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Of Methods and Methodology 6 | Practical Research Considerations

Tuesday, March 24th, 2020

Sociologists do research for a wide range of reasons and in this post we’re looking at a range of practical research considerations relating to, firstly, choice of topic and secondly, choice of method.

As luck would have it (you didn’t seriously think I planned this stuff, did you?), this all fits neatly into my “5 Things You Need To Know” patent-not-pending revision technique…

choice of topic

Decisions about what to study may be influenced by a range of personal and institutional factors:

1. The interests of the researcher, for example, are likely to be a key influence on any decision about what to study., one that reflects their areas of expertise and specialism. To take a slightly extreme example perhaps, the Glasgow Media Group – and Greg Philo in particular – have specialised in research into mass media bias for over 40 years – from “Bad News” (1976) to “Bad News for Labour” (2019).

2. A second area of influence involves things like current debates and intellectual fashions: the popularity of different research topics, for example, wax and wane for a range of reasons, not least being the availability or otherwise of research funding – an issue we’ll address in a moment.

One driver of research choices in this respect, at least in the UK, is that institutional, departmental and personal funding in universities is sensitive to the popularity of a piece of research. An important way this is measured is in terms of how many other researchers around the world cite an individual’s research. The more the citations, the greater the measured popularity and the higher the level of future research funding for a university department.

A research topic that is currently popular and / or intellectually fashionable may stand a greater chance of attracting citations because the pool of interest – among other researchers, the media and general public – will be that much larger than for a much smaller, more niche, research topic  (Southerton et al’s (1998) “Research Note on Recreational Caravanning” being a personal favourite).

Money, money, money…

3.  Funding is one of the more prosaic – but nevertheless hugely important – practical considerations in relation to topic choice. Research, in simple terms, costs money – whether, like Cant et al (2019), you’re emailing a questionnaire to sociology teachers to explore their opinions on the status of sociology in English schools, co-ordinating a group of academics and field researchers in a lengthy study of religion and spirituality (Heelas and Woodhead, 2004) or simply, like Ferrell (2018) or Venkatesh (2009), engaging in extensive and lengthy forms of participant observation.

While finding the money to fund a piece of research that may last anything from a few weeks to, in Venkatesh’s case around 10 years, may dictate the researcher’s choice of topic – if the funding’s not available, it’s unlikely to be studied – a further dimension are the questions:

Who pays?

And why?

Those who commission and pay for sociological research, from universities, through charities and private Think Tanks to government departments, are likely to want – and in some cases demand -an important say in the ultimate choice of topic to be studied. In both the UK and USA, for example, the trend over the past 30 – 40 years has been to commission sociological research designed to help government policymakers make decisions. If your choice of topic (and method…) doesn’t fit with this brief or aid in this process it may be harder to attract funding.

There’s more. A whole load More

Of Methods and Methodology: 5. Triangulation

Friday, March 13th, 2020

methodological pluralism

While it’s necessary, for the sake of illustration, to differentiate between different sociological methodologies, this doesn’t mean positivism and interpretivism simply occupy their own unique social space into which the other cannot enter – an idea reflected in the notion “positivists” would not use qualitative methods for methodological reasons, because such methods “lack reliability”, for example, while “interpretivists” would not use quantitative methods because they “lack validity”.

Rather than see methodologies as being entities whose basic principles are set in stone, it’s more-useful to see them as mental constructs created for theoretical convenience; to help us understand and evaluate, for example, methodological principles such as reliability and validity. In this respect the question of whether we should expect to meet such methodologies in their “pure forms” in the real world of sociological research may be somewhat wide of the mark given that, as Wood and Welch (2010) argue:

There is now increasing awareness that both quantitative and qualitative styles of research may have a contribution to make to a project, which leads to the idea of mixing methods“.

This idea can be expressed as methodological pluralism, something Payne et al (2004) define as “tolerance of a variety of methods”. It refers, in other words, to the idea of combining research methodologies in ways that allow each to complement the other to improve overall research reliability and validity.

The logic of this argument is that different research methods have different methodological strengths and weaknesses; questionnaires, for example, may produce reliable data, but with low validity (although, once again, this relationship is by no-means set in stone – depending on what is being measured, questionnaires are not methodologically incapable of producing valid data), while the reverse may be true for covert participant observation. 

