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Research Methods in Sociology

Sociological Research: Designs, Methods

❶Change in promotion is hypothesized to be dependent on gender. In other words, the value or quality of a dependent variable depends on the value of the independent variable.

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In a negative correlation, one variable increases as the other decreases. In a nonexistent correlation, no relationship exists between the variables. People commonly confuse correlation with causation.

When a correlation exists, changes in the value of one variable reflect changes in the value of the other. The correlation does not imply that one variable causes the other, only that both variables somehow relate to one another. To study the effects that variables have on each other, an investigator must conduct an experiment.

A number of factors can affect the outcome of any type of experimental research. One is finding samples that are random and representative of the population being studied. Another is experimenter bias , in which the researcher's expectations about what should or should not happen in the study sway the results.

Still another is controlling for extraneous variables , such as room temperature or noise level, that may interfere with the results of the experiment. Only when the experimenter carefully controls for extraneous variables can she or he draw valid conclusions about the effects of specific variables on other variables.

An advantage of this method of research is the opportunity it provides to study what actually occurs within a community, and then consider that information within the political, economic, social, and religious systems of that community. If the experiment appears successful - i. An experiment is not an absolute requirement. In observation based fields of science actual experiments must be designed differently than for the classical laboratory based sciences. Sociologists are more likely to employ quasi-experimental designs where data are collected from people by surveys or interviews, but statistical means are used to create groups that can be compared.

For instance, in examining the effects of gender on promotions, sociologists may control for the effects of social class as this variable will likely influence the relationship. Unlike a true experiment where these variables are held constant in a laboratory setting, quantitative sociologists use statistical methods to hold constant social class or, better stated, partial out the variance accounted for by social class so they can see the relationship between gender and promotions without the interference of social class.

The four components of research described above are integrated into the following steps of the research process. Qualitative sociologists generally employ observational and analytic techniques that allow them to contextualize observed patterns in relation to existing hierarchies or assumptions within natural settings.

Thus, while the true experiment is ideally suited for the performance of quantitative science, especially because it is the best quantitative method for deriving causal relationships , other methods of hypothesis testing are commonly employed in the social sciences, and qualitative methods of critique and analysis are utilized to fact check the assumptions and theories created upon the basis of "controlled" rather than natural circumstances. The scientific process is iterative.

At any stage it is possible that some consideration will lead the scientist to repeat an earlier part of the process. For instance, failure of a hypothesis to produce interesting and testable predictions may lead to reconsideration of the hypothesis or of the definition of the subject.

It is also important to note that science is a social enterprise, and scientific work will become accepted by the community only if it can be verified and it "makes sense" within existing scientific beliefs and assumptions about the world when new findings complicate these assumptions and beliefs, we generally witness paradigm shifts in science [1]. All scientific knowledge is in a state of flux, for at any time new evidence could be presented that contradicts a long-held hypothesis, and new perspectives e.

For this reason, scientific journals use a process of peer review , in which scientists' manuscripts are submitted by editors of scientific journals to usually one to three fellow usually anonymous scientists familiar with the field for evaluation. The referees may or may not recommend publication, publication with suggested modifications, or, sometimes, publication in another journal.

Sometimes peer review inhibits the circulation of unorthodox work, and at other times may be too permissive. The peer review process is not always successful, but has been very widely adopted by the scientific community.

The reproducibility or replication of quantitative scientific observations, while usually described as being very important in a scientific method, is actually seldom reported, and is in reality often not done. Referees and editors often reject papers purporting only to reproduce some observations as being unoriginal and not containing anything new. Occasionally reports of a failure to reproduce results are published - mostly in cases where controversy exists or a suspicion of fraud develops.

The threat of failure to replicate by others as well as the ongoing qualitative enterprise designed to explore the veracity of quantitative findings in non-controlled settings , however, serves as a very effective deterrent for most quantitative scientists, who will usually replicate their own data several times before attempting to publish.

