RESEARCH METHODS

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THEORETICAL ISSUES

POSITIVIST VIEWS:

  • Sociology should be studied as a science.
  • Using quantitative methods we can find correlations and statistics about society.
  • Can find laws of behaviour that are all the same over the world.
  • METHODS: Experiments and Questionnaires.

INTERPRETIVIST VIEWS:

  • Sociology should focus on individuals and their experiences.
  • Using Qualitative mthods we can find out the meanings behind behaviour.
  • METHODS: Interviews and Focus groups.
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SAMPLING

Research Population: The group that you are hoping to generalise your results to. Sampling Frame: Sources that you draw your sample from e.g class register, names from electoral role.
RANDOM -
Every member of the target population must have an equal chance of being selected.

QUASI-RANDOM - Selecting participants at fixed intervals from the target population.

STRATIFIED - divide the population up into relevant characteristics and take the correct % randomly.

QUOTA - Researcher goes out to look for the right amount of people.

OPPORTUNITY - Uses anyone one from the target population who is available at the time.

SNOWBALL - You find one member of the sample who then puts you in contact with another member and so until you have enough people in your sample.

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P.E.T of using Questionnaires

Practical:

  • Quick and Cheap. +
  • Cannot be certain that the questionnaire was recieved or completed by the intended recipent. -
  • Inflexible - Interpretivist. -

Ethical:

  • Parental consent is required before administering questionnaires to children. -
  • Pose few ethical problems as questions are often about less sensitive , routine, factual topics. +

Theoretical:

  • Questionnaires are representative because they are large scale and use representative samples - positivists like. +

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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RESEARCHING EDUCATION

Parents -

  • Parents may influenece what goes on in education both by the way they bring up their children and by the involvement in school through parent teacher contatcs.
  • More difficult to research and contact.
  • Some parents may be more willing to participate.

Pupils -

  • Power and Status - children have less power and status to adults - hard to state their views openly.
  • Ability - pupils vocabulary, powers of self expression, thinking skills and confidence are more liekly to be limited compared to adults.
  • Vunerability and Ethical Issues - more vunerable to psychological andf physical harm also require alot more time to understand questions.
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RESEARCHING EDUCATION

Classrooms -

  • closed, highly controlled setting.
  • pupils more sensitive to peer pressure.
  • clear boundaries and restrictions on access and behviour.

Schools -

  • teachers may see rearchers as teachers and pupils may see them as inspectors.
  • headteachers can refuse access to researchers.
  • schools operate to a daily and yearly timetable which may affect when the researcher can carry out the research.

Teachers -

  • nature of the classroom reinforces power of the teacher.
  • often overworked so interviews may be cut short and be very brief.
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Labortatry Experiments in Education

Comparitive Method: A natural occuring independant variable.

Harvey and Slatin -

Examined whether teachers had preconcieved ideas about pupils and different social classes.

Sample of 96 teachers - each teacher was shown photograophs of children from different social class backgrounds and the photographs were equally divided in terms of gender and ethnicity. Teachers were asked to rate the children on their performance, parental attitudes to education and aspirations. They found that the lower classes were rated less favourably , especially by more experienced teachers as teachers tended to base their ratings on the similarities they percieved between the children in the photographs and pupils they had taught before. Indicates that teachers label pupils from different social classes.

Limitations - Artificial.

 

 

 

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POSITIVISTS AND INTERPRETIVISTS

Positivism - The belief that sociology can be studied using scientific methods e.g.experiments and questionnaires - using closed questions ( Structured interview) If a method is repeated a number of times then reliable results can be achieved - RELIABILITY (CONSISTENCY).

Interpretivism -  The belief that sociology is not as science as it is impossible to study humans in a scientific way. Sociologists are viased in the interpretation and therefore, objectivity cannot be achieved. Interpretivists aim to study individual interpretations of the social world by using methods such as unstructered interviewsa and participant observation - Verstehen (understanding).

