( By Editor : Carol Huss )

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Appendix 1 : Methodology of a Social Analysis

Social analysis is an art. There are many possible methods. For the following methodology, the elements of the approach are grouped under four heading :
1. Commitment 2. Description 3. Analysis and 4. Conclusions.

  1. Commitment
    The word, commitment, is used, because it implies a turning to values. We have to make explicit the values we bring to the task. This serves as a way of opening us up to the more important elements of the situation we are understanding, by putting them in a context of the fundamentals which guide us. Done in a group, this step in the exercise also clarifies the commonalities and differences which will be influencing the subsequent discussions.

  2. Description
    You make a general description of the situation you are trying to understand. You may be studing: (1) a social problem (e.g. unemployment, inadequate housing, lack of agricultural development, etc.,); (2) an institution (e.g. school corporation etc.); (3) a geographical entity (e.g. neighbourhood, village, region, nation etc.).

    You can make an impressionistic approach to the task of description. You gather facts and trends by way of brainstorming, telling stories, getting in touch with people’s experiences. What is happening in this particular situation? What would a few photographs of the situation reveal? How would we talk about a few of the most prominent features of this situation?

    Or you can choose a more systematic approach. In a very orderly fashion you gather all the pertinent information about the situation. You could use a questionnaire in order to probe the various sectors of our social reality. At this point you have to remember that you are only describing, you are not yer going into any deeper into any deeper study of the particular situation. This step is only meant as a help to enter into the picture and get in tocuh with the experience and the situation. It will guide you in the direction to point out the more important elements. In this process it will also make more explicit what it is in the situation which first drew you to study the situation -- .eg. people are hurting, the pace of change is extremely rapid, some people are prospering more than others, etc.

  3. Analysis
    Earlier it was stated that a social analysis can be defined as "the effort to obtain a more complete picture of a social situation by exploring its historical and structural relationship". In this task you go through a series of four questions about history, structures, values and direction of the situation you are analyzing.

    1. What is the main line of history of the situation?
      You look at the situation with the eyes of historical consciousness and begin to perceive the deep background influences of the past on the present.

      1. What have been the major stages (periods) through which this situation has moved?
      2. What dynamic patterns of development can be observed?
      3. What have been the key turning points in the development of the situation?
      4. Can we name major events which have influenced the course of the history of this situation?
        e.g. national events, government actions, labour union’s actions.

    2. What are the major structures which influence this situation? Structures shape the situation in a variety of ways. There are the institutions, processes and patterns which are determining factors in the outcome of social reality. Some structures are obvious; others are hidden, all are interrelated. We suggest here four ways in which society is organised and list some structures to which society is organised and list some structures to which we could pay attention.

      1. What are the major economic structures which determine how society organizes resources? e.g :

        • production, distribution, exchanges, consumption.
        • capital, labour, technology.
        • concentration, conglomerates.
        • tax policies, interest rates.

      2. What are the major political structures which determine how society organizes power ? e.g.:

        • procedures of decision making.
        • access to public influence.
        • formal: constitution, party, courts, military.
        • formal: cliques, lobbying.
        • participation patterns.

      3. What are the major soical structures which determine how society organizes relationships (other than those which are primarily economic and political relationships) ? e.g.

        • family, clan, tribe, neighbourhood.
        • education, recreation.
        • communications, media
        • language patterns.

      4. What are the major cultural structures which determine how society organizes meaning ? e.g.

        • religion.
        • symbols.
        • symbols, myths, dreams.
        • art, music, folk-lore.
        • lifestyle, traditions.

    3. What are the key values operative in ‘this structure’? We speak here of values as the goals that motivate people, the ideologies and moral norms that guide, the aspirations and expectations that people have, the social emphases that are acceptable and accepted. These are of course, related to the cultural structure.

      1. What are the ‘carriers’ of values in society - persons, role models, institutions?
      2. Examples of various sets of values :

        • life
        • age/youth
        • unity/diversity
        • individualism/community
        • competition/cooperation
        • materialism/spiritualism
        • accumulation/sharing
        • power and influence/serving
        • participation/obedience
        • freedom/law and order
        • progress/stability
        • innovation/tradition
        • justice/security
        • peace/violence
        • equality/hierarchy.

    4. What is the future direction of this situation? A look into the future may infact reveal more about the present than about the future. That is, the futuristic exercise of imagining, ‘scenarios’ gives us insights into the dymanics of what is actually occurring now.

      1. What are the most significant trends revealed in the present situation?
      2. What can we ‘extrapolate’ (i.e. project by inference) from the current scene?
      3. If things keep going in the future in the way they are going now, what will be the situation in ten years?
      4. What are the sources of creativity and hope for the future in the present situation?


    The analysis you have made will have opened up a variety and multiplicity of factors which influence the situation you are trying to understand. The analysis you have made will have opened up a variety and multiplicity of factors which influence the situation you are trying to understand. The final task is how to draw some conclusions, to be able to discern the most important elements in the situation. This requires that we look over the responses made to the four analytical questions and identify -- by a process of ranking -- the ‘root’ elements.

    ‘Root’ elements are the most basic causes -- ‘causal causes’ -- in a situation. They are distinct from symptoms or mere consequences of something deeper. They are the answers that finally turn up when we continually ask the question, ‘Why’? To discover these ‘root’ elements, we first must prioritize or rank within each analytical category (history, structures, values, direction) the most significant facts influencing the situation. For example, which one or two historical events most shaped the present? Which economic, political, social, and cultural factors most determine the operation of the system? Which one or two values have the most impact on how people act? Which trend seems most likely for the future of the situation? In the struggle to find the answers to such questions, you will feel the need to identify some criteria by which you conclude that some elements are more basic than other. Development of such criteria, is a major task of social philosophy. It is also dependent on a return to experience, the experience of trial and error. In this methodology no formalized criteria are offered. Here, a strong suggestion is made that one of the key sources for criteria are offered. Here, a strong suggestion is made that one of the key sources of criteria will be the fundamentals made explicit in the first step ‘commitment’. When the various elements have been prioritized, we need to make a second effort at ranking and then draw some conclusions.

    1. What are the two or three ‘root’ elements most responsible for the current situation?
    2. In whose interests do these root elements operate?

    The conclusions you can draw from such a social analytical approach will obviously depend on a variety of factors : the relative complexity of the situation you are studying, the accuracy and adequacy of the data available to you, the rigor of your questioning, the criteria which influence your own judgements on ‘root’ elements, etc. But the advantage of doing this exercise in this way is that it does begin to open up the situation and reveal causes, consequences, linkages, trends, and related dimensions. It provides a holistic picture -- dynamic in a hsitorical perspective and interconnected in a structural perspective.

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