This essay will discuss research methods, taking into consideration the methods which could be best used in sociology . It will take also into consideration, the positive and detrimental aspects of these methods.
"Methodology refers to the theory and analysis of how research should proceed". ( Marsh.Ian.2000.134).
From the onset, sociology has been scientific and has set itself apart from common sense knowledge. Basically the word methodology is derived from the word method which can be defined as a technique used in order to collaborate relevant information for example surveys, questionaires etc. and the latin word ology meaning the study of something. Methodology is concerned with the specific methods we use in order to interperate the world we live in more accurately.
It is a fact that in order to reach conclusions,a methodological approach is required. This is especially the case for academic subjects as it is imperitive to gain methods of collaborating and studying relevant data. It has not yet been agreed upon about what the best method for sociology is, however there are many methods of research.
Ian marsh is of the opinion that "the sociologist is not limited to any one method; indeed the use of more that one method could provide a fuller and so more valid account".
The majority of research methods tend to be either quantitative or qualitative. The difference between the two is that quantitative research is involved in the gathering of numerical data to allow conclusions to be reached about certain phenomena for example statistics etc.
Qualitative research however, is the study of a particular group over a specific length of time. an example of this could be the television show Big Brother which studies a group of housemates over a number of weeks in order to study how they interact and behave.
Research methods in sociology include, observation which may be participant or non-participant. Participant observation is when the individual who is researching a particular group, plays an active role in the group and observes things as they happen . Non-participant on the other hand involves the individual researching the group, observing naturally occuring behaviour this time not as an active group member but as an outsider.
Case study's can also be used in sociological research,for example, the study of an individual or minute group of people in order to study their behaviour, their past and how they react to various situations as they occur.
The survey is a common method used in sociology and it involves a collaboration of information from a large number of individuals. surveys do not really produce detailed information, however they help provide statistical information over large areas.
Questionnaires and interviews may also be used and are appropriate methods of research in sociology. Sociologists use official statistics. They also use experiments, in which it is known for people to act differently.
Controlled experiments allow the relationship between two things to be explored by deliberately making a change to one variable. the advantages of scientific experiments are they can be well conrolled and replicated however total control is never possible as some variables go beyond the experimentors control it can also be influenced by experimentor bias and some individuals do not react well under experimental conditions
The positive approach was one seen in many of the earlier sociologists. Positivism and positive research is modelled on logical and scientific inquiry. Positivists believed soley in science, sticking only to phenomena which we can observe and measure. That is, it believes only in those scientific experiments which are testable .
It is the opinion of William Trochim that "In a positivist view of the world, science was seen as the way to get at truth, to understand the world well enough so that we might predict and control it"
Augustus Compte was cited by (Marsh.Ian.2000.136) in "Sociology; Making Sense of Society", as saying that applying the methods of the natural sciences to sociology would produce a "positivist science of society".
The understanding of social situations and the meanings which individuals link to their behaviour is focused upon by qualitative research, which I have previously mentioned. A qualitative researcher would usually gather information in order to provide back up for their argument.
By the use of qualitative research the observer is attempting to understand the phenomena which occurs while observing the individuals by looking at the world from the angle of the individuals thay are observing. This can include various forms of observation and unstructured interviews. The data gathered from these is then studied and the individual who is carrying out the research can then link their results to the focus of the study.
On the other hand some sociologists may prefer to use various quantitative research methods. The quantitative research methods used by sociologists have indeed many strenthgths, however they also have detremental aspects to them.
As I have previously mentioned surveys are a form of quantitative research. The survey is usually a search for a specific kind of information, a way of assessing public opinion. A survey takes various forms such as questionnaires, opinion polls and interview and is usually a large scale research method and is usually given written or verbally.
The main strengths of using a survey as a research method is that it provides structured, systematic data when large samples are required to provide appropriate data to study and describe certain trends It also allows access to information which we cannot gain from observation itself. The survey is seen as an extremely reliable quantitative method of research and interviews can be adapted in light of the person being surveyd's previous answers.
Although the survey may have strenghths and is seen to be reliable, it also has detrimental aspects.The survey relies on an idividuals report which could be open to bias.
Also, it is the opinion of DeVaus(1986) cited in(Marsh.Ian.2000.144) that "philosophical surveys cannot uncover the meanings of social action: they neglect the role of the human consiousness,goals and values as important sources of action".
While takin part in surveys individuals are limited choice answers and people cannot elaborate on questions being asked, therefor important information may be excluded. Surveys also produce conclusions regarding correlations however not regarding cause and effect hence, we hav a figure, a correlation but no information about what caused this or its effects.
Information gathered by sociologists is usually from questionnaires and interviews. Although there are obvious differences between the two there are also similarities to the way in which they are conducted and the topics which they raise.Interviews and questionaires tend to be already set out and planned. They are structured so a disadvantage of this is that it gives only a few possible answers,on the other hand they can be more open and unstuctred allowing people to elaborate and expand there answers.
One of the disadvantages of structured interviews and questionnaire is that the more structured and standardized they are, the harder it is to study and arrange the data. It is also accurate to say that individuals may not provide honest answers if they are under pressure. Individuals responses to questions perhaps could be subject to bias.
Interviewer bias may also be a problem , the person being interviewed may react to things such as the interviewers sex, gender, age etc. An example of this is cited by (Marsh.Ian.2000.147). Labov(1967) discovered that black children responded differently to white and black interviewers: with white interviewers there seemed to be a sense of hostility that limited the responces from the children. This is a relevant example for interviewer bias.
Although interviews and questionnaires have their disadvantages there is also a positive aspects to them. They give accurate, reliable information and "provide a scientific base for sociology".(Marsh.Ian.2000.145)
From these examples it is accurate to say that quantitative research backs up the positivist approach.
In conclusion to my essay, it is evident that there are many sociological research methods which fall into the qualitative and quantitative categories. There is no method which sociologists agree is most effective, each one having both strengths and also weaknesses.
I am of the opinion that there will never be an agreement on the method which is most effective. I believe that lies with the researcher and the method which they feel is most effective for them and their particular study.