AS Sociology- Sociological Research Methods

Topics 1,4,5,6,7,8

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  • Created on: 16-02-12 20:42

Topic 1 - Choosing a research method - Primary Dat

Types of Data

Primary data - Collected by sociologists themselves for their own purposes
                            - used to gain a 'first-hand' picture or test hypothesises

- E.G'S are: Participant Observation (soc. joins in with activity)
                    Experiments (field experiments and comparative methods
                    Social Surveys (Ask Qn's, written questionnaire or interview)

Advantage- provides precise information to test hypothesises
Disadvantage-  Costly and Time Consuming

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Topic 1 - Choosing a research method - Secondary D

Secondary Data

Created by someone else for their own purposes of which the sociologist can use

E.G'S are: Official Statistics (Produces by the govt on issues such as crime, divorce, health and unemployment
Documents (letters, diaries, photographs, official reports, novels, newspapers and television broadcasts)

Advantages - Quick and Cheap (someone else produces them)
Disadvantages -  information may not be exact to what the sociologist is studying

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Topic 1 - Choosing a research method - Quantitativ

Quatitative Data

- information in a numerical form

EG'S are: How many girls passed 5 or more of their GCSE's
 Opinion Polls and Market Research Surveys

Qualitative Data

- gives a 'feel' for what things are like (feelings and experiences- what its like to be 'in that person's shoes')

EG'S are: what it feels like to get good GCSE results.

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Topic 1 - Choosing a research method - Practical I

Factors Influencing Choice of Methods - Practical Issues

Time and Money - (different methods= different amounts of time (T) and money (M) which affects the sociologists choice) For Example: Large Scale - more T and M.  Small Scale - less T and M

Requirements of funding bodies - Research institutes may require information be given in a particular form. (e.g. stats- provided through questionnaires and interviews)

Personal Skills and Characteristics- (different sociologist = different skills and abilities to use different methods)

Subject matter - It may be difficult to study in a particular group of subject by one method or another (difficult for a male to study in an all female group by means of participant observation)

Research Opportunity  - opportunity may occur unexpectedly which means it would not be possible to use structured methods such as questionnaires as it takes longer to prepare.

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Topic 1 - Choosing a research method - Ethical Iss

Ethical Issues (right and wrong)

Informed Consent- participants should be offered the right to refuse. They should know everything so they have the right to make a choice. Information may have to be revealed in intervals throughout the process.

Confidentiality and privacy- Identity of participants should be kept secret to prevent harm and informaiton must be kept confidential.

Effects on research participants- police intervention, harm to employment prospects, social exclusion and psychological damage.

Vulnerable groups- age, diability, physical or mental health. E.g. schools - sociologist should take into consideration the child protection law and should gain consent from the parents of the children being studied.

Covert research- identity and purpose are hidden from the person being observed. Decieving or lying can be an ethical problem.

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Topic 1 - Choosing a research method - Theoretical

Theoretical Issues

Validity- provides a true or genuine picture of what something is really like, getting closer to the truth.

Reliability- (replicability- copy of something) repeated by another researcher to receive the same results

Representativeness- whether or not people we study are a typical cross section of the group we are interested in. The cross section of groups we are studying will then be used to make generalisations of the wider society.


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Topic 1 - Choosing a research method - Theoretical

Methodological perspective- (what society is like and how we should study it)

-Positivists- Prefer quantitative data
 Seek to discover patterns of behaviour
See sociology as a science

- Interpretivists - Prefer Qualitative data
Seek to understand social actor's meanings
Reject the view that sociology is a science

Functionalists and Marxists favour the positive approach while interactionists favour the interpretivists approach.
Time, resources, access, consent, privacy are all constraints on a persons choice of method.

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Topic 1 - Choosing a research method - Choice of T

Theoretical Perspective

E.G'S: New Right - STUDY - Welfare Benefits ont he growth of lone parent families

            Feminists - STUDY - Domestic Violence with regards to gender

Society's Values - Certain values that occurred in past times are now seen as a taboo subject int he 21st century or vice versa.

Funding Bodies

- the external body - govt agencies, charitable organisations and businesses

- this would require the topic to be investigated further

Practical Factors - Inaccessibility of certain situations to the researcher which may also affect which topic they are able to study.

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Topic 4 - Social Surveys - Preparing to Conduct a

Written Questionnaires - respondents are asked to complete and return by post or e-mail.

