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  • A2 Research Methods Revision Primary/ Qualitative Methods - Observational ResearchDescription Covert OvertExamples Humpreys (1970) Tea Room Trade (homosexual Venkatesh (2008) Gang Leader for a Day (OPO of men in toilets) Black Kings Crack Gang In ChicargoStrengths Forbidden fruit - Researchers can enter The observer can ask direct questions without the forbidden areas, be fully accepted and trusted, problem of your cover being blown. and immerse themselves totally in the group being studied. This can generate a real sense of It is more ethical as you are no deceiving the group and understanding of the views of the group. can gain consent. Normal behaviour - The group will continue to act Note taking and recording information is much easier as naturally, unaware that they are being studied so it can be done openly. should be high in validity. There is no danger of the group becoming hostile with No other way – Some groups are closed to you if your cover is blown as you are being honest with outsiders such as cults, or criminals there may be them. no other way to study the individuals involved. It may be easier to get in / stay in and get out as your being open.Weaknesses Ethical issues are more common as a lack of Outsider - There will be many situations where only a informed consent and there is the moral issue of trusted insider will be let into the secrets. Anyone else, deceiving the participants. even a sympathetic observer, will be excluded. Guilty Knowledge - Also ethically you might have Unnatural behaviour - The group will act unnaturally, as the problem of getting involved in criminal activity, they are aware that they are being studied which makes they may be the dilemma of reporting it or your data less valid. engaging in it to ensure cover is not blown. Unpractical - There may well be some groups that will It may be hard to get in / stay in and get out not allow you to enter them as an outsider so the method due to having to come up and maintain a cover will fail. story and it may disrupt family life. There is problems note taking without your cove being blown. So you might have to rely on memory so it will be inaccurate. There is also the danger involved as a group may become hostile with you if they discover you are researching them.
  • Participant Observation – join in with day to day activities of group either covertly/overtlySociological Examples - Venkatesh (2008) Gang Leader for a dayStrengths Weaknesses(Practical) Insiders Perspective - It’s most often (Practical) it can be time consuming, expensive and really disruptiveused with difficult areas of research, and often to a researchers family life. Also staying in a situation may bedoes reveal interesting insights into these groups stressful, demanding and even dangerous if done covertly.which would not be gained from an outsiders’perspective. (Practical) Hawthorne Effect - The presence of the observer – will make the group act differently this can happen if the researcher is to(Practical) Confidant / Rapport - Participant carry out covert or overt observation.observation can create a strong link between theresearcher and the social group, which means the (Ethics) Even if the group does not realize they are being studied thisgroup may confide with the researcher on issues does bring about ethical issues, for example, is it okay for you tothat before may have remained hidden. observe a group without their knowledge and further if you are participating with certain groups the researcher may engage in illegal (Ethical) With participant observation the ethical or immoral activities.considerations are largely dependent on whetherit is done overtly or covertly. (Theoretical) Going Native – main problem with participant observation is that the researcher works so close with the group(Theoretical) Verstehen – because you have under study, they might start to see the world purely from theactually joined the group and are interacting with groups’ perspective. This might mean they miss valuable insights intothe group, this means you can experience the the group.situations the group take part in and an insight intothe social world through the groups’ perspective, (Theoretical) They tend to lack reliability and representativeness ashighly valid. they are done on a small group for a certain period of time they are unlikely to be replicable or to be able to generalized to wider society.(Theoretical) Getting to the truth – a problemwith questionnaires and interviews is that people (Theoretical) Lacks Objectivity – Positivists would say because thecan lie. This is much more difficult for the researcher is immersed in a social situation they are subjective andparticipants to do in participant observation and if biased impressions made by the observer.they do, because the recorder is participating.Non-participant Observation – Don’t join in with the group whether covertly or overtly just an outsiderSociological Example – e.g. classroom observationStrengths Weaknesses(Practically) More cost/time efficient compared to participant (Practical) It might not be practically possible toobservation. They may be less time consuming as you have not conduct non-participant observation on certain to integrate or gain acceptance in a group. (Ethically) – If it is done covertly there may be ethical(Practical)Has possibility of using quantitative data as will be issues of consent, deception and invasion of to use a structured observation schedule to record dataeasily especially if its covert, this should also make them more (Theoretical) Lacks Validity- As it is superficial,reliable. observing from the outside leaves the researcher with a limited understanding of what they have observed andEthically – as you are not joining the group so if done overtly therefore the method may lack validity.consent can be gained and you are less likely to invade uponindividuals privacy.(Theoretical) Objectivity – positivists would suggest this type ofobservation is more objective and not participating means it iseasier to be objective when interpreting group behaviour.(Theoretical) Reduced Hawthorne Effects - The researcher isless likely to influence the group’s behaviour as they are notactually joining in with the group’s behaviour and activities.
