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or telephone interview. Questionnaires can be

administered manually but, in the last decade or

so, many survey organizations have begun to use

computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI).

This technology makes it more feasible to tailor

questions so they are suited to different respondents

(for example different questions about employment

would be asked depending on the

respondent’s current employment status and

past employment histories). Computer-assisted

interviewing also allows for complex computing

checks to be built in that indicate when answers

are inconsistent or incomplete.

In the modern world, governments rely heavily

on information that is gathered through questionnaires.

Most countries have an Office of National

Statistics or its equivalent, which is responsible for

compiling the various social and economic indicators

needed to inform social policy. The most comprehensive

survey, from the viewpoint of sample

and population coverage, is the Census. Significant

resources are put into questionnaire design for the

Census, and, before any new question is added,

there is widespread debate and testing. This is necessary

because social measures are rarely straightforward.

Take ethnicity, for example – this might

involve place of birth, place of parental origin,

language, or self-identity.

Questionnaires are widely used because they

appear deceptively easy to construct and relatively

cheap to administer. This view, however, needs

qualification. Even apparently straightforward

“factual” measures like ethnicity or employment

are often quite complex to capture, given the

range of issues and meanings. The challenges

become even more daunting when the researcher

wants to gather subjective information concerning

beliefs and attitudes, where responses can be

influenced by question wording and question

format as well as the context in which the question

is posed. The quality of questionnaire surveys

relates directly to the resources available (both

money and time) and large and complex surveys

involving representative samples can be extremely

costly to administer. Cutting costs (for

example using mail, rather than face-to-face

modes of administration) can increase sample

bias and reduce data quality.

Despite not being cheap to administer or easy to

design, questionnaires will remain a key methodological

technique for social sciences because they

can provide invaluable information about personal

characteristics, experiences, behavior, activities, attitudes,

and beliefs. The question-and-answer process

is a remarkably efficient way of obtaining

information. However, two qualifiers are essential.

First, respondents have to be available and agree to

cooperate with the survey. If the response rate is

poor, this jeopardizes the representativeness of

the sample. Second, informants have to be able to

provide the required information.

To ensure high-quality surveys, researchers

must strive to reduce response error or bias that

can result from poor questionnaire design, unwanted

interviewer effects, or respondent problems.

Much of questionnaire design involves a

trial-and-error process. For example, overly long

questionnaires can result in respondent fatigue,

which diminishes the quality of information.

However, the appropriate length of a questionnaire

varies enormously with subject matter

and respondent characteristics. It is often in pilot

work that problems of design are identified and

hopefully rectified.

There are numerous methodological books that

describe “best practice” in questionnaire design.

Question writing is usually depicted as more of an

art than a science. However, scientific experimental

methods have been used to explore systematically

how different question constructions affect

responses. Respondents differ greatly in their

questionnaire questionnaire


susceptibility to being influenced by different

question wordings and question contexts. Education,

for example, matters. More educated respondents

are less likely to display what is

known as the “acquiescence bias” (a tendency to

agree with questions, whether or not agreement is

the appropriate response). Good examples of

the uses of experimental methodology can be

found in Howard Schuman and Stanley Presser’s

Questions and Answers in Attitude Surveys (1981).

There is little point in asking respondents for

information that they cannot provide. However, it

is not always easy to identify the limits of respondents’

knowledge. Respondents often provide

answers even when posed questions that make

no sense. Experiments have demonstrated that

respondents will give opinions about fictitious

issues, and guess rather than admitting that they

“don’t know.” There are other sources of response

bias. Retrospective questions, for example, are

prone to biases of memory. People’s accounts of

the past tend to be shaped by present-day experience.

In addition, memories are selective and

people forget stressful events. Memory is also subject

to forward telescoping (thinking that something

happened more recently than it did).

Cognitive biases also affect the answer process. If

people are presented with a list of options to

choose from, they will often select the first (primacy)

or last (recency) and middle options

are overlooked. Survey researchers have invested

much effort in finding ways of posing questions

that take account of and help assuage such

cognitive biases.

