AQA Sociology AS: Sociological Methods

  • Know what the main types of data are and what research methods sociologists use.
  • Understand the practical, ethical and theoretical factors influencing choice of method and topid, and be able to asess their relative importance.
  • Understand the difference between positivist and interpretivist approaches to research
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  • Created by: Chloe
  • Created on: 04-02-12 14:09

Choosing a Research Method - Types of Data: Primar

Two Classes of Data:

  • Primary and Secondary sources of data
  • Quantitative and Qualitative data

Primary Data: information collected by sociologists themselves for their own purposes either to obtain a first-hand 'picture' of a group or society or to test a hypothesis.

  • Methods: Social Surveys (asking people questions e.g. questionnaire/interview), Participant Observation (sociologist joins in with the activities of the group) or Experiments (rarely laboratory experiments, but sometimes use field experiments & the comparative method).
  • STRENGTHS: Precise information can be gathered to test their hypotheses.
  • LIMITATIONS: Can be costly and time consuming.
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Types of Data: Secondary

Secondary Data: Information that has been collected or created by someone else for their own purposes but then sociologists can then use.

  • Sources: Official Statistics (government produced e.g. on crime, divorce, health, unemployment. Other stats by charities, businesses, churches & other), Documents (e.g. letters, diaries, photographs, official reports, novels, newspapers and television broadcasts).
  • STRENGTHS: Can be quick and cheap.
  • LIMITATIONS: May not provide exactly the informations that sociologists need.
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Types of Data: Quantitative/Qualitative

Quantitative Data: Information in numerical form. - facts/measurable data.

  • Sources: Official Stats (e.g. GCSE pass rates), opinion polls & market research surveys.

Qualitative Data: Information which has a 'quality' - opinion/worded answer/feelings/descriptions.

  • Sources: Participant observation, in-depth interviews.
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Factors Influencing Choice of Methods: Practical I

Practical Issues: (5)

  • Time and Money (e.g. large scale surveys may employ lots of interviewers/data-inputting staff = cost lots of money. Small scale project = cheaper but can take several years to complete). Access to resources can determine what method is used (professor more research funds than young student).
  • Requirements of Funding Bodies (Research institutes/businesses/other organisation providing funding may require results in particular form. e.g. Government wanting educational pass rates would want quantitative data therefore sociologist needs to use questionnaires/structured interviews.
  • Personal Skills & Characteristics (e.g. having the ability to carry out a participant observation by being able to mix well with others, good observational & recall skills. In-depth interviews - need to be able to establish a rapport (relationship with empathy & trust). Some sociologists may have difficulty.
  • Subject Matter (may be hard to use particular method on certain groups. e.g. male sociologist studying an all-female group by participant observation or questionnaires with illiterate)
  • Research Opportunity (research may occur unexpectedly so cannot use structured methods e.g. questionnaires, which take long to prepare. E.G. James Patrick (1973) - spending time with Glasgow gang so no option to use participant observation.
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Factors Influencing Choice of Methods: Ethical Iss

Ethical Issues: (5)

  • Informed Consent (participants should be offered the right to refuse. Researcher should also tell participants about all relevant aspects of the research so they can make an informed decision). Consent needed at start (& if lengthy, again at intervals).
  • Confidentiality & Privacy (identity of participants kept secret to prevent negative effects on them. Participants privacy should also be respected & personal information should be kept confidential.
  • Effects of Research Participants (Researchers must be aware of possible effects. E.g. police intervention, harm to employment prospects, social exclusion & psychological damage. Must be prevented)
  • Vulnerable Groups (special care where participants are vulnerable because of age, disability or physical/mental health. e.g. Children in schools - should have regard for issues of child protection. Need consent of both child & parent & need info child will understand).
  • Covert Research (when the researchers identity & research purposes are hidden. Can create ethical problems e.g. lying to people to win trust or obtain information. However some argue that use may be justified in certain circumstances.
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Factors Influencing Choice of Methods: Theoretical

Theoretical Issues: (4)

  • Validity (true/genuine picture produced allowing researcher to get closer to the truth. Many argue qualitative methods (e.g. participant observation) offer more validity than quantitative methods (e.g. questionnaires).
  • Reliability (another word for this - REPLICABILITY. A reliable method can be repeated by another researcher and give the same results. In sociology - quantitative methods are more reliable than qualitative methods.
  • Representativeness (whether the participants studied are a typical cross-section of the group we are interested in. If representative or typical of the wider population, we can make generalisations. Large scale quantitative surveys are more with sophisticated sampling techniques are more likely to produce representative data.
  • Methodological Perspective - Positivism versus Interpretivism. POSITIVISTS: Prefer quantitative data, seek to discover patterns of behaviour, see sociology as a science. E.G. FUNCTIONALISTS, MARXISTS - macro-level view where society shapes our behaviour. INTERPRETIVISTS: Prefer qualitative data, seek to understand social actors' meanings, reject the view that sociology is a science. E.G. INTERACTIONISTS - micro-level view of society, focusing on small-scale, face-to-face interactions.
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Factors Influencing Choice of Methods: Choice of T

Choice of Topic: (4)

  • Theoretical Perspective (a sociologists theoretical perspective in a major influence on the choice of topic because are going to pick a topic in which they believe in. e.g. Feminists are more likely to choose to study domestic violence as opposed to gender oppression lies at the heart of feminist theory)
  • Society's Values (Sociologists themselves are a part of the society they study & thus influenced by its values. Values change, focus on research changes. e.g. Rise of feminism in 60s-70s led to a focus on gender inequality & 21st century environmentalist concerns have generated interest in 'green crimes'.
  • Funding Bodies (The funding body will determine what topic is investigated because they are paying for the research e.g. New Labour governments after 1997 was the 'social exclusion' of some disadvantaged groups. Therefore, government departments keen to fund research projects to investigate the causes and effects of social exclusion).
  • Practical Factors (may be restricting - such as the inaccessibility of certain situations to the researcher. e.g. although sociologists may wish to study the ways in which global corporations make their decisions, this may not be possible because these are made in secrecy).
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