Rather than approach research methodology from the perspective of a “design problem” therefore – how to test a hypothesis (positivism) or answer a research question (interpretivism) we can approach it from a methodological perspective – how to collect data that has the highest possible levels of reliability and validity, regardless of the actual methods or data types used. In this respect, if methodological pluralism represents the theoretical justification for using mixed methods – because no research method or data type is intrinsically “positivist” or “anti-positivist” – triangulation is the means through which this theory is put into practice.

More on Mixed Methods…

Of Methods and Methodology: 4. Postmodernism

Wednesday, March 4th, 2020

A methodology is a framework for research that focuses on how it is possible to collect reliable and valid data about, in this instance, the social world. It’s shaped by two main considerations:

1. Our beliefs about the fundamental nature of the social world (ontological concerns).

2. How we believe is possible to construct knowledge about the world (epistemology).

In turn, these ideas shape our choice of research methods when we come to actually collect data.

Unlike the three previous posts in this short, but pithy, series (Positivism, Interpretivism and Realism in case you hadn’t noticed) the status of “postmodernism” as a form of sociological research methodology is, at best ambivalent. However, in terms of the basic definition I’ve used to introduce these posts it does represent a perspective on how it’s considered possible to generate reliable and valid information about the world and, for this reason, I’ve decided to invite it to the party.

Feel free to disagree.

Basic Principles

1. A postmodernist methodology is founded on two basic ideas:

Firstly, the critique of modernism focused on the idea that concepts like ‘universal truth’ and ‘objectivity’ are inherently subjective constructions that need to be considered as narratives within a scientific discourse. In other words, such ideas represent stories that describe the social world from a particular position of power, rather than unequivocal, objective features of that world.

Secondly, postmodernism is constructivist, in the sense of seeking to describe how narratives and discourses develop and disappear as people construct, deconstruct, and reconstruct the social world. Such constructionism involves thinking about two main types of subjectivities:

• Personal: how people experience and reflect on the social world in terms of their particular beliefs, values, norms, identities and so forth.

• Social: personal experience grounded in the experiences and activities of others. Traditionally, for example, one way of expressing this idea is to think about areas like primary and secondary socialisation and how the behaviour of others (such as parents, friends and the media) impacts on how we see both ourselves and the social world. More-recently however we see social subjectivities developing around various forms of social media.

Postmodernism and the social media rabbit hole…

2. In an inherently subjective social world it follows that all explanations of that world are relative. Or, as Troest (1999) puts it, “we have no way of objectively distinguishing that which is true from that which is false”. This claim has important ramifications for sociological research because, if true (?) it follows that concepts like reliability and validity are simply social constructs that reflect one view of methodological order. They are, in other words, simply part of one “narrative of science” that is no more – and no less – valid than any other description of science. Taken to its logical conclusion this argument, Curran and Takata (2004) note, means that for postmodernists there is no possibility of ‘a unifying overall truth’ about the social world. That would just be one more metanarrative to add to the expanding list…

There’s More: Oh God There’s more

Of Methods and Methodology: 3. Realism

Monday, March 2nd, 2020

A methodology is a framework for research that focuses on how it is possible to collect reliable and valid data about, in this instance, the social world. It’s shaped by two main considerations:

1. Our beliefs about the fundamental nature of the social world (ontological concerns).

2. How we believe is possible to construct knowledge about the world (epistemology).

In turn, these ideas shape our choice of research methods when we come to actually collect data.

Although an understanding of Realist methodology isn’t essential at a-level, if students can grasp its basics it’s very useful as a source of evaluation for alternative methodological approaches, such as positivism and interpretivism.

 It also adds a slightly different dimension to arguments over whether sociology is a science.

Realism, particularly at a-level, is often portrayed as a kind of methodological hybrid, one that combines a belief in the existence of objective social structures (positivism) with the idea they are subjectively experienced and socially constructed (interpretivism). While this is, in some respects, a valid way of looking at it, realist methodology is perhaps a little more subtle and complex than this simple formulation might suggest – an idea we can explore in the following way:

1. For Realists, societies consist of social structures that can be objectively studied because these structures have an independent existence from the people who move through them. Social structures, therefore, represent ‘real forces’ that act on, shape and in some ways determine our everyday political, economic and cultural lives.

2. While the real features of social systems make it possible to establish causal relationships, Realism breaks with positivism because it adds the proviso causality will be limited in time and space: what is true in one society / social context may not be true in another. This follows because for Realists there is a further dimension to understanding human behaviour – a subjective one that recognises and takes on board the importance of human meaning and interpretation.

