Some sociologists have tried to adopt the
methods of the natural sciences. In doing so they
have tended to advocate the use of quantitative
methods. To use such methods in sociology is
known as positivism.
First, as a positivist, Comte believed that the
scientific study of society should be confined to
collecting information about phenomena that can
be objectively observed and classified. Comte
argued sociologists should not be concerned with
the internal meanings, motives, feelings and
emotions of individuals. Since these mental
states exist only in the person’s consciousness,
they cannot be observed and so they cannot be
measured in any objective way.
The second aspect of positivism concerns
its use of statistical data. Positivists
believed it was possible to classify the
social world in an objective way. Using
these classifications it was then possible to
count sets of observable social facts and
so produce statistics.
For example Durkheim collected data on
social facts such as the suicide rate and
the membership of different religions.
The third stage of positivist methodology
entails looking for correlations between
different social facts. A correlation is a
tendency for two or more things to be
found together, and it may refer to the
strength of the relationship between them.
In his study of suicide, Durkheim found an
apparent correlation between a particular
religion (Protestantism) and a high suicide
The fourth stage of positivist methodology
involves a search for causal connections. If there
is a strong correlation between two or more types
of social phenomena, then a positivist sociologist
might suspect that one of these phenomena was
causing the other to take place.
However this is not necessarily the case, and it is
important to analyse the data carefully before
any such conclusion can be reached. The
example of class and criminality can be used to
illustrate this point. Many sociologists have noted
a correlation between being working class and a
relatively high chance of being convicted of a
Laws of Human Behaviour
Positivists believe that multivariate analysis can establish
causal connections between two or more variables. If these
findings are checked in a variety of contexts, then the
researchers can be confident that they have attained the
ultimate goal of positivism: a law of human behaviour.
Durkheim claimed to have discovered laws of human
behaviour that governed the suicide rate. According to
Durkheim, the suicide rate always rose during an economic
boom or slump.
Positivists and Durkheim, then, believe that laws of human
behaviour can be discovered by the collection of objective
facts about the social world in a statistical form, by the
careful analysis of these facts, and by repeated checking of
findings in a series of contexts. From this point of view
humans have little or no choice about how they behave.
Durkheim conceived of sociology as the scientific study of a reality sui
generis, a clearly defined group of phenomena different from those
studied by all other sciences, biology and psychology included. It was
for these phenomena that Durkheim reserved the term social facts,
i.e., "a category of facts which present very special characteristics:
they consist of manners of acting, thinking, and feeling external to the
individual, which are invested with a coercive power by virtue of which
they exercise control over him.
Since these facts consisted of actions, thoughts, and feelings, they could
not be confused with biological phenomena; but neither were they the
province of psychology, for they existed outside the individual
conscience. It was to define the proper method for their study that
Durkheim wrote The Rules of Sociological Method (1895).
His work on suicide, of which the discussion and analysis
of anomie forms a part, must be read in this light. Once he
discovered that certain types of suicide could be
accounted for by anomie, he could then use anomic
suicide as an index for the otherwise immeasurable
degree of social integration
Durkheim distinguished between types of suicide
according to the relation of the actor to his society. When
the restraints of structural integration, as exemplified in
the operation of organic solidarity, fail to operate, men
become prone to egoistic suicide; when the collective
conscience weakens, men fall victim to anomic suicide
Method of testing a hypothesis.
Low level of involvement.
Ability to control variables.
Ability to replicate.
High numbers of respondents.
Disadvantages of Official Statistics
Stats are not always reliable
People are likely to lie to make themselves look better,
therefore can we trust the methods through which these stats
Stats give us generalisations; they do not reflect a reality, they
It has been argued that official stats simply show a persons
judgement rather than objective facts
The research may have been collected for a different purpose
therefore the data will not necessarily reflect the truth
The basis for the collection of stats by the governments may
change over time
Any statistical account will represent only a ‘snapshot’ of
Official Statistics (Cont)
Advantages of Official Statistics
Availability – Official statistics may be the only available source
in a particular sociological area (e.g. when studying suicide).
Practicality – The researcher does not have to spend time and
money collecting his/her own information. It may be
unnecessary for a researcher to create some forms of data
using primary methods when such data already exists
Examination of trends/changes over time – Using statistical
data drawn from a number of different years it is possible to see
how something has changed over a long period.
