Essay Cove

Essay Cove

Choose a construct that is of interest to you. Find two measures of that construct in the research literature. Tell us a little about both and then determine, if you were conducting your own study, which one (if either) you would use and why? Remember to link your reasoning to this week’s resources.
Readings and Assignments
Read/Watch/Listen:
Blackstone – Chapter 6
Levels of Measurement video (below) (8:04)
Chapter 6
Defining and Measuring Concepts
Measurement, Conceptualization, and Operationalization
In this chapter we’ll discuss measurement, conceptualization, and operationalization. If you’re not quite sure what any of those words mean, or even how to pronounce them, no need to worry. By the end of the chapter, you should be able to wow your friends and family with your newfound knowledge of these three difficult to pronounce, but relatively simple to grasp, terms.
6.1
Measurement
LEARNING OBJECTIVES
Define measurement.
Describe Kaplan’s three categories of the things that social scientists measure.
Identify the stages at which measurement is important.
Measurement is important. Recognizing that fact, and respecting it, will be of great benefit to you—both in research methods and in other areas of life as well. If, for example, you have ever baked a cake, you know well the importance of measurement. As someone who much prefers rebelling against precise rules over following them, I once learned the hard way that measurement matters. A couple of years ago I attempted to bake my husband a birthday cake without the help of any measuring utensils. I’d baked before, I reasoned, and I had a pretty good sense of the difference between a cup and a tablespoon. How hard could it be? As it turns out, it’s not easy guesstimating precise measures. That cake was the lumpiest, most lopsided cake I’ve ever seen. And it tasted kind of like Play-Doh. Figure 6.1 depicts the monstrosity I created, all because I did not respect the value of measurement.
Figure 6.1
Measurement is important in baking and in research.
Just as measurement is critical to successful baking, it is as important to successfully pulling off a social scientific research project. In sociology, when we use the term
Chapter 2 “Linking Methods With Theory” we learned about Melissa Milkie and Catharine Warner’s study (2011)Milkie, M. A., & Warner, C. H. (2011). Classroom learning environments and the mental health of first grade children. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 52, 4–22. of first graders’ mental health. In order to conduct that study, Milkie and Warner needed to have some idea about how they were going to measure mental health. What does mental health mean, exactly? And how do we know when we’re observing someone whose mental health is good and when we see someone whose mental health is compromised? Understanding how measurement works in research methods helps us answer these sorts of questions.
As you might have guessed, social scientists will measure just about anything that they have an interest in investigating. For example, those who are interested in learning something about the correlation between social class and levels of happiness must develop some way to measure both social class and happiness. Those who wish to understand how well immigrants cope in their new locations must measure immigrant status and coping. Those who wish to understand how a person’s gender shapes their workplace experiences must measure gender and workplace experiences. You get the idea. Social scientists can and do measure just about anything you can imagine observing or wanting to study. Of course, some things are easier to observe, or measure, than others, and the things we might wish to measure don’t necessarily all fall into the same category of measureables.
In 1964, philosopher Abraham Kaplan (1964)
Kaplan, A. (1964). The conduct of inquiry: Methodology for behavioral science. San Francisco, CA: Chandler Publishing Company.
wrote what has since become a classic work in research methodology,
The Conduct of Inquiry
(Babbie, 2010).
Earl Babbie offers a more detailed discussion of Kaplan’s work in his text. You can read it in Chapter 5 “Research Design” of the following: Babbie, E. (2010). The practice of social research (12th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
In his text, Kaplan describes different categories of things that behavioral scientists observe. One of those categories, which Kaplan called “observational terms,” is probably the simplest to measure in social science.
http://www.cartoonbank.com/1998/it-all-depends-on-how-you-define-chop/invt/117721). It depicts a young George Washington holding an ax and standing near a freshly chopped cherry tree. Young George is looking up at a frowning adult who is standing over him, arms crossed. The caption depicts George explaining, “It all depends on how you define ‘chop.’” Young George Washington gets the idea—whether he actually chopped down the cherry tree depends on whether we have a shared understanding of the term chop. Without a shared understanding of this term, our understandings of what George has just done may differ. Likewise, without understanding how a researcher has defined her or his key concepts, it would be nearly impossible to understand the meaning of that researcher’s findings and conclusions. Thus any decision we make based on findings from empirical research should be made based on full knowledge not only of how the research was designed, as described in Chapter 5 “Research Design”, but also of how its concepts were defined and measured.
So how do we define our concepts? This is part of the process of measurement, and this portion of the process is called
Chapter 8 “Survey Research: A Quantitative Technique” through Chapter 12 “Other Methods of Data Collection and Analysis”. For now, let’s take a broad look at how operationalization works. We can then revisit how this process works when we examine specific methods of data collection in later chapters.
Indicators
Operationalization works by identifying specific
http://www.gallup.com/poll/123215/Gallup-Healthways-Index.aspx).
Identifying indicators can be even simpler than the examples described thus far. What are the possible indicators of the concept of gender? Most of us would probably agree that “woman” and “man” are both reasonable indicators of gender, and if you’re a sociologist of gender, like me, you might also add an indicator of “other” to the list. Political party is another relatively easy concept for which to identify indicators. In the United States, likely indicators include Democrat and Republican and, depending on your research interest, you may include additional indicators such as Independent, Green, or Libertarian as well. Age and birthplace are additional examples of concepts for which identifying indicators is a relatively simple process. What concepts are of interest to you, and what are the possible indictors of those concepts?