(more…)

Of Methods and Methodology: 2. Interpretivism

Saturday, February 29th, 2020

A methodology is a framework for research that focuses on how it is possible to collect reliable and valid data about, in this instance, the social world. It’s shaped by two main considerations:

1. Our beliefs about the fundamental nature of the social world (ontological concerns).

2. How we believe is possible to construct knowledge about the world (epistemology).

In turn, these ideas shape our choice of research methods when we come to actually collect data.

Basic Principles

Unlike their positivist counterparts, for interpretivists the crucial difference between the objects of study for social and natural scientists is that people have consciousness.

This is significant because this awareness of both Self and our relationship to Others gives people the ability to act; to exercise what we might loosely call free will over the choices they make about how to behave in different situations, rather than simply react to external (structural) stimulation.

People, therefore, are “inherently unpredictable” in the sense they do not necessary react in the same way to the same stimuli. Unlike a natural world governed by linear progressions – A causes B causes C – the social world is a non-linear system that makes individual behaviour difficult to predict. The best we can do is suggest a range of probabilities about what will occur in terms of people’s behaviour in the context of different situations.

A further complication here is that behaviour is not simply a condition of the Self: that is, someone choosing to do – or not to do – something. Rather, it’s also a condition of the Other. How other people define and interpret someone’s behaviour is just as – if not – more important.

Read on MacDuff…

Of Methods and Methodology: 1. Positivism

Friday, February 28th, 2020
No.1 Positivism

A methodology is a framework for research that focuses on how it is possible to collect reliable and valid data about, in this instance, the social world. It’s shaped by two main considerations:

1. Our beliefs about the fundamental nature of the social world (ontological concerns).

2. How we believe is possible to construct knowledge about the world (epistemology).

In turn, these ideas shape our choice of research methods when we come to actually collect data.

Basic Principles

As a general approach Positivism argues it’s both possible and desirable for sociologists to study social behaviour using similar methods to those used to study behaviour in the natural world – a belief we can examine by identifying some of the key ideas underpinning this approach.

1. A basic principle of this methodological approach is that social systems consist of structures that exist independently of individuals.

Institutions, such as families, education systems, governments and so forth, represent behaviour, at the macro (or very large group) level of society. As individuals we experience social structures as forces bearing down on us, pushing us to behave in certain ways and shaping our behavioural choices. An interesting example of how an institutional structure works is language.

To be part of a society we must communicate using language, both verbal (words) and non-verbal (gestures). As conscious individuals we exercise some choice over which language we speak, but our freedom of choice is actually limited for two reasons:

There’s more. Oh Yes…

Media Methods and Representations: The Bechdel Test

Friday, November 22nd, 2019
Alison Bechdel's “The Rule” (1985)
Alison Bechdel’s “The Rule” (1985)

The Bechdel Test is a very simple type of content analysis, created by Alison Bechdel in a 1985 episode (“The Rule”) of her comic-strip “Dykes to Watch Out For”, that tests how women – and by extension men – are historically represented in Hollywood films.

Aside from throwing-up, so to speak, some interesting and frankly-quite-surprising results (the Bechdel test web site has a database of films that passed (or more usually, failed), the Test itself is a simple and efficient way to allow students to “do” some Content Analysis in a context that’s easy to arrange and manage.

In basic terms, ask each student in your class to watch a film of their choice (in their own time…) and, while their watching, record whether or not it satisfies 4 simple criteria:

1. Does it have at least 2 women in it?

2. Do they have names (i.e. are they something more than background extras)?

3. Do they talk to each other?

4. Is their conversation about something other than men?

If the answer to any of these questions is “No”, the film fails the test.

Applying the Test

Five Methods of Socialisation

Thursday, September 5th, 2019
5 Methods of Socialisation PowerPoint. Click here to download.

Continuing the dimensions of socialisation theme that began with the Agencies of Socialisation PowerPoint and continued with the Methods of (Gender) Socialisation Knowledge Organiser, this 5 Methods of Socialisation PowerPoint Presentation is designed to introduce the concepts underpinning the latter by providing simple definitions of:

  • Selective exposure
  • Identification
  • Modelling
  • Sanctions (rewards and punishments)
  • Nurturance
  • You can use the Presentation as a simple standalone introduction to different methods of socialisation (the Presentation leans towards examples of gender socialisation within the family but it’s easy enough to change this focus to get students to think about other institutions, such as the media or education, and the impact they have on the general socialisation process) or as an explanation of the Knowledge Organiser categories if you intend to do more in-depth work with your students in this area.

    For continuity purposes the Presentation uses the same backgrounds, icons and Glass Experience™ as the Agencies Presentation.