Interviews - face- to - face or by telephone

Types of Question

1. Closed- ended questions - limited answers which are usually in the form of 'Yes', 'No', 'Maybe' or 'I don't know' answers. These are seen in multiple choice questions in an exam. They are pre-coded for ease of analysis.

2. The person answering is free to give whatever answer they wish without having pre-selected choices.

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Topic 4 - Social Surveys - Stages of Conducting a

1. Choosing a topic - a qide variety of issues occur when making this decision (as shown in topic 1) as some methods are not suitable for all subjects.

2. Formulating an aim or hypothesis - a hypothesis is a conclusion and an aim is something the sociologist hopes to achieve by the end of the study. Some only test one hypothesis, others test a number of them. It gives a direction for our research and provides us with a focus for the questions we plan to ask to either confirm or refute the hypothesis.

3.  Operationalising concepts
 - (putting our survey plan into mental operation- working it out before its done) A definition of key ideas and concepts in relation to the hypothesis made. Once we have this information, we are now able to create questions to aid the final task. Process of converting a concept into something that can be measured is 'operationalisation'.

4. The Pilot Study - This is the creation of the draft copy of the questionnaire or interview that we intend to use and give this a trial run. It is a form of practice. It would straighten out any questions that are badly worded, easily misunderstood or answers are difficult to analyse.

5. Sampling - Making generalisations  that apply to all cases of the topic they are interested in. Due to the lack of time and money, samples would have to be made from the wider group that we were interested in.

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Topic 4 - Social Surveys - Stages of Conducting a

Sampling Frame: a list of all the members of the population that we are interested in studying. Y+W used the electoral register (the list of people entitled to vote) as their sampling frame.

once the sampling frame has been identified, we can produce a sample from this.

Choose Topic --> Determine aim/ hypothesis --> operationalise concepts --> conduct pilot study --> select sample --> decide whether face to face, postal etc --> conduct survey --> analyse data

Sampling Techniques uses to achieve a representative sample:
1. Random Sampling
- Simplest technique, sample is selected by random choice (e.g drawn out of a hat)
2. Quasi - random sampling - every 10th or 100th name is selected on the list. Y+W used every 36th name on the electoral register. (could lead to results not being truly representative)
3. Stratified random sampling - dividing population into genders and taking 1% sample of each. We can ensure that we end up with equal numbers of each sex and that the sample is representative as a whole.
4. Quota sampling - (similar to number 3 but..) instead of looking for each category, researchers go out looking for the right number of each sort of person required in each category.
Usually a reserve is used

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Topic 4 - Social Surveys - Stages of Conducting a

Non- representative sampling
Practical reasons
 - social characteristics may not be known (age, gender and class)

                                  - it may be impossible to find a sampling frame for that particular research population.
                                  - people may refuse to answer questions on the survey

In some cases where it is not possible to gain representative data, sociologists sometimes use snowball or opportunity samples.

Snowball sampling - contacting key individuals who are asked to suggest others who might be interviewed. This would be continuous until enough data has been collected.

Opportunity sampling is choosing from those individuals who are easy to access e.g on the street etc.

Theoretical Issues
Interpretivists believe its important to gain valid data and an authentic understanding of social actors' meanings. They are less concerned with making generalisations and therefore do not need to make representative samples.

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Topic 5 - Questionnaires - Advantages of questionn

1. Practical  Advantages
- Quick and Cheap

    - No need to train and recruit interviewers or observers to collect data.
    - Easy to quantify (closed -ended questions can be processed by computer to reveal relationships between two variables.

2. Reliability
- when a research is repeated and a questionnaire identical to the original one is used, exactly the same results will be shown. The questionnaire is completed in exactly the same order as previously done.
    - postal questionnaires- there is no researcher present to influence the respondents answers (whereas interviews may influence the way someone answers a question). Questionnaires allow comparisons to be made both over time and between societies.

3. Hypothesis Testing
they are useful for testing a hypothesis about cause and effect relationships between different variables

4. Detachment and objectivity (unbiased)
personal involvment is kept to a minimum

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Topic 5 - Questionnaires - Advantages of questionn

5. Representativeness
    - results can be gained from a larger group of people so the results stand a better chance of being representative of the wider population.

    - they are more likely to allow us to receive more accurate generalisations

6. Ethical Issues
    - they may ask instrusive or sensitive questions (BUT they will be answered naturally due to the minimal amount of contact between the intweviewer and interviewee.)
    - they would have to make it clear that respondents will not have to answer any questions they do not want to.