Sometimes useful observations or phenomena themselves cannot be reproduced in fact, this is almost always the case in qualitative science spanning physical and social science disciplines. They may be rare, or even unique events. Reproducibility of quantitative observations and replication of experiments is not a guarantee that they are correct or properly understood.

Errors can all too often creep into more than one laboratory or pattern of interpretation mathematical or qualitative utilized by scientists. In the scientific pursuit of quantitative prediction and explanation, two relationships between variables are often confused: While these terms are rarely used in qualitative science, they lie at the heart of quantitative methods, and thus constitute a cornerstone of scientific practice.

Correlation refers to a relationship between two or more variables in which they change together. A positive correlation means that as one variable increases e. A negative correlation is just the opposite; as one variable increases e. Causation refers to a relationship between two or more variables where one variable causes the other. In order for a variable to cause another, it must meet the following three criteria:.

An example may help explain the difference. Ice cream consumption is positively correlated with incidents of crime. Employing the quantitative method outlined above, the reader should immediately question this relationship and attempt to discover an explanation. It is at this point that a simple yet noteworthy phrase should be introduced: If you look back at the three criteria of causation above, you will notice that the relationship between ice cream consumption and crime meets only one of the three criteria they change together.

The real explanation of this relationship is the introduction of a third variable: Ice cream consumption and crime increase during the summer months. Thus, while these two variables are correlated, ice cream consumption does not cause crime or vice versa. Both variables increase due to the increasing temperatures during the summer months. It is often the case that correlations between variables are found but the relationship turns out to be spurious.

Clearly understanding the relationship between variables is an important element of the quantitative scientific process. Like the distinction drawn between positivist sociology and Verstehen sociology, there is - as noted above in the elaboration of general scientific methods - often a distinction drawn between two types of sociological investigation: For instance, social class, following the quantitative approach, can be divided into different groups - upper-, middle-, and lower-class - and can be measured using any of a number of variables or a combination thereof: Quantitative sociologists also utilize mathematical models capable of organizing social experiences into a rational order that may provide a necessary foundation for more in depth analyses of the natural world importantly, this element of quantitative research often provides the initial or potential insights that guide much theoretical and qualitative analyses of patterns observed - numerically or otherwise - beyond the confines of mathematical models.

Quantitative sociologists tend to use specific methods of data collection and hypothesis testing, including: Further, quantitative sociologists typically believe in the possibility of scientifically demonstrating causation, and typically utilize analytic deduction e.

Finally, quantitative sociologists generally attempt to utilize mathematical realities e. Qualitative methods of sociological research tend to approach social phenomena from the Verstehen perspective.

Rather than attempting to measure or quantify reality via mathematical rules, qualitative sociologists explore variation in the natural world people may see, touch, and experience during their lives. As such, these methods are primarily used to a develop a deeper understanding of a particular phenomenon, b explore the accuracy or inaccuracy of mathematical models in the world people experience, c critique and question the existing assumptions and beliefs of both scientists and other social beings, and d refine measurements and controls used by quantitative scientists via insights gleaned from the experiences of actual people.

While qualitative methods may be used to propose or explore relationships between variables, these studies typically focus on explicating the realities people experience that lie at the heart or foundation of such relationships rather than focusing on the relationships themselves. Qualitatively oriented sociologists tend to employ different methods of data collection and analysis, including: Further, qualitative sociologists typically reject measurement or quantities essential to quantitative approaches and the notion or belief in causality e.

Finally, qualitative sociologists generally attempt to utilize natural realities e. While there are sociologists who employ and encourage the use of only one or the other method, many sociologists see benefits in combining the approaches. They view quantitative and qualitative approaches as complementary. Results from one approach can fill gaps in the other approach. For example, quantitative methods could describe large or general patterns in society while qualitative approaches could help to explain how individuals understand those patterns.

Similarly, qualitative patterns in society can reveal missing pieces in the mathematical models of quantitative research while quantitative patterns in society can guide more in-depth analysis of actual patterns in natural settings.

