Major Research Methods in Sociology
Method Characteristics Advantages Disadvantages
Survey Selecting a representative sample of people and asking them to fill out questionnaires, interviewing them in person or on the phone Self-administered questionnaires inexpensive and useful: greater response from subjects in personal interviews: phone interviews convenient Questionnaires not returned” personal interviews costly in time and money: phone interviews discourage subjects’ cooperation Observation Observing subjects’ activities as a detached outsider or as a participating member identifying or concealing oneself as a researcher to subjects Provides firsthand experiences with natural, real life situations: useful for developing new theories Findings largely relevant to one particular case: not generalizable to other cases or useful for testing theories Experiment Manipulating variables to determine their influence on subjects in the field or laboratory Relatively easy to test theories by determining the relationship between independent and dependent variables Observer’s presence in the field may influence subjects: subjects may not behave the same outside laboratory as inside Analysis of existing data Secondary analysis involves studying someone else’s quantitative data: content analysis entails examining and converting qualitative into quantitative data Both secondary and content analysis save much time and money: content analysis also unobtrusive to subjects and uniquely suitable for historical research Both secondary and content analysis not sufficiently valid and reliable because interpretation of data tends to be subjective.
What is Sociology?
Sociology is the attempt to understand how society works. It studies the relationship between people, how those relationships form part of broader sets of relationships between social groupings, and how such groupings and institutions are related to the under society.
There are and have been a diversity of approaches to the development of social thinking and there has never been a discipline in which there is a body of ideas that all accept are valid. It is about our own lives, our own behavior and is therefore complex and difficult to study. The practice of Sociology is involves the ability to think imaginatively and to detach oneself from any preconceived ideas about social life. It can also increase self understanding and influence our own futures from what we learn.
This objective and systematic study of human behavior is a relatively recent development with its beginnings being found in the late eighteenth century. Any study or discovery was initially expressed in religious terms or drawn from well known myths and superstitions.
There’s class warfare, all right, it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning. Warren Buffet- Richest Man on Earth . As it happens, sociology has an answer for that too! As you move through your sociology studies you will learn why the world seems to resist and why people must struggle for change, often for decades. You will learn about the nature of money and the economy and how it is the root of our social ills; you will learn about power in society and about why some people have lots of it and others have little. You will come to understand a bit about how those with power use that power to resist the drive for progressive social change. You will learn about media concentration and population programming—how the very rich use the media to control our perceptions of the world, for example. You will learn that inequality—whether it is gender inequality, class inequality, or racial inequality—benefits some people (usually those with power), and you’ll learn that the people who benefit from inequality actively resist change. You will even learn how our socialization practices and our institutions actually support systems of inequality and, in the case of our school systems, actively go about teaching us to accept and function in the pre-existing social order. Ultimately, you will see the world as a contested place where some with power use it as a mechanism to gain advantage and control over others, while “the others” suffer it out and sometimes even die. In sociology you will learn the sad truth which is that we are not, despite the propaganda, created equal. Some of us (corporate leaders, government law makers, rich power brokers, the monarchs of foreign lands) have more wealth and power simply by virtue of being born in a certain body, and these people use the wealth and power they have to create the world they wish. By the end of it you will know that we create the world we live in; but, you will also know that some people have more power to create than others. This is an important, if depressing, sociological insight that we often, though not always, miss.