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William Molnar

1. Assume for purposes of discussion that you don’t want your dissertation to end with the final defense
and publication, but would like your dissertation research to impact decision-making and practice in your
professional context. Using one or more of the concepts described in Sayer’s Chapter 3 (e.g.,
abstraction, generalization, causal analysis), please describe what pragmatic steps would need to occur
after your successful dissertation publication in order for the research to have an impact. Discuss
everything from your writing style to your research design and methodological perspectives. What
challenges would you anticipate?

I chose causal analysis and generalization as the two concepts discussed by

Sayer to bring an understanding to its impact on decision-making and practice in my

professional context. Sayer states that “Abstraction and generalization are essentially

synchronic, at best allowing only indirect reference to process and change. The

explanation of the latter requires causal analysis” (p 103). He also states that “the point

of providing a ‘second-order’ account of causation and causal analysis is not to

displace ‘first-order’, substantive causal accounts but to ‘reconstruct’ and hence clarify

the most reasonable of them” (pp 103-104). I chose the concept of causal analysis

because it seems to fit my dissertation topic. Sayer states in chapter 3 that causal

powers inhere not just too single objects but in social relations and structures they form

(p 105). There are certain steps that would have to be in place for research to have an

impact. The purpose of the dissertation is to cause social change. Sayer believes that “If

the nature of an object changes then its causal powers will change too” (p 105). As

Sayer points out , knowing that ‘E’ follows ‘C’ isn’t enough, A person may wish to have

an understanding of the process in which ‘E’ is produced by ‘C’. The first step that

needs to occur in my research is to have an understanding of urban living and the

effects of poverty on family life. But this is not enough. The next step would be to

understand how the poverty is affecting the school readiness of children. This would be

represented by the ‘E’ as indicated by Sayer. Sayer states that “The relationship

between causal powers and their effects is therefore not fixed, but contingent; indeed
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causal powers exist independently of their effects, unless they derive from social

structures whose reproduction depends on particular effects resulting” (p 107).

My writing style would have to be based on facts gathered through

research. The writing would be obviously scholarly using precise descriptions instead of

colloquial terms. I need to be aware of the audience I am writing for. This will dictate the

writing style. I need to ask myself about how well the reader reads. I don’t want to write

to complex because this will hinder communication but on the other hand, using

language that is too simple will seem condescending. I need to know what the reader

already knows. I need to keep the reader interested; on the other hand, communication

could be impossible if I assume the reader already has a lot of knowledge. I also need

to decide if the goal of my writing is informative, persuasive or argumentative. In my

writing style, I might choose a variety of styles to avoid monotony and loss of interest.

Diction is important also. The use of connotation will affect my writing style. I also need

to be aware of my figure of speech. This adds liveliness and clarity to the reader by

making abstract concepts concrete. Writing in the passive voice is appropriate rather

than active voice. The passive voice is good to use because it helps the writer from

divulging the actor of the dissertation. Simplicity should be the norm for writing also. I

need to use simple and common words and avoid elaborate colloquialism. I should use

elaborate words only if it has an exact definition. Finally I need to avoid clichés. Clichés

should not be relied upon when stating the thesis.

Research design is discussed extensively in the Trochim book. He

states that research is held together by research design and one need to use this

research design to structure the research. I need to decide what experimental design I
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am going to use in my dissertation. I can use experimental designs or quasi-

experimental designs. For my dissertation, experimental design would be the most

appropriate. Since my dissertation will involve quantitative research, my aim is to

determine the relationship between one thing and another in a population. There are

various types of quantitative analysis such as descriptive and experimental. In my

experiment, I will be using descriptive analysis.

In the area of generalization, Sayer states that “it is

far more common in contemporary social science to give precedence to the search for

formal relations of similarity and dissimilarity and the study of quantitative dimensions of

systems” (p 99). His comments continue by stating that “objects are relatively simple

and transparent and that the main problems concern their quantitative analysis” (p 99).

