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Created: February 25, 2002
Latest Update: February 25, 2002

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Secondary Analysis of Data

Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individaul Authors, February 2002.
"Fair use" encouraged.

Herm Turk's study. Herm's Rose Monograph backup In the left-most frame, link to Sources. The data analyzed came from the census. Herm didn't go out and collect all that data. This is demography.

If you like browsing through records and discovering new ways to measure interesting variables that the original data collectors might never have thought of, then you might very much enjoy a job in demography.

What do I mean by "new ways to measure interesting variables"? Well, most of us can't afford to collect data on a par with the census. The government collects all it can think of and fit into the census returns. Then demographers go back over the collected data and coax them (data is plural, remember) to tell us a great deal about our population.

That's what Herm Turk did with his study of U.S. cities of more than 100,000 population. He used census data. And he coaxed new information from those data. For example, he wanted to know about racism and representative government. The census didn't ask "Do you feel that you are fairly represented?" or "Do you feel that you have a fair chance to elect a representative who understands your racial or ethnic needs?"

So Herm decided to measure representativeness by looking at which of the cities in his sample had elections at large, and which had elections by district. He reasoned that in elections at large if the racial or ethnic group is a minority, it would be difficult to elect a minority member, since that candidate would need the support of the majority group to win. But in a district election, minorities would have a better chance of winning an election to the extent that the minority lived in de facto segregated areas. In other words, easier to elect a Latino if the electoral district was in East Los Angeles, and did not include the Los Angeles Metropolitan Statistical area. And easier to elect a Black from a district that included South Central Los Angeles than to elect, for example, a Black mayor.

In other words, by creative playing with the census data and other readily available data (like the kind of elections held in the city), Herm discovered ways to describe sociological patterns, like the extent of representativeness of elected officials. That almost impressed me enough to become a demographer. Almost. Herm was an engineer. He liked to play with records and figure these problems out. I was more of an activist, and wanted out in the field.

Now I want to take us through my interpretation of Herm's theory and Herm's insistence that mine was really a new theory (see sociologists don't always know), and my conceptual linking of what I considered Herm's theory to Andre Gunnar Frank's rape of Latin America. Soon . . . . jeanne. February 25, 2002.