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In the late 1990s, Oregon had one of the highest rates of hunger among the 50 states, and a higher rate than would have been expected from its more average level of poverty. Sociologist Mark S. Edwards of Oregon State University investigated the reasons for the high hunger rate and found problems in the way the state was distributing food stamps and making food available at food banks. In one county, for example, the food bank was located in an upper-class community, and hungry residents from elsewhere in the county were embarrassed to be seen at the food bank. Edwards’s research “assisted advocacy groups and legislators in improving the state’s efforts to enroll low income families in food stamp programs,” according to his department’s Web site (http://oregonstate.edu/cla/sociology/research), and the changes based on his findings were credited with lowering the state’s hunger rate before the deep economic recession began in 2008.
After the recession hit the nation, officials and news media outlets in Oregon and elsewhere turned to Edwards for advice on dealing with the growing hunger and food insecurity that resulted. Edwards was gratified that his research had helped make a difference. “I’ve chosen to do projects that are not high-powered, big academic projects,” he said, “but are simple research projects that are trying to deal with social justice questions in our state.” (Blome & Kravitz, 2006; Govier, 2010; Herring, 2008; E. Lindsey, 2009)Blome, C., & Kravitz, J. (2006, May 11). Stamping out food insecurity: More people in Benton County could be using food stamps. The Daily Barometer. Retrieved from http://media.barometer.orst.edu/media/storage/paper854/news/2006/2005/2011/News/Stamping.Out.Food.Insecurity-2291747.shtml; Govier, G. (2010, June 14). InterVarsity alumni—Mark Edwards. InterVarsity News. Retrieved from http://www.intervarsity.org/news/intervarsity-alumni-mark-edwards-; Herring, P. (2008, November 17). New report on hunger identifies Oregon as one of the worst. Extension Service News. Retrieved from http://extension.oregonstate.edu/news/story.php?S_No=614&storyType=news; Lindsey, E. (2009, November 17). Oregon’s recession means many in state go hungry. Oregon Public Broadcasting. Retrieved from http://news.opb.org/article/6220-oregons-recession-means-many-state-go-hungry
Some sociologists do research for its own sake, and some sociologists, such as Mark Edwards, do research to try to benefit society. Whatever the goals of their research, sociologists follow the scientific method as they gather information that they then analyze. This chapter examines the research process in sociology. It first discusses sociology as a social science and the different ways that people ordinarily try to understand social reality. It then examines the primary methods that sociologists use in their research and the practical and ethical issues they sometimes encounter.