual’s

potential for adjustment through the availability

of aid in location at an alternative area of


International migration is the permanent

movement of people from one country to another

for a year or longer time. According to Rainer

Mu¨nz, in “Immigration Trends in Major Destination

Countries” in the Encyclopedia of Population

(2003), twentieth-century immigrants to most of

the major destination countries may be broadly

grouped into four categories: refugees and

asylum seekers; migrants from former colonies;

economic migrants; and ethnically privileged


Refugees and asylum seekers emigrate involuntarily

because of persecution, violence, or extreme

deprivation and usually move to a neighboring

migration migration


state. Postcolonial migration began in the 1950s

as a result of decolonization. Indigenous people

moved from former colonial countries to the European

countries that had colonized them. Economic

migrants are voluntary migrants motivated by economic

aspirations and are likely to move from less

to more developed countries. Some countries, such

as Israel, give priority to migrants with the same

ethnic and religious origins as those of the majority


Douglas Massey and his colleagues, in Massey

et al., “Theories of International Migration: A

Review and Appraisal” (1993, Population and Development

Review) and “An Evaluation of International

Migration Theory: The North American Case”

(1994), focus on several of the most important

theories of international migration, most of which

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