We have now considered a few examples of concepts and their indicators but it is important that we don’t make the process of coming up with indicators
too
arbitrary or casual. One way to avoid taking an overly casual approach in identifying indicators, as described previously, is to turn to prior theoretical and empirical work in your area. Theories will point you in the direction of relevant concepts and possible indicators; empirical work will give you some very specific examples of how the important concepts in an area have been measured in the past and what sorts of indicators have been used. Perhaps it makes sense to use the same indicators as researchers who have come before you. On the other hand, perhaps you notice some possible weaknesses in measures that have been used in the past that your own methodological approach will enable you to overcome. Speaking of your methodological approach, another very important thing to think about when deciding on indicators and how you will measure your key concepts is the strategy you will use for data collection. A survey implies one way of measuring concepts, while field research implies a quite different way of measuring concepts. Your data-collection strategy will play a major role in shaping how you operationalize your concepts.
Putting It All Together
Moving from identifying concepts to conceptualizing them and then to operationalizing them is a matter of increasing specificity. You begin with a general interest, identify a few concepts that are essential for studying that interest, work to define those concepts, and then spell out precisely how you will measure those concepts. Your focus becomes narrower as you move from a general interest to operationalization. The process looks something like that depicted in Figure 6.7 “The Process of Measurement”. Here, the researcher moves from a broader level of focus to a more narrow focus. The example provided in italics in the figure indicates what this process might look like for a researcher interested in studying the socialization of boys into their roles as men.
Figure 6.7 The Process of Measurement
One point not yet mentioned is that while the measurement process often works as outlined in Figure 6.7 “The Process of Measurement”, it doesn’t necessarily always have to work out that way. What if your interest is in discovering how people define the same concept differently? If that’s the case, you probably
begin
the measurement process the same way as outlined earlier, by having some general interest and identifying key concepts related to that interest. You might even have some working definitions of the concepts you wish to measure. And of course you’ll have some idea of how you’ll go about discovering how your concept is defined by different people. But you may not go so far as to have a clear set of indicators identified before beginning data collection, for that would defeat the purpose if your aim is to
discover
the variety of indicators people rely on.
Let’s consider an example of when the measurement process may not work out exactly as depicted in Figure 6.7 “The Process of Measurement”. One of my early research projects (Blackstone, 2003)
Blackstone, A. (2003). Racing for the cure and taking back the night: Constructing gender, politics, and public participation in women’s activist/volunteer work. PhD dissertation, Department of Sociology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.
was a study of activism in the breast cancer movement compared to activism in the antirape movement. A goal of this study was to understand what “politics” means in the context of social movement participation. I began the study with a rather open-ended understanding of the term. By observing participants to understand how they engaged in politics, I began to gain an understanding of what politics meant for these groups and individuals. I learned from my observations that politics seemed to be about power: “who has it, who wants it, and how it is given, negotiated and taken away” (Blackstone, 2007).
Blackstone, A. (2007). Finding politics in the silly and the sacred: Anti-rape activism on campus. Sociological Spectrum, 27, 151–163.
Specific actions, such as the awareness-raising bicycle event Ride Against Rape, seemed to be political in that they empowered survivors to see that they were not alone, and they empowered clinics (through funds raised at the event) to provide services to survivors. By taking the time to observe movement participants in action for many months, I was able to learn how politics operated in the day-to-day goings-on of social movements and in the lives of movement participants. While it was not evident at the outset of the study, my observations led me to define politics as linked to
action
and
challenging power
. In this case, I conducted observations before actually coming up with a clear definition for my key term, and certainly before identifying indicators for the term. The measurement process therefore worked more inductively than Figure 6.7 “The Process of Measurement” implies that it might.
KEY TAKEAWAYS
Operationalization involves spelling out precisely how a concept will be measured.
The measurement process generally involves going from a more general focus to a narrower one, but the process does not proceed in exactly the same way for all research projects.
EXERCISE
Think of a concept that is of interest to you. Now identify some possible indicators of that concept.
6.4
Measurement Quality
LEARNING OBJECTIVES
Define reliability.
Define validity.
Once we’ve managed to define our terms and specify the operations for measuring them, how do we know that our measures are any good? Without some assurance of the quality of our measures, we cannot be certain that our findings have any meaning or, at the least, that our findings mean what we think they mean. When social scientists measure concepts, they aim to achieve
http://www.gallup.com/poll/123215/Gallup-Healthways-Index.aspx).
Like an index, a
Figure 6.12 “Example of an Index Measuring Financial Security”. On their own, none of the questions in the index is likely to provide as accurate a representation of financial security as the collection of all the questions together.
Figure 6.12 Example of an Index Measuring Financial Security

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