  • Primary / Quantitative Methods - ExperimentsDescription Lab Experiments Field ExperimentsStrengths (Practical) It allows a researcher to carefully control (Practical) in some cases it may be impossible to variables and establish cause and effect. This might isolate variables in a lab it may be possible to be an ideal way to scientifically study certain topics. conduct a study in real life. (Ethical) As most experiments are overt there is the (theoretical) As studies have been conducted in real possibility of gaining informed consent and although life they are not artificial and may be more valid. they are unaware of the true purpose of the experiment they are usually aware they are being (theoretical) often participants are unaware that experimented on. they are being studied and this means that any Hawthorne Effects are reduced. (Theoretical) Positivists say experiments are objective and scientific way to study human behaviour. (Theoretical) They are meant to be reliable as you can replicate them and should get the same results.Weaknesses (Practical) The variables that operate in real life (Practical) Researchers cannot control all variables are so complex, it may be impossible to identify and in real life and can not establish cause and effect. control them in a lab setting. (ethical) Participants are usually unaware they have (Practical) They can only study small samples in an been experimented on this means that consent artificial environment so they are not representative. cannot be gained and participants have been Because of need for an artificial environment they can deceived. sometimes be (theoretical) Reduce reliability as field (Ethical) Many lab experiments have been accused experiments are conducted in real life then they may of causing harm to participant, due to deception or not reproduce the same results consistently. the stresses placed upon participants during experimentation. (Theoretical) Experiments are replicable so they should be reliable. (Theoretical) They tend to lack validity, because they are in an artificial environment. Meaning that Interpretivists say they are an inappropriate way to study society. (Theoretical) They tend to suffer from Hawthorne effects as individuals tend to act differently due to their awareness they are being studied. (Theoretical) Experimenter Bias – sometimes a researcher may bring about different results due to their characteristics and mannerisms. Or be so committed to a result may ignore material that conflicts with their aim.Sociological Zimbardo (1970) The Stanford prison experiment Rosenthal and Jacobson ‘Spurters study’
  • Primary / Quantitative Methods – Social Surveys and QuestionnairesDescriptio Self completion Questionnaire – participants fill in themselves e.g. postaln Structured Interviews – orally administered by an interviewer.Strength Weaknesses(practical) They are quick and cheap means of gathering (practical) Answers may be incomplete, illegiblelarge amounts of information, over a wide geographical or incomprehensible. They cannot be used witharea. This should make your data representative and people who are illiterate such as children.generalisable. (practical) The data gained tends to be limited(practical) There is no need and train interviews and superficial, they have to be brief so peoplebecause individuals self complete them. send them back so it limits the amount of information that can be gathered.(practical) They are also quick and cheap to answer asthey usually comprise of short answer questions, which (practical) who filled it in - You are never surecan be quickly analysed and processed. if a respondent the questionnaire was intended for was filled in by that person or even if they(ethical) they pose fewer ethical problems , as although ever received it in the first place.questionnaires may ask sensitive information individualsare under no obligation to answer them, informed consent (practical) They tend to have a very low responsecan be gained and they can guarantee anonymity. rate, for example S.Hites (1991) sex survey had a return rate of 4.5% out of a 100000.(theoretical) they are a reliable way of collectinginformation, when the research is repeated it should (practical) The individuals who do return theyield the same answers because of the use of closed questionnaire may not be normal, there may be aquestions. type of volunteer bias as the ones that do return questionnaires are not representative of the(theoretical) Positivists favour questionnaires because population you send it out to.they are detached and objective form of research, asthe sociologists contact with the participant is minimal so (practical) Questionnaires are a very inflexiblethe researcher has little chance of influencing the method, once you have decided what to ask it isparticipants’ responses. So they have no interviewer fixed there is no room to explore new areas.bias. (theoretical) Questionnaires may lack validity for a variety of reasons. You don’t know if individuals have understood the question and there is no researcher to help clarify the meaning. Individuals may lie for a variety of different reasons such as a lack. As the answers are fixed the response that reflects what an individual wants to say may not be there. Also there is the danger lying, this may because the respondent wants to be unhelpful, or they are embarrassed of the true answer, or give social desirablity bias or right answerism just say what they think the researcher wants to hear or the screw you effect. (theoretical) Interpretivists would suggest that questionnaire might appear to be objective and free from bias. However, they are subjective because the researcher decides what question to ask and then they interpret the results. This produces a socially constructed and distorted view of reality.
