Karl Marx and Conflict Theory

Review of Video #6 of Crash Course Sociology.

Marx was concerned with the question: how could people be free? This led to Marx developing a model of history as a matter of struggling classes, each aligned with either the forces or relations of production. Modes of production, composed of forces and relations of production, develop together until they eventually come into conflict, leading to a revolution of the oppressed class and the institution of a totally new set of relations, where the workers benefit from the efforts of their labour.

To Marx, the economy (i.e. the organisation of labour and resources) was the foundation of society, with everything else the superstructure. Humans must cooperate around labour in order to free ourselves from natural constraints, thus entangling ourselves in social constraints. Thus the organistion of labour (who benefits and how it changes) is central to the question of freedom. This gave rise to the perspective of historical materialism.

In developing this model, Marx laid the foundation for the paradigm of conflict theory in sociology. Marx’s ideas gave rise to a host of conflict theories in sociology.


Suicide and Society

Review of Video #5 of Crash Course Sociology.

Émile Durkheim was the founder of the structural functionalist paradigm. He viewed society as composed of social facts, and held together by common consciousness. Social facts comprise the ‘manners of acting, thinking and feeling external to the individual, which are invested with a coercive power by virtue of which they exercise control over him’. The common consciousness refers to the collection of all the beliefs, morals and ideas that are the social facts of society.

This normal functioning of society can evolve, but social dysfunction can impede the normal functioning of society. To Durkheim, such social dysfunction had larger structural causes. By studying society scientifically and understanding social facts, sociologists can diagnose the disease and prescribe the cure.

Durkheim’s book, “Suicide”, was the first piece of sociological work to use statistical methods as its primary mode of argument. He used statistics in new ways as evidence and tests for theories in society.



Endogeneity, Instrumental Variables, and Experimental Design

Review of Module 11 of Data Analysis for Social Scientists (MITx, edX) – Intro to Machine Learning and Data Visualisation

Endogeneity problems can occur when there is simultaneous causality (i.e. the outcome variable affects the regressor of interest). Examples include health and exercise.

Instrumental variables are a way to indirectly measure causal relationships. For example, randomly assigned scholarships can be used as an instrument for education. One challenge with using instrumental variables is that the instrument should not have a direct effect on the outcome. For example, it can be argued that scholarships create confidence which then, together with years of education, increases test scores.

When designing experiments, things to think about are: what is being randomised; who is being randomised; how is randomisation introduced; and how many units are being randomised. Randomisation could be simple, through stratification or by clustering. Experimental designs include phase-in, randomising at the cutoff, encouragement design, etc.

Sociology research methods

Review of Video #4 of Crash Course Sociology.

The research method comprises forming a question and a hypothesis, collecting data and analysing that data.

Question and hypothesis

When coming up with the research question, it is important to define the concepts so that you and your audience have a common understanding of what you mean.

A hypothesis refers to a statement of the possible relationship between 2 variables. It is operationalised by defining the variable and how you will measure it, in a reliable and valid way.

Data collection

Data can be collected through experiments, surveys, participant observation (ethnography) and existing sources. It is important for researchers to consider the ethics of their research, to ensure that the privacy and well-being of the research subjects are taken into account.

Data analysis

Data analysis turns data into information that helps answer the question of interest through inductive or deductive logical though. When analysing data it is important not to confuse correlation (2 variables moving together) and causation (1 thing causing another).



Sociology and the scientific method

What puts the science in social science?

Review of Video #3 of Crash Course Sociology.

There are 3 types of sociological inquiry for exploring the social world.

First is positive sociology which is based on the systematic observation of social behaviour (i.e. the scientific method). This approach aims to be objective and uses empirical evidence. Typically it involved more quantitative data.

Second is interpretative sociology which is the study of society that focuses on the meanings that people attach to their social word. Here, we approach the world from our subject’s perspective. The data is usually more qualitative.

Finally, critical sociology focuses on the need for social change. Its approach is based on values, which are the ideas a person holds about what’s good and the attitudes they hold about how the world works.

Water development paths

Review of Week 6 of Water Supply and Sanitation Policy in Developing Countries Part 1: Understanding Complex Problems (University of Manchester, Coursera)

The final week considered the pathways to achieving full water supply and sanitation coverage. There are different pathways, such as water first or eliminating open defecation first, and there is no one right pathway. One approach could be to listen to what the community wants (which is my personal preference).


The lecturers then examined UK’s water and sanitation development path, with examples from London and Manchester.

Due to time constraints, I was not able to complete the final assignment. But the exercise to produce a policy memo for evaluating UNICEF’s water supply and sanitation program in Africa looked very interesting… I may just have to retake this module in future!