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Topic 5 - Questionnaires - Disadvantages of questi

1. Practical Problems
    - limited and superficial with brief answers
    - could be costly if incentive such as entering a prize draw were to be introduced.
    - Postal - unsure if potential respondent has actually received the questionnaire or whether it was completed by the right person.

2. Low Response Rate
    - few who receive postal questionnaires actually send it back

    - A higher response rate would be obtained if there were follow up questionnaires

3. Inflexibility
    - once the questionnaire has been finalised, the researcher is stuck with the questions they have decided to ask and cannot explore.

4. Questionnaires as snapshots
    - they give a picture of social reality at one moment in time. They do not show how attitudes and behaviours change.

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Topic 5 - Questionnaires - Disadvantages of questi

5. Detachment
 they lack validity
    - they do not give a true picture of what has been studied
    - no opportunity to clarify what the questions mean to the respondent

6. Lying, Forgetting and 'right answerism'
people may not respond truthfully - Invalid
    - people may not provide the accurrate answer - Invalid
    - some people may give answers they feel they should give rather than the actual truth

7. Imposing the researchers meanings
    - by choosing which questions to ask, the researcher, not the respondent, has already decided what is important and what is not
    - If we use cloed- ended questions, respondents have to fit their views into 'Yes', 'No' or maybe categories. whereas if we use open- ended questions- respondents are more free to write whatever they want however similar but non-identical information could get lumped into ne category.

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Topic 5 - Questionnaires - Methods in Context

Subject and Uni choice
Bullying and the experience of school
Achievement and school factors
Parental attitudes to education

Operationalisation of concepts
This is the turning of abstract ideas into a measurable form. Pupils may not understand all of these concepts. Some pupils may not understand concepts such as 'Deferred Gratification' or 'Cultural Capital'.This means that answers produced would be based on misunderstanding of what the questions mean.

Samples and sampling frames
Schools kepe lists of pupils, staff and parents which provide accurate sampling frames that the sociologist can draw a representative sample from. Opportunity samples are also made of teachers and pupils in the form of form groups and classes of the pupils but they may not reflect what the researcher is interested in.

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Topic 5 - Questionnaires - Methods in Context (Con

Access and response rate
Low response ratse are from schools. Schools may be reluctant to distribute questionnaires because of disruption to lessons or because they object the certain topic it involves. Response rates can be higher because once the head has given consent, students and pupils would be pressurised into completing them or they could make the student take time out of lesson in order to complete. This would cause more generalisations to be made and more representative data to be collected. Students and teachers may be accustomed to completing the survey meaning that there are higher response  rates. Teachers may be too busy to complete the form meaning that there are lower response rates.

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Topic 5 - Questionnaires - Methods in Context (Con

Practical Issues
useful for gathering large amounts of informaiton quickly and cheaply.

Michael Rutter (1979) used questionnaires to gather large amounts of data from 12 inner London secondary schools. He w as able to correlate achievement, attendance and behaviour witgh variable such as school size, class size and number of staff. Difficult to do this with surveys or interviews.

However information would be limited and superficial.

Michael Rutters research provided correlations between variables such as class size and achievement but not explanations for these correlations.

Participants must be able to read and understand questions. They need to be breif as attention spans of children are kept to the minimum. The students 'may not know' the answers.

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Topic 5 - Questionnaires - Methods in Context (Con

Anonymity and detachment
Anonymity may reduce embarressment  or fear to answer a question. Response rates may be higher and validity will be to the maximum. Safeguarding children needs to be put into action which may be difficult as there is ltitle or no contact with the researcher.
They are formal and official looking documents and may equate them with school and teacher authority. This may affect the response rate as people may refuse to cooperate of take part seriously.

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Topic 6 - Interviews - Types of Interview

Structured or formal interviews - (similar to questionnaires) Interviewer is given strict instructions on how to ask questions. Conducted in the same way every time. The same questions are asked (word for word) same order, tone etc.

Semi- structured views - the same questions are asked but the interviewer can probe further for more information. Aaron Cicourel and John Kitsuse (1963) always followed up their questions with 'How do you mean?'.

Unstructured or informal interviews - (also called discovery interviews) like a guided conversation. Freedom to answer questions however they want. They use whatever line of questioning is appropriate at the time. This could be follow-up questions and probing more deeply.

Can be one to one or group interviews with up to a dozen people. (E.g. focus groups where the interviewer asks the group to discuss a certain topic)

Interviews are similar to questionnaires with closed- ended questions but they are answered by the interviewer rather than the interviewee.

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Topic 6 - Interviews - Structured interviews

Practical issues
training interviewers is inexpensive and straightforward but it is more costly than posting questionnaires to people.

2. quick and cheap to administer but still cannot match the potentially huge numbers reacher by postal questionnaires.
3. used for gathering information such as age or job
4. easily quantified (use closed-ended questions with coded answers -suitable for hypothesis testing)

Response Rate
interviewing groups increase the chance of obtaining a representative sample. Response rates would be increased if the interviewer used several 'call backs' to persue who failed to respond initially. Those with willingness and time on their hands, it would be an untypical representative sample.

another sociologist can repeat the research and get the same results. Structured interviews are seen as reliable -easier to standardise and control. Each interview is conducted exactly the same in each way. This allows the researcher to identify similarities and differences between a group of people.

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Topic 6 - Interviews - Structured interviews (Cont

provides a true and authentic picture of the topic being researched. Critics say sometimes these can produce a false picture.
1. limited answers - data obtained will be invalid
2. questions cannot be explained- may lead to question not being asked, misunderstood etc.
3. People may exaggerate or lie - false data

The researcher has already decided what is important - may not be what the interviewee finds important. Does not reflect views of interviewee. May lose valuable insights. They are snapshots taken at one moment in time and lack a clear flow of social life.

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Topic 6 - Interviews - Structured interviews (Cont

Feminist Criticisms
Hilary Graham (1983) questionnaires and interviews are patriarchal and lack views of women's experiences.
researcher is in control of the interview and decides line of questioning reflecting womens subordination in society.
2. Survey methods treat women as isolated individuals rather than oppressive relationships they are in.
3. imposing categories on women disallowing them to express their experiences and concealing the relaitonships oppressing them.

Feminist views are similar to interpretivists views.
Feminists argue that methods are needed that understands womens behaviour, attitudes and meanings and that gender inequality is an important factor limiting the reliability of interviews.

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Topic 6 - Interviews - Advantages of Unstructured

1. Rapport and sensitivity
Rapport -
a relaitonship of trust and understanding with the interviewee.

Empathises and Encourages them to open up.
William Labov (1973) - studied language of black american children and they appeared to be 'liguistically deprived'. However when sat down with a friend, the reponse was noticably different.
useful when studying sensitive topics makes them feel comfortable with subjects.

2. The Interviewee's view- opportunities to speak about what the interviewee thinks is important. Allows greater freedom to express their views, more likely to produce fresh insights and valid data.

3. Checking and Understanding - easier to check each others meanings. Questions can be explained. Follow-up questions can be used to clarify answers to questions.

4. Flexibility - highly flexible. Researcher can formulate new ideas and hypothesises and put them to the test as they arise during the course of the interview.

5. Exploring unfamiliar topics - useful to discover things we don't yet know about - they are open- ended and exploratory. Ask questions and learn as we go along.

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Topic 6 - Interviews - Disadvantages of Unstructur

1. Practical Problems - take a long time to conduct- limiting the amount carried out leading to a small sample for researcher to analyse. Training needs to be more thorough as they need to be able to identify a sociologically important point and probe further into this. Adds to the cost.

2. Representativeness - smaller numbers involved means it will not be representative- harder to make valid generalisations.

3. Reliability - not reliable - not standardised. Impossible to replicate and check findings to compare with their own.

4. Quantification - mainly open ended and pre coded - difficult to count up and quantify the numbers of interviewees giving this or that answer. Lack of quantitative data makes it less usefulfor establishing cause and effect relationships and hypothesis testing.

5. Validity - contact between interviewer and interviewee means informaiton is very distorted leaving findings invalid.

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Topic 6 - Interviews - The Interview as a social i

1. Interviewer bias - the question may lead to answer preferrably given. Interviewer may influence the answer with facial expressions, body language or tone of voice.

2. Artificality - Both know its an interview and one asks question doubtful if truthful answers are given.

3. Status and power inequalities - may affect honesty and willingness to answer a question. The bigger the status difference, the less valid the data. Josephine Rich (1968) children answer questions asked by adults to please them. Gender differences  in power and status can shape the interview whereas ethnic inequalities may make it difficult.

4. Cultural Differences - researchers cannot tell when being lied to. Margaret Mead (1943) research on adolescents in Samoa in the Western Pacific - she couldn't speak the language, was unable to spot that the girls she interviewed had deliberately misled her.

5. The Social desirability effect - give answers to be favoured. Give any answer rather than none.

6.Ethical Issues - under pressure to answer questions. Should gain consent, guaranteed anonymity + make it clear that they have the right not to answer any questions they do not wish to.

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Topic 6 - Interviews - Improving the validity of i

Improving Validity

  • create techniques to reduce chance of interviewees making up answers or telling lies.
  • special skills needed
  • may need to be ethnically or language matched.
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Topic 6 - Interviews - METHODS IN CONTEXT

Practical issues- young peoples linguistic and language skills are less developed than that of adults. Young interviewees may:
- be more reluctant to talk
have shortened attention or memory span
- not understand long, complex sentences or some abstract concepts
- have more limited vocab and use words incorrectly
- read body language different from adults
^^ may mean unstructured is needed as the interviewer can explain the question. Children may have difficulty in keeping to the point. Information needs to be more thorough which adds to the cost of the research. Interviews may be more successful with children as they have more verbal than literacy skills.

Reliability - structured -  they are carried out in exactly the same way with the same questions, same order, same tone. However they may not produce valid data as children are unlikely to respond in a formal style. Di Bentley (1987) produced a 'jokey' picture of her and her daughter fooling around this maintained a calm atmosphere aswell as her showing listening behaviours such as nodding, smiling etc. However this is a very personal interviewing style and cannot be replicated easily.

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Topic 6 - Interviews - METHODS IN CONTEXT (Cont..)

Access and response rate - sociologists status in the heirarchy may affect the response rate as they would have to gain a number of people's consent. Schools may be reluctant to allow sociologists to conduct interviews during lessons (they may object the topic or because it will disrupt a lesson) Parental permission would be needed. Study of sex and health education in schools was refused by 29% mainly because of parents withholding consent.

The Interviewer as 'teacher in disguise' - power and status can affect the outcome of an interview. If interviewees may exaggerate, lie or conceal information to please the interviewer. Could become less self-confident. Children may see adults as authority figures and could see them as 'a teacher in disguise'. Children may give untrue but socially acceptable answers to show them in a favourable light (homework hours). Adults 'knowing better'.

Improving the validity of interviews with pupils - may not give a true picture of childrens behaviours and attitudes. To improve validity of interviews with young pupils, sociologists should:
- use open-ended questions and do not interrupt any answers
- tolerate long pauses to allow thinking time
- avoid leading questions as children are more suggestible
- avoid repeating questions

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Topic 6 - Interviews - METHODS IN CONTEXT (Cont..)

Group Interviews

- pupils may be influenced by peer pressure -reducing validity
- confirm to peer expectations rather than what they really think
- peer support reduces power imbalance

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Topic 7 - Participant Observation - Types of Obser

·     Non- Participant Observation: The researcher observes the situation without taking part. (e.g two- way mirror)
·    Participant Observation: The researcher takes part as well as observing

·    Overt Observation –  Sociologist is open about who they are and their purpose. 
·    Covert – Sociologist's identity is private and they take on a false identity to cover up their true image.

William Whyte did an observation of ‘Street Corner Society’ (Semi overt – partly open). He told the key member of the observation but no one else

Most observations are unstructured participant observation. Some observations are structured non- participant observation

Sometimes observation is used with other methods. For example, if a sociologist is conducting an interview, they may observe interviewee’s body language in order to see if they are telling the truth or not.

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Topic 7 - Participant Observation - Conducting a p

Sociologists should consider two issues before conducting research, firstly- getting in, staying there and getting out and secondly, whether to use covert or overt observation.

Getting in
Making an entry to the group (some easier than others)

Making conduct – personal skills, having the right connections or even pure chance. (E.g- James Patrick- he conducted an observation of a gang and became closer to the group as he had taught one of the members in approved school)

Acceptance– the researcher will have to gain their trust and acceptance. (E.g – Making friends with a key individual)

Observers Role- What should the researcher adopt – Ideally – be one that does not disrupt the groups normal patterns and offer a good vantage point from which to make observations.

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Topic 7 - Participant Observation - Conducting a p

Staying in
The researcher must be involved enough so they can gather observations from the group and also remain detached, objective and unbiased.

Going Native-
1.     The researcher must not become biased. When this happens they must stop being an objective observer as they would have become a member of the group.

2.     This could be conceived in a different way and the researcher may do the opposite and become too detached and they don’t understand the events they observe.

3.     They could become so involved with the group they are studying that the key things they are trying to observe become less apparent to them.

Getting Out
This usually prevents further problems than getting in or staying in. The researcher can call a halt and leave immediately.This can be difficult as well as re- entering normal life. This could cause harm to the sociologist and these effects may affect the validity of the observation.

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Participant Observation - Overt Observation

Overt Observation
·     Avoids ethical problems of obtaining information by deceit.
·     allows researcher to ask naïve questions that only an outsider could ask.
·     observer takes notes openly
·     allows researcher to use interview methods to check insights gained from observations.

·    group may not want to be observed and may prevent soc. from seeing everything.
·    could create Hawthorne effect (if people know they are being studied attitudes may change) - invalidity


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Topic 7 - Participant Observation - Covert Observa

Covert Observation
Practical Issues
· reduces risk of people changing their behaviour equalling in valid information

Practical Problems
· researcher keeps up an act and may need detailed knowledge of the groups way of life before joining.
· The researcher’s cover may be ‘blown’ which may lead to physical harm to them. (E.g James Patrick was almost found out when he fastened the middle button of his jacket rather than than the first. –things the group would never do)

· sociologist cannot take notes so relies on memory
· The researcher cannot ask naïve but important questions or combine observation with other methods.
· It is immoral to deceive people by obtaining information by being their friend or‘ being in the same boat’
· Researcher has to reveal the purpose and consent of the study to which the findings will be put.
· observers may have to lie about their reasons for leaving the group. Others such as Patrick just leave from the group without explanation.
· They may have to participate in immoral or illegal activities as part of their ‘cover’ role.
· They may have to legally intervene and or report them to the police.

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Topic 7 - Participant Observation - Advantages

1. Validity- what people say and do in real life might not always be the same thing. You obtain a source of qualitative information which provides a picture of how they really live.

2. Insight- seeing something for ourselves which Sociologists call subjective understanding ‘verstehen’
Participant Observation allows the researcher to gain empathy through personal experience. Gaining an insight of their way of life, meanings and view points, values and problems.

3. Flexibility –
Surveys - starting research with a hypothesis and pre-set questions. Sociologist and Subject may have different views of what is important.
Participant Observation- more flexible. It allows the sociologist to enter situation with open mind. It allows new explanations to be encountered.

4. Practical Advantages-
· Researchers who come with questionnaires could be 'the unwelcome representatives of authority'. It has been proved successful in studying gangs, football hooligans, thieves, drug users,religious sects etc
· Participant Observation can be used where questioning would be ineffective. The only way to get at assumptions would be to observe the police in their work.

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Topic 7 - Participant Observation - Disadvantages

Disadvantages of Participant Observation
1.     Practical disadvantages-
·   time consuming
·  training needed to recognise aspects of situations that are sociologically important.
·   personally stressful and demanding, especially if covert.
·   requires observational and interpersonal skills
·   Personal characteristics such as age, gender or ethnicity may restrict what kinds of groups can be studied.
·   Some groups may not want to be studied, and some have the power to make access difficult.

2.     Ethical Problems- Deceiving people in order to obtain information

3. Representativeness-
·Sociologists who use quantative data (large scale info)- uses samples to help make generalisations
·Others using methods such as participant observation studies a sample that is selected haphazardly. This is based on chance – e.g an observation of someone who by chance becomes a key informant. – does not provide sound generalisations.

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Topic 7 - Participant Observation - Disadvantages

4. Reliability
·  If replicated, exact results will show
· Information has to be standardised e.g if a researcher was to redo an observation or interview, the same questions
must be asked.

5. Bias and lack of objectivity
· Participant observation-‘Going native’ – end up going one way
- the sociologist could reveal ‘sensitive’ information

6. Validity - 
- Interpretivists - Participant Observation is valid – form of ‘verstehen’
Positivists -
 reject – Participant Observation is invalid – provides biased impressions of the researcher
Rather than ‘telling us how it is’ we simply see if from the researcher’s point of view.
Researcher choses what is appropriate to record. These are influenced by prejudices/views.
-Hawthorne Effect - presence of the observer may cause the subjects act differently.


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Topic 7 - Participant Observation - Disadvantages

7.Lack of a concept of structure-
·Participant observation - face to face interactions
·Marxists and Functionalists
does not have a structure
-focuses too much on the smaller scale rather than the bigger picture that shapes our behaviour e.g class inequality and norms and values into which we are socialised.
·Structuralist- seeing things through the actors eyes will never give us the complete picture.

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Topic 7 - Participant Observation - METHODS IN CON

Classroom interaction issues: (investigating the attitudes and values of teachers and pupils)

·     Gender and classroom behaviour

·      Teacher expectations and labelling

·    Language codes in the classroom

·     Pupil subcultures

·     Racism

·     The hidden Curriculum

Types of Observation

Highly structured methods using pre-categorised observational schedules- positivists agree- identify quantitative measurements or behaviour patterns (Attitudes and Values). (usually non- participant).

Less structured, more open ended and flexible methods – interpretivists- understand meanings held by teachers and pupils (participant or non- participant)

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Topic 7 - Participant Observation - METHODS IN CON

Structured observational methods
Practical Issues
Positivists- Flanders system of interaction analysis categories (FIAC)- measuring pupil-pupil and pupil- teacherinteraction quantitatively. Uses standard chart to record intervals and three- second intervals, placing each observation in one of ten pre-defined behaviour categories.

Observations can be easily transferred into quantitative data.
FIAC - Cheap, quicker, less training and less structured methods.

Likely to be easily replicated
- Generates quantitative data which makes the findings easy to compare with those of other studies.


Interpretivists criticise structured observation of classroom interaction for its lack of validity. It is seen to ignore the meanings that pupils and teachers attach to it.

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Topic 7 - Participant Observation - METHODS IN CON

Practical Issues
·     Schools are complex and time consuming to observe
·     easier to gain permission to observe
·     Gender, age and ethnicity affect the process of observation
·     Observation of interactions in school settings is limited by the restrictions of the school timetable, holidays, control over access, health and safety legislation and so on.
·     Schools may be too busy and may be difficult to find private places to record information
·     Hammersley- noting down from staffroom conversations had do be done covertly and hurried in one case on the back of his newspaper. He tried to jot down notes from the conversations that he had overheard when he left the room.

Ethical Issues
·     Covert approach may not be appropriate (greater vulnerability and ability to give informed consent)
·     Every observer in a school learns things that could get pupils into trouble. What to do with this ‘Guilty Knowledge’ may become an ethical problem
·     Image is imp. to the success of a school so pupil + teachers have to protect their identity.

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Topic 7 - Participant Observation - METHODS IN CON

· Interpretivists, main strength of observation (esp participant) is its validity. It gives an authentic understanding of the world- views of social actors.
· Differences in power between young and adult undercovers real attitudes which could show they are presenting a false image proving that results are invalid.
· childs meanings may be misunderstood if researcher can't understand language

The Hawthorne Effect
·     Few cover roles as age gap between pupil and researcher is significantly large and therefore the observer stands out.
·     Ronald Kind (1984)- spent short periods of time in the classroom to blend into the background of an infant school in order for the children to become familiar with his presence. Avoided eye contact and disregarded help. – showing the difficulties with reducing the effect of their presence on pupils behaviour.

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Topic 7 - Participant Observation - METHODS IN CON

·     4,000 secondary, 30,000 primary in England and Wales, 350 Colleges, 70 classes taking place at any one time
·      Observational studies take place in a single school focussing on a small number at a time
·     Willis (1997)- studied 12 boys – shows how it takes time to become familiar with the setting, gain the trust of the teachers and pupils and carry out the actual observations.
·     Hammersley-
collected data from school staff room and classroom. Staffroom observation was more open than classroom due to the range of contact among teachers, many treated him with suspicion. He associated most with a small group of teachers of which he had most in common making his results less representative.

·     Participant observation lacks reliability. Data recording is unsystematic and hard to replicate. E.gHammersley- writing notes on the back of a newspaper – e.g of an observation done covertly.

·     Age, gender and ethnicity, mean that pupils may react differently to different researchers. E.gWright­ (black female researcher) – was met with hostility by some white teachers, but readily accepted by black pupils.

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Zai Has

This is amazing!


really helped, great last min revision x

Fyzah :p

This is so amazing ^_^

Thank you so much :)

((Don't know why this resource doesn't have a 5 star rating, cos it's brilliant :D))


Everything you need is right there

Zayn Carlson

This is awesome :)

Isabella Swan .. Edward Cullen ***

great notes! :) omg hi zain carlson :)

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