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A Comparison of Research Methods



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    Sociology is the study of human relationships and institutions (UNC, 2013). In order to enrich our understanding of key social processes, sociologists carefully gather and analyze evidence about social life. Most sociological research involves “field work” that has been designed to most closely represent the characteristics of a population (UNC, 2013). This process involves the utilization of a wide variety of research methods. Some of these methods include conducting surveys of large groups, observing people in social settings, deciphering historical data and analyzing videotaped interactions. For purposes of this paper, we are going to take a more in-depth look at two research methods used in sociology.

    The first research method we will look at is correlation research. A correlation is a relationship between two variables (Cliffsnotes, 2013). They can be behaviors, events, characteristics or attitudes. Correlation research attempts to determine if a relationship exists between two variables and exactly what the degree of that relationship is. A sociologist can use any number of other research methods to determine if a correlation exists. Correlations are either positive (to +1.0), negative (to -1.0) or nonexistent (0.0) (Cliffsnotes, 2013). A positive correlation is one in which the variables either increase or decrease together. A negative correlation on the other hand is one in which the variables go in different directions. If one increases, the other one decreases. If a correlation is nonexistent, no relationship exists between the variables. Correlation data does not indicate a cause and effect relationship (Cliffsnotes, 2013). In other words, one variable does not cause the other; it only indicates that both variables are somehow related to one another. Changes in the value of one variable will reflect changes in the value of the other.

    The second research method we will analyze is survey research. Survey research usually involves interviewing or administering questionnaires to a large number of people. This can be accomplished in person, by mail or over the telephone. Sociologists are able to customize the questions within the survey to make them pertinent to the study at hand. Once all data has been collected, the sociologist will analyze it to pinpoint similarities, differences and trends. They will then make predictions about the population being studied. One advantage to this type of research is that it allows sociologists to collect data from a large group in a relatively short period. This type of research method is also relatively inexpensive. If conducted by mail, the surveys allow the respondents the convenience of completing them on their own time. The mail surveys are also anonymous, which may provide for responses that are more truthful. Some disadvantages to this type of research method are that the responses may not always be reliable, it can be time consuming to decipher the results, and not all respondents will reply. A1. Philosophical Justifications for Sociological Methods

    The survey method is one of the best methods of research for gathering large amounts of information quickly and affordably (Jones, 2013). This method allows for a broader scope of study with greater efficiency (Pearson, 2013). Subjects may remain anonymous, which in turn can produce more truthful responses to questions (Jones, 2013). Due to the fact that the sociologist may not be present during some of the surveys, this method helps to eliminate bias in the interpretation of the results (Jones, 2013). This method of research is seen as highly reliable in that the data collected can be easily coded and analyzed (Pearson, 2013). Survey methods are a valuable adjunct to other research methods. They play an important role in confirming more qualitative research. The survey method can help to identify areas that need further research and reveal broad patterns that exist that could otherwise be overlooked by researchers relying solely on qualitative methods (Pearson, 2013). B. Anthropological Research Methods

    Anthropology comes from the Greek, it literally means “the study of the human” (Malinowski, 2013). Cultural anthropology is the study of human cultures, their practices, beliefs and values. Anthropologists accomplish these studies through various methods of research. These methods include (but are not limited to) participant observation, cross-cultural comparison, survey research, interviews and historical analysis. In this paper, we are going to take a closer look at two different forms of research used within the field of cultural anthropology.

    The first method of anthropological research that we will look at is participant observation. Participant observation is an immersion method of research where the researchers immerse themselves into the culture that they are studying. They will live within this society for the duration of the study (Jones, 2013). By doing this, the researcher is able to get first-hand experience through observation and participation in ceremonies, rituals, storytelling, language and meals within these cultures (Jones, 2013). They record their findings through voice recordings, photos, videos and journals. The success of participant observation is reliant upon the particular culture’s acceptance of the investigator into their society (Jones, 2013).

    The second method of research that we will discuss is cross culture comparison. This method searches for comparable culture patterns amongst multiple societies. Testable hypotheses are utilized to try to establish statistical correlations amongst cultures (Gillies and Kinzer, 2009). This methodology was greatly facilitated via the work of George Peter Murdock. Murdock was an American anthropologist known for his comparative studies. He developed the Human Relations Area Files (HRAF), which is an index that contains many of the world’s known societies (Gillies and Kinzer, 2009). There are two goals within this research method: 1) to describe the distribution and range of cultural variation that exists between the ethnographies recorded, and 2) to test the theories and hypotheses that have been proposed in order to explain the variations amongst cultures (Gillies and Kinzer, 2009). B1. Philosophical Justifications for Anthropological Methods

    Participant observation allows the researcher to gain an inside look at the inner workings of a culture. By immersing oneself into a culture for an extended period of time, the researcher will gain more knowledge of the society (Jones, 2013). This technique will also produce a greater sense of trust from the members of the culture. This can in turn, provide for information that is more accurate and provide for a more comprehensive ethnography (Jones, 2013). Ethnographies allow people to gain an understanding of a particular culture and the appropriate ways to interact with that culture (Jones, 2013). They also can serve as a historical record of cultures that may be endangered or extinct. Some individuals may see the participant observation method as an invasion of privacy. Researchers however, go to great lengths to ensure that the utmost respect is given to all members of these cultures. Permission from the cultural leaders is always sought out prior to initiation of this type of research (Jones, 2013). C. Compare and Contrast Approaches

    Sociology is the study of the development, structure, interaction and behavior of organized groups of human beings (Diffen, 2012). Anthropology is the study of human beings and their ancestors through time in terms of physical characteristics, culture, environment and social relations (Diffen, 2012). Sociologists study societies, while anthropologists study cultures. Both of these areas of study use secondary analysis as a research method. They each can utilize the same types of material and information. They even use some of the same methods of gathering this information. The difference between them is in how the information is utilized and reported.

    Traditionally, sociology studies modern, civilized and complex societies (Bhatt, 2012). Anthropology on the other hand, traditionally studies simple, more primitive, non-literate societies (Bhatt, 2013). Sociology studies both large and small societies while anthropology tends to focus more on smaller societies. When it comes to research styles, anthropology
    stresses immersion in native life while sociology tends to stress distance from the object of study (Dilipchandra, 2012). Sociology treats data quantitatively while anthropology treats data qualitatively. Sociology emphasized that human behavior can be measured and that that measurement is reliable (Dilipchandra, 2012). Anthropology touts that a large part of human behavior is beyond the realm of measurement (Dilipchandra, 2012). Due to changes in our world, sociology and anthropology are converging (McGraw-Hill, 2013). Sociologists can now be found doing research in developing countries and due to industrialization, anthropologists can be found doing research in industrialized societies (McGraw-Hill, 2013).

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