Skip Nav

Introduction to Sociology/Sociological Methods

Careers: Alumni Stories

❶By far the most common is the objective approach advocated by Max Weber.

Case study research

Sociological Research: Designs, Methods
In The News
Navigation menu

SOCY 11 is designed to provide students with the practical tools of doing social science research and the theoretical background for critiquing and designing research on social issues. We focus specifically on qualitative methods, engaging in a wide range of methods throughout the term—including interviewing, content analysis, and ethnographic observations—and enabling students to design a research project addressing specific and testable questions. Both courses focus on developing the skills necessary to interpret, critique, and conduct social science research.

Houle syllabus , Lin Syllabus. This course provides an introduction to the methods and statistical techniques of quantitative analysis. The first part of the course deals with the methods of quantitative analysis research design, conceptualization, operationalization, and measurement. The second part of the course introduces students to parametric and nonparametric statistics frequency distributions, cross tabulations, measures of association, tests of significance, correlation, and bivariate regression.

There is a strong emphasis in this course on applying the methods and techniques learned to actual social science data.

No previous statistical or advanced mathematical training is assumed, but solid arithmetic and basic algebraic skills are necessary. Because of the large overlap in material covered, no student may receive credit for more than one of the courses: Houle 18F; 19W, Lin 19W. This course is designed to provide students with the practical tools of doing social science research and the theoretical background for scientific inquiry into social issues.

In the first part of the course we will discuss the research process itself, as well as conceptual issues in theory building and hypothesis testing. In the second part, students will devise and carry out group and individual research projects around a substantive topic. Each project will involve a variety of research techniques, the exact use and applicability of which will be the topic of class discussions.

In addition, we will discuss ethical issues and the relevance of social science research for policy making and for advocacy. Neither the patients nor the doctor know who is getting the real drug, isolating its effects.

This type of experiment is often referred to as a true experiment because of its design. It is contrasted with alternative forms below. Once an experiment is complete, a researcher determines whether the results or data gathered are what was predicted or assumed in the literature beforehand. 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.

Some examples of the subjective basis of both "objective" and "critical" sociology may illustrate the point. First, we may examine the research process for both objective and critical sociologists while paying attention to the many decisions people must make to engage in any study from either perspective.

As you can see above, the research process itself is full of decisions that each researcher must make. As a result, researchers themselves have no opportunity to conduct objective studies because doing research requires them to use their personal experiences and opinions whether these arise from personal life, the advice of the people that taught them research methods, or the books they have read that were ultimately subject to the same subjective processes throughout the process.

As a result, researchers can - as Feminists have long argued - attempt to be as objective as possible, but never actually hope to reach objectivity. This same problem arises in Weber's initial description of teaching.

For someone to teach any course, for example, they must make a series of decisions including but not limited to:. As a result, Weber's objectivity dissolves before the teacher ever enters the classroom. Whether or not the teacher or researcher explicitly takes a political, religious, or social stance, he or she will ultimately demonstrate personal stances, beliefs, values, and biases implicitly throughout the course. Although the recognition of all science as ultimately subjective to varying degrees is fairly well established at this point, the question of whether or not scientists should embrace this subjectivity remains an open one e.

Further, there are many scientists in sociology and other sciences that still cling to beliefs about objectivity, and thus promote this belief political in and of itself in their teaching, research, and peer review. As a result, the debate within the field continues without resolution, and will likely be an important part of scientific knowledge and scholarship for some time to come. Ethical considerations are of particular importance to sociologists because of the subject of investigation - people.

Because ethical considerations are of so much importance, sociologists adhere to a rigorous set of ethical guidelines. The most important ethical consideration of sociological research is that participants in sociological investigation are not harmed. While exactly what this entails can vary from study to study, there are several universally recognized considerations. For instance, research on children and youth always requires parental consent.

Research on adults also requires informed consent and participants are never forced to participate. Confidentiality and anonymity are two additional practices that ensure the safety of participants when sensitive information is provided e. To ensure the safety of participants, most universities maintain an institutional review board IRB that reviews studies that include human participants and ensures ethical rigor.

It has not always been the case that scientists interested in studying humans have followed ethical principles in their research. Several studies that, when brought to light, led to the introduction of ethical principles guiding human subjects research and Institutional Review Boards to ensure compliance with those principles, are worth noting, including the Tuskegee syphilis experiment , in which impoverished black men with syphilis were left untreated to track the progress of the disease and Nazi experimentation on humans.

A recent paper by Susan M. Reverby [4] found that such unethical experiments were more widespread than just the widely known Tuskegee study and that the US Government funded a study in which thousands of Guatemalan prisoners were infected with syphilis to determine whether they could be cured with penicillin. Ethical oversight in science is designed to prevent such egregious violations of human rights today.

Sociologists also have professional ethical principles they follow. Obviously honesty in research, analysis, and publication is important. Sociologists who manipulate their data are ostracized and can have their memberships in professional organizations revoked.

Conflicts of interest are also frowned upon. A conflict of interest can occur when a sociologist is given funding to conduct research on an issue that relates to the source of the funds. For example, if Microsoft were to fund a sociologist to investigate whether users of Microsoft's product users are happier than users of open source software e. Unfortunately, this does not always happen, as several high profile cases illustrate e. But the disclosure of conflicts of interest is recommended by most professional organizations and many academic journals.

A comprehensive explanation of sociological guidelines is provided on the website of the American Sociological Association. Having discussed the sociological approach to understanding society, it is worth noting the limitations of sociology. Because of the subject of investigation society , sociology runs into a number of problems that have significant implications for this field of inquiry:.

Undergraduate Courses

Main Topics

Privacy Policy

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.

Privacy FAQs

Sociological research methods fall into broad categories of quantitative and qualitative approaches, but studies frequently use “mixed methods” incorporating both. Quantitative methods include measurement by sample surveys, statistical modeling, social networks, and demography.

About Our Ads

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. Sociologists examine the world, see a problem or interesting pattern, and set out to study it. They use research methods to design a study—perhaps a detailed, systematic, scientific method for conducting research and obtaining data, or perhaps an ethnographic study utilizing an interpretive framework.

Cookie Info

Filter by Custom Post Type. Home» Sociology» Research Methods in Sociology. Research Methods in Sociology. 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.