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Questions for Review

  1. Why Sociological research is a tool for learning the social reality
  2. Describe the classification of sociological researches
  3. List the sample sociological research
  4. List four components of research


Lecture 5. Methods of gathering the sociological information
1. The concept of method in sociology

2. General scientific and sociological principles of the research.

3. The ethics of social research

4. The basic sociological methods and features of their application


1. The term ‘method’ means an apt way of doing something. Every science has to use an appropriate way or a suitable method of investigating into its field of study.

Sociology, as we have discussed earlier, is also a science. It would also therefore, use certain methods by which sociological facts could be collected, analysed and put into proper form and certain conclusions drawn from them.

The question of proper methodology is of great significance in Sociology because the claim of our subject to be regarded a science depends upon the use of a methodology which can eliminate the possibility of personal bias from influencing our comprehension and evaluation of social facts.

Sociology is still in its infancy. It has therefore, not been able to find a method of its own appropriate for its researches. It has however, met with appreciable success in analysing the social phenomenon and its use of methods employed by other social sciences is quite proper.

Sociology, like every other science is a objective study of natural systems and since the social system, like all systems, evolves in course of time, it must be investigated m the very process of its evolution through methods used in such branches of study.

As the social phenomenon is very complex and the data to be collected are very large it is difficult to suggest which particular method should be employed by Sociology. The sociologists have, therefore, been employing various methods for investigating social phenomenon.

According to Chapin, there are three main methods of Sociology. These are the historical method, the statistical method and field work observation method. Ellwood has mentioned five methods: anthropological or comparative method, historical method, survey method, deductive method and philosophical method. Hart also has mentioned five methods. These are common sense method, historical method, observation method. Laboratory or experimental method and statistical method.

2. When sociologists apply the sociological perspective and begin to ask questions, no topic is off limits. Every aspect of human behaviour is a source of possible investigation. Sociologists question the world that humans have created and live in. They notice patterns of behaviour as people move through that world. Using sociological methods and systematic research within the framework of the scientific method and a scholarly interpretive perspective, sociologists have discovered workplace patterns that have transformed industries, family patterns that have enlightened parents, and education patterns that have aided structural changes in classrooms. The students at that university cafeteria discussion put forth a few loosely stated opinions. If the human behaviours around those claims were tested systematically, a student could write a report and offer the findings to fellow sociologists and the world in general. The new perspective could help people understand themselves and their neighbours and help people make better decisions about their lives. It might seem strange to use scientific practices to study social trends, but, as we shall see, it’s extremely helpful to rely on systematic approaches that research methods provide. Sociologists often begin the research process by asking a question about how or why things happen in this world. It might be a unique question about a new trend or an old question about a common aspect of life. Once a question is formed, a sociologist proceeds through an in-depth process to answer it. In deciding how to design that process, the researcher may adopt a positivist approach or an interpretive approach. The following sections describe these approaches to knowledge.


3. Ethics are self‐regulatory guidelines for making decisions and defining professions. By establishing ethical codes, professional organizations maintain the integrity of the profession, define the expected conduct of members, and protect the welfare of ubjects and clients. Moreover, ethical codes give professionals direction when confronting ethical dilemmas, or confusing situations. A case in point is a scientist's decision whether to intentionally deceive subjects or inform them about the true risks or goals of a controversial

but much‐needed experiment. Many organizations, such as the American Sociological Association and the American Psychological Association, establish ethical principles and guidelines. The vast majority of today's social scientists abide by their respective organizations' ethical principles.

A researcher must remain mindful of her or his ethical responsibilities to participants. A researcher's primary duty is to protect the welfare of the subjects. For example, a researcher whose study requires extensive questioning of volunteers' personal information should screen the subjects beforehand to assure that the questioning will not distress them. A researcher should also inform subjects about their expected roles in the study, the potential risks of participating, and their freedom to withdraw from the study at any time without consequences. Agreeing to participate in a study based on disclosure of this type of information constitutes informed consent. After the study is finished, the researcher should provide subjects with complete details about the study. Providing details at the conclusion of an experiment is called debriefing.

Many critics believe that no experiment justifies the intentional use of deception, or concealing the purpose and procedures of a study from participants. Not only does deception carry the risk of psychologically harming subjects, it reduces the general public's support for research. Proponents, however, view deception as necessary when prior knowledge of a study would sway a subject's responses and invalidate the results. If subjects learn that a study measures attitudes of racial discrimination, they may intentionally try to avoid appearing prejudiced.

