Sociology (Research Methods- Perspectives)

  • Created by: kcullum2
  • Created on: 02-09-17 02:30

Positivism (1)

-Roots in Comte's 19th-century work in that he argued it was possible to use natural science methods to study the social world, Positivists believe there are social facts that can be observed and from these casual relationships can be sought

-Social facts are external to individuals, Durkheim looked at how the personal act of sucide was an objective social fact, positivists argue individuals are subject to external social forces like capitalism or competion in the job market

-Positivists also argued that human behaviour was predictable, and that it was possible to seek laws that govern people's behaviour, and that research questions/hypotheses can be tested

-Social scientists who favour this approach now tend to opt for a hypothetic-deductive or deductive approach, starting with a theory and testing it against evidence derived from the research

-Positivists through research want to identify patterns/trends, look for cause and effect, identify what is predictable, make comparisons over time from one group to another, look for correlations, conduct research that can be re-tested in order for it to be reliable, have objective and value-free research, aim for consistency and conduct large-scale data collection so it is representative and generalizable

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Positivism (2)

-Positivists make a number of decisions before undertaking research; choice of topic (depends on funding source and this may not be a free choice), operalization of key ideas so they are measurable, establish a hypothesis/research question, identify an appropriate sampling technique to obtain a representative sample, identify a method that will obtain quantative data, deciding whether or not a pilot study should take place (most do due to research size), identify the locations these methods will be used, how to record/analyse the data

-Positivists seek quantative data, so use methods to produce and replicate this data like large-scale surveys, experiments, content analysis, comparative methods and official statistics

-Characteristics of methods of collecting quantative data: produce numerical data, graphs/tables/charts can be derived from data, making comparisons/idetification of patterns and trends straightfoward, tend to be high in reliability (so long as the measuring instrument is standerdized for the next researcher), can be large scale and if the right sampling method is used it will be representative of the target population, and this makes it generalizable data

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Positivism (3)


-Argued that science itself it not value free/objective

-Humans have a free will and cannot be put in a laboratory

-All variables in the social world cannot be controlled

-Positivism ignores meanings and interpretations that people put on their actions, making it low in validity

-It can identify where two facts are related but these facts may not be the cause and effect

-Questionnaires are socially constructed, so are not objective of value-free

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Interpretivism (1)

-Sometimes referred to as Anti-Positivism, Weber (19th-20th century) was one of the main influence on it's development, and Interpretivists believe that human beings are not inanimate and therefore cannot be studied in the same way as phenomena in the natural world, and that it is impossible to identify cause and effect because human behaviour is unpredictable 

-Social world is about meanings and human agency rather than social facts, people's have a variety of subjective view in society which positivism can't appropriately handle, findings are highly likely to be influenced by researcher values; it is impossible to be value free and the social world and the researcher affect each other 

-Also argue social world does not exist outside social realities people construct, so researcher's task is to uncover meanings/motives people attach to the actions of others, important to gain rapport in order to increase data validity, idea of "verstehen" comes from Weber and at a basic level means having an empathetic understanding of people while researching them

-Interpretivists want to move from intial impressions to deep understanding,also aim to be reflective (help to reduce issues like the Hawthorne Effect) and reflexity is also about the researcher standing back and considering the research from their own perspective and as far as possible from the perspective of those being researched

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Interpretivism (2)

-Interpretivist research process: need to identify the group/issue to research, need to work with gatekeeper or use some other way to gain access to groups and inviduals, and there is the need for a method to obtain qualitative data where the research will take place, also need to consider ethics of their research

-Methods they wil use include participants observation and unstructured interviews (sometimes seen as better than observation because they can ask probing questions) which will increase the validity, and personal expressive documents may also be used

-Characteristics if methods used to collect qualitative data: data is in the form of words, give an insight into the meanings people attach to actions, allow people to speak for themselves, enable researcher to do research in the natural environment of the people they are researching without disturbing their day-to-day behaviour too much

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Interpretivism (3)


-Those being observed may be affect by the presence of the researcher (Hawthorne Effect)

-Social characteristics of a researcher may or will affect the research

-Important to know exactly how the research affects those they are interacting with

-Hard work physically and emotionally; often research vunerable emotionally-needy groups

-Collecting qualitative data can be time-consuming

-Possibly the problem of researcher imposition and what data to select, which could affect validity

-Results will be low in relaibility, no means of replicating the research effectively

-Often a need for respondent validation, either with the individuals themselves or via other researchers