In fact, it is useful to note that many of the major advancements in social science have emerged in response to the combination of quantitative and qualitative techniques that collectively created a more systematic picture of probable and actual social conditions and experiences. Sociologists, like all humans, have values, beliefs, and even pre-conceived notions of what they might find in doing their research.

Because sociologists are not immune to the desire to change the world, two approaches to sociological investigation have emerged. By far the most common is the objective approach advocated by Max Weber. Weber recognized that social scientists have opinions, but argued against the expression of non-professional or non-scientific opinions in the classroom. Weber did argue that it was acceptable for social scientists to express their opinions outside of the classroom and advocated for social scientists to be involved in politics and other social activism.

The objective approach to social science remains popular in sociological research and refereed journals because it refuses to engage social issues at the level of opinions and instead focuses intently on data and theories. The objective approach is contrasted with the critical approach, which has its roots in Karl Marx's work on economic structures. Anyone familiar with Marxist theory will recognize that Marx went beyond describing society to advocating for change.

Marx disliked capitalism and his analysis of that economic system included the call for change. This approach to sociology is often referred to today as critical sociology see also action research. Some sociological journals focus on critical sociology and some sociological approaches are inherently critical e. Building on these early insights, the rise of Feminist methods and theories in the 's ushered in an ongoing debate concerning critical versus objective realities.

Drawing on early Feminist writings by social advocates including but not limited to Elizabeth Cady Stanton , Alice Paul , Ida Wells Barnett , Betty Friedan , and sociological theorists including but not limited to Dorothy Smith , Joan Acker , and Patricia Yancey Martin , Feminist sociologists critiqued "objective" traditions as unrealistic and unscientific in practice.

Specifically, they - along with critical theorists like Michel Foucault , bell hooks , and Patricia Hill Collins - argued that since all science was conducted and all data was interpreted by human beings and all human beings have beliefs, values, and biases that they are often unaware of and that shape their perception of reality see The Social Construction of Reality , objectivity only existed within the beliefs and values of the people that claimed it.

Stated another way, since human beings are responsible for scientific knowledge despite the fact that human beings cannot be aware of all the potential biases, beliefs, and values they use to do their science, select their topics, construct measurements, and interpret data, "objective" or "value free" science are not possible.

Rather, these theorists argued that the "personal is political" e. Whether or not scientists explicitly invoke their personal opinions in their teaching and research, every decision scientists make will ultimately rely upon - and thus demonstrate to varying degrees - their subjective realities.

Quantitative methods include measurement by sample surveys, statistical modeling, social networks, and demography. Qualitative methods include interviews, focus groups, observation, and textual analysis. See more Research on Research Methods. It attempts to outline some of the linkages between the social organization of a scientific field and the personal experiences at work of those who work in that field.

It is an essay on the more general sociological question of the relationships between social structure and personal experience. The study focuses on the research activity and experience of samples of American academic scientists.

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An introduction to research methods in Sociology covering quantitative, qualitative, primary and secondary data and defining the basic types of research method including social surveys, experiments, interviews, participant observation, ethnography and longitudinal studies.

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Using sociological methods and systematic research within the framework of the scientific method and a scholarly interpretive perspective, sociologists have discovered workplace patterns that have transformed industries, family patterns that have enlightened parents, and education patterns that have aided structural changes in classrooms.

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Sociological Research: Designs, Methods Sociologists use many different designs and methods to study society and social behavior. Most sociological research involves ethnography, or “field work” designed to depict the characteristics of a population as fully as possible. It is a research method suited to an interpretive framework rather than to the scientific method. To conduct field research, the sociologist must be willing to step into new environments and observe, participate, or experience those worlds.

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Sociological knowledge has a strong empirical core, meaning that sociologists’ statements from research are based on data or evidence. Sociologists employ a variety of research methods that may follow the scientific method to evaluate formal hypotheses, or be more humanistic and focus on ways people themselves understand and describe their social worlds. Filter by Custom Post Type. Home» Sociology» Research Methods in Sociology. Research Methods in Sociology.