Part A- Investigating Society
How do sociologists decide what to research?
There are several steps: 1. The first step is to choose a topic to research. The choice will be influenced by: The interests and values of the researcher- obviously, any researcher will want to study topics that they find interesting but the question of “values” raises some questions. If a researcher thinks a topic is important enough to research, they may have strong feelings about it and there may be a risk that these feelings will affect how they see the situation and do their research. Current debates in the academic world- sociologists, like anyone else, will be drawn to study topics that are creating interest and controversy. The choice will also be influenced by practical issues. The time and resources needed- first-time researchers often underestimate how long it takes to collect data, analyse it, and write the report. A lone researcher, will only be able to do a small-scale study (maybe a case study). Large-scale studies need a team of professional researchers and can take years to complete- these kind of studies are known as longitudinal. What is a case study? A case study is a detailed and in-depth study of one particular group or situation to find out as much information as possible. Student research is often case study based. An example of a case study is a student who is studying peer pressure but only investigates their own school. Case studies are also used a lot by professional sociologists and a famous example of this is James Patrick's case study of gangs, a Glasgow Gang Observed (1973). In terms of understanding why certain things happen, or how people think, this is a great method to use as you have the depth of information needed to do this. It does have some disadvantages, though, the main one being that because a case study only looks at one situation or group you cannot really generalise from it.
Access to the subject matter- some areas of social life are more available to researchers than others. For example, the private life of a family is much harder to study that the public life of the school classroom. Rich and powerful people can deny access to a researcher more easily than poor and powerless people can. Whether funding is available-- large-scale research projects expensive salaries, equipment, living expenses, travel, computer resources, secretarial help and thousands of other items have to be paid for. Individuals and organisations can bid for but there is stiff competition for this money. Many researchers have very limited resources. What is a longitudinal study? These are studies that go on for a long time. A good example of such a study that you may have heard about or seen on television is the Child of our Time study. This 20year project is following 25 children from across the UK who were born in 2000 and looking at how their social circumstances affect their lives. Longitudinal studies are good in that they allow researchers to build up a picture of social life that recognises change and does not go out of date. However, they are quite difficult to manage as people circumstances are constantly changing. Therefore, researchers have to cope with people dropping out of the study, moving away and even dying
2. Reading around the subject – The next step in any research project is to read what others have already published on the subject. This saves repeating the same work, and may provide some initial data. It will also give the researcher some ideas about how to approach their own project. 3. Formulating a hypothesis or research question – It is all very well to be interested in a topic but the research must be focused. If the researcher already has a hunch about something, or wants to test an idea, they should formulate a hypothesis. This is simply a statement that can be tested. It is a prediction of what the research will find. For example: “students...