What you need to know:• Quantitative and qualitative research methods their strengths and weaknesses• Sources of data• Evaluation of research – validity, reliability, representativeness, generalisability• Primary and secondary data• Sampling• Positivism, interpretivism and their effect on choice of method• Ethical considerations
Research not common sense• Research is based on evidence• Research moves beyond common sense and experience to the uncommon and factual account• Research can be objective• It can be tested by other people• Research can compare results to test accuracy• Quality research enables valid generalisations to be made about sociological phenomena
Durkheim’s study of suicide• Probably the first sociology research study• He was interested in the effects of anomie• His hypothesis was that in anomic situations e.g. times of war or political crisis, people were more likely to commit suicide• He collected lots of statistics from across several countries and compared the suicide levels• Many faults in the study – but was the first systematic attempt to do sociology research• As sociologists we have a duty to be critical of any research method and the “facts” that it generates
Correlational studies• Unlike natural sciences we cannot put people in a lab and experiment with them• Sociologists work on associations or correlations• Association cannot be cause and effect but a link• E.g. poverty and early death• But also increased sales of ice-cream and drowning (the link is that they are both more likely to happen on hot days)
Theory• A theory is a collection of linked ideas which explain some observable facts – think of Darwin’s theory of evolution• Sometimes the theory comes first and sociologist attempts to test it (e.g. Durkheim and suicide)• Sometimes the theory comes as a result of exploratory research (grounded theory)
Data and quality issues in research
Types of Data• Primary – those collected by the researcher themselves – experiments, surveys, observations, interviews. All of these methods together are known as Empirical research.• Secondary – those which have been collected by other people or organsiations e.g. using health statistics in the Black Report or even TV and historical documents
Types of data• Quantitative – That type of data which produces numeric information in the form of charts, statistics, tables. And answers questions like : “how many times”. It is generally “objective”• Qualitative – That type of data which produces descriptive information conveying words, feelings. It is rich, complex and difficult to analyse e.g. Becker’s work on The Outsiders. It is generally “subjective”
Evaluating Data• If a research method or approach is weak it will produce innacurate results• Remember : GIGO (garbage in garbage out)• There are five measures of quality: – Reliability -can it be repeated and get the same result? – Validity -Does it reflect a true picture of events? – Representativeness -Does the sample of pps reflect the target group? – Generalisability – can the results be generalised from this research to the whole of the population ? (needs large pps) – Objectivity – Has the researcher tried to keep their own values and beliefs out of the research process ?
Choice of subject• Are sociologists more interested in some people more than others• Are funds limited to certain areas (perceived problems)• Personal bias – to prove a point• The values beliefs of sociologists• Access to some groups difficult because of power – so why should we focus on the powerless ?
Ethical Issues• Choice of topic – we may draw negative attention to a disadvantaged group “victim blaming” e.g. Afro Caribbean youth• Choice of group – some groups don’t have the power to say no• Effects on people to be studied – may find out negative things about themsleves (the doctors in the Rosenhan study) or in the case of Humphrey’s Tearoom Trade, have negative consequences• Effects on wider society – public policy, victims of crime etc..• Legality and immorality – committing illegal acts during a study e.g. Venkatesh was involved in a beating• Consent - asking people’s permission to study them and their lives• Anonymity – The right to remain anonymus and not to be able to be identified from the report or study
Choices in Research
Theory influences choice of research topic• Feminists interested in uncovering relationships between patriarchy and women’s lives• Marxists interested in how a relatively small group of people oppress the masses• Functionalist explore values consensus and are interested in how society maintains agreement• Interactionists are interested in social action and context
Relationship between theory and method• Positivism – is the approach based on the natural sciences. Central is the idea of objectivity and science. This approach was favoured by earlier sociologists and tended to be “top down”• Interpretivism – is the approach which tries to see the world from the subjects perspective. Tends to be bottom up and qualitative. This research approach came originally from anthropology.
