Topic 2: Sociological Research Methods


2.1: Researching Social Life (p. 90-97)

A sociologist would try to provide insights into the social world whereas ordinary people rely on common sense and personal experience to understand society. However, sociologists argue reliance on this limited by own experiences so we can’t see social worlds in wider contexts and broader perspectives. 

Sociologists would use research methods to produce knowledge that’s more in-depth and credible about social worlds. Doing so can challenge individual biases and uncover typically hidden patterns. Once research is undertaken and patterns are found, sociologists seek explanations for the relationships between them - this is theorising. You would then evaluate a theory with further research. 

There is a distinction between sociological research and common sense - this can be made in terms of subjectivity and objectivity.

Subjective knowledge is based on an individual’s opinion and their point of view.

Objective knowledge is based on characteristics of what’s being described and should be independent of personal opinions/experiences/biases. It may be impossible to be entirely objective therefore you can get others to check the info to see if it’s a good representation.

Sociological research sets out to do three things:

  1. Gather data

  2. Establish correlations

  3. Develop theories 

1 - gathering data.

This is the first research task. This knowledge can take many forms, like quantitative, such asstatistical information (conducted by ONS in the UK), or like qualitative, such as observations or people talking about their lives. However be wary about this data because a fact may not be a fact for everyone, using different theories/methods to interpret the facts. E.g. a sociologist may look at statistics and interpret them differently to another sociologist 

For common sense, it varies person-to-person, it can come from limited personal experience and isn’t concerned with being objective as ot may be based upon faulty memories and false beliefs and information. 

For sociological research, it is based on evidence and is concerned with being objective as it’s tested and comparable with evidence, conducted in areas where most people don’t have much experience. 

2 - establishing correlations. 

This means you can explore relationships between different elements of society. Sociologists describe a correlation as a situation where one social event occurs then another tends to do so as well. 

Bennett & Holloway (2005) conducted research where people’s urine was tested after their arrest, which showed results of offenders usually using illegal drugs and alcohol. This led to the correlation between drug use and crime. People would draw the conclusion that one leads to another. 

However, just because statistics demonstrate a correlation it doesn’t necessarily mean that theres a causal relationship (where one thing causes another). You must do detailed research so you can explore the independent effects of different factors, so possible causes can be discovered.

3 - developing theories

The final role of research is to support, contradict or develop a theory (a general explanation of social events). Information has been gathered so sociologists can explain why certain social events occur, often


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