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88 Cards in this Set

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What view do positivists have?


What view do interpretivists have?

Action/ Micro

How do interpretivists believe sociology should be studied?

should not be studied scientifically

What do interpretivists search for in research?

They search for individual meanings, feelings, motives & emotions.

What type of data do interpretivists prefer?

Therefore they favour a qualitative approach to research. For example, informal interviews, observation and personal documents. Such methods produce data that is: valid, insightful, in depth, not pre-defined and allows the researcher to establish verstehen.

Give an example of a study that used qualitative data

For example, Dobash & Dobash were able to discover the patriarchal nature of domestic violence through the use of informal interviews.

How do positivists believe sociology should be studied?

Believe sociology can be and should be studied scientifically

What do positivists search for in research?

They search for causal relationships by following the logic of the experimental method.

What type of data do positivists prefer?

Therefore they favour a quantitative. Such methods produce data that is: reliable, objective, generalisable and representative, and allows the researcher to

Give an example of a study using quantitative data

For example, using official statistics on suicide rates Durkheim developed a ‘scientific theory’ of suicide - suicide rates are related to levels of social control in society.

Name 4 practical factors

Source of finance


Topic or group studied

Social characteristics of a researcher

Name 4 ethical guidelines



right to withdraw

protection of participants

Name 6 reasons that affect choice of topic

Theoretical perspective

Researchers values

Society's values

Funding bodies

Practical factors

Personal reasons

Why do sociologists sample?

To save time, to save money, for geographical reasons and because it is Impractical to survey everybody in a target population

What is random sampling?

When every person in a target population has an equal chance of being selected in the sample.This achieved by picking names out of a hat or through a computer.

What is an advantage of random sampling?

- Quick and easy to carry out.

- Ensures people all have an equal chance of being chosen.

What is a disadvantage of random sampling?

- Requires an accurate, up to date and complete sampling frame.

- Can be unrepresentative. E.g. by chance the sample could be made of all females.

What is a quota?

Before the research is carried out the researcher decides how many respondents of a particular type are required. For example an interviewer may be required to administer a questionnaire to ten married males and ten married females between the ages of 20 and 30. They will go out and look for the right number (quota) and once one quota is filled no more results will be gathered from that group.

What is an advantage of a quota?

Allows the researcher to control the variables without having a sampling frame – researcher knows how many people with particular characteristics to question.Quick and cheap method. For example, if someone refuses to answer questions, simply ask someone else with same characteristics.

What is a disadvantage of a quota?

Not random as each person in the population does not have the same chance of being asked.The researcher may have to ask a few personal questions to ascertain whether the respondent matches the criteria. This may put people off.

What is a stratified sample?

Split the sample down into groups and select randomly from these groups. The groups that the researcher is choosing from must be the same proportion as in the target population studied, to protect representativeness.

What are the advantages of a stratified sample?

Effective as it allows the researcher to control the variables that are important to the research.It can also increase precision and is therefore likely to improve representativeness.

What are the disadvantages of a stratified


It is complex and time consuming to identify strata and sample various sub groups of the target population.

Often it is not practical as the sampling frame does not contain the information required to split the population into the groups. For example, a sociologist may be interested in looking at ethnicity and streaming but schools may not keep a list of pupils by ethnic group.

What is a snowball sample?

A non-representative technique that involves using personal contacts to build up a sample group. 'Friend telling friend'.

What are the advantages of a snowball sample?

No sampling frame is needed.Can allow access to sensitive and secretive groups. E.g. Drug users.

What are the disadvantages of a snowball?

Not representative as people who are included are part of a network of contacts.

May run out of pps making it difficult to generalise.

What is an opportunity sample?

A non-representative technique that involves selecting those who are conveniently available to the researcher.

What are the advantages of an opportunity


Quick, cheap and easy. No sampling frame is needed.

What are the disadvantages of an opportunity sample?

Sample is not representative.Sample is biased as choice of person relies on the judgement of the researcher.

What is a systematic sample?

Every nth person in the sampling frame is selected

What are the advantages of a systematic


It should provide an unbiased sample

Realtively easy to carry

What is the disadvantage of a systematic


It is not truly random

What is a sampling frame?

A list of people from which a sample will be drawn i.e. a list where the researcher can pick their sample from. E.g. the electoral register, a list of all sixth form students on roll at a school.

What is a formal/structured interview?

involves asking standardised questions (mainly closed) to a large number of people. The researcher asks the question and then records the answers. Can be conducted face to face or over the phone e.g. Crime Survey for England and Wales - sample size approx. 50,000 victims, face to face.