Triangulation• There is no perfect research method• Qualitative and quantitative methods both have weaknesses which tend to be the inverse of each other.• The use of mixed methods which is known as triangulation can overcome some of the weaknesses of a method• E.g. A quantitative study on health an d lifestyle could be supplemented by the use of in-depth interviews or focus groups –thus increasing validity of the research
Quantitative Methods• Surveys- standardised questionnaire to find out reliable facts, or test an hypothesis (cross sectional or longitudinal e.g. The BCS)• Experiments- to artificially create a situation which tests a theory or hypothesis e.g. Rosenhan’s study into mental hospitals• Comparative research- collecting and anyalysing statistics e.g. The Black Report or Durkheim’s study on suicide• These methods all tend to be high reliability but low validity
Sampling• Representative sampling – where attempts are made to accurately sample the target population to ensure representative and generalizable results• Non-representative sampling – where a valid study of the experiences of a group is more important than accuracy e.g. studying prostitution
Random sampling• Where every possible participant has an equal chance of being chosen• Advantages: least biased, most accurate• Disadvantages: need to know the extent of the target population and be able to get hold of them e.g. via postcode list or electoral register• Three main types: – Systematic sampling every nth on list – Stratified – divided on known criteria but you have to know the % of characteristic in population – Cluster e.g. geographic
Quota sampling• Often used by market researchers• Sampling based on proportions in UK population – e.g. age, sex, income, ethnicity• Each pp would be chosen on the basis that they fulfil these e.g. if 1% of population is Asian and female 1% of those sampled will be like that.• Advantages: economic, requires smaller sample and can choose to sample in one location but make it generalisable• Disadvantages you need to know the demographics of the population and innacuracies are hard to spot
Non-representative sampling• Snowball – where each participant is asked to refer researcher on to someone of interest the the researcher. Highly biased but useful for investigating marginalised groups• Theoretical – where a researcher selects an non typical group so that they can evaluate whether a charaqcteristic is biological or socially constructed e.g. mental illnesses
Pilot Study• Essential• Tests – sampling frame – Response rate – Research instrument e.g. questionnaire• Allows amendment for full research study
Qualitative Methods• Some sociologists interested in understanding the qualities of social life• The favoured methods are:• Observation• Informal interviews• Focus groups
Observation• Not a single method but 4 choices:• Non participant or participant• And if participant then• Covert or overt
Participant observation + -• Experiences • Bias• Getting to the • Researcher influence truth • Ethics• Depth • Too close• Dynamic • Going native• Getting to hard to • Studying the reach groups powerless • Keeping accurate field notes
Non participant• Less likely to go native• Less likely to accidentally influence group• But:• Desirability bias – or Hawthorne effect• Observing without being part may be sterile
The overt / covert dilemma Overt Covert• Trusted outsider • Access to forbidden• Honest and ethical areas• Can use supplemental • See normal behaviour research methods such • Dangerous as interviews • Ethical dilemmas• Can ask questions • Recording• Can keep contemporaneous notes• But people may lead you on
Ethnographic Research• Ethnography means writings about a group or culture.• A researcher joins a group and uses a range of methods to record the lives of the people in the group.• There are issues about how to gain access, acceptance, recording, maintining objectivity and if the group changes as a result of researcher’s presence
Informal interviews• More like a conversation with prompts• Open questions which will allow subject to explore or talk rather than give short answer• Researcher must be skilled• Advantages – high validity, lots of info• Disadvantages- hard to analyse, time consuming and dependent upon skill of researcher
Focus Groups• Small group• Series of prompts• Facilitated by researcher• Used a lot in market research to test ideas• In sociology useful to get people to speak when supported.• Weaknessss- can over represent the views of one or two dominant individuals• And lost of rich data hard to analyse
Questionnaires, interviews & indicators
Questionnaires• Surveys• Standardised• Large numbers of people• Handed out, internet or posted less often, face to face e.g. consumer surveys• Quantitative categories or Likert scales for opinions• Can contain a mixture of closed and open questions• A good questionnaire is easy to understand and complete, gets the right info and preferably short.
Inteviews• Good for complex or sensitive subjects• Researcher can clarify• Higher response rate• But:• Bias – people want to present themselves positively• Lying• Recording of information
Operationalizing concepts• Turning an abstract idea into something which can be seen, counted, measured in some way.• “Health” can be operationalized as: – Weight / height ratio (because people who are overweight tend to have more ill health) – Blood pressure (vulnerability to heart attacks / strokes) – Healthy diet (what you eat, smoke and drink affects your health) – Feelings of happiness (measured on a likert scale)• These concrete measures such as blood pressure are known as indicators, but their weakness is they are not the “thing” itself so car needs to be taken when using them instead
Language• Leading questions must be avoided e.g.• “wouldn’t you agree that…”It is hard not to agree• Emotive language or labelling language avoided• E.g. describing someone as disabled rather than talking about the disability – the former implies that every aspect of their life is “disabled”
Use of secondary sources
Secondary data• Not collected by the sociologist themselves• Collected by someone else for their own purpose e.g. Government statistics such as the census.• Or produced for personal use e.g. photos and diaries• Useful to sociologists, particularly when formulating research – reference to previous research in the field
Why use secondary sources:• Information is already available e.g. SMR’s (standard mortality ratios)• Historical events where participants can’t be interviewed• Cost to high to visit places• Issues of safety for the researcher e.g. researching role of women in Afganistan• Groups who don’t want to be researched e.g. the super rich..
Types of secondary data• Previous sociological research• Official publication• Diaries, letters and personal documents• Treaties, company records• Novels• Oral histories• Documentaries, newspapers, internet• pictures
Advantages of using secondary data• Statistics can illustrate trends e.g. health improvement, trends in crime• Personal documents may give a more valid picture of someone’s life• Oral histories – rich picture• Media and content analysis – turn opinion into “fact” e.g. yes the Daily Mirror does seek to create moral panics about black youth. GUMG analysis of topics covered
Issues with secondary data• Statistics/ previous research: may not be exactly what you need, also bias in collecting e.g. suicide statistics• Previous research studies – you can’t check validity e.g. Margaret Mead and growing un in Somoa.• Personal documents – self serving bias or edited by someone e.g. Otto Frank• Oral histories – memories may be distorted• Media and content analyis – different tools can give different results, huge amount of data.