Sociology Part D

Nayak is an academic in Newcastle University. The main aim of his study was to see how young men had to forge new masculinities in a post-industrial society in Newcastle. He wanted to examine their “way of life” with the advent of the decline of traditional work and leisure lifestyles and therefore took an ethnographic approach. He also wanted to compare the lifestyles of working class boys (‘Real Geordies’) to those from homes which had experienced long term unemployment (‘The Chavers’). 

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Introduction and Aim

Nayak is an academic in Newcastle University. The main aim of his study was to see how young men had to forge new masculinities in a post-industrial society in Newcastle. He wanted to examine their “way of life” with the advent of the decline of traditional work and leisure lifestyles and therefore took an ethnographic approach. He also wanted to compare the lifestyles of working class boys (‘Real Geordies’) to those from homes which had experienced long term unemployment (‘The Chavers’). 

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In order to complete his study, Nayak took a qualitative approach: he used semi-structured interviews, observation and some analysis of historical document. This is an interpretative approach. Interpretivist sociologists argue that only by studying something in depth can the sociologist begin to understand the people and the situation studied, in this case the effects of decline in traditional employment upon masculine identity.

Interpretivist sociologists favour qualitative data, which is in word format. This data is rich and multi-dimensional, meaning that Nayak would have experienced the males whole “way of life” in post-industrial Newcastle. Validity is emphasised: this means that Nayak would want to create a true picture of how these lives were changed in post-industrial Newcastle. Verstehen or empathy is emphasised as the sociologist tried to “walk in their shoes” to experience their way of life, their meanings and motives.

Nayak clearly was limited in his choice of research methods as quantitative methods such as questionnaires or structured interview were clearly inappropriate as they lack validity as they produce quantitative data which is in numerical format and low in validity. 

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Sample and Ethics

Nayak worked on his own. He gained access to his sample through two schools in Newcastle. He chose these two as they had a high proportion of white working class youths. Nayak used the head teacher as a “gatekeeper”. Presumably Nayak would have written to the head teachers outlining the aims of his research and they would have agreed to act as gatekeepers.

The sample size is unknown but Nayak would have asked the young men if they would be willing to participate in his research. Ethics are extremely important in sociological research. Nayak would obviously have gained informed consent from each of the respondents. This is a very important element in research as each of the respondents must realise they are free to enter and free to withdraw from research at any time, particularly when the topic is as sensitive as this one. No respondent in sociological research should be placed under stress. The British Sociological Association (BSA) regulates all sociological research conducted in the UK. 

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Advantages - 1

A major advantage for Nayak’s research is that he used a multiple methods approach. He had an ethnographic approach and used three methods: semi-structured interviews, participant observation and analysis of local history documents (secondary evidence). This would mean that he would generate large amounts of qualitative data from these three methods. This would enable Nayak to cross check the different types of data against each other to ensure validity. When sociologists use multiple methods, it is called triangulation. Nayak could have verified the ethnographic data he collected whilst out in the field with the “chaver boys” against his data collected in the structured interview. Nayak could have checked the findings from his structured interviews against historical documents. 

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Advantages - 2

A further advantage of Nayak’s research is that he used semi-structured interviews as his main method. These usually have an interview schedule comprising a mixture of closed and open questions. Nayak would have used these questions to collect quantitative factual information, for example, respondents’ age and job. A representative samle would allow Nayak to make generalisations on male identity in post-industrial Newcastle. These answers would be used to gather whether the sample was representative. The rest of Nayak’s interview will be based around open questions. Open questions allow the interviewer flexibility to ask for clarification of vague answers and to follow up interesting responses with additional questions. For example Nayak was keen to examine the subcultures between the “Real Geordies” and “Chaver Kids”. Nayak was keen to see how the young men used subcultures as a form of social class distinctions. Nayak’s method of open questions would produce large amounts of qualitative data. This qualitative data is in word format and would seek to explain motives and meanings. Nayak gained useful information on the values of the young men and how the decline of traditional work in Newcastle affected them. Interpretivist sociologists are interested in asking open questions as they aim to see the social world through the eyes of those being studied: young men in Newcastle. Nayak’s interviews were held in one of the two schools and were recorded and transcribed. Holding the interviews in school, a place where the boys were familiar with, would have presumably added to the validity of the data gathered. As Nayak was male and a local resident, presumably he would have been able to establish a rapport with the boys. 