What are the advantages of a structured


The response rates are usually higher than other survey methods - 60 to 85%. Crime Survey response rate 75%. This pushes up the reliability and representativeness of the findings. (Theoretical)Easy to standardise and control. This means it is possible to compare the answers. Also, if each interview is conducted in exactly the same way then more likely to get similar results. All of this increases reliability. (Theoretical)There is no confusion over the meaning of the questions or how to answer them – it can be explained by the interviewer if necessary. This helps to ensure that the survey is completed fully, increasing validity. (Theoretical) Interviewers can be trained up quickly and relatively inexpensively – they just have to follow set procedures. (Practical)
Fairly quick and cheap to carry out compared with informal interviews. (Practical)

What are the disadvantages of a structured


This method can suffer from ‘interviewer bias’. The way questions are phrased and the interviewers’ body/facial mannerisms can all distort results, lowering validity. E.g. Bias may result where research is carried out in schools – the way that the researcher (possibly unintentionally) emphasises certain words may change the way pupils answer the questions. (Theoretical)More expensive than other survey methods. In the Crime Survey a big expense are the laptops used. Also interviewers have to be paid. (Practical)Structured Interviews can take longer than other survey methods. E.g. Extra time should be given to studying young students, as they may not understand questions due to their less developed linguistic and intellectual abilities. (Practical)

What is a mailed questionnaire?

a type of written or self completion research method which is sent out via the post or email. The respondent then fills in the questionnaire and mails it back, normally in the pre paid envelope or electronically.E.g. Conor and Dewson – delivered postal questionnaire on factors influencing the decision of working class students to go to university – sample size 4000.Other types of written questionnaire: administered on the spot e.g. in a school classroom.NB: Questionnaires can also beemailed

What are the advantages of mailed


Can cover large geographical areas. For example, a sociologist interested in student attitudes to subject choice could gain views from a spread of schools across the whole country. Reliability increases as a consequence. (Theoretical)The researcher is detached and objective and therefore bias is minimal which increases the reliability of the findings. (Theoretical)Questionnaires pose fewer ethical problems. Although questions may be on a sensitive topic, respondents aren’t obliged to answer them. (Ethical)Written questionnaires carried out in schools often have high response rates because Head teachers have given their consent and allocated time in the day for them to be completed. Teachers and students are also used to completing questionnaires issued by the school. This pushes up representativeness and reliability. (Theoretical)Questionnaires allow for anonymity and detachment – e.g. students may be willing to fill in questionnaires on bullying as their anonymity offers them protection. (Theoretical)Quick and cheap compared to other research methods. Costs are also reduced in comparison to other research methods because there are no interviewers to pay. Rutter was able to gather a range of data e.g. on achievement and class size in 12 inner London schools very quickly. (Practical)

What are the disadvantages of mailed


Mailed questionnaires can receive low response rates (25 to 50%). If questionnaires are long teachers may be unwilling to complete them as they are often overworked. Parents of working class students are less likely to return questionnaires than middle class parents. This can destroy the representativeness of a sample. Reliability is also lowered. (Theoretical)This problem may be overcome by sending out follow-up questionnaires and if questionnaires are collected by hand. However, this adds to cost and time.With mailed questionnaires there is no one there to explain the questions or instructions for completion. This can result in the questionnaires being incomplete or spoiled, reducing the validity of the findings. This might be a problem when studying parental attitudes towards education, where the parents are illiterate or whose first language is not English. (Theoretical)Cannot be sure a respondent has received a questionnaire and cannot guarantee the questionnaire was completed by the person to whom it was addressed. (Practical) This in turn can reduce the validity. (Theoretical) Emailed questionnaires may go into junk mail so may not be received by PP’s

What are the general theoretical advantages for social surveys?

Positivists favour all types of survey method for the following reasons:Large sample sizes are possible. For example, the sample size of the Crime Survey for England and Wales is almost 50,000. This pushes up representativeness and reliability and allows generalisations to be made from the sample population. Chubb and Moe were able to generalise about parents’ views on the ways schools should be run following their large scale survey into parental attitudes towards schooling.Results are verifiable and reliable because the questions are standardised.Quantifiable – the use of largely closed ended questions makes it possible to produce statistics and establish relationships and correlations. Comparisons can be made between social groups, time periods and across societies when considering educational achievement. Bowles and Gintis established a correlation between personality traits valued by employers (e.g. obedience) and high exam grades following their questionnaire of high school students. Sullivan established, through a questionnaire, a correlation between children’s cultural capital (e.g. exposure to sophisticated TV and books) and good GCSE exam performance.They are useful for testing hypotheses about cause and effect relationships. For example, the relationship between material deprivation and educational achievement. From this social laws and predictions can be made.

