Sociology Class 11 Notes Chapter 5 Doing Sociology: Research Methods

  • Sociologists move beyond guess work and commonsensical knowledge to know what social reality is. Sociological explanations are, therefore, based on empirical research. Empirical research refers to factual enquiry carried out in a given area of sociological study.
  • Research process involves a number of distinct steps starting from where the investigation is begun to the time when its findings are published and shared with fellow social scientists.

Steps in Research Process:

  • Selecting a topic and defining a problem: It relates to what a sociologist wants to know about. The selection may depend on the sociologist’s personal interest, relevance and even availability of funds. The selected topic is defined in the form of a problem/a puzzle/question. This puzzle represents a gap in knowledge or understanding. For example, within the topic a lot of research questions can be framed, how far does the economic position of women lag behind that of men or does education lead to better sex ratio etc.
  • Review of secondary literature: Here the sociologist familiarizes himself/herself with existing literature on that topic. This literature could be in the form of books, journals, studies, newspaper articles etc. It helps the researcher sharpen his own research questions and also helps in making his own research questionnaire as well as the interview questions.
  • Formulating the hypothesis: Hypothesis is an educated guess about what is going on. The hypothesis tries to answer the research questions before the data collection on the basis of the secondary review of literature. The factual material gathered will provide evidence either supporting or disapproving the hypothesis.
  • Choosing the research method: Any one or a combination of one or more research methods can be used. There are a number of research methods and techniques of data collection such as surveys, observation, case study and interview. The choice of research method or technique depends on a number of factors:
    • The nature of research question being asked.
    • The time and resources available to researcher.
    • Size of community that needs to be studied.
    • Preferences of the researcher while some researchers are more comfortable with statistical method and others are more comfortable with anthropological method.
  • Collecting the data and recording the information: The data that is collected needs to be both valid and reliable. It should be valid to the problem that the researcher seeks to find answer for.
  • Analyzing the result: It is at this step that the hypothesis is tested. Analysis of the result requires specific technique ranging from statistical analysis to content analysis.
  • Sharing the result: The final report is written or published and shared with other social scientists. This stimulates ideas for further research.

Research Methods:

  • Research methods can be classified into micro and macro research methods, primary and secondary methods, qualitative and quantitative methods.

Macro vs Micro Research:

  • Micro Method: It is designed to work in small, intimate settings usually with a single researcher. Thus the interview and participant observation are thought of as micro method.
  • Macro Method: It is designed to tackle large scale research involving a large number of respondents and investigators. Survey research is the most common example of a ‘macro’ method.

Primary vs Secondary Research:

  • Primary Research: It is designed to produce fresh or ‘primary’ data. Interviews generate primary data.
  • Secondary Research: It relies on ‘secondary’ or already existing data (in the form of documents or other records and artefacts). Historical methods typically rely on secondary material is found in archives.

Quantitative vs Qualitative Research:

  • Quantitative Research: It deals in countable or measurable variables (proportions, averages and the like). Example-Survey.
  • Qualitative Research: It deals with more abstract and hard to measure phenomena like attitudes, emotions, values etc. Examples: interview, observation, content analysis of paintings, advertisements, etc

Survey Method:
A survey is a quantitative macro research method. It is an attempt to provide a compressive perspective on same topic.

  • It is used to collect information about people’s attitudes, beliefs and behavior.
  • It involves the collection of standardized information from the population being studied.
  • Standardized information is gathered by asking same questions to all respondents in exactly same order.

Surveys rely on questionnaires as the main technique of data collection.

Surveys are of two types:

Descriptive survey: They provide an accurate measurement of the distribution of certain characteristics in a given population. For example, income distribution, extent of literacy in a particular area.

Analytical survey: It is concerned with different variables. For example, a researcher may want to look at the relationship between level of prosperity and sex ratio.

  • The information collected through a questionnaire in a survey is statistically analysed to reveal the pattern of regularity. These findings are presented as pie charts.
  • Survey research is usually done by large teams consisting of those who plan and design the study (the researchers) and their associates and assistants who may get the questionnaire filled up.
  • If the population of the study is too large, the survey will be based on information gathered from a representative sample of the population.
  • Sample selection process depends on two main principles:
    • Principle of stratification: All the relevant sub-groups in a population should be recognized and represented in a sample. For example, if one is doing research on attitude towards religion, it would be important to include members of all religions as well as both men and women within each religious category.
    • The second principle of sample selection is that of the actual unit, i.e., village, person, household is selected on the basis of pure chance. This is referred to as randomization, which itself depends on the concept of probability.

The small sample that is carefully selected using the above mentioned principles is such that the sample represents the entire group of population under study. The results obtained from the study of the sample are generalized to the entire population.

Advantages of survey:
It allows to generalize result for a large population by actually studying only a small portion of the population. Therefore, with the help of survey one can study with manageable investments of time, efforts and money.

