Official Statistics- Theories & Methods

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  • Official Statistics
    • Examples: Registration e.g. of births. Official surveys such as the Census and Administrative records of stage agencies such as hospitals, courts and schools.
    • Practical Advantages: Free source of huge amounts of quantitative data. Only the state has the power to compel individuals to supply certain data. Reduces the problem of non-response. For example, in the last Census the refusal rate was only 5%. They allow us yo make comparisons between groups and they show trends and patterns over time.
    • Practical Disadvantages: Government create statistics for its own purpose so there may be no information available on a topic a sociologist is interested in. May be mismatches between sets of statistics, the definitions that the state uses may differ from those that sociologists use.
    • Positivism: see official statistics as a very important resource in the scientific study of society.
      • Representativeness: Very large-scale, often covering the whole population. Bigger than most sociologists could afford to carry out. Great care is taken with sampling procedures when conducting official surveys.
      • Reliability: Positivists regard official statistics as a reliable source od data because they are compiled by trained staff wh use standardised categorises which can be easily replicated by others. BUT census orders for example may make errors or omit information when recording data from Census forms, or members of the public may fill in the form incorrectly.
    • Interpretivism: Cicourel (1968) reject the positivist claim that they are real, objective social facts that exist out there in the real world. They believe that they are merely social constructs that represent the labels officials attach to people.
      • Hard and Soft statistics: Soft tend to give a much less valid picture of reality. Also neglect an unknown or 'dark figure' of unrecorded cases. Hard statistics provide a much more valid picture e.g. births, marriages, deaths and divorces.
    • Marxism and statistics: Regard official statistics as serving the interests of capitalism. The statistics that the state creates are part of what Althusser calls the ideological state apparatuses.
      • Ideological functions: For example, politically sensitive data that would reveal the unequal, exploitative nature of capitalism may not be published. The definitions used in creating the statistics also conceal the true reality of capitalism. For example, the state has frequently changed its definition of unemployment, and this has reduced the numbers officially defined as unemployed.
    • Feminism and statistics: Oakley and Graham reject the use of quantitative survey methods because they regard them as a 'masculine' or patriarchal model of research. They regard the state (who create this statistics) as maintaining patriarchal oppression.

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