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Advantages - 3

Nayak could become reflexive as he could not easily gain access to part of his sample: the “Chaver Kids”. He therefore also adapted a participant observation role. He started to observe the young boys outside school. He then extended his research to the weekend. This was easy for Nayak to do as he lived in the same estate as many of the boys. 

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Advantages - 4

Another advantage of Nayak’s research is that he used triangulation or multiple methods. He used semi-structured interviews, participant observation and analysis of historical sources. Using multiple methods would allow Nayak to cross check his findings adding to his validity. 

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Advantages - 5

Nayak’s study was ethnographic, which means an in depth study of the way of life of a social group: in this case young men and their masculine identity. The purpose of ethnography is to describe the culture and lifestyle as they see it: “to walk in their shoes”. Ethnography is about imitating real life. Weber called this empathy “Verstehen” which means being able to think like the people who are being studied. Nayak used participant observation on the “Chaver Kids” as he found they had poor school attendance and therefore could not conduct his interview. He used his position as a local resident to observe the Chaver boys after school. He observed them on weekends and recorded his observations in a field diary. He must have been able to establish rapport with the boys as they were happy for him to witness a chip throwing fight. Nayak would have been able to experience life through the eyes of the “Chaver Kids”. 

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Disadvantages - 1

However, Nayak’s research would have experienced a few weaknesses. One disadvantage is that Nayak would have generated vast amounts of qualitative data. All this data would be in text form and would need to be analysed. According to Oakley, an average interview can last 2 hours. Analysing this data can be time consuming and can produce a subjective interpretation of events. Positivists are very critical of qualitative approaches as they are difficult to repeat and gain consistent results and therefore are lacking in representativeness for the young men in Newcastle, but how replicable they are to other social areas is questionable. 

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Disadvantages - 2

Nayak’s use of semi-structured interviews can also be criticised for lack of reliability because such interviews are often unique; they depend on the relationship between the research and the subject, making every interview different. The qualitative data Nayak generated would not have been comparable: particularly difficult would be to compare the responses between the “Real Geordies” and the “Chaver Kids” as their backgrounds were so different. 

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Disadvantages - 3

As well as this lack of reliability, Positivists would criticise interviews as they can be affected by the “interview effect”. This affects the validity of data. For example, a power imbalance is automatically built into a social situation. Some of the men could have found Nayak possibly intimidating and therefore might have withheld certain information about their personal lives and their leisure activities: the “Chaver Lads” in particular might have withheld the detail about their “unlawful activities”. This would result in lack of validity for Nayak’s study.

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Disadvantages - 4

Clearly a major weakness in Nayak’s study would be his sample. The pre-release does not disclose his sample size but does tell us that he only studied young men from Newcastle and only chose two schools with a predominantly white population. Clearly Nayak would have a representative sample of age, class and ethnicity. Nayak therefore would have been unable to make firm generalisations about changing masculinities in post-industrial Newcastle. A sample must be representative of age, class, gender and ethnicity before a sociologist can make safe generalisations. 

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Disadvantages - 5

Positivists would criticise Nayak for using participant observation as they would argue that Nayak’s interpretations are rather subjective as Nayak would have to be very selective about what is reported: Nayak could be influencing the research by imposing his values. Positivists would also argue that participant observations could never be replicated, so the results would be unreliable. Therefore any comparisons between the “Real Geordies” and the “Chavers” would be unsafe. Positivists believe observation is unsystematic and an unscientific method, and therefore unreliable.

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