Research Methords

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Primary data is information collected by the sociologists themselves for their own purposes e.g. to obtain a first hand picture of a group/society or to test a hypothesis. Social surveys, Participant observation and Experiments. Sociologists can gather precisely the data they need but it can be time-consuming and expensive

Secondary data is information that has been collected/created by someone else for their own purposes but which the sociologist can then use. Official statistics and Documents. It is quick and cheap as its already produced but who produced it may not have been interested in the same questions and so it may not provide exactly the information that you need.

Quantitative data is information in a numerical form e.g. Official stats, opinion polls and market research surveys

Qualitative data gives a feel for what something is like e.g. participant observation and in depth interviews

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Time and Money- large scale surveys may need dozens of interviewers and data-inputting staff but a small scale project with a lone researcher and use of participant observation may be cheaper but take longer. Access to resources- a well known professor will have access to more research funds than a young student

Requirements of Funding Bodies- research institutions, businesses and other organisations that provide funding may require results to be in a particular form e.g. qualititative

Personal Skills and Characteristics- participant observation requires the ability to miv easily with others and have good powers of observation and recall whilst in depth interviews require a rapport

Subject Matter- much harder to study a particular group/subject by one method than another e.g. participant observation of female students by a male researcher or questionnaires for people who cannot read

Research Opportunity- may occur unexpectedly and so may not be possible to use certain methods e.g. Patrick chance to spend time with Glasgow Gang, had to use participant observation otherwise he may have had the opportunity to reseach carefully and have plenty of time to select method

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Moral issues of right and wrong. British Sociological Association

Informed Consent- offered the right to refuse. Told about all aspects of the research so they can make an informed decision. Obtained before and if lengthy, at intervals

Confidentiality and Privacy- keep identity of participants secret, to prevent negative effects. Personal info should be kept confidential

Effects on Research Participants- e.g. police intervention, harm to employment prospects, social exclusion and psychological damage. Try to anticipate and prevent harmful effects

Vulnerable Groups- e.g. age, disability or physical/mental harm and so special care should be taken. Regard issues of child protection, obtain consent of parents and children, providing language they understand

Covert Research- where the researcher's identity and research purpose are hidden from the people being studied, can create ethical issues such as deception and impossible to obtain informed consent

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Questions about what we think society is like and whether we can obtain a truthful, accurate picture of it

Validity- one that produces a true/genuine picture of what something is really like, allows researcher to get closer to the truth. Qualitative- deeper insight

Reliability- replicability- an exact copy, when repeated gives the same results. Quantitative methods

Representativeness- whether or not the people we study are a typical cross-section of the group we are interested in. Can then make generalisations. Large study quantitative surveys.

Methodological Perspective- their view of what society is like and how we should study it. Positivists- prefer quantitative data, seek to discover patterns of behaviour and see sociology as a science.E.g Functionalists and Marxists see society as macro (large scale) structure that shapes our behaviour. Interpretivists prefer qualitative data, seek to understand the social actors meanings and reject the view that sociology is a science. E.g. Interactionalists take a micro level view of society and focus on small scale face-to-face interactions.

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Theoretical Perspective- New Right researcher may study the effects of welfare benefits on the growth of lone parent families and a Feminist researcher may study domestic violence, oppression

Society's Values- as values change so does the focus of research. Rise of feminism led to focus of gender inequality. Environmentalist concerns generated interests in 'green crimes'

Funding Bodies- from an external body e.g. government agencies, charitable organisations and businesses. As they're paying, they determine topic chosen

Practical Factors- e.g. inaccessibility of certain situations restricts topic studied e.g. in global comporations

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Qualitative data gathered by the government or other official bodies, trade unions, businesses and churches e.g. births, deaths, marriages, divorces, exam results, crime, suicide, school exclusions,unemployment and health. Ten yearly census or annual publication of Social Trends. Gov. collects stats to make policies and the Department for Children's Schools and Families and Ofsted use them to monitor the effectiveness of schools/colleges. Done by registration or Official Surveys. Secondary data

Practical- Free sources of huge amounts of quantitative, large scale data saves both time and money. Allow comparisions between groups and can show trends and patterns over time as they're collected at regular intervals. But they may not be on the topic the sociologist is interested in and definitions used may have different meanings which may make comparisions difficult to make.

Representative as they cover large numbers and care is taken with the procedure so you can make generalisations and test hypotheses

Reliable as they are compiled in a standardised way by trained staff following set procedures but errors may be made or information omitted. Hard stats are valid but soft stats aren't as they may not record everything.

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Positivists favour

  • provide reliable data as their standardised catergories and collection techniques are easily replicated
  • they are collected at regular intervals and so show trends in behaviour over time
  • quantitative data, can identify and measure behaviour patterns and establish cause and effect relationships 
  • usually large scale and so are representative

Interpretivists rejects them (particularly soft stats) as social constructs and not social facts. They represent the labels some people give to the behaviour of others. They fail to achieve their main goal of validity

Marxists see them as serving the interests of capitalism

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Public Documents are produced by organisations e.g. gov. departments, schools, welfare agencies, businesses and charities. Ofsted reports, minutes of council meetings, published company accounts, records of parliamentary debates and public enquires.

Private Documents are first person accounts of social events and personal experiences and generally include feelings and attitudes. Diaries, letters, photo albums and autobiographies

Historical Documents are public or personal documents created in the past. Laslett used parish records in study of family structures of pre-industrial Britain

Thomas and Znaniecki- migration of Polish into USA using both letters, autobiographies, newspaper articles, court and social work records.

Positivists reject as they fail to achieve main goals of reliability, generalisability and representativeness

Interpretivists favour as they achieve main goal of validity

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