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STRENGTHS AND LIMITATIONS - STRUCTURED INTERVIEWS

(asking people a set of prepared questions)  

YOUNG&WILMOTT- extended family life.

  • Positivists- :)
  • Interpretivists - :(

STRENGTHS:

  • Positivists repeat to get more validity .
  • Can cover a large number of people quickly.
  • Results are easily quantified.
  • Interviews do not need much training.

LIMITATIONS:

  • Closed ended questions with pre-coded answers.
  • Cannot deviate from the questions to let participants elaborate.

 

 

 

 

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STRENGTHS AND LIMITATIONS - UNSTRUCTURED INTERVIEW

WILLIAM-FOOTE-WHYTE - street corner society

  • Positivists - :)
  • Interpretivists - :(

STRENGTHS:

  • Interpretivists - allows the interviewers to talk about the things that they think are the most important.
  • Can check interviewees understanding.
  • Higher flexibility.
  • More data collected.
  • Can explore unfimiliar topics.

LIMITATIONS:

  • Easy to go off topic.
  • Smaller numbers involved - not representative.
  • Lacks validity.
  • Take a long time to conduct.

 

 

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STRENGTHS AND LIMITATIONS - SEMI-STRUCTURED INTERV

Researcher places a set of topics to base questions on but they can still deviate from the questions so the participant can elaborate in their own words.

JOHNATHAN SMITH - experiences of single parnets.

  • Positivists - :( & :)
  • Interpretivists - :(

STRENGTHS:

  • Flexibility.
  • Can see which topic is most important to them as they can guide the questions.

LIMITATIONS:

  • Can easily go off topic.

 

 

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STRENGTHS AND LIMITATIONS - GROUP INTERVIEWS

Interviews done in a group situation.

WILLIS - macho lads.

  • Positivists - :(
  • Interpretivists - :)

Homogeneous - same/similar

Heterogeneous - different

STRENGTHS:

  • Other people can bring up new topics to be spoken about.

LIMITATIONS:

  • Social desirability
  • Need training
  • Takes time for other people to answer questions.
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STUDIES - LAUD HUMPHREYS

TEA ROOM STUDY:

Stationed himslef in 'tea rooms' and offered to serve as 'watch queen' - the person who keeps watch and coughs if a police car stops near by or when a stranger approached. He played the role faithfully and watched hundreds of acts of ********. He was able to gain the confidence to speak to some of the men he observed, disclaimed himself as scientist, and persuaded them to tell him about the rest of their lives and baout their motives. Those who spoke to them tended to be the better educated members of the 'tea room trade'. To avoid bias humphreys secretly followed some of the men he observed and recorded the liscense numbers of their cars.

FINDINGS - 54% of the men were married, 38% werent homosexual or bisexual but catholic or their wives were and of the other 62%, 24% were clearly bisexual, 24% were single and covert homosexuals and the last 14% were actually homosexual.

ETHICAL ISSUES - deception - not actually a 'watch queen', never got informed consent and he did not protect the participants as he told the police about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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STUDIES - JAMES PATRICK

Obtained entry into a Maryhill area Glaswegian gang for 4 months, joining in 12 times. Tim, a gang member, from an approved school got him into the gang and given Tim's priveleged position and knowledge Tim was able to protect the researcher. Tim became important when one member of the gang noticed that James Patrick did not want to carry a weapon and could give no other impression but hold back in fights. He then left the gang when the violence became too much and felt threatened by them.

Findings - relate to social conditions that lead to such a gang forming and becoming so intense in their behaviour, and that a core activity of the group was to put themselves into conflict situations, where they may well have to fight but in most cases fighting did not happen.

Ethical issues - put himself in danger, decieved participants and got no informed consent.

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THE USE OF OBSERVATION

  • Non-Participant - The researcher simply observes the group or event without actually taking part in it.
  • Participant - The researcher actually takes part in the event or the veryday life of the group while observing it.
  • Overt - The researcher makes their true identity and purpose known to those being studied, they open up about what they are doing.
  • Covert - Study carried out 'under cover'. The researchers real identity and purpose are kept concealed from the group being studied. Researcher takes on a false idnetity and role, posing as a genuine member of the group.