Comparison – Statistics can be used for inter-group
comparisons (e.g. the differences between middle and working
class) as well as cross-cultural comparisons (e.g. a
comparative study of crime rates in different countries).
“Before” and “after” studies – For example, you can use official
data to examine the effect of changes in the law regarding
divorce by seeing the number of divorces before and after.
Disadvantages of Official Statistics
Definitions used by the collector of the official statistics
may not be the same as those used by the sociologist.
The basis for the collection of statistics by governments
may change over time. E.g. Between 1980 and 1990 the
government changed the way it defined unemployment
(and hence the way it collects official data)
approximately 25 times.
The purpose of official statistics – Collection of data is
affected by political and economic considerations.
Statistical accounts are a “snapshot” of social
interaction- as it was at the moment the statistics were
It may not represent reality – It’s a partial picture of it,
you only see the tip of the iceberg e.g. not all crimes are
notified to the police, the self-employed don’t declare all
of their work to the inland revenue.
Advantages of Closed Q
• Can be given to a lot of people
• Can be given out over long distances
• Useful in gaining information that is easily
determined e.g. sex, age, marital status etc.
• Not as expensive or time consuming as other
research methods like longitudinal studies and
• Results are easier to record then open
questionnaires where many different answers can
Disadvantages of Closed
• Postal questionnaires often return in low numbers
which may not be representative of the subjects
• The results are often distorted because the people
replying do not get much choice e.g. when questions
require a yes/no answer the respondent may want to
answer yes, but…
• The method of research would be sampling and
would therefore require the researcher to make
assumptions for everybody else.
• Some of the respondents will lie, especially when
you are researching a sensitive subject.
Thus Ends Positivism.
And Quantitative methodology.
• A) Positivism.
• B) Positivist Quantitative Methodology.
Founding father – Weber.
Look with eyes that see …
As I sat + listened I learnt the answers to the Qs
that I wouldn’t have had the sense to ask. WFW.
Rejects scientific sociology.
Verstehen – empathy.
Interpret human behaviour from
within the phenomena.
Can we understand other people’s
motives \ actions?
Verstehen AKA Empathy.
Weber believed that before the cause of a
social action could be found, it was
necessary to understand the meaning
attached to it by the actor.
This involves the gathering of data on a
particular group of people or person
over a period of time. Information is
gathered at the outset of the study and
subsequent developments are traced in
an attempt to isolate those social
factors that affect person’s life chances
or to monitor change in their behaviour.
A recent example would that of the 7 up
Longitudinal studies were first used in
the USA in the 1940’s to measure
changes in public attitudes.
You can see changes over time.
It shows trends over a period of
It can be very time consuming.
It can be expensive
People may drop out of the study.
It could have an affect over the
One’s recollection can be swayed.
Media Content Analysis is the
deconstruction of pieces of media with a
tendency towards either qualitative or
quantitative research methods.
Qualitative methods involve a viewing of
the clip and then unstructured open
discussions and debate on the themes
and effects of the clip.
Quantitative research methods within
Media Content Analysis point to a far
more structured and consequently
restricted form of gathering
information from clips of media.
Respondents define phenomena.
How much does it hurt?
Difficult to quantify results.
Dobash + Dobash.
British Crime Survey.
Involvement on the part of the researcher
can be controlled.
Phenomenology's criticisms of
Politics of wording.
Researchers define phenomena
Operationalisation of concepts – possible?
Researcher does not gain true empathy
with phenomena being studied.
Qualitative answers are approximated into
quantitative responses for codification.
P.O is a method of research in which
the observer joins the group being
studied and participates in their
Examples of this method include
James Patrick’s study ‘A Glasgow
Gang Observed’ and Laud
Humphreys’ ‘Tearoom Trade’
Because a researcher doesn't pre-judge
the issue by deciding in advance what is /
is not important when studying social
behaviour, they can react to events /
ideas, follow leads, pursue avenues of
research that had not occurred to them
before their involvement with a group. In
this respect, a researcher can test
hypotheses and may be able to redefine
possible personal pre-conceptions about
someone's behaviour in the light of their
experience in the group.
