What is Sociological Method?
- Sociologists conduct RESEARCH to help them get the evidence which helps them understand society.
- The different ways in which they carry out this research is known as METHOD.
- Sociology is only GOOD Sociology when it is based on good EMPIRICAL evidence that has been collected using reliable research techniques
Sociologists have THREE aims when collecting and then using data:
1. SOCIOLOGISTS AIM TO BE OBJECTIVE AND AVOID BIAS.
2. TO CONDUCT VALID AND RELIABLE RESEARCH THAT GIVES A TRUE PICTURE OF WHAT IS BEING MEASURED. THIS CAN BE TESTED BY SEEING OTHER SOCIOLOGISTS USING THE SAME METHODS AND GETTING THE SAME DATA.
3. SOCIOLOGISTS USE SAMPLES OF THE POPULATION (TOO MANY PEOPLE TO RESEARCH EVERYONE). THE SAMPLE MUST THEREFORE FIT THE POPULATION BY BEING PROPORTIONAL TO AGE, GENDER, CLASS, ETHNICITY ETC. IF THE SAMPLE IS REPRESENTATIVE THEN SOCIOLOGISTS CAN MAKE GENERALISED CONCLUSIONS.
THREE forms of research are carried out by sociologists:
- Descriptive Research – Aims to describe what is being studied. To gather knowledge and increase our understanding of the world. ‘How do boys and girls exam results compare?’ etc.
- Explanatory Research – Describes, but also looks for the CAUSES of social phenomena. ‘Why do girls do better than boys in exams’ etc.
- Action Research – The researcher is actively involved in planning and introducing some change of policy (perhaps in a school) and then studying the impact of that change.
Sociologists study people and social phenomena.
- How the research is conducted is based on how social phenomena are viewed.
- SIMILAR to natural phenomena? Then the research methods of the natural scientist may be borrowed.
- DIFFERENT from natural phenomena? Then other research methods should be used.
- This brings us to the POSITIVIST and INTERPRETIVIST approaches:
I’m a POSITIVIST.
I believe that only science can provide the ‘truth’ about our world.
I think that the way we behave is determined by social forces beyond our control, these are ‘laws’ or ‘social facts’.
These ‘forces’ are a product of the way society is organised.
I see Sociology as a scientific discipline.
It’s my job to uncover the social laws that govern human behaviour.
My main tool of research is the sample or survey.
My focus is MACRO and based on large scale studies of society and institutions.
My study is also referred to as STRUCTURAL.
I’m an INTERPRETIVIST and do not agree with the positivists.
I’m not convinced that Sociology is a science and I reject the idea that human behaviour is the result of ‘laws’/’social facts’.
I think society is the product of INTERACTION between people when they are together in social groups.
We need to INTERPRET social reaction to understand society and social behaviour.
My main research method is by unstructured interview and observation.
My focus is MICRO and based on small-scale studies of interaction.
You may sometimes see me referred to as a PHENOMENOLOGIST.
What factors produce GOOD Sociological Research?
Good research –
- Helps explain the world we live in
- Shines a light on problems we may not understand
- Offers solutions to social problems
- Offers us a way forward
- Good sociological research must be RIGOROUS
- Good sociological research must be based on EMPIRICAL evidence
- EMPIRICISM = evidence being subjected to TEST and MEASUREMENT in an OBJECTIVE way using the correct data
Good research will be REPRESENTATIVE –
- The GROUP being studied (known as the SAMPLE) should share the characteristics of the TARGET POPULATION (the larger group).
- Get the sample right and your findings should be REPRESENTATIVE of the group as a whole.
- So, you should be able to repeat the research with a similar group and get similar outcomes.
Good research will be GENERALISABLE –
- The INFORMATION gathered from a small group should apply to the LARGER group.
- Research should allow you to GENERALISE about larger populations.
Good research will be VALID –
- This means that the research findings should be TRUE TO LIFE.
Good research will be RELIABLE –
- The research you produce must be TRUSTED.
- To be RELIABLE – your research needs to be repeated elsewhere by different sociologists using similar methods and PRODUCE THE SAME RESULTS.
Good research will be RIGOROUS –
- Be based on evidence
- Be verifiable (someone else should be able to repeat the research)
- Be checked (cross-referenced) against similar research