Positivists prefer structured, non-participant observation.

Interpretivists prefer unstructured, participant observation.

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P.E.T. OF OBSERVATIONS

UNSRTUCTURED -

Practical:

  • Alot of training needed.
  • Long.
  • May cost alot of money.
  • Can be easily converted into qualititative data.

Ethical:

  • Extra care needed to protect the childrens identity.
  • Children have a limited liability to give informed consent (has to be unstructured or overt)

Theoretical:

  • Lacks reliability.
  • Validity.

 

 

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P.E.T. OF OBSERVATIONS

STRUCTURED:

Practical:

  • Quick and cheap.
  • Can't get too involved.
  • Doesn't require alot of training.
  • Can easily be turned into quantitative data.

Ethical:

  • Allows for more informed consent as the categories can be approved in advance.

Theoretical:

  • Reliable.
  • Lacks validity.
  • Generates quantitative data which makes the findingd easy to compare with other studies.

 

 

 

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P.E.T. OF OBSERVATIONS

PARTICIPANT:

Practical:

  • Could get too involved.
  • Can easily gain the groups trust.
  • Time consuming (longitudinal study)
  • Personal characteristics - age, gender or ethnicity can restrict what kind of groups to study.

Ethical:

  • Deception - (participants dont know their in the study)
  • May participate in illegal or immoral activities.

Theoretical:

  • Validity.
  • Verstehen.
  • Bias.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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P.E.T. OF OBSERVATIONS

NON PARTICIPANT:

Practical:

  • Some topics you just cant gain access too - e.g.criminals

Ethical:

  • Informed consent.
  • Brief and debrief them.
  • Must protect participants.

Theoretical:

  • Less validity.

 

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P.E.T. OF OBSERVATIONS

OVERT:

Practical:

  • Avoids a lot of ethical issues.
  • Oserver can take notes openly.
  • Observer can ask questions that only an outsider could ask.
  • A group may refuse the researchers permission to observe them.

Ethcial:

  • Children have a limited ability to give informed consent ( has to be unstructered or overt)

Theoretical:

  • Risks creating the Hawthorne effect which reduces validity.

 

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P.E.T. OF OBSERVATIONS

COVERT:

Practical:

  • Reduces the risk of altering pupils behaviour.
  • Researcher must keep up an act.

Ethical:

  • Deception.
  • Not an appropriate wya to study young pupils.
  • May participate in illegal or immoral activities.
  • May or legal duty to intervene in such activities and may have to report to the police.

Theoretical:

  • More validity.

 

 

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SECONDARY SOURCES

Offical Statistics -

  • 'Hard' statistics - simple counts that register events such as births and deaths, these are not easily manipulated - (if someone goes missing and not found within 10 years they are legally pronounced dead)
  • 'Soft' statistics - These are more easily manipulated - e.g. crime statistics.

CRIME STATISTICS:

  • Crime is comitted.
  • Observed by witnesses or victims.
  • Crime is reported to the police.
  • Police record the crime.
  • Police investigate.
  • Police arrest suspect.
  • Suspect is charged with the crime.
  • Suspect appears in court, if found guilty, offender and crime are counted in official crime statistics.

 

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STRENGTHS AND LIMITATIONS OF CRIME STATISTICS

STRENGTHS

  • They reveal patterns of prosecution and show the priorities of police and the CPS in terms of the types of crimes successfully prosecuted.

LIMITATIONS:

  • Low reliability - not all crimes reported, recorded, investigated and prosecuted.
  • Police may not bwe able to arrest someone so give up.

 

 

 

 

 

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SUICIDE STATISTICS

Interpretivism - Maxwell Atkinson - regarded official statistics as lacking validity. Statistics are socially constructed. Suicide statistics do not represent the 'real rate' of suicides that have actually taken place but merely the total number of decisions made by the coroners to label some deaths as suicides. Atkinson uses qualitative methods such as observing the proceedings of coroner's courts to discover how coroners reach their decisions to label some deaths as suicides and so on.

