Studying society

  • Created by: krishmaq
  • Created on: 07-04-14 16:15

Studying society 1

  • Society: A group of people who share a culture.
  • Culture: The way of life of a society or group including its values, norms, beliefs and language.
  • Socialization: The process through which we learn the culture and values of the society we are born into.
  • Values: beliefs held by a person/social group that build a set of norms.
  • Norms: An informal rule that guides our behaviour in particular situations. 
  • Population: The particular group being studied, for example students in Higher education or families.
  • Sample: A subgroup of the population that is selected for study.
  • Sampling frame: A list of members of the population
  •  Representative sample: A sample that has the same characteristics as the population but is a smaller version of it.
  • Journalists vs Sociologists: journalists are less systematic, follow deadlines, make headlines
  • Psychologist vs Sociologist: psychologists focus on individuals not groups (both study)
  • Norm vs Law: Law is govt regulated and followed by everyone, consequences are punishment, not following norms results in deviance.
  • Social science: looks at human relations within society.

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Studying society 2

  • Social policy: changes in society made by govt.
  • Socialsation: the way we learn our culture,norms and values in society.
  • Primary socialsation: learning that takes place during early childhood, basic behaviour,language and skills we need later. Normally carried out by family.
  • Secondary socialisation: begins later childhood and continues, learn society's norms/values. Affected by peer groups,school,work,religion,gender roles [agencies=factors]
  • Canalisation: when a gender is directed towards a certain attitude e.g dolls vs cars
  • Sex: biological differences between men and women within internal reproductive organs
  • Gender: refers to cultural and socially constructed differences between men/women
  • Gender roles: patterns of behaviour expected of individuals of either sex within society.
  • Social structures: The groups and institutions that make up society such as families, the education system and the social stratification system.
  • Conflict/Consensus/Interactionalists[daily issues] /Structuralist [bigger picture/big impact]
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Studying society 3

Theoriests in society

Marxism: belief that there is conflict between working class and the owners in our capitalist society. We are divided by social class, proletariat (w/c), bourgeosie (ruling/m/c)

  • social class measured by occupation and income
  • capitalism is when industries/companies owned by private individuals earn all the profit

Feminism: the idea that men and women should have equal roles/oppurtunities in education,work,family and society

  • Patriachy is the idea that men dominate the society

Functionalism: theory that everyone has a function/role in society like a machine [nuclear family]

The New Right: a thought that traditional roles have been undermined, family values are declining,agree with tradtional nuclear family.

Marxist Feminist: both gender and class contribute to make society unequal.

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Studying society 4

Research Process

Validity: refers to whether findings actually reflect the reaity they are studying.Truth or authenticity. 

Reliability: whether findings can be checked/repeated and provide the same results, Consistency.[Peer review]

Quantitative datapresented as statistical information that counts or measures something.  + because it's easy to carry out, - not specific/detailed, is limited

Qualitative data: presented in visual or verbal form, for instance as words, + descriptive,good information,expressive,compare easily, - long, hard to analyse

Quantitative secondary data:  E.g results of opinion polls and official statistics such as numbers and rates of marriage and divorce

Qualitative secondary data: E.g newspaper and magazine articles, TV documentaries, diaries, letters, notes, memos, emails, photographs, school inspection reports, college prospectuses, internet websites, novels and autobiographies. 

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Studying society 5

Longitudinal studies: Studies of the same group of people conducted over a period of time. After the initial survey or interview has taken place, follow-up surveys or interviews are carried out at intervals over a number of years

Allows us to examine social change over time/ Patterns

Can be time consuming and expensive.

Interviewer effect: Interviewer’s personal or social characteristics may influence the interviewees’ responses making the results invalid

Interview effect: In a formal interview setting, interviewees may only give answers that are socially acceptable to show them in the most positive light. The results may not be valid

Closed question: limited no of possible answers given

+ quick and easy to answer    - not much detail

Open question: respondents can answer how they like

+ lots of detail         - hard to analyse

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Studying society 6

Postal Questionnaire


  • One of the cheapest and quickest ways of getting information from lots of people.
  • Researcher is not present and therefore, respondents may be more willing to answer personal or sensitive questions/ No interview bias
  • Questions are standardized so sociologists can compare respondents’ answers
  • Can be replicated to check reliability of findings (consistency = reliability)


  • Questions cannot be explained face-to-face so some may be misunderstood or skipped
  • May not have been completed by person it was sent to
  • Postal questionnaires are not appropriate for some populations (e.g. homeless)
  • Response rate is usually low. Those who respond may not be representative or typical of the population being studied. If so, researcher cannot generalize from the sample to the population.
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Studying society 7

Hand delivered questionnaires: research hands the self-completion questionnaire to the respondent and returns to collect the completed questionnaire.