The quality and depth of information the
Participant observation generates
a rich source of highly-detailed,
high-quality, information about
people's behaviour. In short, this
type of research produces a
depth of detailed information
about all aspects of a group's
The opportunity for understanding
(empathy) it encourages.
The researcher can understand
the social pressures / influences
/ group norms etc., that may
create particular forms of
behaviour. This gives a
researcher insights into
individual and group behaviour
and it may allow researcher to
formulate hypotheses that
explain such behaviour
•The researcher's level of participation / involvement in a group.
A researcher has to learn the culture of a group if he / she is to participate fully in their behaviour and this
may not always be easy or possible. If a researcher is too young, too old, too male or too female for the
group they want to research this will cause problems of participation.
As we will also see, if a researcher is involved in covert participant observation their ability to blend
seamlessly into a group is absolutely crucial to the success or failure of the research project...
Participant observation requires a great deal of skill and commitment from the
researcher. The success or failure of the research will hinge on such factors as the ability
to fit-in with the people being studied and the ability to communicate with groups
members on their level and terms. It will also, at different times, require tact, clear and
careful observation, the ability to separate the role of participant from that of observer
and so forth.
In other words, before committing yourself to participant observation you need to be
certain you have the time, money, resources and skills required to carry this type of
The general scope and scale of observational studies.
Most participant observation is restricted
to fairly small-scale studies carried out
over a long period and the group being
studied is unlikely to be representative of
any other social group.
It's also unlikely a researcher will be able
to generalise their findings from one study
to the next (for example, is Goffman's
study of a mental asylum applicable to all
Participant observation (whether overt or covert) is not the most
reliable research method. Such studies are, by their very nature,
impossible to repeat and the data they produce is, when all's said
and done, simply the opinion of one observer. In addition, the
reliability of overt participant observation can be further
questioned in terms of the extent to which the presence of the
observer actually changes of behaviour of those being studied.
However, while such studies may lack reliability it is evident that
the validity of the data gained can be impressive.
Participant observers study people in their natural environment, gaining a
depth of insight into behaviour that comes not simply from close, detailed,
observation but also from the researcher's own experiences within the group
being studied - a technique that provides first hand insights into why people
behave as they do. In addition, participant observation does not prejudge
issues and events (in the way a questionnaire may, for example) and, for
these reasons it is possible to argue that such a method provides data that
has a high level of validity.
Factors that lead to one’s choice of method …
Theoretical perspective. Quant Vs Qual.
Ads + dis. of methods
Some methods lend themselves to the
Postmodernism is a complicated term, or
set of ideas, one that has only emerged as
an area of academic study since the mid1980s.
Postmodernism is hard to define, because
it is a concept that appears in a wide
variety of disciplines or areas of study,
including art, architecture, music, film,
literature, sociology, communications,
fashion, and technology.
Modern theories and postmodernism
use different theoretical approaches
to studying sociology. For example,
Weber, Marx and Durkheim, believe
that it is possible to find out the
objective truth about society,
whereas postmodernism does not.
They reject the meta-narrative
Voluntary participation – not coercion.
Risk of harm.
Research should not have negative consequences
on those being studied.
Rosenthal + Jacobson.
1. How does one achieve Verstehen?
2. What does Sui Generis mean?
Society exists above and beyond a collection of individuals.
3. What did Karl Popper advocate?
The falsification theory- you should try to disprove what you
believe to be true.
4.What’s the difference between suicide and Para- suicide?
Para-suicide is an attempted suicide.
Is media content analysis quantitative or qualitative?
It can be both.
5. What are the four types of suicide?
•Altruistic suicide- committing suicide for the benefit of
others. E.g. Kami Kaze
•Anomic suicide- committing suicide because one isn’t
•Egoistic suicide- an ineffective regulation of society causes a
person to commit suicide.
•Fatalistic suicide- One’s future is pitilessly blocked (BBC- 2
people commit suicide each week in the UK).
6. Which method would you use to uncover the true extent of
Self Report study \ Victimisation Study
7.Who spoke of the ‘Tea room trade’(60s) and what was it about?
Laud Humphreys studied sexual casual gratification between men
in public toilets.
8.Why do ‘Victimisation’ and ‘self-report’ studies use
They use questionnaires to determine the extent of reported and
unreported crime. E.g. The BCS used this type in 1983.
What factors would influence your
choice of Research Method?
The phenomena being researched.