The universe presents an infinite variety of phenomenon to be studied, but science limits itself to a few of these. Science abstracts from reality and in the process develop its own terms or concepts, for communicating its findings. Every science thus involves a scientific character. Concepts are used as symbols of the phenomenon that is being studied. They symbolize the empirical relationships and phenomenon which are stated by the fact. Both facts and concepts are abstractions and have meanings only within some frame of reference or theoretical system. A fact is ‘a logical construct of concept’ and a concept, in turn, is abstracted from many sense impressions, or precepts. The process of conceptualization is one of abstracting and generalising sense impressions. Each concept communicates to the specialist a vast amount of experience, abstracted and clarified for those who understand the term.
Sometimes, however, scientific communication lacks clarity if individuals donot share the same conceptual systems or concepts are not adequately described. The development of a conceptual system can be seen as the development of a new language not intelligible to others. Terms used to denote scientific concepts may also have meanings in other frames of reference. The term “culture”, for eg. Has different meaning in Bacteriology and Sociology which shows the simultaneous existence of more than one meaning. A term may refer to different phenomenon as well as different terms may refer to the same phenomenon. The meaning of concepts may even change. A term gets modified when the science accumulates knowledge or changes its focus. Attention may be centred upon different aspects of the same concept in such a way as to change its meaning, although the same term is kept. Several concepts are used to refer to the different kinds of experience discovered by research. As science develops, one conceptual difficulty after another disappears. The ultimate assurance of conceptual clarity in sociology is precise thinking about its phenomenon and their interrelationships. The process for clarifying one’s thinking about the concepts used in his research problem is called reconceptualization or respecification of a concept. Respecification of the concept always leads to more fruitful hypotheses. One aim in reconceptualization to integrate different levels of observation and theory.
Facts, as we have already seen are interrelated with concepts. When facts are assembled, ordered and seen in a relationship, they constitute a theory. Now, the various facts in a theory may be logically analyzed, and relationships other than those stated in the theory can be deduced. The formulation of the deduction constitutes a hypothesis which when verified becomes part of a future theoretical construction. It shows that a close relationship exist between hypothesis and theory. A hypothesis is a proposition which can be put to a test to determine its validity. It is an example which shows that science donot accepts any statement without empirical verification.
Hypotheses play a significant role in guiding research. Research is unfocussed without it. Hypothesis is the necessary link between theory and the investigation which leads to the discovery of additions to knowledge. The absence of a clear theoretical framework, the lack of ability to utilize that theoretical framework logically and failure to be acquainted with available research techniques so as to be able to phrase the hypothesis properly cause difficulties in the formulation of useful hypotheses. By predicting a social regularity as a relationship between two or more factors on the basis of deducing it from a broad theory, hypotheses can be developed. Early in any investigation a definite hypotheses should be formed which may not be very specific. It is referred to as a ‘working hypotheses’ which will be subject to modification as the investigation proceeds.
On the basis of the level of abstraction, hypotheses may be distinguished into three broad levels: Some hypotheses state the existence of empirical uniformities. They represent the scientific examination of common sense propositions or describe the behaviour patterns of specific groups. Sociology ahs a large scale job in transforming and testing hypotheses that seems like common sense statements so that they can become useful knowledge. It requires the removal of value judgements, clarification of terms and the application of validity tests. Some hypotheses are concerned with complex ideal types which aim at testing the existence of logically derived relationships between empirical uniformities. They are termed as ‘ideal types’ as they are removed from empirical reality. Some hypotheses are concerned with the relation of analytic variables. They occur at a level of abstraction beyond that of ideal types. This level of hypothesizing is the most flexible mode of formulation. At this level the number of variables which can be abstracted and studied is limited only by theory; and since theory grows by the process itself, opportunities for new research are constantly being created. Thus, a hypothesis is a necessary condition for successful research, it must be given considerable attention to clarify its relation to theory, remove value-judgemental terms and specify the test to be applied and it may be formulated on different levels of abstraction.
Hypotheses also depend on the culture in which a science develops. The fact that science has developed in western society is a function of the culture itself. Apart from major cultural values, folk wisdom serves as another source of hypotheses. For eg. Race is considered as an important determinant of human behaviour in the United States and South Africa. The sociologist must test it scientifically before accepting it as a fact. In the process such common sense propositions serve as a source of hypotheses. Hypotheses originate in the science itself. The ‘socialization ‘process in learning a science affects the hypotheses which will be developed by the scientist. The range of hypotheses is limited and only on areas regarded as important. Analogies are often a source of useful hypotheses. Hypotheses are also the consequence of personal experience. The way an individual reacts to the culture, science and analogy contributes to the type and the form of the questions he asks. Hypotheses can be formed by the value orientations of the culture, folk wisdom and cliché, rebellion against common sense ideas, observation of deviant cases, social experience within the science, the application of analogies and personal experience.
After a hypothesis is formed we can judge it on the basis of certain criteria. The hypothesis must be conceptually clear and defined such that they are commonly accepted. They should have empirical referents and not embody moral judgements. it must be specific and should have the possibility of actually testing it. The hypotheses must include a statement of the indexes which are to be used i.e political office, occupation, education etc. such specific formulations make research practicable and significant and increases the validity of the results. Hypotheses must avoid the trap of selective evidence by being definite and specific. If possible a general prediction should be further broken into precise sub-hypotheses. It then, clarifies the relationship between the data sought and the conclusions along with making the specific research task more manageable. Hypotheses should be related to available techniques because it would be difficult for the theorist to formulate usable questions if he is ignorant about the techniques available to test his hypotheses. It should further be related to a body of theory as science cannot develop if each study is an isolated survey and holds no connection whatsoever with the existing body of fact and theory.
Thus, it can be said that when research is systematically based upon a body of existing theory, it results into contributing to knowledge. Hypotheses must possess theoretical relevance and should be able to state a specific relationship between phenomenons in such a way that their relationship can be empirically tested. Whatever be the source of hypotheses, it must be logically derivable from and based upon a set of related sociological propositions. Hence, both concepts and hypotheses are basic elements in the scientific method of sociological research and is one of the central step to a successful research.
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