This example illustrates how methods can be informed by a theoretical connection, and can lead to creative data collection. The key, of course, is the soundness of the theoretical connection upon which the method is based.
As part of a large research project in Chicago, Professor Sampson walked through different neighborhoods this summer, dropping stamped, addressed envelopes to see how many people would pick up an apparently lost letter and mail it, a sign that looking out for others is part of the community’s culture.
In some neighborhoods, like Grand Boulevard, where the notorious Robert Taylor public housing projects once stood, almost no envelopes were mailed; in others researchers received more than half of the letters back. Income levels did not necessarily explain the difference, Professor Sampson said, but rather the community’s cultural norms, the levels of moral cynicism and disorder.
Read more about this in a discussion of the cultural of poverty and at the website for the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods.