G674; question 1 and 2 (methods)

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Positivism and Social Facts

Comte: The scientific study of society should be about collecting information about phenomena that can be objectively obseved and classified. Mental states only exist in a persons consciousness, so cannot be observed.

Durkheim: Social facts should be considered as 'things'; i.e. belief systems, customs and institutions.

Comte and Durkheim believed real laws of human behaviour can be observed.

It is diffucult to use lab experiments in sociology so sociologists such as Sissons and Brown and Gay have used field experiments.

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Advocate qualitative data; presented in words, in depth, meanings and attitutes, richer, more vital

The interpretation of Social action is the basis of sociology. This can only be understood by interpretating meanings and motives on which it is based.

Matter has no consciouness so its behaviour can be explained simply as a reaction to stimuli. However people see and experience the world around the, in terms of meanings, actively constructin their own social reality. It is the sociologists job to try to understand the interpretation given by the subjects of the investigation. (Weber called this Verstehen)

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KEY STUDY: Fran Abrahms

  • Fully participant observational study
  • three different jobs in three parts of the country (scotland, london and Doncaster)
  • Four weeks in each location attempting to live on the minimum wage.
  • minimum wage was below the poverty line
  • Companies took stoppages for essential items
  • Abrahms found herself to have spent over her income
  • the work was boring and demeaning
  • It was easy to find work on the minimum wage.
  • The landlords were conspicuously wealthy
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  • Aims to further understanding of social and economic change at the individual and household level in Britain and the UK
  • Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council
  • total of 23 years of data have been collected
  • Follows the same representative sampl
  • Houselhold based, interviewing every adult member of sampled households
  • 10,000 households
  • 20,000 individuals
  • Drawn from postcode address file
  • response rate 70%
  • Same individuals interviewed each year, if they spli off to form new households they were followed up.
  • children 11-15 complete a short interview
  • Highly quantitative, precoded answers.
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Feminist Methodology

  • Number of criticisms of criminology (Abbot and Wallace) ; mainly concerned on research of men, research findings based on all male samples and generalised to women, areas of concern for women overlooked, presented stereotypically.
  • Oakley: There is a feminisit way of constructing interviews that is superior to a more dominant, masculine model. The paradigm of a 'proper' intreview - objectivity, detachment, hierarchy "science". Interviewee must have passive role - seen as an object/source of data, minimum rapport, emphasis on reliable data.
  • Feminist alternative: Women wanted to ask questions in Oakleys research, she made it collaborative, non hierarchical, non exploitative, gave them help with housework/childcare in order to give something back. She believed it improved the quality of her research. allowed her to get closer to the womens subjective viewpoints. 3/4 of women had been affected by research.
  • DeVault: feminist research shuld minimize harm and try to improve their lives. However by advising and counscelling women she may have affected their opinions.
  • oakley: quantitative methods give sociologists better access to funding and influence on policy.
  • Pawson:It is natural for women to do the housework and for men to be dominant. sometimes however much feminists try to convince women to see differently, they may stick to patriarchal ideologies.
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  • Feminist sociology
  • Ethnographic study of working class women
  • Longitudinal study - 12 years, 3 years of full time participant observation
  • 83 white women from the north west of england
  • skeggs supported research with biographies, information about local economy, interviews with women, partners, friends and teachers.
  • low class position often means exclusion
  • many women rejected working class identity and desired to be respected.
  • working class seen as dangerous and threatening.
  • many saw themselves as educational failures.
  • desire for to reject working class status focused on self improvement and bodies.
  • Furnishings and homes attempted to emulate middle class taste
  • although they rejected class it was central to their lives
  • fear of being a tart
  • rejected feminism as not relevant to their lives. misunderstood the nature of feminism, equated with anti pornographhy and lesbianism
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  • Overt particpant observation by working with builders
  • 32 open ended recorded interviews
  • Informal concersation
  • men age 16-29, divese range of ethnicities
  • did not see themselves as working class but saw their lives as having limited choices.
  • little economic or educational capital
  • acted in ways which exaggerated physicality
  • used body to gain money, settle disputes and gain status
  • heirarchical language to distinguish from one another
  • ethnic groups centred on certain jobs.
  • competed for limited resources
  • most wanted to move up the social class system
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Case studies

Detailed examination of a single example of something, such as a single institution, community or social group, person, event.

Becker: can be used to generate more general theoretical statements about regularities in social structure and process. Can be used to falsify a general theory about social life.

Typologies: set of categories defining types of social phenomenon.

can be used to generate hypothesis

major drawback: not possible to generalise

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KEY STUDY: Alexander

  • Young asian men are new folk devils
  • Asian gang: young, male working class, or underclass, linked to islamic fundamentalism
  • More of an idea than a fact, has the potential to become a self fulfilling prophecy.
  • Ethnographic researhc, formed a relationship with responents in their own territory
  • interviews as main method, blended into observations, informal conversations
  • Personal ties continued long after research was over.
  • Based on involvement with a youth organisation, aged 16-22 reputation as troublemakers and rebels
  • each interview lasted 1 hour to 5 and a half hours
  • Deputy head at school referred to them as gang and ring leaders when the boys saw no ring leader.
  • respect, loyalty to family
  • avoioded discussion of drug taking and criminality, as to portray them in a positive light.
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KEY STUDY: labour force survey

  • sample taken from most up to date listing of private households.
  • systematic random samply of 650 addresses drawn each quarter.
  • sample is stratified geographically
  • sample size is 120,000 people from a cross section of all households.
  • interviews with every adult member of household, over 16
  • quantitative interviewer led questionnaire
  • Ethnic minorities still concentrated in a narrower range of employment types
  • ethnic minorities have lower average income
  • higher levels of unemployment
  • difference between ethnic minorities is enourmous
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Realist methodology

Research can operate within the logic and methods of natural sciences. natural science operates within a closed system, where it is possible to have hypothesis, predictions and empirical data.

Social science operates in an open system, where causal mechanisms underlie regularities.  These mechanisms are rarely observable and are subject to rapid and unpredictable changes.

social patterns can be explained by identifying causal mechanisms. e.g. social class sytem is the causal mechanism which explains patterns of inequality.

sociologists should use whatever methods necessary to investigate these mechanisms.

sociological research is not and cannot be value free. sociologists should be engages in the systematic collection of evidence which aims to explain the world as objectivly as possible. they frequently used mixed methods/methodological pluralism or triangulation (qualitative and quantitative used to cross check findings. increases confidence in research findings.

quantitative research can facilitate qualitative, and vice versa. It can be used to fill in the gaps, quantitative research can supplement a larger sample, can solve the puzzle.

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KEY STUDY: Joseph Rowntree Foundation

  • Builds on previous research that showed that chinese older people were socially excluded from their community and wider society.
  • Conducted by the university of sheffield
  • enabled chinese older people to influence policy and practise
  • language barrier is main hinderance - getting information, communication, applying for funding
  • 2 years, 8 cities, 207 chinese older people
  • 16 group discussions
  • pilot study, with trial versions of discussions; gain trust, relax them
  • groups adopted different strategies to influence areas of their choice
  • surveys, home visits, data analysis and direct dialogue
  • groups achieved their goals
  • nine focus groups throughout project
  • questionnaire
  • respondant validation
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