studying society

defining sociology

sociology explores the social factors that shape human behaviour and the way that society influences our daily lives

sociology is often defined as the study of society

a society can be defined as a group of people who share a culture or a way of life

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sociology and other approaches

psychology- focus on individual behaviour, study topics like mental illness

biology- look for biological causes or characteristics when studying human behaviour

journalism- research is less thorough and reporting may be biased or one sided

sociology- study social influences on human life, focus on group behaviour, view behaviour as social or cultural, must select and use evidence in a balanced way or their research may be criticized by other sociologists

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the research process

1. developing research aims and hypotheses

2. carrying out a pilot study

3. selecting a sample

4. collecting the data

5. analysing the data

6. evaluating the study's aims, methods, findings and conclusions

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the research process 2

research aims- set out what the researcher intends to investigate, provide the study's focus

hypothesis- a hunch or informed guess, written as a statement that can be tested

pilot study- a small scale trial run carried out before the main research

primary research- research created by you

secondary research- research that already exists

peer review- sociologists write articles in journals or present papers at conferences, these are reviewed and evaluated by other sociologists

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probability sampling- each member has a known chance of being selected e.g. simple random, systematic, stratified

non probability sampling- used when a sampling frame is not available, not selected randomly, unlikely to be representative e.g. snowball, quota, purposive

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social surveys

social surveys- used to collect information from large numbers of people

questionnaire- list of pre-set questions, standardized

postal questionnaires- sent to respondents by post/email, is returned to the researcher by respondent

hand delivered questionnaires- researcher hands questionnaire to respondent, returns to collect them

structured interviews- trained interviewer asks set questions and records answers, conducted face to face or by telephone

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structured interviews

advantages- can explain questions, all answer same questions, comparitive, can identify connections, can be repeated or replicated, can generalize

disadvantages- assumes sociologist has skills to decide what questions, how to ask them and in what order, have few opportunities to raise new issues, interview effect

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unstructured interviews

guided conversation, short list of prompts

advantages- can rephrase questions, can probe and ask follow up questions, can develop answers, in-depth and rich account of topic, provide more valid picture

limitations- time consuming, expensive, interviewers must have skills needed, interview effect, difficult to replicate, sample size is smaller, difficult to generalise

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participant observation

researcher joins a group and takes part in its daily activities in order to study it

overt- when the researcher tells the group who they are

covert- when the researcher doesn't tell the group who they are

advantages overt- allows for consent, provides a first hand picture

disadvantages overt- observation effect, group may not trust researcher

advantages covert- allows for observation effect, gives a more real picture

disadvantages covert- difficult to keep the secret, researcher may become too involved with the group, does not allow for consent

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primary and secondary data

primary data- collected first hand by the researcher

secondary data- collected and put together by other people

opinion polls- a type of survey, use fixed choice questions to find out people's voting intentions or their opinions on topical issues, regularly published in newspapers

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quantitative and qualitative secondary data

quantitative secondary data- presented as statistical information that counts or measures something e.g. opinion polls, official statistics

qualitative secondary data- presented in visual or verbal form e.g. newspaper articles, TV docs, diaries

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ethical issues

research should be morally acceptable

informed consent- participants should be told clearly what the study is about and why it is being done, what taking part will involve, and have the right to withdraw consent at any time

anonymity- participants shoud not be identified by name or in other ways in books or articles about the research

confidentiality- personal information about the participants should be kept private

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