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Examine the Reasons Why Some Sociologists Choose Not to Use Experiments When Conducting Research

By adrianaaraujox Apr 17, 2013 544 Words
Examine the reasons why some sociologists choose not to use experiments when conducting research

One of the main reasons why many sociologists choose not to use laboratory experiments for research is one of impracticality; the absolute control of conditions required for a lab experiment is nigh impossible to achieve in fields of sociology, as that level of control over variables would require a completely artificial environment which would require an inordinate amount of money and resources to construct effectively. If an experiment took place in an environment less controlled than this, then even identification of all the relevant variables would be ridiculously difficult, and manipulation of variables to study a behavioural reaction completely impossible.

Even assuming that it is possible to create a controlled environment for sociological experiments, there are still many practical issues with experimental methods. Firstly there is no possible way for experiments to research past social trends, which immediately reduces the range of data available to a sociologist, for instance it would be impossible to try and find changes in society through experimental methods unless a sociologist replicated exactly a social experiment conducted in the past to compare the data. Secondly, again assuming a laboratory environment has been constructed for sociology, this could only be used to study a limited sample and therefore would not create very reliable data, and so would not be easily generalisable, which then appears to defeat the point of using a laboratory experiment. Finally it is argued that the artificial environment of an experiment would provoke the “Hawthorne Effect”, in which a person with knowledge of their observation modifies their behaviour, in an attempt to second guess what the observer expects or wants them to do, which would not give very valid data and also, as only some people would succumb to this effect, would also not give very reliable data.

An apparent solution to this would be observing people without their knowledge, however this causes a lot of ethical issues; a general principle of sociological research is that a person must give their informed consent to be studied. Informed consent can be difficult to obtain with certain groups, for example children, as this would also require their parent or guardian to give consent, making obtaining data even more difficult and time consuming. Misleading people as to the nature of the research is therefore also considered wrong, as it violates the principle of informed consent.

Finally, social theory and perspective means that interpretevist sociologists will not regard experiments as valid. A laboratory approach is possibly the most scientific of all sociological research methods, and therefore the one that interpretevists would argue to be the least valid. A key element of interpretevist theory is that human behaviour is not a simple matter of cause and effect, as humans have a wide variety of emotions, moral values and choices, and therefore attempting to use a small sample to generalise about society is not possible, as every person is different and will react differently to circumstances. As interpretevists are fundamentally concerned with validity of research, their ideal research methods will take place in the actual areas and situations in which people reside, as opposed to an attempt to reconstruct these with a far more limited range of variables.

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