Essay Example on Sociological research theoretical approaches positivism and interpretivism








Sociological research has two main theoretical approaches positivism and interpretivism Positivists take a scientific and quantitative approach to research methodology preferring to focus on the factual knowledge gained through observation Collins 2010 In positivist research studies the role of the researcher is limited to data collection and interpretation through an objective approach and the research findings are usually observable and quantifiable Positivist research depends on quantifiable data that leads to statistical analysis Positivist studies are based purely on facts and consider the world to be external and objective Wilson 2010 Positivists take a deductive and determinists approach to research and focus on purely scientific facts Myers 2008 Unlike positivists interpretivists take a more subjective and qualitative approach to research Interpretivist methods of investigation are based on a naturalistic and holistic approach of data collection Collins 2010 Research tends to be done in greater detail and looks at culture and how people live their lives creating a more accurate and valid representation in their results Myers 2008 Interpretivists believe it is important for the researcher to appreciate differences between people Interpretivist studies usually focus on realism and may employ multiple methods of investigation to get a true reflection of the issue Saunders et al 2012 Sociological research offers a range of possible methods of for investigation including field experiments which provide an interpretivist approach in which field experiments are conducted in natural everyday environments promoting high ecological validity in the study List et al 2014

The nature of field experiments also allows for participants to behave in an everyday way which means that there is much less risk of creating demand characteristics as participants ideally will not be aware that they are being studied Haralambos et al 2008 Field experiments also allow for qualitative data to be gained List et al 2014 There are however doubts about the ethics of field experiments due to the fact that participants may not know they are being observed Bryman 2012 The replicability of field experiments is also an issue considering that it is not possible to control the extraneous variables within the studies List et al 2014 Another possible method of investigation would be structured interviews which employ a positivist perspective and allow for more quantitative data to be obtained Those experiments are also easily replicable which allows for greater reliability Structured interviews, however, lack detail due to the close nature of the questions

They could also be subject to interview bias or misinterpretation Bryman 2012 Structured interviews can also lead to the interview effect in which the presence of an interviewer can affect the outcome of the participants response who may structure their answers in a way they feel the interviewer wants them to The interviewer s gender perceived age or race amongst other things may also affect participants responses Davis et al 2009 A number of qualitative interviewing techniques exist ranging from unstructured to semi structured interviews Glaser et al 1967 According to Bernard 1988 semi structured interviewing is arguably best used when the researcher will not get more than one chance to interview someone In the open ended interview format of structured and semi structured interviews conversation is allowed to flow freely in reference to a particular topic By contrast in a more structured interview a set of predesigned discussion topics are offered for a person s response In general open ended interviewing serves as a means of determining how people talk about or perceive various aspects of their lives and how they categorize things Agar 1980 After preliminary analysis this data may be employed to create a more focused set of questions that pertain to a particular research problem or topic Agar 1980 Semi structured and structured interviews allow for the interviewer to build up a positive rapport with the interviewee They also promote high validity by allowing the interview to discuss topics in detail and depth in a natural and comfortable way Bryman 2012 Semi structured and unstructured interviews however are often difficult to generalise due to the personal nature of the interview

Qualitative information may also be difficult to analyze for example while deciding what is and is not relevant information This also leads to the possibility of interviewer bias or misinterpretation Haralambos et al 2008 Another possible research method is questionnaires which provide a cheap quick and efficient way of obtaining large amounts of information from a large sample of people Haralambos et al 2008 Questionnaires can use open ended or closed questions Open ended questions allow for rich qualitative data to be gathered Foddy 1994 however they are often very time consuming and difficult to analyze and replicate Bryman 2012 In 1944 Lazarsfeld suggested using open ended questions at the initial stage of questionnaire design in order to identify adequate answer categories for the close ended questions in the later stages of the questionnaire design Close ended questions can be very economical allowing large amounts of data to be gathered at very little cost The questionnaire can also be easily replicated to check the reliability of the findings Bryman 2012 For the purpose of replicability and reliability and due to time constraints the present researcher chose the questionnaire method of investigation for this report Using close ended question allowed the researcher to gather quick reliable and numerical data This also made it possible for the researcher to conduct a small pilot study which allowed the researcher to ensure that respondents understood the questions used in the questionnaire

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