Interviewer effects can also influence the

question-and-answer process. The very characteristics

of the interviewer, including gender, age, and

ethnicity, can affect the way respondents answer

questions. Research to date on interviewer effects

suggest that they are relatively modest. However,

for some purposes, particularly when asking for

sensitive information, the interviewer matters

enormously. Interviewers are a crucial intermediary

between questionnaire and respondent. Good

interviewers can probe answers to questions to

ensure that the response captures clearly what

the respondent thinks. However, poor interviewers

may pose questions in ways that alter their

meaning, or record responses inaccurately.

Questionnaires are sometimes portrayed as

being a superficial way of collecting social information.

However, this is often a matter of poor

practice rather than a flaw in the question-andanswer

method. Questionnaires have supported

some of the most innovative and imaginative

social science research on a diverse range of subjects

including social class and social mobility,

poverty, migration, racial attitudes, family

change, social and cultural capital, cross-national

values, and information technology. Questionnaires

are an invaluable tool for social science,

when used appropriately. J ACKIE SCOTT

questionnaire questionnaire



race and ethnicity

These terms are political constructs that have

been used to classify humans into ethnic groups

(see ethnicity and ethnic groups) based on socially

significant and identifiable characteristics. These

groupings, in turn, have worked to structure societies

and regulate social relations. Race generally

refers to genetically transmitted characteristics

popularly associated with different human groups

(such as skin color, facial features, hair texture,

body type, and so forth), while ethnicity is generally

used to distinguish between groups with a

salient array of culturally acquired characteristics

(such as language, religion, or nationality). However,

the use of the two terms has been less than

uniform. Some scholars have conceived of race as

a dimension of ethnicity and/or use the terms

interchangeably. Others have conceptualized

race as a phenomenon or quality theoretically

and substantively distinct from ethnicity.

The history of race and ethnicity as analytical

constructs, indeed, reveals a lack of consensus in

the literature and in popular discourse. Ethnicity,

for instance, is a relatively new term that emerged

in the 1920s and 1930s. Because the term connotes

a set of cultural characteristics often associated

with immigrants from specific nations, it traditionally

has been linked to perspectives predicting

the eventual melting away of ethnic differences as

immigrants settle into their new national homes,

or to perspectives predicting and/or advocating

the mediation of these differences by universalistic

political principles. The notion of race, by

contrast, is much older. While there is much disagreement

about the historical origins of race as a

political phenomenon, distinctions have been

made between human groups for centuries, based

on their continents of origin and on phenotypical

traits popularly associated with these environmental

contexts (for example Europe, Asia, Africa,

North America, and South America). Adding to the

confusion, perhaps, the term race has also been

used for millennia to describe specific cultural

groups that today are more commonly referred

to as ethnic groups (for example biblical references

to “races”).

Regardless of how the relationship between race

and ethnicity is conceived, it should be underscored

that both phenomena are socially constructed.

That is, both race and ethnicity acquire

their meanings and register their impacts through

social interaction – through contact and competition

between racially and/or ethnically defined

groups embedded in specific social contexts.

Indeed, pure races do not exist as there is often as

much phenotypical difference within so-called

races as there is between them. Racial categories,

in the end, are a creation of the socially situated

observer, not of nature. Similarly, because interaction

between different peoples throughout

history has resulted in substantial cultural exchange,

mixing, and hybridity, the boundaries of

so-called ethnic groups are typically quite porous.

Ethnic boundaries are drawn rather arbitrarily,

usually in accordance with geographic considerations,

historical accident, or political convenience.

Sociologists are interested in race and ethnicity

not because either exists in an objective, bounded

sense, but because people think and act as if they

do. This thought and action results in race and

ethnic relations, interaction between people who

have been assigned to different racial and/or

ethnic categories, usually at birth. Interaction

between the groupings is subject to the established

societal norms and expectations about the

nature of the various groups, which results in a

patterning of such interaction and the allocation

of resources, power, and privilege in society.