    Either that or I couldn’t be bothered to create a new design.

    Methods of (Gender) Socialisation: Knowledge Organiser

    Wednesday, September 4th, 2019
    Blank KO Template. Click to download.
    Blank Template

    While putting together the Agencies of Socialisation PowerPoint I came across a related document – a kind of proto-knowledge organiser, circa 2002 – that I must have once worked-on and then, for whatever reason, abandoned.

    In basic terms, the document can be used to organise ideas about, in this instance, gender socialisation (it could probably also be used to organise other forms of socialisation) into four main categories:

    1. Selective Exposure: boys and girls are selectively exposed to different ideas, behaviours and practices seen as appropriate to their sex.

    2. Modelling: boys and girls are encouraged to model their behaviour by observing and to some extent copying the gendered behaviour they see around them – in their families, peer groups, schools, media and so forth.

    3. Rewards and Punishments: although the idea of social sanctions, in the form of rewards for conformity and punishments for deviance, is a standard aspect of our understanding of socialisation processes what might be more-interesting to think about is whether different types of male – female behaviour are rewarded and punished and whether each gender is rewarded / punished differently for displaying the same behaviour?

    4. Identification and Nurturance: Identification and nurturance involve a stronger form of modelling in the sense that where boys and girls are encouraged to identify with adults of their sex, the latter are potentially more-influential in nurturing the social traits and behaviours they see as desirable in children of different sexes.

    (more…)

    Sociological Research Methods On Demand

    Thursday, July 11th, 2019

    3 short films whose aim is not simply to tell students about sociological methods, but to show their strengths and limitations in action by looking at how these methods have been applied in key sociological studies. The films, also available on DVD, are now available to buy as individual titles on our new Vimeo On-Demand site.

    Case Studies [5 minutes]

    If you go and see your doctor or a therapist, you’ll become a ‘case’ to them. They’ll want to know a lot more about you. Similarly, sociological case studies involve putting a social group, an event or a place ‘under the microscope’. This film looks at a classic sociological study, The Spiritual Revolution, to show why case studies are used in sociology, what they provide for the sociologist and the extent to which findings can be generalised.

    Self Report Methods: Interviews and Questionnaires [7 minutes]

    How do school students negotiate the pressures to perform well academically alongside the pressure to popular and cool? Carolyn Jackson combined questionnaires and interviews to research this question and this film uses her study, Lads and Ladettes, to illustrate why these methods are chosen, their respective strengths and limitations and how the strengths of one can be used to offset the limitations of the other.

    Participant Observation [7 minutes]

    Some research questions can only really be studied by sociologists getting out of their offices and interacting directly with the people they want to study. Starting with the famous Chicago School of sociology, this film looks at some classic studies to illustrate why participation observation is used in sociology, its major strengths and limitations and its contribution to sociological understanding.

    Sociological Research Methods DVD

    Monday, July 1st, 2019

    Our first sociological research methods DVD features 3 short films whose aim is not simply to tell students about sociological methods, but to show their strengths and limitations in action by looking at how these methods have been applied in key sociological studies. The DVD features:

    Interviews and Questionnaires [7 minutes]

    How do school students negotiate the pressures to perform well academically alongside the pressure to popular and cool? Carolyn Jackson combined questionnaires and interviews to research this question and this film uses her study, Lads and Ladettes, to illustrate why these methods are chosen, their respective strengths and limitations and how the strengths of one can be used to offset the limitations of the other. (more…)

    Psychology Films 3 | Non-Experimental Methods

    Monday, May 6th, 2019

    The third batch of new psychology films uploaded to the website focuses on the “other side” of research methods with 4 short films looking at non-experimental methods.

    As with Experimental Methods and Issues in Psychology the emphasis is on providing strong introductions to a specific method or concept. Each of the films includes an overview of its chosen topic, how it has been applied in a particular study or studies and an evaluation of its strengths / weaknesses / limitations. 

    Naturalistic Observation 
    4 minutes
    Some research questions in psychology involve getting out and seeing how people actually behave in real life situations and this involves naturalistic observation.

    Using several key studies, this film illustrates different techniques of naturalistic observation, why psychologists use this method, some of the difficulties involved, and the limitations of the method.

    Self-Report Methods 
    5 minutes
    Self-report methods gather data directly from the participants and this film illustrates and compares two types of self-report method: questionnaires and interviews. This involves looking at some of the problems and limitations common to all self-report methods and how they can be avoided or overcome.

