Tag: Sociologists

In the previous article, we discussed the Quantitative research method used by positivists. Today we shall look at the other side of the coin.

Qualitative Research Tradition:

Interpretivists or anti-positivists refer to sociologists who choose the qualitative research tradition. This research method is more commonly known as a field experiment. This method’s main objective is to unlock the subjective state of mind of people and detect meanings and motives behind people’s behaviors. It is about going into people’s natural environment to study their natural behaviors in their social environments. Researchers also employ the ‘inductive model’, where they start with the research and testing and then end up by formulating a hypothesis based on the data collected.

According to this methodology, research has to be:

  • Valid: Research and information that is firsthand genuine, accurate, and reflect true picture of social occurrences.
  • Empathy: Research where the researcher puts himself in the shoes of the individuals being studied and tries to understand their behaviors from their point of view.

Qualitative Data

Qualitative data can be defined as data that is in a descriptive and non-numerical form. Unlike quantitative data based only on facts and figures, qualitative data refers to data in words that involve personal emotions and opinions.

Methods Chosen by Interpretivists:

  • Participant Observation
  • Unstructured Interviews
  • Focus Groups

#1. Participant Observation

Participant observation is a process where researchers go into natural and social settings to observe and study individuals’ behaviors. Sociologists collect data by joining a group, living among the subjects and observing them.

There are two types of Participant Observation:

– Covert Participant Observation

– Overt Participant Observation

Covert Participant Observation

This process refers to when the researcher hides his or her real identity as researcher and studies people in a group. This means that people are not aware that they are being studied. One famous example where this method was used was in Laud Humphreys’ study, ‘The Tearoom Trade’ which involved studying homosexual encounters in public places.

This research method has some benefits:

  • There is no Hawthorne Effect, which means that as people do not know that they are being studied, they will behave generally without changing their behaviors and attitudes. This is beneficial to the researcher who can collect accurate information.
  • As the sociologist’s identity is concealed, he or she can collect additional and unexpected information. For instance, Ditton, a researcher, collected additional information about the theft of bread among workers during working hours.

What about its drawbacks?

  • In covert participant observation, the researcher might need to participate in illegal and immoral activities as he is considered a member of the group and not a researcher. For instance, if you study and form part of a group that steals cars, you will have no other choice than to participate in their illegal activities during your research.
  • Once you become a member of a group or institution, it might become difficult to leave. For instance, during his research as a person with a mental health condition, Erving Goffman, an American Sociologist, could not leave the mental asylum. Poor him!
  • As the researcher has not revealed his or her real identity, that person cannot take notes openly and instead, one must rely on his or her memory. And there is often there is the risk of memory distortion. A funny fact is how Ditton had to go to the toilet and write information on toilet paper to remember every detail.

Overt Participant Observation

This is the process when the researcher observes and studies a group by revealing his true identity and asking the group’s permission. Here, people are aware that they are being studied.

Some benefits of this method:

  • Compared to covert participant observation, this method is ethically correct as the researcher asks the gatekeeper’s consent before studying the group.
  • The researcher will not ‘go native’. This implies that the sociologist will not forget his research’s purpose and will act professionally towards the group.
  • Here, the group members will not force the researcher to participate in their illegal and immoral activities.

The downsides of overt participant observation:

  • There is the Hawthorne Effect! What type of person will show his or her illegal activities in front of a researcher? Out of fear, people will tend to change their behavior, which will affect the research’s validity.
  • Even though asking permission might seem the correct way to carry out the research, however, many closed groups or sects will never give a researcher the right to study them.

#2. Unstructured Interviews

Similar to structured interviews, this refers to a face-to-face conversation between the researcher and the subjects. However, there are some differences which are: questions are not prearranged and the interviewer can modify or add questions to the interview.

#3. Focus Groups

A group interview consisting of two or more people where the sociologist asks questions is called a focus group. It involves planned discussions and questions created to prompt group communication. In a focus group, the researcher might play a less active role than the other group members.

Among the two research traditions, which one do you think is the most effective one? Please share your comments!

