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SOCIOLOGICAL
RESEARCH METHODS
ADVANTAGES/
DISADVANTAGES/
EXAMPLES–
USES
LIMITATIONSTABLE EDUCATION
SUMMARY
METHOD DEFINITION
Manip IV measure DV – control.-
Most controlled setting
Likely overt
SOCIAL SURVEYS (SELF REPORT)
(P.180-205)
EXPERIMENTS (P172-179)
LAB
 Generates quantitative data – easy
to analyse
 Best at identifying causal relhips
 Most control of confounding
variables
 Replication – reliability
 Experimenter =detached – less
involved.
 Artificial – low ecological validity – mundane
realism (cp. exp realism)
 Demand chics & evaluation apprehension –
Hawthorne Effect
 Ethics – informed consent, deceit, welfare
 Small-scale – inappropriate large scale social
phenomena & unrepresentative.
 Interpretivists –inappropriate for studying
people – freewill.
T/ P Relationships – Labelling
 Harvey & Slatin (1976) photos
 Charkin et al (1975) –
students & 10yr old
 Mason ((1973) – Reports &
video
MiC
ISSUES
 Pupils = special ethical issues – age,
understanding, welfare.
 Difficult to control variables in
schools – e.g. other factors
affecting labelling
 Hard to study effect of large scale
changes e.g. Gov policy in lab
setting
 Artificial may not apply to real
schools
 Replication difficult because
schools differ and change rapidly
over time.
 Special ethical issues in schools
FIELD
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Poss causal reliships
Some control
Less Hawthorne effect
External validity – more realistic
 More difficult to control – lack internal
validity
 Ethics – harder to inform/debrief, often
involves deceit & may affect welfare
 Rosenthal & Jacobson
‘Spurters’ (1968)
NATURAL -
 Avoids artificiality
 Can be used to study past events
 No ethical issues re harming
others/deceit et.
 Very little control therefore can’t clearly
establish cause and effect.
 Brunsma &. Rockquemore
(1992)
US study -Effects of school
uniform
 Schools are very complex
institutions – difficult to control
confounding variables eg tendency
to insist on uniforms likely to be
related to range of factors
Favoured by positivisits
Easy replication
Comparable data
Generalisation
Inexpensive
Large scale - representative
Closed Qs – easy to quantify
No interviewer bias
Postal – geographically diverse
sample
 Anonymity/confidentiality – good
for sensitive issues e.g. bullying.
 Fewer ethical issues
 Interpretivists reject – imposed ‘meaning’ –
thus lowvalidity
 Postal – low response rate - unrepresentative
 Qaire design – ambiguity, leading Qs.
 Understanding Qs
 Incomplete, illegible, incomprehensible
responses
 Closed Qs – limit responses
 Not taken seriously - socially desirable /
acquiescent response set.
 Rutter (1979) – London school
factors in achievement.
 Chubb & Moe (1990) US
schools, students & parents
factors affecting ed
achievement
 Conner & Dewson(2001)
Postal Q aire – W/C students
university choice
 Sullivan (2001) – cultural
capital & ed achievement
 McBeath et al (2001) School
effectiveness.
 Smith & Tomlinson (1989) –
Pupil Qaire ethnic variation.
 Age group – language,
understanding, attention span
 Easy access to sampling frames –
e.g. registers, tutor groups,
departments.
 Time constraints e.g. teachers &
working parents –low response or
unrepresentative sample
 Authority of head/school may
increase response rate.
 Informal communication may
increase demand characteristics.
 May get treated like a
‘test’/associated with authority.
Natural setting e.g.
school
Likely covert
Comparitive Method
Compares 2 groups who
differ in only one respect
QUESTIONNAIRES
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INTERVIEWS
Differ from questionnaires in that they involve some form of social interaction, depending on type:
Self-completed,
postal, interview
(structured – see
below). Qs
closed/open.
STRUCTURED
Similar to Qaire but Qs
(usually closed/pre-coded
filled in by interviewer
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SEMISTRUCTURED
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UN-STRUCTURED
Informal open-ended.
May have a genera topicdriven interview schedule
but more like a
conversation.
GROUP
Typically 8-10. Asked Qs
in turn or focus group –
guided discussions.
Preferred by positivists
Easy to train interviewers
Fairly quick & cheap – larger scale.
Higher response rate
Opportunity for clarification
Can include responses from those
who can’t read and write.
Comparable/quantifiable data
Formal enough to reduce
interviewer bias / effects
Easy to replicate
Similar to structured approach
More opportunities to probe,
clarify, develop etc
More depth, detail.
 Preferred by interpretivists
 Rapport – more in-depth info esp
on sensitive topics.
 Interviewer free to take direction
from interviewee.
 More flexible
 Fresh insights/unfamiliar topics
 More opportunities to clarify
 More like real world – most
opinions manifested in gp contexts
 Richer data if more informal.
 Restores power imbalance between
interviewees and interviewer.
 Ideas stimulated by interaction
 Opportunities to observe group
dynamics.
 More expensive / time-consuming than Qaires
 Interviewer bias – effects of age, gender,
personality
 Demand characteristics – social desirability,
screw you effect.
 Closed Qs - limited opportunities for original
responses – less valid.
 Interpretivist/feminist critique – meanings
imposed rather than understanding subjective
experience in a broader social context.