    Correlations 
    4 minutes
    Correlations are relationships and this film begins by illustrating how the strength and direction of those relationships is measured.

    It then uses real research studies to illustrate their uses, limitations and how easily correlation data can be misused.

    Case studies 
    6 minutes
    This film uses the well-known case of ‘Genie’, a girl kept in solitary confinement from infancy until she was 13, to illustrate how and why case are used, what they can offer psychological researchers, their limitations and some of the ethical issues that can often arise through their application.

    Psychology Films 1 | Experimental Methods

    Tuesday, April 30th, 2019

    We’ve been adding some new films to the redesigned web site, starting with a batch of four films covering experimental research design and methods.

    Natural Experiments
    Natural Experiments

    The films have been designed as relatively short introductions to a specific method or concept and each provides an overview of its chosen topic, how it has been applied in a particular study or studies and an evaluation of its strengths / weaknesses / limitations.

    Experimental Design
    (7 minutes)
    The film starts with a simple research question – What is the most effective time of day for students to learn new material? – as a way of providing practical illustrations of the strengths and possible limitations of repeated measures, independent measures and matched pairs experimental designs.
    This is subsequently developed by using three classic experimental studies (the Stroop Effect, Loftus’ eyewitness testimony experiments and Bandura’s bobo doll experiments to show why a particular experimental design was used in each case.

    Lab experiments
    Laboratory Experiments

    Laboratory Experiments
    (7 minutes)
    This short film uses a number of well-known psychological studies (Watson, Asch, Bandura, Harlow, Loftus…) to explain the experimental method and illustrate how laboratory experiments are done. This includes evaluating their strengths and limitations and how these limitations do not apply uniformly to all experimental studies.

    Field Experiments
    (5 minutes)
    Three classic studies – Hofling’s study of nurse obedience, Fischer’s test of the cognitive interview and the Pilliavins’ research on good Samaritans – are used to illustrate what field experiments offer psychologists compared to other experimental methods. The film also looks at the difficulties involved with setting up field experiments and examines their strengths and limitations.

    Natural Experiments
    (6 minutes)
    In natural experiments, circumstances present researchers with an opportunity to test the effect of one variable on another in ways that could not be done in a laboratory experiment. This film looks at natural experiments in psychology to illustrate how they work, their differences from other methods, and their strengths and limitations.

    Sociology in Focus for AS: Methods Resources

    Wednesday, March 13th, 2019
    Overview Map

    The final set of resources to accompany the free Sociology in Focus AS textbook is for Research Methods aka “Everyone’s Favourite Module” (Said no-one. Ever).

    Although the textbook is aimed at AQA, everyone, everywhere, does research methods so there’s little here that won’t be familiar, whatever the Specification.

    Probably.
    I’d be inclined to check, though.
    Just-in-case.

    If you’ve been following these posts over the past few weeks (and if you haven’t you might want to think about Registering with the Blog to ensure you’re notified whenever a new post happens along) you’ll be familiar with the format – activity answers, spider-diagrams, worksheets and teaching tips – and so won’t be disappointed that this is exactly what you’re getting here.

    Or maybe you will. Who really knows?

    To be a bit more specific, the bundle features:

    Worksheet

    An Overview Map that sets out the broad content of the Unit in terms of the different Modules. This can be useful as a way of introducing the Unit and giving students a broad outline of the content they will be expected to cover.

    Revision Maps: These spider diagrams map-out the textbook content on a module-by-module basis. This makes them useful for both end-of-Unit revision (the focus is on identifying keywords in the text and relating them to other, linked, content) and for introducing the basic content of each Module.

    Teaching Tips: These include suggestions for some hands-on, “Doing Sociology”, approaches to research methods, plus a general introduction to what was, at the time (around 10 years ago) a new and highly-innovative type of research method called Visual Sociology. It’s moved on a bit in the meantime and while it’s not exactly a mainstream method it’s something you might want to investigate if you have the time and / or inclination.

    Activity Answers: If you set your students any of the activities / questions in the book, a set of standard answers would be quite a handy thing to have. Luckily, I’ve written some handy suggested answers to all the questions so you don’t have to.

    Worksheets: In moderation worksheets can be a useful little weapon in your teaching armoury, particularly for small-group work / flipped learning. The worksheets involve a combination of individual and group-based tasks that can be used to consolidate and check learning.