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Realism (1)

-View that arguably bridge the gap between positivism and interpretivism, they argue that there are underlying social structures and these can explain observable events, and that it should be possible to study the meanings people attach to actions even if they are phenomena that cannot directly be observed (for example class consciousness)

-Believe sociology can be scientific because of the difference between open (variables cannot be controlled making predictions more difficult) and closed (variables are controlled e.g chemicals in a laboratory) systems as objects of study

-Realists believe that sociology is scientific if it follows an open system approach, sociology must deal with what is observable as well as the meaings people attach to actions, as there are social structures that lie beneath society's surface and these underpin the events that can be observed

-In carrying out research, realists aim to understand the structural mechanisms that cannot be seen (ideologies, false class consciousness and the reproduction of the class system), be as objective, systematic and logical as possible within the constraint that the social world is not always based on logical and systematic principles, and uncover underlying casual mechanisms that lead to observable events

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Realism (2)

-Realist research: believe there is no such thing as theory-free data, believe that theories and observable phenomena cannot be seperated and that research should be based on comparison and evaluation of theoretical ideas

-Also believe that the purpose of research is to obtain data to test one theory against another theory, some aspects of society are very difficult to quantify because they are happening at a deep level

-Realist research process: decides on a problem, identifies the most likely theories to explain it and uses a range of methods to compare the theories with each other, often use a comparative approach, favouring mixed-methods research which breaks down division between the two data, also argue that research cannot be reliable because it is difficult to repeat, and Churton also argues this for scientific research (criticism against Positivism)


-Is realism just a new name for what a lot of sociologists have been doing for a while?

-There is no way of testing realist theories because they argue that sociological structures are like open systems in science; they cannot be observed

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Feminism (1)

-Believe that most sociological research reflects a patriarchal society and benefits men, it is called the "malestream", and they have challenged the malestream for a number of reasons: research was focused on males/male activities and ignored/excluded women, aspects of social life such as domestic labour and childcare were ignored, malestream sociological methods focused on so-called rational and scientific approach, and this excluded female experiences

-There are a number of feminist methodologies:interview techniques break down hierachical nature of interviewer and interviewee and put an end to the power of the interviewer leading to a more collabarative approach and this will lead to more validity but means the researcher will have to answer questions asked by the interviewee

-Reflexity is a concept used by Roberts, wherby researchers are more open and honest with their interviewees and also think about their own experiences when conducting research, use of methods that collect qualitative data, argument is that quantative data is inconsistent with feminist values and objective of researching women's experiences

-However, shift of opinion by Oakley and others, and now suggest there is a willingness to use the "powerful" quantative methods of data collection, which some feminists argue is necessary in using methods that suit the purpose

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Feminism (2)

Evaluation (1):

-Pawson argues there is no new method; feminists use the usual range of methods and there are no particular innovations

-Few researchers ultimately hand over power to the interviewees

-Reflexity is open to accusations of a lack of objectivity

-Some researchers become over-involved with those being researched, comprimises validity as they collude with the comments the people being resarched made

-Oakley did break down the hierarchial nature during her research with pregnant women, however (although she maintained contact with the women) she may have decived other into thinking she had become a real friend/confidante

-The relationship in ther interview may be affected by class and ethnicity

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Feminism (3)

Feminist rearch topic:

-Should by "On, by and for women" (Stanley and Wise, 1983), decided before any decisions are made about how to conduct the research

-Revelant and sympathetic to women's experiences, able to contribute to the exposure of women's oppresion and help end it (e.g gendered domestic roles), also able to help at an individual level

-Political, meaning it should raise awareness of issues pertinent to women, such as child sex abuse and domestic violence, and ithe reseach topic should also be able to challenge male power and domination

Theoretical research issues:

-Theory must come from the research and not determine it

-Research should be more interpretive than positivist

-Should always raise new questions rather than viewed as an end in itself

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Feminism (4)

Evalaution (2):

-Could be argued that the researcher has a priveleged ideologically-correct position, which may not be the view the interviewee wishes to take up

-Cain and other argue that men should not be excluded, as Stanley and Wise imply

-Many of the strategies feminists use are also used by male sociologists like Blackman and MacDonald, who have all done research with young people, including women

-Feminist research is likley to have high validity but be low in reliability, because the nature of the relationship between the researcher and the researched will not be the one that cna be replicated

-The people studied will be small in number and therefore may not be representative, making it difficult to generalize

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