The main purpose of sociologists is to study human behaviours and to detect the meanings and motives behind these behaviours. However, to carry out their study of social lives, sociologists must choose their research methods.

Let’s become a sociologist for a day and learn more about the research methodology!

Quantitative Research Tradition:

Researchers who choose the quantitative research tradition are called positivists. This research method is a scientific approach similar to a laboratory experiment and involves the natural principles of science. Researchers also employ the ‘hypothetico deductive model’, where they start by creating a hypothesis and after considerable research and testing are done, they end their research by either accepting or rejecting the hypothesis. They also like to take into consideration correlation factors. They emphasize a lot on the link between 2 social phenomena.

According to this methodology, research must be:

  • Reliable: research that can be replicated later to obtain the same results and open to verification by others.
  • Objective: research that is purely factual and does not involve bias, personal emotions and opinions.
  • Cumulative: research that is based on others’ previous works and hypotheses.
  • Systematic: research done in the same order, following specific steps.

Quantitative Data

It refers to data which is in a numerical and statistical form where the information does not include any personal emotions or opinions. Quantitative data, which mostly consists of facts and statistics, can be computerized and represented on charts and graphs.

Methods Chosen by Positivists:

  • Questionnaire
  • Structure Interviews

#1. Questionnaire

A questionnaire refers simply to a technique used to collect information based on a document containing a list of preset and standardized questions relating to a specific research topic. The questionnaire includes two categories of questions, open-ended and closed questions.

Closed questions are multiple-choice questions that highly motivate respondents as they are easier and quicker to answer. These types of questions are easy to analyze, quantify and computerize, however, they do not allow people to express their views and develop their answers.

On the other hand, open-ended questions are more like structured questions and are considered highly valid as respondants are free to express themselves. As these questions are in descriptive form, the researcher can unlock the subjects’ subjective state of mind and better understand their point of view. However, unlike the closed questions, it is difficult to quantify and computerize open-ended questions.

Generally, there are two ways to administer the questionnaire:

  • Self-administered Questionnaire
  • Mail or Postal Questionnaire

Mail or Postal Questionnaire

This is when the researcher sends the questionnaire to people through the post or mail. Some benefits of this method are:

  • It is less time-consuming as there is no need for travelling and is the easiest and quickest way.
  • It is cheap as there are no travelling costs.
  • People can answer the questionnaire at their desired pace.
  • People can verify the accuracy of the information given.
  • There is no interviewer bias, which means that the researcher’s presence does not affect the responses of the individuals.

Its downsides are:

  • It usually consists of a low response rate as people do not send back the questionnaire at all or send it partly filled.
  • There is always a risk that a third party may answer the document instead of the targeted person and as a result, this would affect the validity and reliability of the research.
  • As the researcher is not physically present, difficulties and misunderstandings about the questions cannot be cleared.

Self-Administered Questionnaire

This method refers to when the researcher personally delivers the questionnaire to people and the advantages of this method are:

  • Compared to the mail/postal questionnaire, here as the researcher is physically present, ambiguities encountered by respondents can be cleared on the spot.
  • Unlike the mail/postal method, there is no risk of a third part answering the document as it is a face-to-face interaction between the researcher and the selected individual.
  • It is more appropriate for less educated people, as the researcher is there to help and assist people.

The drawbacks of the self-administered method:

  • The presence of the researcher highly affects the answers of people. They may feel embarrassed and consequently give information that will only please the researchers.
  • Time-consuming and costly as travelling is involved.

#2. Structured Interviews

Structured interviews are based on a pre-coded document. It is a face-to-face interaction and oral conversation between the interviewer and interviewee. The questions asked are already planned and prepared beforehand. Overall, this method of data collection is noted to have a high response rate.

#3. Cross-Sectional Surveys

It is a type of observational method that analyzes data from a population at a specific point in time. This study is also known as cross-sectional analysis or transverse study. They are descriptive in nature and are mainly based on observations at one certain time. This scientific method aims to analyze changes over a period of time.

Do these methods seem genuine and objective to you? Please share your comments!

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