Disadvantages of survey:

  • In a survey it is not possible to get in-depth information from respondents. This is because the time spent on each respondent is very limited.
  • Since a survey involves a large number of investigators, it becomes very difficult to ensure that the complicated questions are asked from all respondents in exactly the same way.
  • Questions that are asked in survey cannot be of personal or sensitive type. This is because there is no long-term interaction between the investigator and respondents.
  • In a survey unlike what is in an observation method, it is very difficult for the investigator to know for sure whether the response given by the respondent is true or not.
  • Survey as a method is not very flexible as once the questions are set one can not add any more questions.

For a survey to be successful it is highly dependent on a well formed questionnaire and a well selected sample.

Questionnaire:
They are the techniques used in the survey method.

  • A questionnaire refers to a set of preset questions given to respondents in printed or written form.
  • It is designed to provide information relevant to the research area.
  • These may be filled in by respondents themselves, or even mailed to the researcher.

There are two main types of questions in a questionnaire.

  • Open- ended: It allows the respondents to fill in or mail the information to the researcher. These are difficult to interpret statistically. The benefit is that it allows the respondents to write whatever answer he/ she considers appropriate.
  • Close-ended: Here the respondents are asked to choose from a number of given answers. For example, Do you think caste is important in urban India?
    • yes.
    • no.

In order to make a good questionnaire the following points should be kept in mind:

  • Questionnaire should be carefully worded so that they are free from the researcher’s bias. There should be no leading questions.
  • The questions should be sequentially related to each other.
  • Questions relating to basic information such as name, age, gender must precede the actual survey questions.
  • Questions should be easy to understand and precise.
  • All closed-ended questions usually are at the end of the questionnaire.
  • Leading questions like-“Don’t you think boys should be helping in household chores” should be avoided.
  • All questions in questionnaire should be related to the research question and the areas specified in the statement of purpose.

Observation As A Method:

  • It is a method of data collection which implies recording human behavior as it actually occurs without controlling it.
  • It may be in the form of participant observation or in the form of non-participant observation.

Non- participant observation:

  • In non- participant observation the observer is detached from the group under study who may or may not know that they are being observed.
  • The observer does not participate in the activities of those who are being observed. This may place the person being observed in an awkward situation and their conduct may become unnatural. However, non-participant observation does reduce the risk of the observer using his or her “outside” eye.

Participant observation:

  • It is a research method widely used in sociology and social anthropology. Here the researcher takes part in the activities of the group under study.
  • It is a micro-research method and it is used to study small groups or communities.
  • Participant observation may be covert (where the community is not aware that they are being observed) or overt (where a group knows that they are being observed).
  • Participant observation was used very successfully by Malinowski in his study of Trobriand Islands.
  • In sociology, participant observation was used successfully by William Foote Whyte in a study of an Italian street comer society (slum neighborhood in South Pacific).
  • Unlike the survey in participant observation, the sociologist or anthropologist spends many months- usually about a year or sometimes more- living among the people being studied as one of them.
  • As a non- native ‘outsider’, the anthropologist is supposed to immerse himself/ herself in the culture of the ‘natives’. They need to learn their language and participate in their everyday life so as to require all the explicit and implicit knowledge about the community under study. The use of interpreters should be avoided in order to get a true and authentic account of the community.
  • Participant observation is also called field work/ethnographic study. It aims to learn about the ‘whole’ way of life of a community.

How does the Participant observer study his community?:

  • Social anthropologists begin the field work by doing a census of the community they are studying. This involves making a detailed list of all the people in the community including information like sex, age group, gender, family etc. This could be accompanied by an attempt to map the physical layout of the village or settlement to justify the presence of a stranger. The explanation has to be such that the social anthropologist is readily accepted by the community.
  • Equally important are the detailed field notes that the anthropologist researcher makes during field work. These notes have to be written up everyday and can be supplemented by or can take the form of a daily diary. For getting an indepth information about the community under study, the researcher v usually depends on one or two people for most information. Such people are called key informants.
  • The researcher must possess good interpersonal skills for P.O to be successful. Researcher must ensure that rather than changing the activity of the community he/she observes; they blend into and become a part of their activities.
  • Acceptance of the observer by the group he wishes to study depends a lot in the personal rapport and friendship that the researcher develops with the key personalities of the community.

Advantages of Participant Observer:

  • It is more flexible than other research methods. The researcher can adjust to unexpected circumstances and follow up any leads that might develop.
  • It allows a researcher to see things from the perspective of the group under study rather than imposing his/her own perception.
  • It enables the researcher to peek into those aspects of community life about which its members may be ordinarily secretive.
  • Because the researcher spends a long period in full time engagement with the field, a P.O can avoid many of the errors of short term methods (e.g.; Surveys).

Disadvantages of Participant Observation:

  • Participant observation cannot be used for studying large groups.
  • As a research method, participant observation is more time consuming.
  • The findings of the study using participant observation as a method cannot be generalized to a large population. These studies merely document in detail the experiences of people in a particular setting.
  • There is a danger that researcher may become too involved with the community under study, thereby losing his or her outsider’s perspective.
  • In this method, we are never sure whether it is a voice of anthropologist or that of the people being studied. It is always possible that the anthropologist whether consciously or unconsciously is selecting what will be written down in his or her field notes and even selecting how it will be presented.

