1 Positivism, Interpretivism and Sociological Methods
1.1 POSTIVISM and Research Methods
1.1.1 Positivists believe that, just as there are causes
of things in the natural world, so there are
external social forces, making up a society's
social structure that casue or mould people's
ideas and actions.
184.108.40.206 Durkheim, a Positivist, called these external forces SOCIAL FACTS.
220.127.116.11.1 Durkeheim said the aim of sociology should be the study of social facts,
which should be considered as things, like objects in the natural world, and
could in most cases be observed and measured quantitatively - in
18.104.22.168.1.1 Eamples of positivist approaches might be studies of whether people in
some social classes achieve poorer exam results, suffer more illness or are
more likely to commit suicide.
22.214.171.124.1.1.1 Durkheim (2002 ) used a positivist approach
in his classic study of suicide in 1897, using suicide
statistics to try to establish the social causes of
126.96.36.199.188.8.131.52 Similarly, positivist research on relationships in the
family might collect statistical data on who does what
around the home, the length of time spent by partners
on housework and childcare, and so on.
184.108.40.206.220.127.116.11.1 Due to the quantitative data collection methods used by
positivists, the studies that people using this perspective are likely
to larger scale, or MACRO approach. Examples of these methods
include: The experiment, the comparative method, social surveys,
structured questionnaires, formal/structured interviews and
18.104.22.168.22.214.171.124.1.1 A MACRO approach is one which
focuses on large numbers of
people, and the large-scale
structure of society as a whole,
rather than on individuals.
126.96.36.199.2 SOCIAL FACTS are phenomena which exist outside of individuals and
independantly of their minds, but which act upon them in ways which
constrain or mould their behaviour. Such phenomena include social
institutions like the law, the family the education system and the
1.1.2 POSITIVISM is an approach that believes
society can be studied using similar scientific
techniques, such as physics, chemistry and
1.2 Interpretivism and Research Methods
1.2.1 Interpretivists believe that, because people's behaviour is
influenced by the interpretations and meanings they give to social
situations, the researcher's task is to gain an understanding of
these interpretations and meanings, and how people see and
understand the world around them.
188.8.131.52 Interpretivists believe that sociology should therefore use research
methods which provide an understanding from the point of view of
individuals and groups.
184.108.40.206.1 This process called "Verstehen." (Pronounced
220.127.116.11.1.1 Instead of collecting statistical information like positivists, interpretivists
suggest there is a need to discuss and get personally involved with people in
order to get at how they see the world and understand it.
18.104.22.168.1.1.1 Examples of this might be studies of whether people in some
social classes tolerate or dismiss ill-health more than those in
other classes, or are more likely to fail in education or be
labelled as criminal because of the way teachers and police
22.214.171.124.126.96.36.199 Atkinson's (1978) study of suicide involves an interpretivist
approach which contrasts with Durkheim's study in arguing that
suicide statistics are simply social constructions reflecting the
behaviour of coroners, doctors, relatives, etc., and their definitions
of suicide. They tell us more about the decision-making processes
of the living rather than the intentions of the dead and the real
number of suicides.
188.8.131.52.184.108.40.206.1 Similarly, interpretivist research on relationships in the family might carry out in-depth
interviews with family members, to find out how they feel about doing jobs around the
home, whether they see housework and childcare as shared out equally or not, and
whether they'd want them to be.
220.127.116.11.18.104.22.168.1.1 The methods of interpretivists therefore collect qualitative data, as people using the
interpretivist perspective are likely to use a MICRO approach. This consists of words,
documents and images giving in-depth description and insight into the attitudes, values
and feelings of individuals and groups, and the meanings and interpretations they give to
events. Such qualitative methods include: Participant and (sometimes) non-participant
observation, informal (unstructured/in-depth/open-ended) interviews, open-ended
questionnaires and personal accounts, using personal documents like diaries and letters.
22.214.171.124.126.96.36.199.1.1.1 A MICRO approach is one which focuses on small
groups or individuals, rather than on large numbers
of people and the structure of society as a whole.