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Sociological Imagination and Investigation Revision: Key ideas from Term 2.

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Presentation on theme: "Sociological Imagination and Investigation Revision: Key ideas from Term 2."— Presentation transcript:

1 Sociological Imagination and Investigation Revision: Key ideas from Term 2

2 The Exam 6thJune, 9.30, 2 hours (It’s a SATURDAY) You must answer 2 questions You must answer 1 question from each ‘Section’. Section 1 covers work done in Term 1 Section 2 covers work done in Term 2. Section 2 has 6 questions. They relate to the topics covered in lectures but there will not be one question per ‘topic’ so you must revise more than one topic.

3 Linking Theory and Research Inductive approach Starts with experience/observable events Pools a set of observations and existing data about the social world Generates a ‘research question’ or ‘theory’ from experiential data. Deductive approach Starts with a theoretical presupposition Applies that theory to a set of data [a particular case] Deduces an explanation for that data. Seeks not only corroboration of theory but also its falsification

4 Ontology and epistemology ‘The ‘double hermeneutic’ – human beings, the object of research – are able to name and interpret their own experiences, unlike the study of the ‘natural’ world. Ontology refers to theories concerning what ‘exists’ to be known. Thus taking a particular ontological position articulates your assumptions about the nature of social reality and what is ‘knowable’ to the social scientist. Epistemology is used to refer to theories about the ways in which we perceive and know our social world. An epistemological position thus states how we know what know. Answers to these questions have produced a number of key Perspectives on social research: Positivism Empiricism Realism Interpretivism Relativism/postmodernism

5 Quantitative research: surveys and content analysis Quantification is associated with positivism – it assumes an external and measurable reality; It most resembles methods in the natural sciences. Units of analysis: these are the things that are to be compared or analysed. Sample: Because it is usually impossible to study a whole population, a sample is selected to be representative of the whole population. Variables: These are attributes that vary across cases, and/or within a case over time (gender, age, subcultural affiliation, educational level, life time use of drugs).

6 Quantitative methods: Surveys Surveys are good for: Describing the characteristics of a large population. Comparing different populations (or subsets of populations e.g. men and women, rural and urban residents, France and UK) Relatively impersonal form of research – can be good for asking sensitive questions that people are uncomfortable talking about. Reliable (and replicable). Relatively transparent methodology The weaknesses of the survey method are: Can seldom deal with the context of social life. Inflexible - in that it requires that the researcher knows what to ask about before starting Inappropriate for historical research. Particularly weak at gathering: –Highly complex or ‘expert’ knowledge –People’s past attitudes or behaviour –Subconscious (especially macro- social) influences –Attitudes (or at least embodied attitudes)

7 Content Analysis Strengths Economy of time and money. Easy to repeat a portion of the study if necessary. Permits study of processes over time. Researcher seldom has any effect on the subject being studied. Reliability – consistent results over time Weaknesses Limited to the examination of recorded communications. Problems of validity are likely – are the sources meaningful measures of what we want to measure? Processes of classification inevitably involve subjective interpretation. ‘Non-human’ units of analysis?, i.e.a film, a TV episode, newspapers, a politician’s speech, a web-site, or a blog posting… Involves process of selection, sampling, categorisation, classification

8 Qualitative methods Forms of… (Ethnography, Participant Observation, Interviews & Focus groups) Philosophies of…(Interpretivism, Realism, naturalism, etc.) Histories of… (journalistic, anthropological, Chicago School, the ‘interview society’)

9 Strengths and limitations of qualitative methods Qualitative methods are seen as preferable when:  You are interpreting views, opinions, ideas  Context is important  Research is with vulnerable or ‘hard to reach’ groups  Research is into complex or dynamic social processes The limitations of qualitative methods are:  The researcher is central to the production of the research text. Therefore the ‘positionality’ of the researcher has to be built into its analysis.  We never really know how ‘honest’ or ‘open’ research subjects are being with us.  Ethnographic data may be valid but are not reliable i.e. similar studies in different contexts can produce very different results.

10 Ethics and Social Research We identified the following basic principles of ethical research practice: Informed consent Confidentiality Do no harm Respect for privacy Covert versus overt research

11 Mixing Methods How different are quantitative and qualitative research traditions (the notion of ‘covert positivism’)? What is the value of a purist approach to research that is based around asking and answering questions? Quantitative and qualitative methods should be viewed as complementary rather than mutually exclusive. We should focus on selecting the most appropriate methods for a particular question. Bryman identifies a range of reasons to mix methods: –Developing research instruments. –Triangulation –Enhancement and illustration

12 Social Research in the 21 st century A number of developments challenge us to think creatively about sociological research. These include: Globalisation: means we can no longer conceptualise the world in terms of separate, distinct, hermetically sealed “cultures” existing outside of global relations of power. The internet: challenges our very notion of what constitutes a ‘community’ by presenting itself as a site for both the production and reproduction of ‘virtual’ communities (desired identities etc). Other kinds of social research (marketing, policy, transactional, geo-demogrpahic data) should make us reflect on what sociology’s unique contribution to social research should be in the 21 st century.

13 Key ideas (1) Inductive vs Deductive Ontology and epistemology Operationalising quantitative research requires: units of analysis; samples; variables. Survey methods are strong on reliability but weak on validity. Content Analysis – social research without people? The ethnographic tradition (journalistic, anthropological, sociological) Ethnography and validity and reliability

14 Key ideas (2) Social research relationships are relationships of power Feminist methodologies and the emergence of the idea of ‘reflexive methodology’ emphasise ‘positionality’ between researchers and researched (how do issues of gender, race/ethnicity or class limit who and how we can research?) Exposing the importance of issues of power between researcher and researched allows research to be used to challenge existing hierarchies of domination and subordination (for political purposes). Are research traditions so different they can’t be ‘mixed’, or are there gains and losses to the process of mixing? Challenges to ‘traditional’ sociological approaches arise also from: globalisation; digital communication technologies, transactional and geo-demographic data.


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