    Sociology in Focus for AS: Education and Methods

    Saturday, March 9th, 2019
    Overview Map

    Continuing to plough the long and lonely furrow that is AS Sociology, today’s offering is a whole bunch of resources for Education with Research Methods. These complement the Sociology in Focus for AS textbook you can pick-up for absolutely nothing if you click the link and then click another link to download it. You might want to read the text that surrounds the download link, but it’s not mandatory.

    If you follow the AQA Spec. the combination of Education and Methods will be all-too-familiar but if you follow other Specs (such as Eduqas) you’ll be pleased to know that as far as the resources go they’re basically “all about the Education” and you can forget about Methods (at least in this context).

    If you teach / study OCR then you need to be aware these are AS rather than A2 resources.

    If you teach / study outside the UK bubble you may find stuff here and in the textbook that relates to your course of study, but I can’t guarantee it.

    (more…)

    Methods Mat

    Monday, January 14th, 2019
    Methods Mat

    A generic Methods Mat template that might be useful for both Sociology and Psychology A-level Research methods teaching. 

    The Research Methods Tables created by Liam Core got me thinking about how to present a similar level of information in a Learning Mat format (such as Stacey Arkwright’s Sociology Mats, the Psychology Studies Mat or the generic Sociology / Psychology Mat).

    What I’ve come up with is Learning Mat template – an A4 page available as either a PowerPoint or Pdf document – focused on a single research method. I’ve included the PowerPoint version for a couple of reasons:

    Firstly, if you’re in the habit of displaying stuff for your students it’s much easier to do this in PowerPoint.

    Secondly, if you want to edit the template – to create, for example, a worked illustration – it’s a lot less work to do it in PowerPoint.

    Although the Mat should be fairly straightforward to use (it includes space to note the Key Features, Strengths and Weaknesses of a Research Method) I’ve added / adapted a couple of sections from the original:

    The first is fairly minor: the addition of a way to indicate if it’s a primary or secondary research method).

    (more…)

    Research Methods Tables

    Saturday, January 12th, 2019

    I’ve previously posted a couple of pieces of Liam Core’s work (a Sociology Literacy Mat and an A-level Evidence Bank Template) and since these have proven very popular with teachers I thought I’d tap him up for a few more resources.

    Research Methods Table

    And, sure enough, he’s delivered.

    This time it’s a handy research methods table students use to record key aspects of a range of methods (from questionnaires to public documents). The (Word) format’s easy to replicate so if you need to add or subtract different methods before you let your students loose it’s relatively easy to do.

    In terms of completing the table, for each research method students are required to note its:

  • Key features
  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Practical issues
  • Ethical issues
  • How you use the table is, of course, up to you but it’s a resource that could be useful for revision, as a prompt sheet for timed essay writing and so forth.

    Methods Mat

    The resource packs a lot of research methods onto a single A4 page and some teachers / students might find this a bit restrictive, so if you decide to use this as a paper-based resource the author suggests you enlarge it to A3 before giving it to your students. Alternatively, if you find A3 materials a little unwieldy, you might like to try this Methods Mat – an A4 document focused on a single method.

    (Knife) Crime, Deviance, Media and Methods

    Monday, October 29th, 2018

    Because. LONDON!

    “Knife Crime” as you’re probably aware, is increasingly in the news, particularly, but not exclusively, in London (because, quite frankly and a little rhetorically, is there anywhere else of any great significance in England?).

    And while there are Definitely | Maybe | Probably (please delete as inapplicable) all kinds of reliability issues surrounding what counts as “knife crime” (and, indeed, how what counts can actually be counted) that you could explore if you were so inclined, a more pressing social (and, as it happens, sociological) problem is “Who’s responsible?”.

    This, of course, is not an idle question and happily, if that’s the right word, both the social and the sociological problem meet around the notion of “gangs” (and “youth gangs” in particular).

    However, before we start to develop some sort of hypothesis that might explain the relationship between “youth gangs” and the increase in serious knife crime (“knife crime with injury”) you might want to try this simple, single question, quiz on your students as a prelude to the serious stuff of explaining the data.

    As befits my sociological inexactitude I’ve formulated the quantitative quiz in either of two ways (one open-ended, the other closed-ended):

    And you call that a Staffie? Really? Sort it out!

    Either:

    Q1. In your own words, what percentage of “knife crime with injury” in London is committed by youth gangs?

    Or:

    Q1. In London, what percentage of “knife crime with injury” is committed by youth gangs?

    1. 45%?
    2. 4%?

