Models are simplified representations of reality that help people to handle the largely undifferentiated mass of stimuli that impinges on their senses. Model, then, is a generic term for any systematic set of guesses or interpretations that people make about their surroundings. Some writers label these models as theories, hypotheses, theses, paradigms, propositions, or even just ideas. This entry discusses only two broadly applicable models: folk and analytic.
The models that guide us through our everyday concerns may be termed folk models. We have little control over these models; they were here before we were born, and we learned them as impressionable children. In practice, folk models tend to reflect the interests of the socioeconomic elite. Such an outcome might be expected given that members of the elite have the inherent power to control communications and symbols, to reward respectful behavior toward themselves, and to bring sanctions against those whose behavior expresses a dangerous deviation from “model” behavior. Folk models are stereotypical, specific, complex, largely supraindividual, and normative; use as little information as possible for as broad a formulation as possible; and contain no inherent mechanisms through which they may be tested, doubted, questioned, or rejected.
Analytic models, in contrast, are processual, general, simple, individually created, and explanatory and use as much information as possible to form as succinct a hypothesis as possible. Investigators create analytic models to explain what they observed. Folk models do not actually explain behavior and beliefs; instead, they label, justify, and valorize behavior and beliefs.
The components of both analytic and folk models are structure, function, and process. Structure refers primarily to description, which in analytic models is usually phrased in culturally neutral terms from an observers’ viewpoint. Description in folk models, however, is only from the actors’ viewpoint.
The function of a cultural entity refers to the consequences of its performance. These consequences, however, might not necessarily be the same as the conscious intention of the people. In fact, the long-term effect of the practice of many cultural beliefs and behaviors may be unintended and nonarticulated so far as the day-to-day life of the people is concerned. These hidden consequences are known as latent functions and are part of an analytic model; folk models do not contain a latent function.
Process is the component of models that handles change, history, and evolution. Process in most folk models is quite distorted, generally serving to indoctrinate members of a society with culture-specific values. Process in most analytic models reflects an empirical grounding in documented facts.
Analytic models are not superior to folk models; they simply serve different purposes. It might be expected that the use of analytic models will sharpen our powers of observation, stimulate our thinking, cause us to question the values and judgments that we once accepted without question, and encourage self-understanding. Finally, analytic models should help us to develop a degree of detachment in confronting the issues of life; we should realize the flexibility of our own beliefs and standards as well as those of society.
- Bernard, H. R. (2000). Social research methods: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Galt, A. H., & Smith, L. J. (1976). Models and the study of social change. New York: John Wiley.
- Hoover, K. R., & Donovan, T. (2003). The elements of social scientific thinking (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
- Lave, C. A., & March, J. G. (1975). An introduction to models in the social sciences. New York: Harper & Row.