  • Primary / Qualitative Methods – InterviewsDescription Advantage DisadvantageStructured – (practical) As an interviewer is present the (practical) They are more costly than a postalorally response rate tends to be much higher as questionnaire as you will have to trainadministered individuals find it harder to refuse when face to interviewers.questionnaire face. It (ethically) they are perhaps not as ethical as(remember (practical) It also means that they can be used questionnaire as individuals are more likelymany of the with individuals who may not be able to read to feel pressured to participate and answers/w are the such as young children. questions due to the presence of ansame as interviewer.questionnaires (theoretical) they may produce more valid) responses as the interviewer can clarify the (theoretical) the validity of the answers may meaning of a question and clear up any also be effected by interviewer bias where misunderstandings. the characteristics of the interviewer influence the responses that they receive. Advantages DisadvantageUnstructured - (practical) They are useful for finding out about, (practical) being in-depth they take a longUses no set sensitive subjects such because of the rapport time to conduct. The qualitative nature of thequestions is a and informal nature of the interview. information means it takes a long time tonatural analyse. This makes them more costlyconversation (ethical) there are fewer ethical problems withon a topic. interviews as consent can be gained, anonymity (theoretical) As they are expensive and time and confidentiality are maintained and individuals consuming this means that very few can beSemi- can not answer questions that they are carried out making the sample gained fromstructured uncomfortable with. them unrepresentative.-some setquestions but (theoretical) as there are no set questions this (theoretical) The in no way are standardisedyou are free to gives the interviewee more opportunity to they will not be reliable.explore. discuss what they think is important, they are free to express themselves as they like making (theoretical) Some researchers in particularSociological the interview more valid. positivists would suggest that interviewer biasExamples – and the relationship between the interviewee (theoretically) Interpretivists suggest it is mush and the participant will distort the data gainedDobash and easier for the researcher to clarify a making it subjective and non scientific.Dobash (1976) participants meanings and gaining insight intoDomestic these meanings are what is important when (theoretical) there are problems with socialViolence ( used conducting research. desirability bias, interviewer bias effectingboth types) the validity of the data. (theoretical) As they are informal , this is moreAtkinson likely to put the participant at ease. The rapport(1979) – that develops between the participant andCoroners and interviewer should mean that individuals will beSuicide more open to discussing sensitive subjects and perhaps being a bit more honest. (theoretical) they are a highly flexible research tool, as they are not restricted to fixed questions in advance, so it can generate new ideas or hypothesis.
  • Secondary / Quantitative Methods - Public Documents / Reports and Government DocumentsDescription - Official Statistics / Durkheim – SuicideStrengths Weaknesses(practical) They are a free source of huge amounts quantitative (practical) The government collects statistics for its owndata that already exists, sociologists could never afford to produce purposes and not for the benefit of sociologists, so there mayresearch on this scale. be none on the required topics or the statistics were not fit for purpose.(practical) Statistics allow for easy comparison between groups. (practical) The definitions used by the government may wellE.g. on exam results. be different from the ones used by sociologists. Also these definitions change over time making direct historical(practical) They are collected at regular intervals they show trends comparisons difficult. For example, the governmentand patterns over time. This means sociologists can use them to unemployment statistics only counts individuals on job seekersdevelop correlations and even causal relationships. allowance. (theoretical) The validity of statistics have been questioned(ethical) Few ethical issues - One key advantage of the use of because they may not measure what they think they measure.statistics is they are usually in the public domain so have no issues Some ‘hard’ stats (such as births marriages and deaths) areof consent or infringing upon individuals privacy. very accurate. But other ‘soft’ stats like crime statistics and give a less valid picture. For example, crime stats do record(theoretical) A key advantage is that they are massively all the crime as some are not reported to or recorded by therepresentative and allow sociologists to make generalizations. police.For example, births, marriages and deaths and the census should be (theoretical) Interpretivists regard official statistics astotally representative but some might not be as representative lacking validity as they argue they are not social facts. Theysuch as the British Crime Survey. are a social construction and subject to a variety of biases in there construction. For example, in relation to suicide(theoretical) Another strength of statistics is there are meant to Atkinson points out that the official suicide rate is notbe reliable, they are collected in a standardized and rigorous way accurate but simply a coroners judgment but it could bewhich means the data should be reliable. wrong.(theoretical) Positivists such as Durkheim see statistics as socialfacts, true objective measures of a real social phenomenon such assuicide. They therefore, can use statistics to prove hypothesis.For example, Durkheim used differences in suicide rates to supporthis theory.Content Analysis – Analysis of MediaStrengths Weaknesses(practical) Content analysis is a good way to make comparisons (practical) There may be problems getting a representativebetween types of media and also to look at how trends have sample. E.g. soap storylines change, adverts differ atchanged over times. different times of day or periods of the year. (theoretical) There is the danger of taking material out of(theoretical) The key merits of quantitative content analysis due to context. E.g. at one point in a programme a character may actit being viewed as an objective, scientific, reliable method of and dress like a bimbo, but later on be very intellectual.studying media bias in the content of the If a strict coding scheme Coding schemes may find this difficult to account developed then the data should be reliable. Meaning consistentfindings are produced over time or even by different researchers (theoretical) Media messages are polysemic. Which meansusing the same scheme they can be interpreted in different ways and have numerous meanings. For example, one person may view a representation a racist, while other people will interpret material as(ethical) there are very fewer ethical issues with content analysis ridiculing it is on the media which is clearly in the public domain. (theoretical) While its supporters see it as scientific, objective and reliable. Its critics say the researcher defines the categories to be used and how they will measure. So its biased and subjective.
