Social Research

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AISHA GITTENS-HIPPOLYTE

Taking Two Of The Theoretical Approaches To Social Research Discussed In The Module, Demonstrate The Connections Between Their Ontological, Epistemological And Methodological Assumptions. Which Method Or Methods Would Proponents Of Each Theory Favour As A Result Of Their Assumptions.

In order to understand the production of sociological knowledge one must first examine the thought processes that lay behind each piece of research. Before a particular subject matter is researched, the researcher firstly makes certain assumptions about that matter. These assumptions differ dependent on the theoretical approach that is taken. They can be divided into three logical areas, namely ontology, epistemology and methodology.

Sociologists researchers first make ontological assumptions. That is to say, they decide what they are studying or what should be studied. They decide what the subject matter consists of and the meanings behind it. They must consider the social reality and the nature of being, in relation to the subject matter.

Having satisfied this researchers then make epistemological assumptions surrounding the subject matter. They must decide on the type of evidence to be collected, considering which evidence will deliver optimum validity. They must decide which stance to take during research, objective or neutral, considering which would be possible or even favourable. They must then think about how this can be best achieved. Should the research be classified as ‘scientific’ or ‘unscientific’ and what determines this?

Based on the preceding ontological and epistemological assumptions a researcher then makes methodological assumptions. Having decided on exactly what is to be studied the researcher then decides how the research can best be managed thus formulating a plan of action. Considerations include whether the research used should be primary or secondary. Whether one will test an existing hypothesis or whether one will construct a theory after having collated evidence. Finally one can draw conclusions as to which strategy to implement with the ultimate goal of producing the type of knowledge that is required. This then results in the type of method or methods of research to be used.

To investigate this further I will discuss these assumptions and identify particular methods favoured in relation to two contrasting theories, critical and standpoint theory and positivism.
Positivism

Ontological Assumptions

From a positivists perspective the world is an objective entity, therefore reality is what can be perceived by our five senses. This stance excludes unobservable human experiences or ‘feelings’ from social knowledge as these are subjective. In line with these beliefs comes the scientific belief of ‘cause and effect’. For example, when salt is placed into water, it becomes saline. Positivists would argue that natural scientists’ laws of cause and effect can be applied in social science. That is that one social phenomenon is linked to another. For instance, a positivist might agree that young men are more likely to commit crime than young women because the boys were given ‘greater freedom’ by their parents, whilst dismissing other notions such as ‘crime proves masculinity’ In this example one observable phenomenon is linked to another. In essence, social facts influence human behaviour or as Babbie (1979, p.423) summed it up, ‘some things are caused by other things.’

Epistemological Assumptions

Having made these ontological assumptions it is logical to understand that the indicators and validation of satisfactory evidence are to be found on the discovery of the existence of scientific laws which control and conduct social life. It is also logical to understand that the researcher should remain neutral as only objective knowledge or reality constitutes...
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