What are the general theoretical disadvantages for social surveys?

Interpretivists (anti-positivists) do not favour all types of survey method for the following reasons: may lie as no rapport is built up with the researcher. E.g. School pupils may also see the researcher as an authority figure, too much like a teacher and may not trust them enough to tell the truth. People may also forget or not know (especially true in surveys carried out on young pupils) answers to questions. Some may give answers they think researchers might want to hear (‘right answerism’). All this lowers validity. Closed questions can produce shallow answers as the questions limit what the respondent can say. This can result in a lack of depth, insight, meanings and feelings, validity is also lowered. E.g. Rutter was unable to find out the reasons why class size shaped exam achievement in his correlational survey.Surveys impose the researcher’s meanings, lowering validity. For example, the researcher decides what questions are important. Furthermore due to the large use of closed questions surveys result in premature closure, the results are pre-defined and the answer the respondent is looking for may not be present. For example, Chubb and Moe may have chosen questions and categories of answer to produce a set of results which suited their New Right viewpoint. There is a lack of flexibility in that the questions are pre-defined and so the researcher has no room to follow up interesting avenues that may open up during the research, this lowers validity.

What are the general ethical considerations for all survey methods?

Gain informed consent and ensure pps remain anonymous (e.g. personal data should not be kept about children unless vital to research). Right to withdraw.Make sure questions are not too intrusive or sensitive.Protection from harm – e.g. students should not be questioned for too long as they may cause distress.

What are the general practical problems of all survey methods?

Operationalising sociological concepts so they are understandable to the public can be difficult. For example, turning concepts such as ‘deferred gratification’ or ‘cultural capital’ into language that pupils will understand is problematic. This is especially the case with younger pupils or those with learning difficulties.Access problems - schools may be reluctant to allow surveys to be done in schools because of the disruption it causes.Having to keep questionnaires short – surveys carried out on young pupils need to be kept short because of short attention spans, this limits the information that can be gathered.Surveys are often perceived as formal and official documents – some school students, e.g. anti-school students may refuse to co-operate or take a survey seriously.
How are unstructured interviews are carried out?
Open ended questioning lasting a long period of time. There are few or no pre-set questions, only general areas to talk about which loosely direct the interview (interview schedule).It is like a guided conversation - free flowing and informal.Recorded (usually by tape or video).Flexibility is very important – it allows the respondent to lead the interview and discuss what they think is important. Usually one on one. E.g. Dobash & Dobash - study into domestic violence.

What are the advantages of unstructured


Interpretivists favour this method because:The informality of the interview allows rapport to be built up (trust and confidence in the interviewer). This makes it likely that the validity of the findings will be high and is a good technique for sensitive areas of sociology e.g. domestic violence, or bullying in schools. Dobash & Dobash built up rapport with victims of domestic violence as they spent a great deal of time in the refuges and became ‘permanent fixtures’ in the women’s lives.Verstehen - it becomes possible to see things through the eyes of the interviewees and gain true empathy. Validity is therefore increased. Dobash and Dobash spent a lot of time with the women and asked them about their whole lives not just about the incidents of domestic violence.The findings are qualitative and in depth. Dobash & Dobash’s interviews were detailed and lasted for up to 12 hours. Motives, emotions, reasons, meanings and feelings can be explored. It is possible to get close to people’s actual experiences. Sharpe was able to gain a great insight into feelings, aspirations and views of girls’ attitudes towards education, family and work. In this way validity is increased.There is no premature closure – the interview can go on for as long as necessary to allow the respondent to discuss everything they feel is important. The interviewer does not pre-define the findings and therefore validity is increased.There is a huge potential for flexibility. For example, the interviewer can follow up interesting avenues of discussion that they had previously not thought of. In addition, the interviewer can probe further and get respondents to develop their points. 
There is no confusion over the meaning of the questions or how to answer them – this can be explained by the interviewer if necessary, increasing validity. This is particularly important when researching young pupils who may have communication difficulties.

What are the theoretical disadvantages of unstructured interviews?

