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The Research Process
Choosing a topic
Values of the researcher Researchers are likely to study something they consider to be
important. And what they see as important is influenced by their values. Eg. A feminist
sociologist who believes in gender equality may study the position at work and in the home,
comparing their workloads and rewards with those of men.
Values of society The values of researchers often reflect the values of society. Feminists
have criticised mainstream (or `male stream') society as maledominated and based on male
values. They have made similar criticisms about sociology. Eg, sociological research has
traditionally focused on male concerns and male interests. As a result, female issues have
been seen as unimportant and, until fairly recently, as unworthy of research. Eg, Oakley
(1974) broke new ground when she chose to research housework, a topic considered by
male sociologists to be of little significance. Values in society change and with them the
priorities and concerns of researchers. Today, gender inequality is seen as a major issue.
And in sociology it forms the focus of a large number of research projects.
Funding Most research projects conducted by professional sociologists require outside
funding. Research funds are available from various sources charitable foundations such as
the Joseph Roundtree Foundation and the Runnymede Trust, government organisations such
as the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and industry. Each funding body has
its own priorities. Eg. Industrial organisations will tend to fund projects dealing with their
own particular concerns, such as solutions to stress in the workplace. The choice of
research project is often shaped by the priorities of the funding body.
Availability of data It makes little sense to choose a research topic where there is little or
no data available and little chance of producing it in the future. Eg. There is probably
insufficient data to conduct a study of Child Abuse in Anglo Saxon England. And there is
little chance of conducting a systematic study of secret service organisations such as MI5
Theoretical Position Choosing a research topic is also influenced by the theoretical
position of the sociologist. As noted, feminist sociologists will tend to select topics which
reflect feminist issues in particular gender inequalities.
Every theoretical position sees certain aspects of society as particularly important. Eg.
Marxism sees the class system as the foundation of capitalist society. As a result, Marxists
tend to focus on topics such as class inequality, class conflict and class identity.
Choosing research methods
Some methods are more suitable than others for conducting particular types of research.
Think about the problem of studying a teenage gang whose members sometimes commit
illegal acts. They are often hostile to outsiders, particularly those they see as representing
authority. Interviews and questionnaires are unlikely to produce the required data. But
joining their activities and gaining their trust can allow the researcher to obtain information by
observing their behaviour.
These are based on different views of human behaviour. They sometimes lead to the use of
different research methods.
Interpretivism Some sociologists argue that understanding human behaviour involves
seeing the world through the eyes of those being studied. People give meaning to their own
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To understand their behaviour, it is essential to discover and interpret the
meanings and definitions which guide their actions.
Sociologists who support this view tend to favour particular research methods. Eg. Many
see PARTICANT OBSERVATION observing the people being studied by joining their
activities as a suitable method for discovering the meanings which guide their actions.
They also tend to favour indepth, unstructured interviews since this method gives people
the opportunity to talk about their behaviour as they see it.…read more
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Ethical considerations can have an important influence on the research process.
Ethics are moral principles beliefs about what is right and wrong. In terms of research,
ethics are the moral principles which guide research. Sociological associations in many
countries have a set of ethical guidelines for conducting research. Sociology departments in
universities usually have an ethics committee to ensure that research conducted by members
of the department is in line with these guidelines.…read more
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Ethics and the research process as noted earlier, all researchers have values which define
what is right and wrong. To some extent, these ethical values will affect every stage of the
research process. If, for example, researchers see poverty, male domination, racial
discrimination, r private education as ethically wrong, then they may choose to study these
topics in order to reveal the wrongs and discover ways to right them.…read more