    (more…)

    Introduction to Research Methods

    Monday, June 18th, 2018

    Pages from the University of Portsmouth suitable for a-level sociology students. The resources mainly cover research methods (questionnaires, interviews, observation…) and a little bit of methodology…

    Over the past few months you may, or more-probably may not, have noticed that I’ve posted a range of crime and deviance resources on theories of crime, policing and so forth from the University of Portsmouth.

    Despite the well-documented problems encountered in tracking-down and assembling these resources, I decided to have a look around to see if there were any further resources available on other topics suitable for a-level students. As luck – or what I prefer to call good solid detective work – would have it, there were. On the flipside, however, is the fact they relate to most people’s least favourite module, Research Methods (or as the Unit is self-described, an Introduction to Research Skills).

    As with the majority of the resources across different topics, they’re a bit hit-and-miss when it comes to content and presentation: some pages and modules seem to have had a lot of care and attention lavished on them, while others are just a page or so of plain text. Whether this reflects a deliberate policy or the fact that money and / or enthusiasm for the project ran out I’ve no idea. The resources are, however, generally pitched at a level suitable for a-level students and could be used in a variety of ways (such as flipped learning) to help students get to grips with research methods. (more…)

    Sociology Revision Booklets: 2. Theory and Methods

    Tuesday, March 6th, 2018

    The second batch of a-level revision booklets covers that ever-popular topic, theory and methods.

    As with previous offerings, both design and content can, at times, be a little variable and for this I take no responsibility whatsoever. Because I neither designed nor wrote any of the content. I am technically distributing it for your revision pleasure, however, so I do feel a modicum of responsibility for the materials.

    Not enough, obviously, to indemnify you in any way, shape or form for any losses you may occur through using any of these resources. But enough to advise you it’s something of the nature of the beast that there’s frequently a trade-off between getting your hands on free resources and the currency of those resources. You need, in other words, to go through the resources you decide to use to check they conform to your current Specification: things, as they are wont to do, sometimes change. You also need to make sure you find ways of covering newer material that may not be included in these revision booklets.

    That said, I’ve picked out some resources I think you might find useful and, where known, I’ve credited the appropriate source. Some might say this is so you know who to complain to if there’s anything you don’t like or understand but I would respond that it does you no credit to think that I might think like that. Or something.

    Anyway, without further ado, you can if you so choose pick-up these free resources:

    (more…)

    Knowledge Organisers: Media and Methods and Education

    Tuesday, February 20th, 2018

    Back by popular demand and with a brand-spanking new set of Tables covering media, methods and education. Each Unit is by a different author and the quality is, at times, variable.

    Media

    These are pdf files so unless you’ve got a programme that will edit them you’re stuck with the information they have to offer. That said, they’re fairly recent (2015) and so are probably reasonably up-to-date and in line with the latest Specifications. There is, unfortunately, no indication of authorship…

    Ownership of the mass media
    New media, globalisation and popular culture
    Selection and presentation of news and moral panics
    Mass media and audiences
    Representations of the body
    Representations of ethnicity age and class

    Methods

    These are a little older (2009) and again authorship is a little hazy. On the plus side they’re in Word format so they can be easily edited if necessary.

    Experiments and Questionnaires
    Interviews
    Observation and Secondary Sources

    Previous Tables you might find useful:

    Table 1.

    Table 2.

    Table 3.

    Education

    Again, not sure who created these or indeed when they were created. However, they are in Word format if you want to edit them.

    Functionalism and Marxism
    Feminism, New Right, Interactionism
    Cultural and Material Factors

    Previous Tables you might find useful:

    Table 1.

    Table 2.

     

    More Learning Tables: AS Research Methods

    Saturday, December 16th, 2017

    Today’s Table offering is everyone’s favourite revision topic (research methods in case you actually need to ask) and all of the Tables were written / assembled by Miss K Elles, except for those that weren’t.

    The Tables cover the major research methods plus a little bit of research methodology (positivism and interpretivism plus stuff on choice of method, value-freedom, objectivity and subjectivity) and mainly focus on knowledge with little bits of application and evaluation thrown-in.

    If I had guess – which I do because I don’t know for sure – I’d say these were early-version Tables where the more-complex structure of later Tables hadn’t been established.

    Alternatively they may just have been knocked-out quickly to fulfil some necessary teaching and learning void.

    Either way, you and your students may find the following Tables useful:

    Secondary Sources
    Experiments
    Surveys
    Sampling
    Observations
    Positivism and Interpretivism 1 (Georgia Banton)
    Positivism and Interpretivism 2 (Georgia Banton)
    Factors influencing choice of method (Isaac Carter-Bown)
    Value-Freedom (S Dale)

    Methods, Mobiles and Media

    Monday, June 19th, 2017

    Research Methods can be a little abstract and dry (teacher-speak for dull), particularly when opportunities to experience and apply what’s being taught are limited by things like time and a lack of easy access to suitable research subjects.