Positivists do not favour this technique because:The sample size tends to be small due to the detailed and time consuming nature of this technique. E.g. Dobash & Dobash only carried out 109 interviews. This lowers reliability and makes it difficult to get a representative sample or to generalise the findings to the wider population. It is not a systematic method. As there are no preset questions and the skills of the interviewer must be relied upon, the results are difficult to verify and reliability is inevitably lowered.The method can lack objectivity. Sociologists have years of working in education which may distort their views or they may take things for granted. The interviewer’s presence and the way questions are asked may affect results (e.g. leading questions). Facial expression, body language and voice tone can all effect answers given. The interviewer may even offer their own opinions which may bias the results. Students may be easily influenced by adult researchers who have more power, status and linguistic abilities. Bias may also occur during the detailed analysis process. Validity is lowered because of bias. Inequalities in power and status between the interviewer and interviewee lower validity. E.g. young children interviewed about their experiences of schooling may feel the need to offer answers which they think the researcher will want to hear, lowering validity. Students may see interviewers as ‘teachers in disguise’. Gender and ethnic differences between the interviewer and interviewee can also distort and lower the validity of the findings.

What are the ethical disadvantages of unstructured interviews?

Unstructured interviews are extremely time-consuming compared to other methods. Extra time should be given to studying young students, as they may not understand questions. Teachers are often overworked and may be less helpful if interviews last a long time. Some schools may reject interviews because of lesson time that is lost.An interview is an unnatural artificial experience, not a real life situation - lowering validity.Unstructured interviews require a great deal of skill from the researcher, to ensure that as much information as possible is collected. It can be costly to train up researchers to carry out the interviews. This is especially important when studying children who may use a different logic from adult interviewers.Female interviewers have sometimes found it necessary to take safety precautions when interviewing men as they have been subject to sexual harassment.Cultural differences between the interviewer and interviewee may lead to misunderstandings about words and meanings, this lowers validity.

What are group interviews?

In depth interviews with a small group of people. Sometimes referred to as focus groups.E.g. Willis’ group interviews to uncover the counter school subculture of the ‘lads’.

What are the theoretical advantages of group


Pps may open up as they may feel more comfortable talking with others or their peers, than in a one-to-one situation. E.g. Willis’ lads felt free to talk openly about how they viewed school, teachers and impending work. In addition, the power relationship between an interviewer and interviewee is reduced.It allows for richer and more reflective data to be collected as pps bounce ideas off each other – they may remind each other about examples, situations, feelings etc.Group interviews are good for generating initial ideas that can be followed up in more detail by later research.The researcher can combine questioning with the opportunity to observe group dynamics and norms.

What are the theoretical disadvantages of group interviews?
Some pps may dominate discussions; therefore, the researcher will only get to understand the viewpoint of one or a few members of the group and not the group as a whole. Group interviews require a lot of skill from the researcher to keep the interview focused and on topic. Individual pps may become subject to peer group pressure, which may influence what is said. This will lower the validity of the findings as true feelings may not be shown. Data generated from group interaction is more complex and difficult to analyse.

What are the general ethical considerations for interviews?

Consequences for the interviewees – the interviewer must ensure that when the research is published it does not harm the group involved i.e. it must not have negative consequences for them.Informed consent – especially from students with special needs or who are too young may take part in research and truly understanding the purpose of the research (not mature enough to make the moral choice to participate). Parental permission is also likely to be needed when interviewing school students.Exploitation of the interviewee must be avoided. The researcher must make sure that they do not pry too much and must not create anxiety or distress in the pps. This is particularly important when investigating sensitive areas e.g. bullying. Protection from harm – students should not be questioned for too long as this may cause distress.

What are the general THEORETICAL advantages of unstructured participant observation - Interpretivists?

PO produces data that is high in validity. This is because subjects are studied in their natural environment and so the research shows what people do, rather than simply what they say they do. For example, Wright was able to see how some teachers label Asian pupils negatively despite claiming otherwise. (Theoretical)PO produces in depth qualitative data. This provides the researcher with detailed valid data concerning the feelings, motives, emotions and meanings of the people being studied. (Theoretical)PO allows for flexibility. The researcher is likely to follow up new situations as they are encountered and change direction when appropriate. Validity is again increased as a consequence. (Theoretical)Rapport and trust is built up with the people being studied and therefore they are more likely to act naturally. This means that validity is likely to increase. (Theoretical) This is particularly important when studying school students who may mistrust adult researchers who they liken to authority teacher figures. Devine only sat on low chairs, went into the playground at break times and never disciplined children in order to gain the trust of the primary school students she observed.Verstehen and consequently validity can be achieved. It is possible to gain empathy and insight by seeing through the eyes of those you are studying. Mac an Ghaill was able to adopt a black student perspective and understand black underachievement as a response to a racist education system. (Theoretical)

