Methods

Sociological Methods

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  • Created by: Natalie
  • Created on: 24-01-12 20:06

Experiments

Strengths:

  • Highly controlled

Weaknesses:

  • Impossible to recreate normal life
  • Ethical problems
  • Possibility of the experimenter effect

Examples:

  • Zimbardo Studied the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or prison guard. Students were selected play the prisoners and live in a mock prison in the basement of the Stanford psychology building. Roles were assigned randomly. The participants adapted to their roles well beyond what even Zimbardo himself expected and some ‘officers’ used torture. The experiment was stopped after just 6 days.
  • Rosenthal & Jacobson – Studied the labelling theory and self-fulfilling prophecy in a classroom.

 

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Survey

Strengths:

  • Large scale
  • Cheaper than a full census
  • Relatively easy to do

Weaknesses:

  • May have a low validity
  • Results depend on subjects motivation, honesty memory & ability

Examples:

  • British Crime Survey
  • British Cohort Study

 

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Questionnaires

Strengths:

  • Closed + Postal – quick and easy for respondents to tick boxes
  • Closed – quick and easy for researchers to  code and record responses.
  • Open – Allows the respondent to expand on their answer and include feelings
  • Open (Not Postal) – the researcher can explain the question to the respondent. 

Weaknesses:

  • Closed + Postal – May have a low response rate which can stop the research being representative
  • Closed – Not all respondents will interpret the question & answers in the same way.
  • Closed – New issues cannot be raised.
  • Closed – For some people none of their pre-defined answers will match their views.

Examples:

  • Willmott & Young - Wanted to interact and understand a post war community, to determine its aspirations, worries, doubts and insecurities
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Interviews

Strengths:

  • Structured – Easier for the researcher to compare and evaluate candidates fairly.
  • Structured – maintains focus on a given issue
  • Unstructured – the researcher can find out important information which did not seen relevant before the interview and then question the participant on this topic.
  • Unstructured – more suitable for sensitive subjects such as domestic  violence.

Weaknesses:

  • Structured – concepts unrelated to the interviews focus may not be found even if they may help the research
  • Unstructured – Can be time consuming as conversation can go on and on. 
  • Interviewer effect (where the participants response is effected by the presence of the researcher due to factors such as race.
  • Interviews are often small scale so it is hard to generalise the results.

Examples:

  • Willmott & Young - Four stages of the family
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Observations

Strengths:

  • Participant – allows the researcher to fully experience the group which can lead to completely new ideas or insights.
  • Participant – individuals may feel able to confide in the researcher on issues that would normally remain hidden.
  • Participant – can understand how changes in attitudes and behaviour take place over time.
  • Participant – can research groups that it is not normally possible to obtain research on
  • Non-Participant – Researcher is less likely to be drawn into the group so results are less likely to be biased.
  • Non-Participant – Researcher is not influencing the group’s decisions
  • Overt – researcher may be in the position of trusted outsider (non-participant)
  • Overt – researcher can play an open, clear + honest role which helps to minimise ethical dilemmas
  • Overt – researcher can supplement their observation with other methods such as interviews.
  • Covert – researchers can enter forbidden areas, be fully trusted and accepted which can generate a real sense of understanding.
  • Covert – the group will continue to act normally

CONT.

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Observation (2)

Weaknesses:

  • Participant – observer can be drawn into the group and start to be biased towards the groups views.
  • Participant – if studying a deviant group the researcher may be drawn into their activities.
  • Participant – The research cannot be repeated so lacks reliability
  • Participant – researchers normally study small groups that aren’t typical of the population
  • Participant – most are concerned with the least powerful groups in society.
  • Non-Participant – may limit understanding as the researcher is on the outside of the group
  • Overt – Hawthorne effect
  • Overt – in many situations only a trusted insider will be let in on secrets 
  • Covert – if the researchers role is uncovered then  they may be placed in danger.
  • Covert – it could be considered wrong to study a group without telling them

CONT.

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Observations (3)

Examples:

  • Patrick – (Covert) Joined a gang in Glasgow but left when he felt too threatened
  • Willis - Studied working class lads through their last few months of school and first few months of work
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Official Statistics

Strengths:

  • Free, quick and can have large samples

  • Anonymous
  • Good for issues where government collects data
  • Can be repeated

Weaknesses:

  • Only collected on topics the government are interested in
  • May not be accurate/valid
  • Some data may be omitted to make the government look better
  • Cannot compare if the law changes
  • Interpretivists disagree with the methods used to collect the original data (quantitative)

Examples:

  • Durkheim – Studied suicide using statistics
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Published sociological research

Strengths:

  • Less time consuming and cheaper
  • Can be used as a basis for new research
  • Allows the sociologists to make alternative and new interpretations
  • Allows the sociologist to make comparisons

Weaknesses:

  • The original research could be open to bias
  • The original research could be unreliable
  • The original research could be unrepresentative
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Content Analysis

Strengths:

  • Content analysis is a clear, inexpensive research method. It is unobtrusive, and it doesn't require contact with people.
  • Establishing reliability is easy and straightforward.

Weaknesses:

  • Content analysis is a purely descriptive method. It describes what is there, but may not reveal the underlying motives for the observed pattern
  • The analysis is limited by availability of material. Observed trends in media may not be an accurate reflection of reality 
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Life Documents

Strengths:

  • Historical documents can be used for comparative purposes – comparing and contrasting differences between past and present.
  • The researcher gets access to a large amount of information that would cost a huge amount of time, money and effort to collect personally.
  • Documents can provide qualitative data of great depth and detail. For example, diaries provide extensive details about people and their daily lives.
  • Documents can provide secondary data in situations where it is not possible to collect primary data, i.e. about things that happened in the past.

Weaknesses:

  • Documents may be incomplete, inaccurate or reflect personal biases.
  • Documents can be forged and we would need to know whether the document is the original or a copy
  • It is not always easy to ensure that secondary data is reliable, authentic or representative
  • We don’t always know who created the document or why, so we can’t always be sure that the document is a credible source.
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Historical Sources

Strengths:

  • Historical documents can be used for comparative purposes – comparing and contrasting differences between past and present.
  • Documents can provide secondary data in situations where it is not possible to collect primary data, i.e. about things that happened in the past.

Weaknesses:

  • It is not always easy to ensure that secondary data is reliable, authentic or representative
  • We don’t always know who created the document or why, so we can’t always be sure that the document is a credible source.

Examples:

  • Laslett – Used Parish records to research the family.
  • Anderson – Used census statistics to research the family.
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