RM - Documents

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  • Created by: Muy
  • Created on: 21-04-13 12:44

Types of documents and Practical Issues

Written texts e.g. diaries, letters, emails, newspapers, government reports etc.

Other texts e.g. paintings, drawings, photos etc.

Public documents from government departments, schools, welfare agencies, charities etc. e.g. parliamentary debate records or ofsted reports

Personal documents are first person accounts of events e.g. diaries or photo albums

Historical documents are public/personal documents from the past e.g. Anne Franks diary

Practical Issues - 

- Documents may be the only source available e.g. studying the past

- They're quick/cheap sources to gather large amounts of (secondary data)

- Its not always possible to have access to them e.g. cabinet meeting papers

- Individuals/organisations create them for their own purposes, not the sociologists

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Theoretical issues

Interpretivists use documents due to its validity, positivists reject them as unreliable and unrepresentative

Interpretivists argue documents give us a valid picture of actors' meanings e.g. diaries

Thosmas (1919) interactionist study of Polish migration and social change used plenty of documents - 746 letters, autobiographies etc.

Documents aren't written with the sociologist in mind, they're likelier to be authentic of the authors view

HOWEVER it can lack validity... Scott identified 3 -

- Authenticity, a famous persons diary may be a forgery

- Credibility - is it believable? e.g. written long after an event

- Misinterpreatation - sociologists can misinterpret the writers thoughts and intended audience

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Theoretical issues #2

Positivists -

- documents are unrealiable as its not standardised

- every persons diary is unique, regardless if they record the same event

- its uniqueness makes it unrepresentative (can't make generalisations)

Documents can be unrepresentative, not all groups create them e.g. the illiterate 

Not all documents survive, while others are kept private

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Ethics - 

- concerns about informed consent varies, e.g. public documents dont require consent

- documents relating to activities of public organisations can be leaked, although it lacks informed consent it can often reveal wrongdoings

- obtaining informed consent to use private document can be difficult, inc/ the author and anyone referred to in the document

- with historical documents, theres less concern if those involved are dead

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Content analysing

A method of analysing documents, e.g. newspaper articles, and theres 2 types of a analysis

Formal content anaylsis - 

- FCA produces quantitative data from qualitative data

- a representative sample of materials selected, categories are decided and used to code (classify) the issue being investigated

- FCA attracts positivists as its objective, representative, and its reliable (yet drawing up the categories is subjective)

Thematic analysis - 

- qualitative analysis of the content of media texts

- its used by interpretivists and feminists

- small number of cases are selected for the in depth analysis, with the aim being to reveal underlying meanings 'encoded' in the material

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