What are the general THEORETICAL/PRACTICAL disadvantages of unstructured participant observation - Positivists

PO lacks reliability. The flexibility and interpersonal skills needed in the approach means that it is difficult to retest and gain similar results. (Theoretical)PO often has a small sample size due to the time and money needed. This means the sample may not be representative and reduces the researcher's ability to generalise to the target population. E.g. Willis’ anti-school subculture research was based only on 12 boys. This means that reliability is lowered. (Theoretical)Unstructured PO is not objective – it is subject to bias in the implementation and recording of the method. E.g. Mac an Ghaill socialised with the students he studied and became their friends, they even visited him at home, he admits himself that this research was not value free. Validity is therefore lowered. (Theoretical) The results of PO are unscientific. It is difficult if not impossible to control variables that occur in the 'field'. Reliability is therefore lowered. (Theoretical)Personal characteristics such as age, gender and ethnicity may restrict what groups can be studied. E.g. Wright found her Afro-Caribbean background produced negative reactions from some white teachers, but helped her gain respect from black pupils. The power difference between young people and adult researchers may place a barrier to uncovering the real attitudes and behaviours of students. Hey found her feminist stance caused some resentment amongst male staff and pupils. (Practical)There can be difficulties gaining entry, for example to a criminal gang. Making initial contact requires good personal skills, having the right connections etc. E.g. Patrick (CPO) was able to again entry to Glasgow gangs as he looked quite young and knew one of the gang members. E.g. Mac and Ghaill was able to gain entry as he taught in the institutions he researched in and also lived in the area and was seen as a local. Observational work in schools can be limited by school timetables, holidays etc. (Practical)There are problems getting accepted in to the group being studied. E.g. Griffin took medication and received sun lamp treatments to change his skin colour to pass as black when studying racism in the deep south of the USA. (Practical)There is the danger of ‘going native' – by staying in the group the researcher may over-identify with the group and become bias. When this happens, they have stopped being an objective observer and have simply become a member of the group. This lowers validity. (Theoretical).There can be problems leaving the group – readjusting and re-entering one’s normal world can be difficult. E.g. Whyte found that when he returned to Harvard University after his research, he was tongue-tied and unable to communicate with fellow academics. In addition, information may not be disclosed by the researcher because of loyalty to the group i.e. they may feel that it will harm members of the group. (Practical) Observation can be expensive and time consuming. E.g. It took Lacey two months to familiarise himself with the school he wanted to research and his fieldwork took him 18 months. Patrick (CPO) spent 120 hours ‘in the field’. (Practical)

What are the specific THEORETICAL/PRACTICAL advantages of covert PO - Interpretivists?

CPO eliminates the Hawthorne effect – as pps are unaware they are studied they are likely to behave naturally. (Theoretical)Some groups in society are reluctant to be studied therefore CPO may be the only method for studying certain groups. For example anti-school subcultures may be suspicious of researchers asking questions. (Practical)

What are the specific THEORETICAL/PRACTICAL/ETHICAL advantages of overt PO - Interpretivists?

The researcher does not have to worry about the consequences of being discovered. E.g. The Moonies were fully aware that Barker was a sociologist and studying their religious group. (Practical)The researcher can avoid taking part in the group’s activities. Barker could pick and choose what she did and where she went. (Practical)It is much easier to record OPO because it is possible to take notes openly. (Practical)Ethical problems are greatly reduced as there is no deception. E.g. Barker gained informed consent from the leaders of the Moonies. Overt PO is much more appropriate when researching schools because of the age and vulnerability of school children. (Ethical)

What are the specific THEORETICAL/PRACTICAL/ETHICAL disadvantages of covert PO - Positivists

Researchers are unable to make open notes. The researcher has to rely on memory and therefore some points may be forgotten. E.g. Hammersley admits he may have made mistakes or relied on his own interpretations in recording conversations in school staffrooms. This lowers validity (Theoretical)CPO requires a great deal of skill to keep up an act so that you are not discovered. This can also prove to be stressful. (Practical)The researcher cannot ask naïve questions without arousing suspicion. (Practical)CPO is impractical for studying some groups. E.g. when studying groups of students in classrooms, there are few ‘cover roles’ a researcher can adopt when studying people much younger than themselves. (Practical) There is no informed consent because the pps do not know they are taking part in a study. This leads to deception and exploitation. The age and vulnerability of school children makes CPO in schools highly unethical and not appropriate. (Ethical)Covert observers usually have to lie about their reasons for leaving the group. Others, such as Patrick, simply abandon the group. (Ethical)When studying some criminal groups the observer may have to take part in immoral or illegal activities to maintain their ‘cover’ role. (Ethical)

