Sociology - Factors affecting choice of research method

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Theoretical Factors (Postivits)

  • POSTIVISTS (Strucutal/Macro view) 
  • Believe Sociology should be studied scientifically
  • Do this by searching for causual realtionships by following the logic of the experimental method
  • Therefore favouring a QUANTITATIVE approach to research
  • Eg: Offical statistics & Social surveys
  • These methods produce data that is:
  • Reliable, Objective, Generalisable & Representative
  • It allows the researcher to establish social facts, causual laws & predictions
  • For example: Using offical statistics on suicide rates DURKHEIM  discovered suicide rates are realated to levels social control in society
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Theoretical Factors (Interpretivists)

  • INTERPRETIVISTS (Action/Micro view)
  • Believe sociology can not studied scientifically
  • Search for Individual meaning, Feelings, Motives & Emotions
  • Therefore favour a QUALITATIVE approach to research
  • For example: Informal Interviews, Observation & Personal Documents
  • Such methods produce data that is:
  • Valid, Insightful In-Depth, Not Pre-Defined & allows the researcher to establish VERSTENHEN & RAPPORT
  • For example: DOBASH & DOBASH able to discover the patriarchal nature of domestic violence by Informal Interviews
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Factors Affecting Choice Of Topic

Theoretical Perspective:

 New Right - look at the effects of increasing welfare benefits on family life & structure. Because welfare dependency is central to New Right thinking on the family.

 Feminists - reasearch into domestic violence. Because are opposed to gender oppression & control in families


Researchers Values:

Researchers who are concerned about equality may choose subjects like:

  • Social class differences in educational achievement
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Factors Affecting Choice Of Topic

Society's Values: As societies values change so does the focus of sociological research

  • For example: The rise of feminism in 1960's/70's led to focus on researching gender inequality 
  •  Concerns about the environment led to reasearch into Green cimes (Eg: Bhopal Gas Disater)

Funding Bodies: Most sociologists recieve their funding from gover & non-goverment organisations, they request what they should reseach

  • For example: The police may request research into knife crime
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Factors Affecting Choice Of Topic

Practical Factors: The inaccessibility of some research unables the study

  • For example: Headteachers may deny access to classes where control is poor
  • Permision may needed from LEA'S (local education authorties)

Personal Reasons: The researcher may choose a topic that will allow them to gain promotion or an academic qualification

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Practical Factors

Topic/Group Studied:

  • May be sensitive (Children/Education)
  • QUALITATIVE methods allow for RAPPORT to be bulit
  • For example: OAKLEY did informal interviews to investigate women's experiences of childbirth

Social Characteristics Of The Researcher:

  • For exmaple: A 30 year old male researcher
  • PO study on pupic subcultures difficult as researcher could not pass off as a pupil
  • Would prove to be impossible in a all girl school
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Practical Factors


  • May be limited (Structed Interviews are expensive/time consuming)
  • QUANTITATIVE methods like postal questionnaires are quicker & cheaper than QUALITATIVE methods

Source Of Finance:

  • Organisations like the Home Office favour
  • QUANTITATIVE methods as they have more scientific credibiliy for governments
  • For example: The BCS (Britsh Crime Survey) carries out structured interviews of closed questions
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Practical Factors Conclusion

1. Most important factor in choice of research method is the topic/group studied. Sociologists choose methods which are fit for their purpose

2. Sociologists often TRIANGULATE and use QUANTITATIVE and QUALITATIVE methods to gain VALIDITY and RELIABILITY

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Ethical Factors

Major Ethical Guidelines:

  • Gained Informed Consent
  • No harm and distress (especially to vulnerable groups like children)
  • Right to withdraw
  • No exploitation
  • No Deception

Makes certain methods such as lab experiments and CPO questionable

Serious questions have been raised about Milgram's experimental obedience study:

  • Deception: Believed they were shocking a real person
  • Protection of participants: exposed to extremely harmful situation
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