What may be identified today as race and/or

ethnic relations have existed throughout much

of human history and in societies around the

globe. However, the tenor of these relations

between groups has varied considerably, ranging

from comity to complete antagonism and marked

by six distinct patterns: assimilation, pluralism,

legal protection of subordinate groups, population

transfer, continued subordination, and



Assimilation refers to intermarriage between

different groups to the point where socially significant

phenotypical and cultural differences

are blended together, incorporated by the mainstream,

and become meaningless. The early

twentieth-century ideal of the “melting pot” in

the United States, for example, represented a

vision of ethnic assimilation in which English,

Irish, German, Italian, and other European immigrants

would be blended into a hybrid nation of

undifferentiated “Americans.” In large measure,

these groups were eventually assimilated into

the nation’s dominant “white” population, while

other more racially defined groups (such as “Asian

Americans” and “African Americans”) were excluded

from this level of incorporation on the

basis of physical distinctions.

Pluralism, by contrast, refers to the coexistence

of separate and distinct racial and/or ethnic

groups based on equality and cultural tolerance.

A contemporary example of this pattern is found

in Canada, where the relatively large British and

French ethnic groups that founded the nation

share power and governance with several other

racially and ethnically defined groups. While inevitable

group tensions arise in Canada as they do in

most societies, an official state policy of multiculturalism

– which includes the support of several

languages and ethnic-group-based media outlets –

works against the kind of cultural assimilation

evident in the United States.

The legal protection of subordinate groups is a

pattern reflected in laws ostensibly enacted to

insulate subordinate groups against the

lingering effects of past racial and/or ethnic antagonisms,

as well as against contemporary conflict

with dominant groups. The United States

and its civil rights laws (for example the Voting

Rights Act, affirmative action legislation, and so

forth) represent a case in point: these laws

were advocated as necessary correctives for a

social order that regularly disadvantages certain

racial and ethnic groups relative to the dominant


Population transfer has occurred throughout

history when dominant groups successfully removed

and relocated subordinate groups they

perceived as barriers to their plans to exploit fully

the resources of a given territory. The United

States establishment of reservations for the original

natives of the North American continent is

an example of population transfer designed to

move peoples considered different and inferior

to less desirable territories and out of the way of


Continued subjugation is a pattern in which a

dominant group freely exercises its power to oppress

and exploit subordinate groups with which

it coexists in a given society. An exemplar of this

pattern is the apartheid regime that structured

South African society throughout much of the

second half of the twentieth century. By establishing

and policing a firm line in the law, politics,

and social relations between the Dutch ethnic

group that had colonized the nation, the British,

and aboriginal inhabitants of the region, the oppression

and exploitation by the settlers was

unabashedly executed with the support of state


Finally, biological extermination has been

advocated by dominant groups when it was no

longer profitable to exploit particular subordinate

people and when the dominant group did not

successfully assimilate subordinated communities

or choose peacefully to coexist with them. A classic

example of this pattern is the genocide of 6

million Jews in Nazi Germany’s concentration

camps during World War II.

When race and ethnic relations in a given

society are characterized primarily by ongoing

conflict between groups – and they usually are –

several specific practices and institutional

arrangements are likely to mark these group

interactions. Prejudice factors into group interactions

when prejudged negative attitudes about

one of the groups are transferred to individual

members of the group solely on the basis of their

group membership. Discrimination occurs when a

prejudice is acted upon, particularly when a social

actor refuses to grant opportunities to a member

of a negatively valued group that he or she would

make available to similarly qualified members of

his or her own group. When a substantial power

imbalance exists in the relations between differently

defined groups, a majority group and minority

group(s) (which are not necessarily in the

minority numerically) emerge and the impact of

race and/or ethnicity on life chances becomes

more systemic. “Institutional discrimination” is

an indirect form of discrimination that is rooted

in the routine use of unjustifiable prerequisites

and standards that results – often without immediate

intent – in the exclusion of a disproportionate

number of minority-group members from

participation in valued institutions or from access

to coveted resources. Finally, racism refers to

the overall relations of domination and subordination

between groups that flow from the hierarchical

structuring of a given society based on

racial distinctions. In racist societies, prejudice,

race and ethnicity race and ethnicity


discrimination, and institutional discrimination

are common elements that differentially shape

the life chances of individuals from dominant

and subordinate groups on a day-to-day basis.