    This is where Steven Thomas’ “Patterns of Mobile Phone Use” article might help. The research example it suggests takes advantage of a ubiquitous resource – student ownership of mobile phones – to promote a relatively simple and straightforward way of applying and evaluating a range of methods, from questionnaires to participant observation.

    It does this by suggesting students (loosely) replicate Maenpaa’s (2001) examination of the impact of mobile phones on social interaction through a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods designed to monitor mobile phone use in a small case study scenario. The article suggests a set of general areas to study – from the simple quantitative, like the length of time people spend on their phones each day, to more qualitative questions relating to how people behave when using their mobiles.

    Media: Context / Background

    Although the article is mainly designed to help students get to grips with research methods, if you’re teaching media there is an additional aspect to the research you might find interesting: evaluating the social impact of new media.

    The concept of “New Media” appears somewhere on all Sociology a-level Specifications, frequently in conjunction with an instruction to examine its role / impact / significance in contemporary societies, both local and global:

    AQA: New media and their significance for an understanding of the role of the media in contemporary Society

    OCR: The impact of digital forms of communication in a global context

    WJEC: New media and globalisation

    CIE: The impact of the ‘new media’ on society.

    In Thomas’ article the student research is based around a contrast between Negreponte’s slightly gung-ho and highly-individualistic “digital optimism” and Maenpaa’s more-nuanced approach to communication and interaction.

    One interesting aspect of Negreponte’s work is the claim that in a digital society of “email, fax and answering machines” (the fact he only said this in 1995 shows how rapidly the technology has changed) the world will become asynchronous. That is, in order to participate or communicate people do not need to be interacting at the same time. As he predicted (Wired, 1998):

    “We’ll all live very asynchronous lives, in far less lockstep obedience to each other. Any store that is not open 24 hours will be noncompetitive. The idea that we collectively rush off to watch a television program at 9:00 p.m. will be nothing less than goofy. The true luxury in life is to not set an alarm clock and to stay in pajamas as long as you like. From this follows a complete renaissance of rural living. In the distant future, the need for cities will disappear”.

    One way in which new media has become increasingly ubiquitous is through the exponential growth of mobile / cell phone ownership and you would think that if any technological development has created or expanded asynchronous interaction it would be this one: technology that even a few years ago could be used to symbolise wealth and social status is now pretty-much everywhere.

    While Negreponte’s arguments have a ring of truth about them – a certain face validity as it were – others have not been so sure. Maenpaa’s (2001) examination of the impact of mobile phones on interaction is a case (study) in point, with his key findings summarised by Thomas.

    Methods

    If you just want to use the activity as a way of teaching research methods, researching mobile use could be used to devise and apply methods such as:

  • Questionnaires / Structured interviews
  • Unstructured interviews
  • Observation – non-participant
  • Participant – overt and covert

  • Equally you could use a combination of quantitative / qualitative methods if you wanted to illustrate concepts of triangulation.

    If you don’t have the time, opportunity or inclination to do this as a practical exercise, try doing a thought experiment where students have to imagine what it would be like to do the research. This particular route can be instructive if students already have a good grounding in different methods, their strengths, weaknesses, uses and limitations and you want to explore a range of more-theoretical issues (different research methodologies, different aspects of triangulation and so forth).

    NotAFactsheet: Miscellaneous Methods

    Friday, May 5th, 2017

    Another small batch of NotAFactsheets covering a miscellaneous melange of methods-related stuff – some essential, some less so (but probably nice to know, just in case you want to impress the examiner with your wide-ranging and perceptive grasp of all things methodological. Or maybe not).

    M9. Quantitative and Qualitative Data

    M10. Strong and Weak Feminist thesis

    M11. Types of Triangulation

    M13. Objectivity, Subjectivity, Value-Freedom

    Methods in Context: Overt Participant Observation

    Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

    For some reason I thought I’d already blogged this document, but it seems I’d put it on the Sociology Central web site but not here.

    To rectify the omission, therefore, this document uses Sudhir Venkatesh’s “Gang Leader For a Day” study as the basis for an outline and evaluation – the advantages and disadvantages – of the following key methodological concepts in overt participant observation:

    Access.
    Recording Data.
    Validity.
    Depth and Detail.
    Going Native.
    Observer Effect.