Research methodology in sociology
This article aims to provide a first approach to the possibilities of social research in Sociology, but also for social sciences in general.
What is research methodology? As Marradi (2007) have pointed out, research methodology could be defined as the reflection on the paths or ways pursued by social sciences to produce and validate knowledge. In other words, methodology is not only about following up a set of predefined steps to reach a goal, but also a permanent reflective and creative activity where the researcher builds their own path using a series of available methods and techniques.
There are two major methodological paradigms in social research: qualitative methods and quantitative methods. On the one hand, quantitative methods construct, analyse and measure quantified data relative to a population. Some of its common techniques are the opinion polls which measure people’s views on different topics of the public agenda, or surveys which collect and analyse numerical data on a population such as educational level or housing conditions. A concrete example is the national census carried out in Argentina every ten years. On the other hand, qualitative methods look into the perception and meanings of social phenomena formed by people in everyday life. Observing and participating in activities performed by people in their daily lives or conducting biographical or in-depth interviews are some of the most commonly employed techniques.
Which of these methods could be selected? This is a key point, it all depends on the research subject. If the researcher is interested in studying the social representations about old age built by old adults, it would be more appropriate to use non-structured interviews, where these individuals could expand on what that stage of life means to them. By the same token, if the aim is to measure the increase of unemployment in a city, databases of a national measurement institute could be analysed, or surveys could be also conducted with the help of a group of data collectors. As can be seen, it's all about theory (Sautu, 2003): based on the theoretical concepts emerged from a research topic (e.g. old age, unemployment), the researcher will select the suitable methods, techniques and the way of employment. Available time and resources should be considered in methodological decisions.
Given these points, there are two additional suggestions which could be useful when starting fieldwork. As each technique has its own potential and limitations, it might be better to combine more than one; complementarity of techniques will enhance research results. It is also possible to triangulate different methods (Piovani et al: 2008), for instance, linking the findings of in-depth interviews with statistical data which could help to reinforce a thesis. Finally, empiricism in the analysis of results (Bourdieu: 2008) should be avoided. It is advisable to find a balance between the theoretical reflection on data and the possibility of constructing new theory from original findings.
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Marradi, A. (2007). Método, metodología, técnicas. En A. Marradi, N. Archenti & J. I. Piovani, Metodología de las Ciencias Sociales (pp. 47-60). Buenos Aires: Emecé Editores.
Piovani, J., Adriani, L., Alzugaray, L., Eguía, A., Gómez Rojas, G., Miaño, R., ... y Ortale, S. (2008). Producción y reproducción de sentidos en torno a lo cualitativo y lo cuantitativo en las ciencias sociales. En N. Cohen & J. I. Piovani, La metodología de la investigación en debate (pp. 1-53). La Plata: Editorial Edulp y Eudeba.
Sautu, R. (2003). Todo es teoría. Objetivos y métodos de investigación. Buenos Aires: Editorial Lumiere.