To be sure, the culture of a given racist society

is likely to be permeated by an ideology of

racism, which works to reproduce racial and

ethnic inequalities in a manner that resembles

self-fulfilling prophecy. Even in a racist society

that officially denies the salience of race, a

system of majority dominance and minority subordination

is often reinforced at the level of

ideology through a circular chain of five logically

connected societal assumptions and normative

expectations. First, racist societies by nature

define (officially or unofficially) subordinate

racial groups as somehow inferior to the dominant

group. Second, because subordinate groups

are generally perceived as inferior, members of

these groups are considered to be less suited for

advanced education, high-status jobs, or key positions

in society. Third, relatively low expectations

about minority qualifications work to discourage

members of the dominant group from considering

minority-group members for coveted opportunities,

particularly when other candidates are

available and when competition for the opportunities

is fierce. Fourth, because of these racially

influenced practices, minority-group members

do tend to be more poorly educated, hold lowerstatus

jobs, and fill fewer of the key positions in

society. Finally, statistics regarding the overrepresentation

of minorities at the lower levels of

academic achievement and in lower-status jobs,

combined with the underrepresentation of minorities

in key positions in society, seem to prove

for many that minorities are indeed inferior. The

chain of assumptions and expectations thus

comes full circle.

The classic writings of Karl Marx, Max Weber,

and E´ mile Durkheim have shaped sociological

thought and practice for more than a century.

All three theorists were in essential agreement

over the significance of race and/or ethnicity in

the structuring of society: each treated the phenomena

as remnants from early forms of human

organization that would disappear as society

modernized. Marx, for example, treated race or

ethnic consciousness as false consciousness, ideology

exploited by the ruling class in order to maintain

hegemony over the masses. For Weber, the

rise of legal–rational authority as the dominant

form of societal organization would eventually

lead to the rule of impersonal law, which would

necessarily result in the decline of racial and/or

ethnic significance. Finally, Durkheim argued

that race and/or ethnic solidarity could be conceptualized

as a manifestation of a deeper need for

societal order, a phenomenon that would fade

in significance as modernization transformed

mechanical and particularistic solidarities into

universalistic ones.

However, a fourth figure centrally implicated in

the development of sociology, W. E. B. Du Bois,

adopted an altogether different stance on the societal

importance of race and ethnicity. Having

earlier pioneered the empirically based community

study with his analysis of black Americans

in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Du Bois underscored

the centrality of race in the structuring of

society by proclaiming in 1903 that the problem of

the twentieth century is “the problem of the

color line.” Indeed, more than a century later,

race and ethnic phenomena continue to structure

societies around the globe, and the writings of

Marx, Weber, and Durkheim that had predicted

the demise of race and ethnic relations have instead

combined with Du Bois’s work to inspire a

barrage of studies that seek to explain the emergence

and persistence of these conditions. At the

root of important “conflict” theories of race

and ethnicity, for example, can be found key

Marxian conceptualizations of social class and

mode of production. At the core of influential

“order” theories about these phenomena are important

Weberian and Durkheimian concepts,

such as elective affinity, legitimation, organic solidarity,

and collective representation. Meanwhile,

Du Bois’s early community studies prefigured a

vibrant tradition of empirically based inquiries

that has sought over the years to map the social,

cultural, and political effects of race and ethnic


For the purposes of comparison and contrast,

the resulting sociological scholarship on race and

ethnicity can be crudely organized into three

major approaches: (1) those that conceptualize

race and/or ethnicity in primordial terms; (2)

those that conceive of race and/or ethnicity as

artifacts of economic relations; and (3) those that

theorize race and/or ethnicity in cultural terms. In

the spirit of Weber, these approaches should be

viewed as ideal types, as many of the scholars

so classified also employ elements of the other

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