What are the specific THEORETICAL/PRACTICAL/ETHICAL disadvantages of overt PO - Positivists

The Hawthorne effect (demand characteristics) may occur. Participants know they are being observed and are likely to change their behaviour. This can lower validity. E.g. Teachers may put on a show if they know they are being observed. They may be use to doing this as they are observed regularly by OFSTED and school managers. King tried to minimise the Hawthorne effect by remaining unobtrusive i.e. hiding in the classroom’s Wendy House! (Theoretical) Some groups may not consent to being studied or prevent the researcher from seeing everything. E.G. Barker went through three complex stages of observation so she would be accepted. (Practical)When researching schools researchers have to decide what to do with ‘guilty knowledge’ that could get pupils into trouble (e.g. if they observe a student stealing school property). (Ethical)It is important to maintain the anonymity of the group being studied. E.g. This is particularly important in a marketised education system where a good public image is essential to the success of a school. (Ethical)

What are the general THEORETICAL/PRACTICAL advantages of structured non-participant observation - Positivists?

The pre-determined observational categories allow the data to be quantified. For example, the Flanders scale for examining pupil-pupil and pupil-teacher interaction shows that the typical American classroom has 68% teacher talk, 20% pupil talk, 12% lost in silence or confusion. (Theoretical) Standardised behaviour categories increase reliability as it allows the research to be replicated. E.g. the Flanders scale is easy to replicate as it only uses 10 standardised categories of classroom interaction. (Theoretical) Schools are often willing to give access to structured observations. The information gained can often help them to improve. (Practical)Structured non-participant observation is less time consuming and cheaper than unstructured observation and so larger and more representative samples can be achieved. (Practical)

What are the general THEORETICAL disadvantages of structured non-participant observation - Interpretivists?

The researcher predefines the results with the behaviour categories selected; therefore they will only look at certain behaviour which they have predicted. This lowers validity. (Theoretical)No rapport is built up with the pps and therefore validity is lowered. For example, the Flanders scale ignores any of the meanings that pupils and teachers give to situations. (Theoretical)

What are public and personal documents?

Public documents – produced by organisations such as government departments, schools, charities etc. E.g. OFSTED reports, school websites, minutes of council meetings. Personal documents – these are first person accounts of social events e.g. letters, diaries, photographs, paintings, autobiographies. E.g. The diary of Anne Frank concerning the Holocaust, pupil’s written work, graffiti on school buildings, text messaging between school pupils.
What are the advantages of all documentary sources - interpretivists?
One can gain massive insight into people’s feelings, motives and attitudes and hence gain high validity. E.g. Hey’s insights into girl’s feelings and actions about friendships through the study of notes passed around in class. (Theoretical)One can obtain highly valid information as documentary sources are written by people with no ulterior motives. E.g. Douglas examined suicide letters and diaries to find out the individual meanings of suicide. (Theoretical)Documents are usually cheap and quick to use – they are easily accessible to researchers and no time is wasted in primary research. E.g. Gillborn’s research on racism in schools accessed school policy statements and minutes of staff meetings. Gewirtz accessed school prospectuses, brochures and planning reports when studying marketisation. Parliamentary documents are readily available to help understand the reasons for educational policies. (Practical) It is possible to use a wide range of personal documents from a variety of different sources making it easy to make comparisons, as well as to check the findings from primary data. (Practical)There are few ethical concerns with public documents produced by schools. No permission is needed for their use as they are in the public domain. However, there are ethical concerns with personal documents e.g. the letters Hey used, as informed consent is needed. (Ethical)

What are the disadvantages of all documentary sources - positivists?

They are often not standardised and therefore lack reliability. E.g. Anne Frank’s diary was only one person’s interpretation of the Holocaust. This also makes it difficult to generalise. (Theoretical)Documentary sources are unrepresentative of all people in the target population e.g. diaries only come from literate groups. (Theoretical)One can question the authenticity and credibility of documentary sources. Is the document genuine? Is it complete? Does the author have sincere and honest motives? Is it valid? Is it reliable? (Theoretical)Many documentary sources are subject to bias as the content may reflect the strong opinions of the person writing the documents at a particular point in time. Objectivity can therefore be low. (Theoretical)Much of the findings and arguments that come from these sources depend on the interpretation skills of the researcher. This creates possible problems with researcher bias. E.g. Hey’s interpretation of notes may not be the same as the girls who wrote them. (Theoretical)The researcher may need special skills to understand a document e.g. it may have to be translated from a foreign language, words may change their meaning over time. (Practical)It can be very difficult to check for inaccuracies. E.g. Stein (2003) notes that documents on the internet are often not checked for accuracy before publication. (Practical)Has consent been given if the author is still alive? Moreover if the person is deceased there is a danger of exploitation. (Ethical)

What are historical documents?

