Research methods


In this section we will address the above elements in the sociology specification. The nature of science and the extent to which sociology can be regarded as a science (bullet point 8) is addressed in the sub menu, Features of Science.

The AO1 content for research methods will firstly be addressed. The AO2 elements will be addressed mainly as we apply research methods to our topics, Education and The Media. However we must be able to clearly AO3 each methodology used in sociological research and for this we will use the PERVERT mnemonic (5th bullet point on specification above).


P – here we would assess the strengths and weaknesses of our chosen methodology based on things such as accessibility to the group or institution – is it easy or difficult to set up. We may consider funding especially if the research is longitudinal or on a large scale. Practical issues may come up on availability of data, we may find that the government interest in a social issue aids the available data. It might be necessary to consider value freedom, that is can this topic be researched without bias.

E – here we need to ensure our research has stayed within ethical guidelines for social sciences. This means ensuring we have consent from particapants, that we Minimise deception, we ensure data is kept confidential, that we debrief participant after the research is complete, that we allow participants to withdraw at any point and ensure they are aware of this and feel able to and finally we need to ensure we have protected both our participants and our researchers.

R – RCCRReliability is about Control, Consistency and Replicability. Reliability is very much associated with the positivist approach to research as it is only research that a scientific approach that can really only achieve reliability.

V – TWSOTT – validity means does the research test what it set out to test. For example when Durkheim researched statistics on suicide rates was he actually testing the cause and occurrence or was he simply testing the accuracy and bias in statistic reporting by governments or health care professionals. Similarly in Crime and deviance with the dark statistics of crime – are we testing occurrence of crime or police motivation in recording crimes.

E – here we find supporting or refuting evidence for a theory, hopefully using a different methodology so we can achieve triangulation.

R – here we assess the usefulness of the research based on generalisability of the sample taken from a population. Culture and gender are useful issues to discus here.

T – when we use this evaluation point we are really assessing was it right to use a positivist, scientific, quantitative approach or would a interpretivist, micro, qualitative approach be more effective.

The relationship between positivism, interpretivism and sociological Methods: the nature of ‘social facts’.

There are two approaches to research within sociology the positivist approach which is based around modernity ideas of establishing cause and effect, scientific, objective methods. Positivist believe that we are determined by external forces which determine our behaviour, these external forces, Durkheim states, are ‘social facts’. We should study these social facts which mainly take a quantitative form to understand issues in society such as power, identity, social differentiation, stratification and culture. Positivist believe we should study what is observable and those that are not such as emotion and motives should not be studied as we can only infer meaning a process which has no scientific credibility and is wholly subjective. Positivist research methods offer a macro narrative, this means it aims to draw concluaions that can nomethetically apply to all in society. A good example of this would be Bandura study on Social learning theory which sought to show the effects of children being exposed to violence. From this experiment it was concluded that children exposed to aggressive behaviour will themselves by more aggressive and this rule of learning can be applied to all.

The terms objective and subjective are useful to understand and help identify the approach being taken. Objective means evidence that is not open to interpretation and is associated with quantitative data. Subjective is information which is open to interpretation, subjective data is mainly qualitative, descriptive data.

The main methods positivist researchers use are, experiments, comparative Methods, social surveys, structured questionnaires and interviews and non participant observations.

Interpretivism is our micro social action and ethnomethodology approaches (the second umbrella). These approaches argue against modernity and reflect the postmodernist view that society is far to complex to reduce to cause and effect, and numbers. To truly understand society we need to understand the perceptions of indivudals and groups – verstehen.

Interpretivist use qualitative methods such as participant observations, informal and unstructured interviews, open question surveys and use personal account through journals and diaries to get a deep understanding of individual perception to understand society. Unlike positivist, interpretivists are more likely to employ a longitudinal case study method.