Social Measurement: What Stands in its Way?

Social Research 68 (2001)
Measurement is any process by which a value is assigned to the level or state of some quality of an object of study. This value is given numerical form, and measurement therefore involves the expression of information in quantities rather than by verbal statement. It provides a powerful means of reducing qualitative data to more condensed form for summarization, manipulation and analysis. The classical distinctions made by S S S Stevens between nominal, ordinal, interval and ratio measurement are a common starting point for discussion of social science measurement and the use of statistical techniques. This article considers the applicability of this model to research in the social sciences, particularly sociology and political science. Differences between classical measurement theory and practice in the social sciences are discussed. Problems in social science conceptualization, operationalization and measurement are examined, and a number of issues raised. Three cases are given particular attention, the Social Indicators movement, the variable of social class, and measures of race and ethnicity. The article concludes that the 'ineluctable fuzziness' of many social science concepts is inescapable, and that social measurement remains a difficult and challenging issue
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