Social Inequality Topic 4B methological issues

Topic 4B methological issues how has age been reaserched, and how successful has this been? 

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age is a new area of social reacher sepecially reaserch into the middle aged and elderly one of the reasons for this is the difficultly of isolating age from any other social catteogry. in the reaserch shown of the Joseph rownreee founndation they have focused on older British Chinease people showing how identities intersect this reaserch has taken a realist mix method aproach. 

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Realist methodolgy

  • differs from feminists and interactionalists in that realists argue social reaserch can follow the logic and methods of the natural sciences however they differ from positivists as they ditinguish between closed and open systems of science. The key difference is that natrual sciences mainly operate within closed systems where its possible to generate a hypothesis, make predictions and collect empirical data however realists argue social sciences work in open systems where casual mechanisms underlie regularities yet these mechanisms are rarely observable and are subject to rapid and unpredictable changes. 
  • Realists argue that this is is not disimilar to the reality of many natural science enviroments e.g medics can't predict when you're going to catch a cold but are able to make general assumptions and give explanations and help for medical problems, realists argue sociology should not be afraid to work with elements unseen,rather they can explain social patterns by identifying casual mechanisms just as scientists do. 
  • For example in the natural sciences continental plate movements may be seen as the casual mechanism which expalins the patterns of earthquakes even though scientists are unsure exactly why plates move when they might move again and how severe the problem will be. Similaraly social class systems may be seen as a casual mechanism which explains patterns in inequality even though social scientists are unsure or dissagree on exactly why the systems in place and who will be disadvanged to what extent. 
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Realist methodolgy 2

Realists argue sociology should use whatever methods neccacary to investigate these casual mechanisms so their able to give realistic evidence which can acces both relibable and transparent quantitatie data as well as qualitative data capable of exploring subjective dimensions of an individuals experience. 

Also argue that sociological reaserch isn't and cannot be vlaue free- sociologists should be engaged in the systematic collection of evidence which aim to explain the world as objectively as posible on the basis of the avalible evidence

Realists frequently use mised methods in order to acheive this methological pluralism 

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Bryman's uses of methological pluralism

  • 1.The logic of triangulation
  • Triangluation is slightly different to methological pluralism in that it mans not just a mixture of methods but one that uses both quant and quala methods to cross check eachothers findings i.e small in depth interveiws followed by a larger sample of questionsires. He argues it increases confidence in the reaserch findings.
  • 2. Qualitative reaserch facilitates quantitative reaserch 
  • qualitative reaserch might be useful for generating hypotheses to be tested in quantitative reaserch, it might also be used to aid measurment i.e it can help reaserchers to operationalise complex concepts in questionaires through an understanding of what these concepts mean to those being studied i.e BHPS using disscussions and interveiws to clarrify the concepts included in questionaires. 
  • 3.Qantitative reaserch facilitating qualitative reaserch
  • a good example is when questionairs can be used to identify the people suitable for inclusion in a sample to be studied using qualitative methods, this can save reaserchers a lot of time which otherwise be wasted in crrying out reaserch on people from whom to useful data is likely to be obtained.
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Bryman's uses of methological pluralism 2

  • 4.Filling the gaps
  • sometimes reaserch may employ one main method but finding that this leaves gaps in the data which need to be filled i.e ethnographers doing participant observation might also carry out interveiws to find out about aspects of the social group and its history that they have been unable to observe i.e Willian foot white- interveiwed doc the leader of a street gang whilst also doing participant observation 
  • 5.Stable and changing features
  • Sometimes quantitative methods are used to study the more stable aspects of social life while qualitative methods are employed to study changes i.e Stephen ball "beachside comprehensive"- used questionaires to detirmine friendship networks and observation to exmine how the children progressed through schooling.
  • 6.The problem of generality
  • Qualitative reaserch usually employs a small sample for practical reasons it may be supplemented by quantitative reaserch using a larger sample to make it possible to generalise from the findings.
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Bryman's uses of methological pluralism 3

