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What research methods do positivists use?

Positivists argue that there is a measurable, objective social reality in society, just like the physical world, they view our behaviour as the result of social forces shaping what we do and the aim of research is to discover the underlying cause of our behaviour
+ They use standardised methods of research, such as questionnaires, official statistics, structured observation and structured interviews, this creates reliable and representative quantitative data
+ They try to identify general patterns and trends in behaviour, from which they produce cause and effect relationships like those in natural science


What research methods do interpretivists use?

They claim that there is no objective social reality, just the subjective meanings that people social actors give to events, the aim of research is to uncover actors meanings or worldview
+ Using open ended research methods that produce valid, qualitative data, such as unstructured interviews, participant observation and personal documents
+ Such methods enable the Sociologist to gain understanding by experiencing the groups lifestyle for themselves


What are the three Key concepts?

+ Reliability, It must be replicable, regardless of who carries out the research if the research methods are the same the results should be the same, this allows standardised measurements to be used, can be used to show trends over time, positivists favour this approach emphasising the need for reliability, positivists argue that participant observation and unstructured interviews are unreliable as they cannot be repeated
+ Representativeness, as Sociologists cannot usually study every member of the group they are interested in they study a sample instead, to be representative this group must be representative of all the groups characteristics to achieve a accurate view of a whole group, what is true of the sample group is hence usually true of the whole group, this allows generalisations to be made about the wider group on the basis of the evidence of the sample, positivists also argue the importance of representativeness, because they wish to discover general patterns and make cause and effect relationships about social behaviour
+ Validity, validity refers to how authentic and true the data is, the aim is to get close to the reality of a social situation, interpretivists argue the importance of validity and methods. surveys, experiments and other structured methods are rejected because they don't explain how social actors actually think or act. Validity is the opposite of reliability, a valid research technique is likely to reduce the reliability but boost validity and vice Versa, it is unlikely that a persons subjective meanings can be measured satisfactorily in a reliable report


What is the difference between primary and secondary data?

Primary data is evidence collected by sociologists themselves for their own sociological purposes, is material collected firsthand by researchers using methods such as questionnaires etc,
Secondary data is any information that has already been collected by someone else for their own use that may be useful to others, official statistics, records, media reports, diaries and other personal documents.


What are the three main factors influencing the Sociologists choice of method?

+ Methodological preference of the Sociologist
+ Practical aspects of research
+ Ethical concerns


How does methodological preference affect choice of research method?

Positivists prefer quantitative data, the aim of their research is to study an objective social reality that requires quantitative data to identify patterns and trends in behaviour, this preference means that they are likely to choose structured research techniques such as questionnaires which generate reliable and representative data, interpretivists prefer qualitative data , their aim is to uncover meanings people hold, the only way to do this is allow them to speak freely in ways they believe are appropriate meaning that there methodological preference will mean that they choose Unstructured research methods such as P.O or unstructured interviews which produce valid, qualitative data.
E.g positivists prefer official statistics because they are standardised Year on Year, so they generate quantitative data that can be analysed to see trends and patterns in behaviour


How do practical factors influence researchers choice of method?

+ Time, Some methods such as P.O take longer than surveys etc William foot Whyte took months to compile his research into street corner societies.
+ The money available may affect the number of respondents and time as some methods are cheaper such as questionnaires which may mean that some Sociologists will have to change their research methods
+ Source of funding, Sociologists may have to adapt their research to adapt to the concerns of the funding bodies
+ Personal factors, such as family commitments etc, that may limit the time a researcher can commit
+ Research subjects, some groups such as prisoners are less able to research
+ Personal danger, Methods involving direct contact with a research group increase the possibility of danger to researchers


How do ethical factors influence a research method?

+ As sociological research doesn't take place in a moral vacuum Sociologists must think about the effect their research could have on people's lives
+ Informed consent, Researchers should have the informed consent of research subjects because of the effects that the research may have in them, people should not be manipulated without prior knowledge
+ Confidentiality, Research subjects may have the right to anonymity, so they should not be identifiable when research is published, this can be difficult to achieve for some small samples as even name changes may not be anonymous enough
+ Effects on research subjects, research findings may be used to attack certain groups
+ analysis, different methods have different ethical problems, experiments have problems with consent and unstructured interviews have problems with confidentiality because of the trust involved
+ Vulnerable groups, special care should be taken to research certain groups such as children or disabled people as often consent is often required
+ Covert research, there is often tension between the ethical problem of deception when withholding information about and the difficulty of gaining access (gatekeepers) into certain groups


Evaluation, which Factor is most important?

Theoretical factors are a positive influence because they are about the kind of data Sociologists want to have ;qualitative or quantitative, practical or ethical factors are more of a limitation of choices they are often interrelated for example collecting qualitative data produces practical problems such as trust and access whilst gathering quantitative data creates practical problems such as sampling frames and question design
+ Triangulation, Some Sociologists see advantages in both types of data, triangulation combines quantitative and qualitative data so the strengths of both balance out the weakness of both


What influences a Sociologists choice of topic?

+ Practical factors, some topics may not be easily studied e.g prisoners
+ Funding bodies, they will only fund relevant topics, political parties are more likely to fund research that makes them look good
+ Sociologists theoretical perspective, a feminist is more likely to study gender issues
+ Chance, sometimes Sociologists may find themselves in a potential research situation by chance


How can you define your research?

+ Aims, is what defines what a Sociologists intends to study
+ Hypothesis, a statement that must be tested and challenged


What is operationalising concepts in research?

The researcher must define how their aims or hypothesis will be measured, E.g Educational attainment, having 5 A* - Cs


What is a pilot study?

If the researcher is using a survey method, they must first produce a draft questionnaire and give it a trial run to iron out any problems, refine questions and give interviewers practice, this is one reason why positivists see these forms of research as a scientific approach and better than interpretevists.


What is sampling?

When members of a target group are chosen to represent the group in sociological research due to time and money constraints of studying the whole group


What is a sampling frame?

To get a sample a Sociologist must first compile a sampling frame of all the people in a certain group from which they select people from, this could include electoral registers , phone directories and postcode address files etc.


How can a sample be representative?

The sample group should have the same characteristics of the larger group, it should be a cross section of the whole group, what is true of the sample is hence likely true of the group, its generalisable, positivists emphasise a samples representativeness so that they are able to make statements about whole groups not just a sample


Are all samples representative?

Smaller samples are less likely to be representative of a large group, interpretivists are more interested in the meanings held by social behaviour and not interested in making laws or generalisations of social behaviour and so see it less important for a group to be representative, if a researcher doesn't have a sample including all types of members of a population it cannot be representative


What are some types of samples?

+ Random sampling, where every member has equal chance of being selected, like being selected from a hat, eliminates bias
+ Quasi random sampling, element of structure into random, such as every 9th person in a sampling frame
+ Stratified sampling, Researcher first breaks groups down and creates representative samples from groups, e.g 20% of people under 18, 20% of sample under 18
+ Quota sampling, similar to stratified sampling but you have quotas of people to fill
+ Snowball sampling, where someone researched recommends someone else and etc, etc