Sociology- Research Methods

Education Research Methods

- Key Issues in Research and Methods

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Sociologists-Collecting and Using Data

Sociologists have 3 aims when collecting and using data

  • Sociologists try to make their research valid and reliable. Research is valid when it gives a true picture of what's being measured. Research is reliable if other sociologists using the same methods get the same data.
  • You can't research the whole population, therefore samples are needed. Sociologists try to make sure that their sample represents the population, therefore it needs similar proportions of different ages, genders, classes and ethnic groups. If a sample is representative then sociologists can generalise.
  • Sociologists aim to be objective and avoid bias
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Sociologists get data from different sources

  • Primary sources of data involve first hand research e.g:
    • Interviews
    • Focus Groups
    • Questionnaires
    • Observations
  • Secondary Data includes things like official statistics

Data can be either quantitative or qualitative

  • Quantitative Data is numbers and statistics. Can be easily put into a graph or chart.
  • Qualitative Data gives a detailed picture of what people do, think and feel. Its subjective- it involves opinions, meanings and intepretations.
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Positivists- Reliable Methods

Positivists use reliable methods that give them quantitative data.

1. Positivists say behaviour is influenced by external social factors.

2. They think sociology should be scientific and analyse social facts. Social facts are things that affect behaviour and can be easily measured. They're external things like laws not internal things like people's opinions.

3. Positivists measure human behaviour using quantitative data- data that turns everything into numbers.

4. They use statistics to measure the relationships between different factors. They're interested in cause and effect relationships e.g. the factors that cause underachievement in schools.

5. They use sources like questionnaires and official statistics. These are objective and reliable.

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Interpretivists- Valid Methods

1. Interpretivists (aka Interactionists) believe that you can only really understand human behaviour using empathy. They think that it is important to uncover and understand the meaning individuals give to their actions and the actions of others.

2. Interpretivist Sociologists use methods that let them discover the meanings, motives and reasons behind human behaviour and social interaction.

3. Intepretivists believe the scientific methods used in positivist research do not fully inform you of how individuals act in society.

4. Interpretivists believe that you can't count meanings and opinions and turn them into charts. They also believe that sociology isn't scientific becuase humans can't be measured. People don't understand questions in questionnaires and some people lie.

5. Interpretivists like to use methods that produce qualitative data e.g Participant Observation and Unstructured Interviews to build up a rapport(feeling of mutual understanding) with individuals.

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Theoretical Factors

Theoretical Background                  

  • Explanation of Behaviour
    • Positivism: determined by social forces beyond peoples control
    • Interpretivism: Humans make sense of social situations during human interaction
  • Aims of Sociology
    • Positivism: Sociology should discover what causes what
    • Interpretivism: It should describe and explain how people make sense of situations- using empathy.
  • Research Methods
    • Positivism: Questionnaires adn Structured Interviews
      • Quantitative Data
      • Reliable and Objective
    • Interpretivism: Observations and Unstructured Interviews
      • Qualitative Data
      • Valid
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Ethical and Practical Factors

1. Consent- all participants must have openly agreed to take part.

2. Confidentiality- the details of all participants and their actions must remain private

3. Avoidance of Harm- participants should not be physically or psychologially harmed by the research process

1. Time and Money- the cost of research will affect the researchers choice of method. Large scale surveys employ lots of people to interview and input data. These cost a lot of money and take a lot of time. Small scale surveys are cheaper as often only one researcher is needed.

2. Access to Resources and Subject matter- Some areas of Social life are more accessible than others e.g. it will be hard for students to go to a prison. It would be hard for a man to observe an all female gang. Also it would be difficult to use a questionnaire if your participant could'nt read.

3. Funding Available- Large scale surveys are usually funded by the government or large businesses

4. Personal Skills and Characteristics- These are very important when deciding what method to use. e.g. if you struggle to mix with people an in-depth interview would be the wrong choice.

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