  • 7.Solving a puzzle
  • Sometimes reaserch throws up unexpected results which are hard to explain htey may need to use a different method to that used initially to try and understand their findings. A study of how much shop assistants in america smilled expected to find they smilled most when customers were around however they found they smilled more when there was a shortage of customers. To discover why they used participant observation observation and in depth interveiws and found the result could be explained in terms of pressure on staff in busy times the staff had less time and inclination for the pleasentries accociated with positive emotions. 
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Key study: Joseph Rowntree Foundation


  • This study builds on two previous projects which concluded that many elderly chinese people were socially excluded from both their community and wider society, their needs weren't fully recognised and access to services were parrcially denied. 
  • Study conducted by a reaserch team from shefield university and was acion orientated and participant focused project that aimed to enable chinease older people to influence policy and practive also allowing them to reflect on their experience of involvment. 
  • The study found that participants had a diverse experiences of involvment both in their own community and wider society. Many took part in voluntary work, voted in local and general ellections, served as members of management commities in chinease organiations and attendded consultation events organised by local authorities but there were barriers to becoming involved in policy and practice. 
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Key study: Joseph Rowntree Foundation 2

  • The barriers
  • language barrier- lack of a common language with wider society creates great difficulties in getting information, comminicating with non chinease organisations and applying for funding moreover english speaking communities are insensitive to dissabling effects resulting in a lack of language support. When recalling the experience of attending a national event concerning elderly people from ethnic minoritory communities the london working group siad there were no interpreting facilities and were shushed when the english literate mebers tried to help the others understand. 
  • Due to the language barrier many elderly chinease have to rely on "link people" to communicate with wider society these could be active volunteers, employee's of chinease organisations and chinease speaking workers in non chinease organisations. Feelings towards these link people are mixed and the relationship isn't clear cut. When describing their relationship with the worjers in chinease organisations many older people refer to them as staff members and sometimes their leaders.
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Key study: Joseph Rowntree Foundation 3

  • Methods
  • two year project from 2003- 2005 comprised of three main parts the first involved 207 chinease elderly from 8 cities who were invited through lcal serivce providers and Chinease orginisations to take part in 16 group discussions to formulate a joint statement.
  • They carried out a piolot study which involved a trial version of the group disscussion to see if they had designed their discussion questions appropriatly. The purpose of the piolot study was also to gain the trust of their participants, to relax them and help train them to become active, engaged menbers of group discussion. 
  • The second part was the establishment of three local working groups with the assistance of Wai Yin Chinease women society, the chinease national healthy living cneter and anonymous older peoples club. Each addopted a different strattegy to influence an area of serivces of their choice. The south Yorkshire group was composed of 6 chinease older people their aim was to seek resources to set up home care for the frail elderly chinease. The manchester had ten members who concentraited on the opportunities for and delivery of lifelong learning for chinease older people. The london group consisted of seven older people who were interested in the policy for carers
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Key study: Joseph Rowntree Foundation 4

  • The reaserch team worked closelt with these groups for about a year and provided them with varius types fo support through surveys, home visits, data analysis and direct dialogue with service providers drafting a code of practice and conducting piolot services, these groups in general acheived their goals. Each has published a booklet to report ehir work and share experiences.
  • The final part was exploring the older peoples veiws on involvment and their evaluation of the effectivenss of the methods applied in the project. Nine foucs groups were organsied at different stages of the project with either the local working groups or older people who had been actively involved in the process to fufil this purpose. in addition a questionaire was used to collect personal characteristics and information about experiences of involvment from those involved in the formulation of the joint statement. 
  • In order to ensure high levels of validity the reaserchers used respondant validation this involved asking the participants from the reaserch to check through the conclusions of the reaserch to ensure the reaserchers had correctly interpreted and presented the older chinease people they had studied. 
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