 + no interviewer effect, higher response rate        - might not be representative

Structured Interview: Interviewer asks set questions and records respondents’ answers. Conducted either face-to-face or via telephone


  • Trained interviewer can explain questions if respondent requires clarification
  • Questions are standardized so sociologists can compare respondents’ answers
  • Sociologists can identify connections between different factors
  • Can be replicated to check reliability of findings (consistency = reliability)
  • Sociologists can generalize from reliable results taken from representative sample


  • Use of pre-set questions allows few opportunities to raise new issues [ time]
  • Interview effect therefore the results may not be valid & Interviewer effect
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Studying society 8

Unstructured Interview


  • Trained interviewer can rephrase questions and clear up any misunderstandings
  • Interviewer is not constrained to pre-set questions and so can ask follow-up questions to explore complex issues
  • Interviewees can develop answers and explain views in detail
  • Give an in-depth and rich account of the topic being studied
  • Provide a more valid or authentic picture of the topic


  • More time consuming and expensive for the amount of data that is collected
  • Interviewer must have necessary skills needed to keep conversation going and encourage interviewees to ‘open up’
  • Interviewer effect and Interview effect
  • Not standardized so difficult to replicate in order to check reliability
  • Sample size is smaller so it is difficult to generalize from sample to wider population
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Studying society 9

Group interview


  • Can gather a wide range of views and experiences 
  • Participants in group interviews can be recruited to take part in individual interviews at a later point in the research
  • Some interviewees may feel more comfortable because they are supported by others


  • Require a skilled interviewer who can keep the discussion going and encourage interviewees to ‘open up’ whilst remaining aware that the topics may be sensitive for some people
  • Some interviewees may dominate the discussion so that not every voice is heard. Others will feel intimidated in a group setting and prefer a one-to-one setting
  • In a group setting, the researcher cannot guarantee confidentiality or anonymity to the interviewees
  • Interviewees may influence each others responses
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Studying society 10

Non Participant observation


  • By reducing the level of interaction between the researcher and the participants you can reduce the risk of the Observer effect. However, this only happens if the observation is covert
  • It is also easier to record information and observations if you are not participating, so you can record data more easily


  • If the observation is overt you are more at risk from the Observer Effect as people know they are being watched
  • You do not gain as much information as participant observations as you are not so submerged in the group you are observing
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Studying society 11

Covert Participant observation


  • Removes the observer effect, so findings are more valid
  • Often suitable for ‘difficult to reach’ groups 


  • It can be hard to get into a group - it takes a lot of time and effort
  • The researcher may have to become involved in criminal or dangerous activities
  • The researcher has to employ a level of deceit, since the researcher is essentially lies about the nature of her presence within the group
  • Close friendships are often resulting from connections with members of the group under study and the covert nature of the research can put a tremendous strain on the researcher, both in and out of the fieldwork setting
  • The problem of 'going native', which refers to the fact that a researcher will cease to be a researcher and will become a full-time group participant
  • Both expensive and time consuming for the amount of data gathered
  • It would be difficult to repeat a PO study in order to check reliability of the findings
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Overt participant observation


  • The avoidance of ethical problems in that the group are aware of the researcher's role
  • The group is being observed in its 'natural setting'
  • Data may also be openly recorded
  • Problems of 'going native' are avoided


  • There is possibility of the observer effect, where the behaviour of those under study may alter due to the presence of the researcher
  • It would be difficult to repeat a PO study in order to check reliability of the findings
  • Researcher is less likely to see the world through the eyes of the group
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Studying society 13

Sampling frames

Stratified: specifc nos of people asked to mirror population. + Represenative - Time consuming

Random: small group taken randomly,non specific,no order + equal chance of being chosen - not represenatitive

Systematic: Every Nth person chosen + equal chance - not representative

Snowball: one person to another e.g homeless, used when no stats to help find people + small no of people asked - not represenatitve, hard to find

Quota: when certain factors are controlled e.g age,race,gender

Purposive sampling: Directly/actively find a sample, less systematic

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Studying society 14

Official Statistics


  • Relatively cheap, easy to access and cover many aspects of social life
  • In some cases, they are one of the few sources of data available on a topic
  • They allow sociologists to examine trends (that is, increases or decreases over time) 
  • They can be used with primary sources of data to get a fuller picture 


  • They are put together by officials so sociologists have little say on the definitions used
  • Sociologists cannot check the validity of official statistics. For example, official stats may not give a true measurement of classroom violence
  • They are ‘socially constructed’ – they are the outcome of decisions and choices made by the people involved in their construction. For example, stats on domestic violence are published as statements of fact. However, they are the outcome of decisions made by people such as victims or police officers. The victims, for instance, must decide whether or not to report violent incidents to the police. As a result, domestic violence is likely to be under-reported to the police.
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Studying society 15

Ethics Issues: These relate to morals and in the context of sociological research, raise questions about how to conduct morally acceptable research which protects the rights of research participants and safeguards their well-being

  • Anonymity - Sensitive issues/Manipulation
  • Confidentiality - keeping matters private
  • Informed Consent- knowing what they are getting involved in
  • Gate keeper - a person that can give permission to allow research to be conducted
  • Age restrictions Vulnerable,innapropriate questions
  • Make sure research doesn't offend anyone

Name the issue

Why it is an issue

How to solve it

Why it is solved

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6 mark question 

Identify /Why it's better than another/Extra info/Relevance to your research/Why the other is negative /Why your option is best


One sampling method I would use is quota sampling because I can control certain factors such as age and gender which could be useful in my research.

This sampling method would be more efficient than snowball sampling because it doesn't waste time.

Quota sampling would help me collect a wide representative of all students whereas snowball sampling could lead be to a group of similar people.

Quota sampling would allow me to get the gate keepers permission for my data. 

However snowball sampling would be unethical if I went from child to child.

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