Positivism - Emile Durkheim - put forward the hypothesis that suicide is caused by a lack of social integration and arued that protestant and catholic religions differ in how well they integrate individuals into society.

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USING OFFICAL STATISTICS TO INVESTIGATE EDUCATION

Types - educational achievement - gender, class and ethnicity

School census -3 times a year - free school meals, ethnicity, gender, attendance, subjects studied.

League , Truancy Rates

Main Issues: 

  • Practical - cheap, easy to get hold of, written in a way the government wants it to be seen - doesnt always fit what the sociologist wants, ready made, collected on a large scale.
  • Reliability - positivists favour official statistics.
  • Validity - In regard to truancy rates schools might not always report everything/truancy so they dont look bad. Not true statatistics. School census - very valid.
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HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS

SCOTTS FOUR CRITERIA

1. AUTHENTICITY: is it what it claims to be?

2. CREDIBILITY: is it believeable?

3. REPRESENTATIVENESS: can it be generalised?

4. MEANING


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USING DOCUMENTS IN SOCIOLOGICAL RESEARCH

FAMILIES/ MEDIA/ CRIME/ SUICIDE:

  • Aries - paintings of children and childhood
  • Adverts about domestic roles
  • Soap operas, tv programmes, documentaries, films, books, magazines
  • Shopping lists, cookery books, diaries, family photos, family tree
  • census
  • CCTV
  • Government policies
  • Official statistics
  • Parish records

EDUCATION:

  • Official statistics
  • School website
  • School and ofsted reports
  • Grafitti on desks and school buildings
  • Childrens notes passed in class
  • Diaries 
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+ and - OF USING DOCUMENTS IN SOCIOLOGICAL RESEARC

ADVANTAGES:

  • Cheap and relatively available through libraries/record offices
  • Saves time
  • Good qualitative data
  • Documents offer an extra check on the results obtained by primary methods
  • Only source of information - for the past
  • Personal documents such as letters and diaries enable the researcher to get close to the social actors reality

DISADVANTAGES:

  • Biased
  • Authenticity
  • Credibility
  • Not all documents survive - ruined/lost
  • May not be able to access them
  • Representativeness
  • Do we know what the document means? - misinterpretation
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CONTENT ANALYSIS + CASE STUDIES

CA - Inter-rater reliability - vote

CS- an approach to methodology

  • Detailed study of an individual, group, organisation or event/phenomenom.

EG - 

  • Elizabeth Burn - studied jenny, an inner-city primary school teacher from a working class background.
  • Peter Townsends - national survey of poverty.

TRIANGULATION: using more than one method of data type e.g combining interviews with observations.

+ = provide a detailed insight into a gorup, individual etc.

- = difficult to generalise from and case studies examine one or at most a few cases so they cannot claim to be representative or typical.

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LIFE HISTORIES

  • Life histories are used by interpretivists, either produced by the person themselves or the researcher uses semi-sructured or unstructured.

EG - 

  • Mann collected the educational life histories of 60 female sixthformers.

+

  • Adds a historical dimension to our understanding of individual social sources.
  • Rich source of insight into both a person's individual experiences, presented from their own point of view and into wider social forces that affects their lives.

-

  • Time consuming
  • Labour intensive
  • Difficult to represent
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LONGITUDINAL STUDIES

METHODOLOGICAL PLURALISM - more than one method.

  • Studying the same group of people at more than one point in time e.g. child of our time - Winston

National Child Development Study - 1958 - study of a group of people born in the same week in 1958 - ONGOING - every year they are snet a new survey.

7UP project - started in 1964 - follows a group of people who were 7 in 1964 and are studied every 7 years.

- = participant attrition, costly, hawthorne effect, problems keeping track of the sample.

+ = can identify causes by making comparisons.

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