 Beron et al (2001) US Study
– vocabulary tests for 3-14
yrs
 Loss of standardisation
 Loss of comparability
 Becker (1977) _Teacher
perceptions of the ‘Ideal Pupil
 Mirza (1992) with black girls
 Sue Sharpe (1976 & 1990)
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Time-consuming/expensive
More training & skills
Smaller scale – less representative
Difficult to replicate
Difficult to quantify, analyse, compare,
establish causal relationships
More interviewer bias / effects
Demand characteristics – social desirability.
Group may be dominated by a few eg most
confident/articulate.
Difficult to keep focus
Effects of peer group pressure affect validity.
Harder to analyse data
 Gerwitz et al (1995) –
Parental interviews on school
transfer
 Labov – Black kids informal
cpd formal setting
 Lacey (1970) Informal
conversations with staff &
pupils
 Willis (1976)– Anti-school
subculture
 Age group – verbal/linguistic skill
(tho usually better verbally than
literacy), attention spa, focus
,suggestibility – importance of body
language – kids more alert to nonverbal cues and give time to think –
can consider alternatives e.g. using
pictures
 Interviewers need special training
and skills.
 School ’grapevine’ – increase
demand characteristics &
undermine validity
 Dangers of formality – associated
with teachers & authority – reduce
validity.
 Schools are hierarchical –
influences interaction and validity
 Gatekeepers – permission from e.g.
head LEA, parents etc – may
increase or decrease access,
depending on topic
OBSERVATION (P. 206-217)
PARTICIPANT
OBSERVATION
 Favoured by interpretivists –rich
qualitative ’real world’ data – based
on subjective insights, ‘verstehen’
(empathy).
 Covert – natural behaviour – valid
esp sensitive issues
 Overt – reduced moral & ethical
issues, easier to record, can
question openly
 Flexible - New insights
 Access to ‘hidden’ worlds e.g.
delinquent groups.

NON-PARTICPANT
OBSERVATION
 Overt/covert – as above
 Structured – preferred by
positivists –Quick, cheap, less
training, generate quantitative
data – easier to replicate, analyse,
compare
 Unstructured – Preferred by
interpretivists – More valid,
qualitative data, giving access to
meanings.
Unstructured. Natural
situation, observer
participates – usually
covert – enter ‘meaning
world’
 May be covert/overt
 May be structured
SECONDARY
SOURCES
/ unstructured
 Rejected by positivists – unreliable (can’t
replicate) & unrepresentative. Also ignores
structural context.
 Overt – Observer effects
 Covert – note taking & going native
 Getting in, staying in, getting out esp covert
 Time, money, involvement, stress
 Highly trained / skilled observer with
appropriate characteristics
 Objectivity - observer bias – overinvolvement, selective reporting
 Changing behaviour – researcher effects
 Small-sample. Can’t generalise
 Ethical issues – deception, consent,
confidentiality, privacy, welfare – legal & moral
duties.
 Overt/covert – as above
 Structured – Rejected by interpretivists –
lacks validity, categories controlled, ignoring
meanings,
 Unstructured –Rejected by positivists More
time consuming, more training required, harder
to analyse & compare data. Difficult to
replicate
 Willis (1977) Anti-school
subculture.
 Ball (1981) – Overt participant
observation of a
comprehensive school
 Wright(1992) – Ethnic
stereotypes in four primary
schools
 Hargreaves ((1967) As a
teacher observed effects of
streaming and labelling.
 Fielding – Students acted as
researchers
 Only a limited number of roles –
resticted e.g. teachers pupils,
caretaker – many have restrictions
– physical – age, gender, ethnicity
and educational qualifications
educational
 Difficult to get time / privacy for
recording
 Ethics – special issues – related to
age group and context – potential
harm if info sensitive info revealed.
Also need to protect school in
marketised economy.
 Flanders (1970) - US
classroom analysis using
Flanders Interaction Analysis
Categories FIAC
 Keddie (1991) – Observed
staff meetings and classes.
 Gilborn (1995) – school
policies, LEA guidelines,
minutes of staff meetings
 Gerwirtz et al (1995) – school
brochures & prospectuses
 Hey (1997) Used notes passed
in class to understand
friendship patterns
 Lobban (1974) – Content
analysis of gender roles in
reading schemes.
 Schools are structured
environments – easier to develop
effective behavioural categories
e.g. FIAC
 Teachers are practised performers
– e.g. Ofsted
 Children may be particularly
vulnerable to observer effects
 Gatekeepers – e.g. teachers, heads
may control who is observed.
 Schools unique
 Accountability means official data
accessible e.g. league tables.
 Issues of equality & achievement
shared by Gov & Sociologists
 Official definitions e.g. league
tables – vary over time
 Errors & Bias – e.g. present schools,
gov, individual in a good light ref.
marketisiation
 Access
QUANTITATIVE
 Preferred by positivistis – ‘social
facts’
 Free
 Official - Large amounts of data –
representative, allow comparisons
over time, standardised collection
& measures
 Rejected by interpretivists – socially
constructed – lack validity.
 Marxists – Official statistics represent the
interests of Capitalism
 Not specific to aims – collected for different
purpose
 No control over collection
QUALITATIVE
 Preferred by interpretivists –
more authentic, rich qualitative
data esp personal.
 Positivists can analyse using
content analysis
 Historical can allow study of
patterns over time
 Rejected by positivists –esp personal can’t
generalise, unrepresentative, open to
interpretation.
 Problems of assessing authenticity esp
historical
 Validity – may be written for a specific
purpose
1.Statistics – Official Data gathered Gov &
official bodies and nonofficial.
2. Existing sociological
research
1. Documents – public,
personal & historical
2. Existing sociological
research
ALSO REF: Case Studies & Longitudinal Research