  • Secondary / Qualitative Sources - DocumentsDocuments Strengths WeaknessPersonal Documents – These are an excellent way to One problem is authenticity, what this means is thatDiaries, Suicide Notes and gather ‘verstehen’ or empathetic diaries and letters may not be real for example Hitler’sLetters understanding of an individual. For Diaries were shown to have been faked during the example, Thomas and Znaniecki 1990’. Another problem is personal bias, what thisIt is difficult for a used letters to get an historical means is that people may not be totally truthful.researcher to gain insight insight into the experiences of Another problem with this is they are written frominto issues or certain social being a immigrant in the USA. one person’s perspective who may have a narrow viewevents if the people involved Also a strength is that they are of particular events. People may over exaggerate,cannot be interviewed. not written for anybody else miss out information which makes them look bad orTherefore, a researchers’ things like diaries should not glorify themselves in other areas. Perhaps the biggestonly source of information contain bias and should be honest issue is that researcher themselves may misinterpretmight be from the media of and truthful. the document as they do not really know howofficial accounts which may something in the document was meant to be taken forportray events in a limited example something might be taken out of context, orway. One way to gain an be written in a sarcastic tone that the researcher mayinsight into how people felt be unaware of. Material in the diary or document mayabout a social situation at a also be illegible or missing. Positivists would suggestparticular time is by that these types of documents are subjective, biasedanalyzing letters or diaries. and unscientific.Novels Novels give a good insight into However, being fiction they exaggerate actions and attitudes, behaviours of particular values for the sake of narrative. Also it is only usually groups at a time the upper and middle classes that produce novels so only a limited social insight can be gained. The most important thing to remember is novels are fiction.Oral/Family/Life Histories Sometimes when the event took The problem with these methods is that they rely on place there may be some older other people’s memory which is fallible, also people’s people who can recall the actual oral histories will be tainted by personal bias, are event or who’s relatives will have subjective and are not an objective representation of communicated the information to the truth. them. There may be visual or aural recordings available. Gives a genuine insight into a historical phenomenonHistorical Documents These may include any of the But there are numerous problems initially. They might previously discussed documents. be hard to interpret if it is from a different culture, When sociologists study the past, or era, be written from a biased perspective. But historical documents maybe the other problems from historical documents are their only source of information authenticity, as at times these have proved to be fake, sometimes the source of the document might not be credible. A document might not be representative. Also the reading of a document might be misunderstood. Also there simply might not be a historical document on a particular topic or they could have been damaged or destroyed. For example, many records from the first world war were destroyed by bombing during the second.
  • Factors effecting sociologists choice of topic Personal Reasons – Sociologists will pick topics that are of interest to them, this might be due to things like ethnicity, gender and sexuality, or a experience that have had, or they may pick something that will enhance their reputation and further their career. Funding – sociologists have to study topic that they can afford to. Or if the government is funding research they will have to chose to conduct the research that the government is interested in. Values of society – Sociologists may chose to study a topic that is relevant or important in contemporary society, a topic that reflects the interests of society or what society deems important. For example, a lot of research has been done into terrorism. They may also chose to study a topic that there is very little insight to or attempt to get new insights into topics where there exists a body of work. Theoretical Perspective - This is perhaps the most important factor if a sociologist is a Marxists they will tend to study Class issues and Feminist will tend to study gender issues. Factors Effecting the choice of method – These can be largely divided up into Practical Ethical and Theoretical Issues and can be seen in the tables with each method, however, if the sociologist is a positivist or an interpretivists this could be influential. Positivism Interpretivism(Interactionism)Belief about sociology It should be scientific It cannot be scientificWhat types of data to they Like quantitative data as it is They like qualitative methods that reveal thefavour? scientific and objective. meaning of social interactions.What types of methods Experiments/ Official Participant observation / Unstructuredthey favour? Statistics/Closed ended Interviews questionnairesWhat are the problems of They lack validity even though they They are not reliable but lack validity.these types of method? are valid.