Interview:

  • Interview is a purposeful conversation through face to face interaction.
  • Advantages and disadvantages of interview:

Advantages:

  • Facial expression can give away emotions to a certain extent.
  • Almost all questions are answered.
  • No false identity is possible.
  • Questions are taken seriously.
  • Universally accepted method.

Disadvantages:

  • Time consuming method.
  • Expensive.
  • Impact of bias and subjectivity.
  • Only limited area and number of people can be covered.

Types of interviews

  • Structured
  • Unstructured
  • It is used as a supplement.

Differences between Survey and Participant observation:

Survey participant Observation
(i) It studies large communities or groups (macro method). (i) It studies small communities or groups (micro method).
(ii) It is wider in coverage at the cost of depth of analysis (ii) It is in-depth analysis
(iii) It is quantitative method. Results can be generalized (iii) It is a qualitative method. Results cannot be generalized
(iv) It can be conducted in a short span of time (iv) It requires a lot of time
(v) It involves a large group of investigators and researchers. (v) It is done by the anthropologist alone.
(vi) Survey as a method has been traditionally used in the discipline of sociology. (vi) PO emerged in the discipline of social anthropology. Now it is also being used in sociological study.
(vii) Researchers need not study the language of the group under study. He may hire an investigator from the community or the local people. (vii) The researcher has to learn the local language of the group under study.
(viii) Survey as a method is not as flexible as PO. Once the questionnaire is set after the pilot survey nothing can be changed.

(viii) O as a method is more flexible It permits the researcher to track changes in the subject of study and allows for the correction of initial impressions.

Objectivity and Subjectivity in Sociology:

Objectivity:
Knowledge represents facts as they are (empirical).Objectivity means unbiased, neutral or information on facts alone. It means ignoring feelings and prejudices about something.

Subjectivity:
Knowledge is not factual. It is intermingled with personal biases and prejudices. Subjectivity means something that is based on an individual’s personal biases and prejudices. It is based on an individual’s personal experiences and unique location in society. Commonsensical observations are subjective.

All sciences, whether natural or social, strive to be objective i.e. to produce unbiased knowledge based on facts.

  • Difficult to be objective while studying social sciences, as you are studying living and thinking beings about whom you already have some opinion about. Although you may try to rise above your biases they usually affect your research.
  • But you can be objective if you know what you are doing is self-reflective and you can reach through your results.

Objectivity is harder to acknowledge in social sciences than in natural science. This is because of the following:

  • While natural scientists and geologists study the natural, which they themselves are not, scientists, study the social world they are a part of. This makes for the social scientist to be objective in his study. Being in the social world the sociologist finds it difficult to completely eliminate biases and opinions, which are his/her own unique social contribution.
    Example: If a sociologist is studying a religious community which is not his/her own, the sociologist is influenced by the attitudes towards community prevalent in her own environment.
  • The second problem with objectivity in sociology is that there are multiple versions of ‘truth’ in the social world. They are different interpretations of the same social reality.
  • The third difficulty that sociologists face in being objective is that sociology is ‘multi paradigmatic’. There are a number of sociological theories which interpret the same reality in different ways.
  • Sociologists do not believe in the notions that are totally objective. However, sociology as a social science does try to be objective in the knowledge that it generates.

Important terms:

  • Empirical Research: It refers to factual inquiry carried out in a given area of sociological study.
  • Hypothesis: Assumption, a tentative answer, an education guess about what is going on.
  • Micro Method: Designed to work in small, intimate setting usually with a single researcher e.g. Interview.
  • Macro Method: Able to tackle large scale research involving large number of respondent -and investigators e.g. survey research.
  • Survey Method: A quantitative macro research method, attempts to provide a compressive perspective on some topic. ‘
  • Questionnaire: It refers to a set of present questions given to respondents in printed or written form.
  • Observation Method: A method of systematic data collection which implies recording human behavior as it actually occurs without controlling it.
  • Interview: Conversation between two or more people that follows a basic question and answer format.
  • Objectivity: Refers to unbiased, neutral information on facts alone.
  • Reflexivity: Refers to researcher’s ability to observe and analyse oneself.
  • Sample: Representative of a given population. “
  • Sample Error: The unavoidable margin of error formed in the results of survey.
  • Genealogy: An extended family tree outlining familiar relations across generations.
  • Field Work: A method of getting information about people by having with people of that particular area.
  • Functional Method: It refers to the functional analysis i.e. the main task of sociology and social anthropology is to examine the contribution, which social items make to the social and cultural life of human collectivities.
  • Probability: The likelihood of an event which may occur any time.
  • Case Study: An indepth study of the individual, group, institution or organisation in terms of attributes.
  • Values: Enduring beliefs about an ideal mode of behavior.
  • Tool: Those instruments through which request and actual information is collected at scientific level e.g. interview.
  • Technique: A reasonable method to collect information related to the subject of study. It is limited but numerous i.e. use of many methods under one technique is not possible. Technique may change.
  • Method: Systematic series of steps to arrive at a scientific conclusion. There are wide and extensive methods. Methods are few and independent.

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