Revision Notes (Part - 1) - Doing Sociology: Research Methods Humanities/Arts Notes | EduRev

Sociology Class 11

Humanities/Arts : Revision Notes (Part - 1) - Doing Sociology: Research Methods Humanities/Arts Notes | EduRev

The document Revision Notes (Part - 1) - Doing Sociology: Research Methods Humanities/Arts Notes | EduRev is a part of the Humanities/Arts Course Sociology Class 11.
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What is methodology?

Methodology refers to the study of method. Methodological issues or questions are about the general problems of scientific knowledge-gathering that go beyond anyone particular method, technique pr procedure.

Objectivity and Subjectivity in Sociology 

In everyday language, objective means unbiased, neutral or based on facts alone. In order to be objective about something, we must ignore our own feelings or attitudes about that thing.
The word subjective means something that is based on individual values and preferences.

Social scientists study the world in which they live - the social world of human relations. This creates special problems for objectivity in a social science like sociology. Following are the problems:

  1. There is the obvious problem of bias. Because sociologists are also members of society, they will also have all the normal likes and dislikes that people have. For e.g., a sociologist studying family relations will herself/himself be a member of a family, and her/his experiences are likely to influence her/him. Even when the sociologist has no direct experience of the group s/he is studying, there is still the possibility of being affected by the values and prejudices of one’s own social context. For e.g., when studying a caste or religious community other than his/her own, the sociologist may be influenced by the attitudes about that community prevalent in her own past or present social environment.
  2. The sociologist tries to take an outsider's perspective on her/his works/he tries to look at her/himself and her/his research through the eyes of others. This technique is called ‘self-reflexivity’. The sociologist constantly subjects his/her own attitudes and opinions to self- examination. S/he tries to consciously adopt the point of view of others, especially those who are the subjects of the research. One of the aspects of reflexivity is the importance of carefully documenting whatever one is doing. This ensures that others retrace the steps we have taken to arrive at a particular conclusion, and see for them if we are right. It also helps check and re-check our own thinking or line of argument.

But, there is always the possibility of unconscious bias.
To deal with this problem, sociologists explicitly mention those features of their own social background that might be relevant as a possible source of bias on the topic being researched. This alerts readers to the possibility of bias and allows them to mentality compensate for it when reading the research study.

3. The social world involves many competing versions or interpretations of reality. For e.g., a shopkeeper and a customer may have different ideas of-what is a good price. There is no simple way of judging which particular interpretation is true or more correct. In fact, sociology doesn’t judge in this way because it is really interested in what people think, and why they think what they think.

4. A further complication arises from the presence of multiple points of view in the social sciences themselves.This implies that competing and mutually incompatible schools of thought coexist within the discipline.

All this makes objectivity a very difficult and complicated thing in sociology. Objectivity has to be thought of as the goal of a continuous, ongoing process ratherthan an already achieved end result.

Multiple Methods and Choice of Methods 
There are different ways of classifying various methods.

a) Qualitative and quantitative methods: The former deals in countable or measurable variables like proportions, averages etc, and the latter deals with more abstract and hard to measure phenomena like attitudes, emotions, etc.
b) Observable and non-observable meanings. 
c) Methods relying on secondary data or already existing data in the form of artefacts, documents, etc. and those that are designed to produce fresh or‘primary’data. 
d) Macro and Micro methods : The former are designed to work in small intimate settings usually with a single researcher. Thus, interview and participant observation are thought of as micro methods. Macro methods are those that are able to tackle large scale research involving large number of respondents and investigators. Survey is such a macro method.

Whatever mode of classification, it is important to remember that it is a matter of convention. The dividing line between different kinds of methods need not be very sharp. It is often possible to convert one kind of method to another, or to supplement one with another.

How to choose between various research methods?

a) It is dictated by the nature of research question being addressed by the preferences of the researcher.
b) Time and resource constraints

The recent trend in social sciences is to advocate the use of multiple methods to bear on the same research problem from different vantage points. This is called triangulation i.e., a process of reiterating something from different direction. In this way, different methods can be used to complement each other to produce a much better result than what might have been possible with each method by itself.

Participant Observation 

This refers to a particular method by which sociologist learns about society, culture and people that he/she is studying.

Features of participant observation: 

1. This involves a long period of interaction with the subjects of research. The researcher spends many months or a year living among the people being studied as one of them. As an non—native or outsider, the researcher has to immerse him/herself in the culture of the natives by learning their language, participating intimately in their everyday life to acquire ail implicit and explicit knowledge and the skills of an insider.
2. The overall goal of participant observation is to learn about the whole way of life of a community.
3. This method is often called Field Work. This term originated in the natural sciences, especially like botany, zoology, geology. In these disciplines, scientists could not only work in laboratory, they had to go out in the field to learn about their subjects like rocks, plants, etc.

Beginning of Field Work in Anthropology 

1. The early anthropologists were amateur enthusiasts interested in exotic primitive cultures.
2. They were armchair scholars who collected and organised information about distant communities (which they had never themselves visited) available from the reports and descriptions written by travellers, missionaries, etc. for example, the famous book “The Golden Bough" written by James Frazer, was based entirely on second hand accounts.
3. Towards the end of 19th century and first decade if 20th century, early anthropologists began to carry out systematic surveys and first hand observation of tribal languages, customs, rituals, and beliefs. Reliance on second hand accounts came to be thought of as unscholarly, and the good results obtained from first hand work helped cement this growing prejudice.

What did the social anthropologist actually do when doing fieldwork?

1. They began by doing a census of the community they were to study. This involved making a detailed list of all the people who lived in a community, including information such as their sex, age group and family.

2. This could b accompanied by an attempt to map the physical layout of the village or settlement including the location of houses and other socially relevant sites.
3. On very important thing that they do in the beginning of their field work is to construct a genealogy of the community. This may be based on the information obtained in the census, but extends much further since it involves creating a family tree for individual members, and extending the tree as far back as possible. For example, the head of a particular household or family would be asked about his relatives in his or her own generation; then about his/her parents’ generations; then about the grandparents and their brothers, sisters and so on. This would be done for as many generations as the person could remember. The information obtained from one person would be cross-checked by asking other relatives the same questions, and after confirmation, a very detailed family tree could be drawn up. This exercise helped to understand the kinship system of the community-what kind of roles different relatives played in a person's life and how these relations were maintained.
4. A genealogy would help the anthropologist get acquainted with the structure of the community and in a practical sense would enable him/her to meet with people and become familiar with the way the community lives.
5. The researcherwould constantly learn the language of the community.
6. S/he would observe the life in community and make detailed notes in which the significant aspects of the community life would be described. Festivals, religious or other collective events, modes of earning livelihood, family relations, modes of child rearing-these are some of the topics that researchers would specially be interested in.
7. Learning about these requires the anthropologist to ask endless questions about things that are taken for granted by the members of the community. This is the sense in which anthropologist would be like a child, always asking questions.
8. In doing this, the anthropologist depends on one or two people for most of the information. Such people are called informants. They act as the anthropologist's teachers and are crucially important actors in the whole process of anthropological research.
9. Equally important are the detailed field notes that the researcher takes during the field work; these notes have to be written everyday without fail, and can be supplemented by, or take the form of a daily diary.

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