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A2 Sociology Sociological Methods

Quantitative Methodology

 Quantitative methodology produces numerical, statistical data


 Advocated by Comte and Durkheim

 Suggests that sociology can be scientific
 Positivism argues the following:
 There are objective social facts about the social world which can be
expressed in statistics
 These facts are not subjective viewpoints (influenced by the researchers
personal opinion) or influenced by their beliefs about right and wrong (values)
and are therefore value-free
 Researchers can look for correlations (patterns in which two or more things
tend to occur together)
 Multivariate analysis (analysing the importance of many different possible
causes) can help researchers find what the true causes of things are
 It is possible to discover laws of human behaviour – causes of behaviour
which are true for all humans everywhere and throughout history
 Human behaviour is shaped by external stimuli (things that happen to us)
rather than internal stimuli (what goes on in the human mind)
 To be scientific one should only study what one can observe
o It is unscientific to study people’s emotions, meanings or motives
o These are internal to the unobservable mind


 Many scientists make use of experiments

 In experiments, theories can be tested in precise conditions (often in a
laboratory) controlled by the researcher
 The researcher develops a hypothesis – a prediction of what will be found –
which is then tested
 Experiments try to isolate the effects of independent variables (possible
causes) on a dependent variable (the thing to be explained)
 A control (in which everything is held constant) and an experiment (in which
one independent variable is changed) are compared
 This allows scientists to find precise causes

Advantage of Experiments

 Experiments can be replicated to test the reliability of findings

Disadvantages of Experiments

Chris Cartwright
A2 Sociology Sociological Methods

 Sociologists rarely use laboratory experiments because:

o Laboratories are unnatural settings and people may not behave
o The experimenter effect may occur and thus effect the reliability of
data – People respond to what they perceive to be the expectations of
the researchers
o It is impractical to conduct large numbers of people or over long

Field Experiments

 Field experiments take place outside the laboratory in natural settings

Examples of Field Experiments

Brown & Gay (1985) – radical discrimination by employers

 Brown & Gay used bogus job applications to measure the extent of radical
discrimination by employers in the 1980s
 They found evidence that more than a quarter of employers discriminated
against ethnic minority applicants by denying them job interviews

Rosenthal & Jacobson (1968) – labelling in education

 R&J selected a random sample of pupils in an elementary school in the USA

 They informed their teachers that these pupils could be expected to show
rapid intellectual growth
 They tested the IQ of all pupils and re-tested one year later
 The sample population showed greater gains in IQ
 R&J claimed that by altering the teachers expectations they had significantly
affected their pupils’ performance.
 They speculate that the teachers’ encouragement and positive feedback
produced a self-fulfilling prophecy

Advantages of Field Experiments

 Field experiments avoid unnatural laboratory situations

 Therefore, they are high in validity due to the data produced being a true
reflection of social reality

Disadvantages of Field Experiments

 It is difficult to control variables

 If those being studied are aware of the experiment, this may alter their
behaviour (Hawthrone effect)
 If the subjects are unaware that they are being studied, this raises ethical

Comparative Method

Chris Cartwright
A2 Sociology Sociological Methods

 This involves using the same logic as the experiment, but using events that
have already taken place rather than creating artificial situations
 Social groups, times or places are systematically compared to try to isolate
 When it is impractical or unethical to use experiments, the comparative
method is used instead
 The comparative method has been very widely used
 Examples include:
o Durkheim on suicide
o Weber on Protestant ethic
o Marx on social change

Advantages of Comparative Method

 It is based upon real social events

 It is the only systematic way to study long-term or wide-scale social change

Disadvantage of Comparative Method

 It is more difficult to isolate variables than in controlled experiments

Chris Cartwright