Even the most ethical and cautious researcher cannot anticipate every risk associated with participating in a study. But by carefully screening subjects, informing subjects of their rights, giving them as much information as possible before the study, avoiding deception, and debriefing following the study, the researcher can at least minimize the risks of harm to the subjects.


4. Sociologists use many different designs and methods to study society and social behavior. Most sociological research involves ethnography, or “field work” designed to

depict the characteristics of a population as fully as possible.

Three popular social research designs (models) are

• Cross‐sectional, in which scientists study a number of individuals of different ages who have the same trait or characteristic of interest at a single time

• Longitudinal, in which scientists study the same individuals or society repeatedly over a specified period of time

• Cross‐sequential, in which scientists test individuals in a cross‐sectional sample more than once over a specified period of time

• Six of the most popular sociological research methods (procedures) are the case study, survey, observational, correlational, experimental, andcross‐cultural methods, as well as working with information already available.

Case study research. In case study research, an investigator studies an individual or small group of individuals with an unusual condition or situation. Case studies are typically clinical in scope. The investigator (often a clinical sociologist) sometimes uses self‐report

measures to acquire quantifiable data on the subject. A comprehensive case study, including a long‐term follow‐up, can last months or years.

On the positive side, case studies obtain useful information about individuals and small groups. On the negative side, they tend to apply only to individuals with similar characteristics rather than to the general population. The high likelihood of the investigator's biases affecting subjects' responses limits the generalizability of this method

Survey research involves interviewing or administeringquestionnaires, or written surveys, to large numbers of people. The investigator analyzes the data obtained from surveys to learn about similarities, differences, and trends. He or she then makes predictions about the population being studied.

As with most research methods, survey research brings both advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages include obtaining information from a large number of respondents, conducting personal interviews at a time convenient for respondents, and acquiring

data as inexpensively as possible. “Mail‐in” surveys have the added advantage of ensuring anonymity and thus prompting respondents to answer questions truthfully.

Disadvantages of survey research include volunteer bias, interviewer bias, and distortion. Volunteer bias occurs when a sample of volunteers is not representative of the general population. Subjects who are willing to talk about certain topics may answer surveys differently than those who are not willing to talk. Interviewer bias occurs when an interviewer's expectations or insignificant gestures (for example, frowning or smiling) inadvertently influence a subject's responses one way or the other. Distortion occurs when a subject does not respond to questions honestly.

Observational research. Because distortion can be a serious limitation of surveys, observational research involves directly observing subjects' reactions, either in a laboratory (called laboratory observation) or in a natural setting (called naturalistic observation). Observational research reduces the possibility that subjects will not give totally honest accounts of the experiences, not take the study seriously, fail to remember, or feel embarrassed.

Observational research has limitations, however. Subject bias is common, because volunteer subjects may not be representative of the general public. Individuals who agree to observation and monitoring may function differently than those who do not. They may also function differently in a laboratory setting than they do in other settings.

Correlational research

A sociologist may also conduct correlational research. Acorrelation is a relationship between two variables (or “factors that change”). These factors can be characteristics, attitudes, behaviors, or events. Correlational research attempts to determine if a relationship exists between the two variables, and the degree of that relationship.

A social researcher can use case studies, surveys, interviews, and observational research to discover correlations. Correlations are either positive (to +1.0), negative (to −1.0), or nonexistent (0.0). In a positive correlation, the values of the variables increase

or decrease (“co‐vary”) together. In a negative correlation, one variable increases as the other decreases. In a nonexistent correlation, no relationship exists between the variables.

People commonly confuse correlation with causation.

Correlational data do not indicate cause‐and‐effect relationships. When a correlation exists, changes in the value of one variable reflect changes in the value of the other. The correlation does not imply that one variable causes the other, only that both variables somehow relate to one another. To study the effects that variables have on each other, an investigator must conduct an experiment.

Experimental research

Experimental research attempts to determine how and whysomething happens. Experimental research tests the way in which anindependent variable (the factor that the scientist manipulates) affects a dependent variable (the factor that the scientist observes).

A number of factors can affect the outcome of any type of experimental research. One is finding samples that are random and representative of the population being studied. Another is experimenter bias, in which the researcher's expectations about what should or should not happen in the study sway the results. Still another is controlling for extraneous variables, such as room temperature or noise level, that may interfere with the results of the experiment. Only when the experimenter carefully controls for extraneous variables can she or he draw valid conclusions about the effects of specific variables on other variables.

Date: 2016-03-03; view: 2878

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