Sociological Research

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Chapter 3

Sociological research
Methods are not simply neutral tools: they are linked with the ways in which social scientists envision the connection between different viewpoints about the nature of social reality and how it should be examined. (Bryman 2008: 4)

Key issues
➤ What is sociological research?
➤ What different research methods are
available to sociologists?
➤ What are the philosophies that underlie
the collection and analysis of data?
➤ Why and in what ways have feminists
criticized conventional sociological
research?

Introduction
We all engage in some form of research in our everyday
lives by collecting and processing information and
coming to conclusions about a product, service or

decision. You may have been stopped in the street and
asked to take part in market research, testing the latest
brand of a particular product. You may have heard
research findings discussed in the news. Indeed,
research is part of our everyday lives.
In this chapter we look at sociological research
and explore why and how sociologists do research.
Sociological research can provide explanations for issues
that affect us both as individuals and as members of
larger groups. It can help us to make the links between
personal troubles and public issues, understanding,
for example, how your social background can affect
your educational attainment and why people in some
countries die from diseases that have long since been
eradicated in other parts of the world. People hold a
vast range of views on social issues, such as why certain
people become criminals, why women are massively
underrepresented in positions of power in the political
and business world, and why fewer people attend
religious services now than in the past. The findings of
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Part 1 PT Introduction to the sociological imagination

sociological research should lessen the misconceptions
and prejudices that often form the basis of commonsense views of many important issues such as these.

Why do sociologists do
research?
To help us to answer this question, we can ask another
– what does sociological research produce? Some typical
answers may be ‘facts’, ‘knowledge’, and ‘ideas’. Each of these has a particular meaning but can be seen as
dimensions of a larger concept – ‘evidence’.

We can see evidence as information that supports a
statement, but we can also see it as a form of knowledge
that stems from a range of sources. In every society
there are many ways that we know what we know –
many of which we take for granted. Scott (2002)
identifies six basic categories of knowledge:




Stop and think
Jim and Sarah are ordering food in a restaurant.
Sarah wants to order the soup but is unsure
whether it is vegetarian. Think about the way
evidence is used in their conversation:
Sarah (to waiter) – Is the soup vegetarian?
Waiter – I’ll check for you . . . [comes back from
the kitchen and tells her it is made with
vegetable stock. She orders the soup. It arrives]
Sarah – It is definitely vegetarian – I can taste it.
Jim (to Sarah) – But how do you know it really is
and they aren’t just saying that? [What proof is
there?]
Sarah – I’ve had it here before anyway.
This is a very ordinary everyday example of how
evidence is part of our lives and how we constantly
use evidence to make judgements and to give
support to what we are saying. In this example we
can view evidence as understood and used in a
number of ways:
➤ Facts – The soup was made with vegetable stock.
➤ Confirmation – Checking this fact when the
soup is served.
➤ Proof – At what point, and why, do you believe
the evidence? Sarah wanted the soup so wanted
to believe the waiter and the chef. Jim, on the
other hand, wanted to tease Sarah so implied
that he did not believe it.
Now think of a situation in which you have used
evidence and reflect on why you accepted or
rejected the evidence.

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Common-sense...
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