AS Sociology

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  • The subject matter of Sociology is about the relationships people make with each other. These take place within the context of the social institutions, such as family, education, religion and media, that make up the culture or society in which they live.
  • Sociological research is important as it gives us more than a common-sense understanding of the social world in which we live.
  • By undertaking rigorous and evidence-based research most sociologists claim their findings are objective and value free, This is particulary true of the quantitative approach.
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What is the sociolgical approach to research?


The early classical sociologists of the 19th century modelled their research on the methods of the natural sciences. This is appraoch, known as positivism, said that sociologists should only study observable  phenomena. Emile Durkheim (1865-1917) pineered this approach with his statiscal study of suicide. The quantitative approach involves collecting numerical data and social facts, establishing correlations and searching for 'cause and effect' relationships.

Cause and effect = when one thing directly leads to the other.

Correlation = when a statiscal relationship exists between two things.

Quantitative methods = used by Positivists such as social surveys, to obtain empirical sata usually in the form of statistics.

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What is the sociological approach to research?

Qualtitative approach = Used by interpretevists who see reality as more subjective. The calssical sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) argued that in order to give meaning to people's actions we should practise 'verstehen' which literally means 'understand' but in practice involves empathising by putting yourself in the shoes of those you are researching. They obtain in-depth understanding of human behaviour and the reasons behind that behaviour.

Primary data = is collected directly by the sociologits as part of their research. The methods used for this include surveys ( using questionnaires or interviews), observation and occasinally experiments.

Secondary data= is used by sociologists but collected by organisations or other people. Examples of secondary include official statistics, previous research, historical and personal documents and diaries.

Emile Durkheim (1897) undertook a quantitative study of official statistics on suicide across Europe in an attempt to scientifically identify the sical facts that caused higd or low suicide rates in different countries.

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What are the key ideas of sociological research?

Reliability = when research is replicable ( can be repeated ) and would get the same results.

Validity = true to life. Can be influenced by the poor design of the research procedure. Can be affected being biased or from drawing justified conclusions from data.

Generalisability = when findings from a sample can be said to reflect the social characteristics of target population or wider society.

Max Weber = challenged the scientific approach of positivis, arguing that studying human bings was not the same as objects. Instead he encouraged an interpretitve approach centreed on understanding the meanings behind people's actions.

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What are the ethical issues of research ?

Informed consent = refers to the freely given consent by respondents to taking part in research. In order for participants to sign their consent, they should be told about the nature and purpose of the research. All participants should always be able to refuse to co-operate and wiyhdraw at any time for the research. Participants in research should always be aware that the researcher is undertaking research, exept where covert research is appropriate and justified.

Preserve confidentiality =all data collected should be treated in the stictest confiedence and anonymity should be guaranteed to respondents. In order to avoind inadvertenly giving away people's identities, their background and characteristics should only be described in a limited way.

Laud Humphreys undertook an infamous and ethically dubious observation study of homosexual men in public toilets in the USA ( tearoom Trade, 1970)

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What practical problems are associated with resear

Financial = research is expensive, especially longitudional and onvolves a team rather than an individual researcher.

Going native = when sociologists lose their academic detachemnet by getting too close to the group they are studying.

Choice of method = often dictates which method would be most appropriate. For example, the only practical method of researching a large number of people is through questionnaires. So sometimes researchers are forced to use methods they are not necessarily comfortable with.

Paul Willis (1977) undertook classic participant observation study in a Midlands comprehensive school. To overcome the practical problem of gaining access to and building a rapport with school pupils he worked initially in the school coffee shop.

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Connah Greenhalgh - Team GR

could put Research methods into the title , so people know what its about :)

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