Sayer emphasizes that a generalization is “an approximate quantitative measure of the

numbers of objects belonging to some class or a statement about certain common

properties of objects” (p 100). In quantitative analysis and generalization, Sayer states

that the writer must ask himself questions such as what the objects have in common,

what their distinguishing characteristics are and how many of the objects have these

characteristics? Sayer also says that generalizations can be simple descriptive

summaries of a given situation or extrapolations.

My methodological perspective would be based upon the type of analysis I

decide to use. My dissertation will be based on quantitative analysis, so my

methodology perspective would be based on performing survey designs; I am going to

have an independent variable, a dependent variable and a control variable. Another

method I might choose to use is an experimental method plan. In my methodological

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perspective, I will have a discussion about the purpose, the identification of the

population and sample, the instruments that were used for the survey, variable

relationship, the type of research questions and the items on the survey. As the

researcher, I will identify participants in the study, the variables, the treatment conditions

and the outcome variables, and the instruments used for pre-tests and post-tests and

the materials to be used in the treatments. My design will also include specific type of

experiments such as pre-experimental, quasi-experimental, true experiment, or single

subject design.

In anticipation of challenges, I expect interviewing families that are of poverty

level to be quite difficult. I expect that I will have many families that will not cooperate

with my experiment. In the area of generalizability, I expect to find problems with the

research. For example, in extrapolations, this might be “firmed up into laws of human

behaviour, whether deterministic or probabilistic, although there is scarcely a scrap of

evidence to suggest they are succeeding” (p 100). Generalizations that “concern

properties allegedly common to different societies at different times may be mislead by

‘dehistoricizing’ their objects-that is by giving a transhistorical, pancultural character to

phenomena which are actually historically specific or culture-bound” (p 100). Since I will

be dealing with two different societies to draw a comparison; those in poverty and those

from the middle-class, I expect to be mislead through the pancultural characteristics.

Another issue with generalizability is the ambiguity of the problem of distributive

unreliability. Interpretive problems are common in social research. Another issue with

generalizability is its indifference to structures. Generalizations say nothing about the

individual as being independent of or connected to any other. From the generalization,

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one does not know whether they are formal relations or actual connections.

2. Which of the systemic concerns described in Sayer’s Chapter 4 are most relevant to your professional

The section of Chapter 4 of Sayer’s book that stood out to me was the section on

closed and open systems and regularities. I did a discussion of closed and open

systems in KAM 3. In my discussion, I stated that closed systems are dealt by

conventional physics. Due to their nature, not all systems are closed systems. All living

organisms are an open system. Laws that govern reactions in closed systems supports

the theory of open systems and the environment cannot be replaced by open systems.

“These laws are concerned with reactions and steady states eventually reached in such

closed systems. The biophysics of open systems is important because the theory of

closed systems is not applicable to living organisms. Open systems show that a process

is final and will occur when an open system is nearing a steady state” (p 18). Sayer

stated that change must not be any change or variations of an object change

possessing causal powers. “The relationship between the causal mechanism and those

of its external conditions which make some difference to its operation and effects must

be constant if the outcome is to be regular” (p 122). The field of education is an open

system. Closed systems exist in the physical and natural sciences. Sayer discusses the

study of the solar system as a closed system, but continues by stating that few

philosophers recognize the existence of closed systems. Education, which is a social

science and an open system, does not have the advantage of the natural sciences such

as a closed system to draw upon. The reason for the openness of the social system is

so that one can interpret similar material in various ways and learn a different way of
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responding causing each person to become a different person. Sayer compares closed

systems as non-human. Education is an organization that allows one to nurture new

patterns of thinking and learn to visualize the whole. Education is an organization and

like most organizations, they produce a product, in this case educated children. The

entire concept of education is based on ideas that can be explained and predicted partly

on the basis of knowledge. Sayer stresses the fact that the sciences along with their

methods do vary according to the nature of their objects (p 123). If education were a

closed system, it would act like a spring suffering from metal fatigue; it would not

produce normal movement in a natural state. Education would disintegrate if it did not

produce within an open system.


Molnar, W. (2009). Knowledge Area Module 3: Principles of Social Systems

Sayer, A. (1992). Method in social science: A realist approach. London and New
York: Routledge.