Personal or public documents created in the past. E.g. Laslett – looked at Parish records to study family structure in pre-industrial England. Aries – looked at child rearing books and paintings to study the rise of childhood.

What are the advantages of historical


One can try to be objective about an event by using a number of sources about that event and trying to find the common information. This would increase reliability. (Theoretical)Historical documents are often the only way to research a particular area from the past. E.g. using history books to investigate the holocaust. (Practical)Offers a useful snap shot of a particular event at a particular time which should encapsulate the feelings and emotions of that period. E.g. exam results or OFSTED findings of a particular school. (Practical)

What are the disadvantages of historical


There can be problems of representativeness – are the surviving documents typical of the ones that get destroyed or lost? Further the 30 year rule prevents access to official documents for 30 years if they are judged to be secret. (Theoretical)Historical documents can bring problems of interpretation. This is because the sources of information are from different time periods. (Practical)Can be difficult to access some documents. E.g. confidential school records or pupils diaries about their experience of bullying. (Practical)

What is content analysis?

Content analysis is a method for dealing systematically with the contents of documents. It is best known for its use in analysing documents produced by the mass media, such as television news bulletins or advertisements. (Although such documents are usually qualitative, content analysis enables the sociologist to produce quantitative data from these sources)The researcher defines a set of categories and then counts how many times material is classified under that category.E.g. Manstead and McCulloch (1981) studied how televisions advertisers portray men and women in their adverts, such as how many times a woman was shown in the home and a man in the garden.

What are the advantage of content analysis?

Data can be examined systematically to identify patterns, e.g. over time or between societies. (Theoretical)This method is largely objective and free from bias. (Theoretical)Positivists argue that content analysis is high in reliability and can be easily replicated. E.g. Lobban’s research into gender stereotyping in school reading books could be repeated easily as she analysed each story using standardised categories. (Theoretical)Information is usually up to date. (Practical)It is relatively cheap and easy to access e.g. newspapers, television broadcasts. (Practical)

What are the disadvantages of content analysis?

Interpretivists argue that there is no real insight. Counting frequency does not show meanings and motives. (Theoretical)There is still some subjectivity, recording the media can never be truly scientific. The mass media can be biased, for example, the reportage of war through the newspapers is not objective. (Theoretical)Much of the mass media deals in stereotypes and sensationalisation (i.e. exaggerating details to produce a strong interest). (Practical)There is no way to double check data that the media provide. (Practical)

What are longitudinal studies?

Longitudinal studies - researchers study the same group of people at intervals over an extended period of time.

What are case studies?

Case studies – are an in depth study of one ‘unit’. This unit is normally a single individual but it can also be a single group of people such as a school, family or workplace.

What are life histories?

Life histories –here a person’s experience of life is recounted to the researcher or set down in the form of a ‘text’ (i.e. book, film or audio). Often the oral account is given via an extended, semi-structured (falls in between a structured and unstructured interview) or unstructured interview.

What is Ethnography?

Ethnography - 'Trying to walk in someone else's shoes'. The use of qualitative methods, usually participant observation but can include unstructured interviews, life histories and other personal documents

Give an example study of longitudinal studies

7UP (1963 – present) - ‘social history' of Britain told through the eyes of respondents from a range of social backgrounds. Does their social class pre-determine their future?The study began with 14 children who were to be looked at every 7 years.
Give an example study of case studies
Curtis – studied on the effects of privation on a child (Genie) who was found at 13, having been locked in her bedroom and tied to a potty chair for her whole life.
Give an example study of life histories
Linda Hart - diary account of the life of a schizophrenic.Chamberlain & Gilbourne - carried out biographical life story interviews with three generations of 60 families who had originated in the Caribbean and migrated to Britain in the 1950s and 1960s.
Give an example study of an ethnography
Willis – counter school cultures. He used PO and non-PO, interviews and group discussions.
Give an example study of triangulation
Barker – studied ‘the Moonies’ and used both overt PO and questionnaires to find out if people choose to become moonies or if they are brainwashed.Mac an Ghaill – used observation, questionnaires, and secondary quantitative methods, in work on racism, gender, culture etc

What is triangulation?

Triangulation – combining different types of research methods, often quantitative and qualitative.

What are the advantages of triangulation?

Gain both validity and reliability as the weaknesses of one method are often eliminated by the strengths of another. (Theoretical)Using a range of methods means that both quantitative and qualitative data can be collected. (Theoretical)Qualitative methods are useful for formulating a hypothesis to be tested by more scientific quantitative methods. (Theoretical)
What are the advantages of ethonographies?
You are often able to observe behaviour in a natural setting which increases validity. (Theoretical)Verstehen - it becomes possible to see things through the eyes of the case study pps and gain true empathy. (Theoretical)Detailed insight into feelings, meanings, motives and emotions. This increases validity. (Theoretical)NB – If you have to write an essay question on ethnography use the advantages of any primary and secondary qualitative methods as well.
What are the advantages of life histories?
It can provide a detailed, rich and valid insight about how people’s lives change over time. For example, they can give an insight into how war affects the lives of those who live through it. (Theoretical)Provides a first hand account of people’s experiences. (Practical)Can be used as a verification tool. E.g. to check other sources of information. (Practical)
What are the advantages of case studies?
Provides an in-depth, detailed insight into specific unique cases, thus increasing validity. (Theoretical)Verstehen - it becomes possible to see things through the eyes of the case study pps and gain true empathy about their situation. This increases validity (Theoretical)Useful for formulating a hypothesis which can be tested more scientifically using more pps and quantitative methods. (Theoretical) It makes it easier to study sensitive areas. E.g. mental illness (Practical)Case studies are useful to study exceptional cases as few people go through certain experiences – as in the case of Genie who had been deprived of human contact for the first 13 years of her life. (Practical)
What are the advantages of longitudinal studies?
Longitudinal studies can provide valid and in depth information and insight into people’s lives. (Theoretical)Longitudinal studies can examine developments over time rather than just offering a snap shot of one moment in time. E.g. the British cohort study has demonstrated that Britain has one of the lowest levels of social mobility in the developed world. (Practical)By making comparisons between groups over time it is possible to identify causes. E.g. Douglas was able to identify the causes of working class underachievement such as material and cultural deprivation. (Theoretical)By keeping the same group the researcher can be sure that any changes in attitudes and behaviour are not simply due to changes in the makeup of the sample. This increases validity. (Practical)

What are the disadvantages of longitudinal


Keeping the same sample of people over time is very difficult. “Sample attrition” can lead to a less representative sample as people drop out of the original sample. E.g. The National Child Development study (NCDS) lost a third of its sample of 17,400 between 1958 and 1999. (Theoretical)Demographic changes in the general population may mean that the sample population is no longer representative of the current target population. E.g. migration patterns alter the proportion of different ethnic groups in the population. (Theoretical)Demand characteristics arise when carrying out a repeated study. This lowers validity. (Theoretical)The Hawthorne effect can occur. Pps may change their behaviour because they are aware they are part of a long term study. This lowers the validity of the findings. (Theoretical)Often longitudinal studies cost a lot of money. E.g. Howard Parker’s (1998) five-year study of illegal drug use among adolescents cost £380,000. (Practical)
What are the disadvantages of case studies?
Case studies are not representative. They are too small scale to mirror wider society. Therefore it makes generalisation to a wider population impossible. (Theoretical)They lacks reliability due to small sample size. (Theoretical)They are often intrusive into an individuals life. Therefore concerns about exploitation of pps becomes an issue. (Ethical)
What are the disadvantages of life histories?
It can be a biased source as the person recounting could have their own agenda. E.g. historical accounts of the holocaust. (Theoretical)This method is difficult to generalise from because it is usually based on individual historical accounts. This lowers reliability. (Theoretical)Can be low in validity – difficulties recollecting information. (Theoretical)Time consuming and labour intensive. They also require a lot of skill to empathise with pps. (Practical)
What are the disadvantages of ethnographies?
Ethnographic studies are based on small sample sizes therefore it is difficult to generalise and reliability is lowered. (Theoretical)Research methods used are often subjective which lowers reliability. (Theoretical)Ethnographic is often exploitative as it often delves into people’s personal lives. (Ethical)NB – If you have to write an essay question on ethnography use the disadvantages of any primary and secondary qualitative methods as well.
What are the disadvantages of triangulation?
Some sociologists reject certain methods on the grounds of ethics or theoretical perspective. (Theoretical and ethical)To use a range of methods can be time consuming and expensive. (Practical)