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Department of Sociology
Term 3 – 2011
Dr Carlo Nardi
Introduction and aim
The aim of this course is to explore the most common research methods employed in sociological research and in related disciplines. The course will include an overview of classical approaches to methodology, showing that sociology is as much about theories as about empirical research. Moreover, it will be demonstrated not only how theories have shaped methods, but also how methods have inspired new theories.
Methodology comprises both the particular research methods for the collection and analysis of data, and the more general epistemological perspectives upon which the methods are based. When discussing methodology it is hence important to be aware of the wider debate in the philosophy of science concerning the origins and nature of knowledge and the rules for its validation or falsification. In this sense, methodology provides sociology with a systematic way of producing knowledge, allowing theories to be tested, accepted or rejected, questioning thus the assumption of a methodological discontinuity between social science and the natural sciences.
The emphasis in the course is on both the theoretical and practical aspects of research: drawing from classical studies and from more recent works, it will offer a careful look at the entire process of research design, from the research question and the theoretic framework, to the choice of the most fitting method/s, the collection of data, their analysis, and the preparation of a research report. For each methodological perspective and method, a different example or case study, engaging with past or current relevant issues, will be offered. The areas and topics addressed will include mobility opportunity, the media, leisure and consumption, public policy analysis, sexual behaviour, gender and ethnic inequalities, technology, health, education, parenting, deviance, sport, everyday conversation and internet-based interaction.
Objectives/outcomes of the course
By the end of the course you will be expected to understand:
1. The relationship between epistemological perspectives, sociological theories, research methods and data gathering techniques;
2. How to select a research topic;
3. How to conduct a literature review and write up a summary with a view to developing a research question;
4. How to identify research problems best suited to either quantitative, qualitative or hybrid research methods;
5. How to decide on the specific research methods and techniques to collect data (information) for the research topic;
6. How to interpret qualitative data;
7. How to conduct research using quantitative research techniques;
8. How to analyse processed data by applying sociological theories and concepts from the literature you have read;
9. How to draw conclusions and recommendations from the interpretation of the data;
10. How to write a research proposal and a research report.
Alongside the lectures you will participate in a practical exploration of the concepts you are learning in class. This tutorial (weeks 3 and 5) will teach you how to develop your own research project, by linking methods with research question and theory. In particular, you will learn how to construct a questionnaire.
It is important that you use the theoretical insights you gain in class for the practical exercise in the tutorial.
I. Introduction to methodology (week 1)
Lect. 1 Introduction to social research. Theories, methods, methodology.
Lect. 2 Epistemology of the social sciences. The scientific status of sociology.
Lect. 3 Three approaches: positivist (looking into causes), phenomenological or interpretative (meanings), critical (oppressive structures). Quantitative, qualitative and hybrid methods. Micro, macro and meso theories. Primary and secondary sources. Data collection and analysis: an overview.
Lect. 4 The research process: from the research question to methods of data collection and analysis; considerations on values, funding, practicalities, ethics, reliability and validity.
II. Qualitative approaches (week 2)
Lect. 5 Historicism: Max Weber, 'The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism' (1905)
Lect. 6 Symbolic interactionism: interpreting reality.
Lect. 7 Phenomenology and ethnomethodology: constructing reality.
Lect. 8 Critical social science: transforming reality.
III. Quantitative methods and statistical analysis 1 (week 3)
Lect. 9 Positivism: Emile Durkheim, 'The Rules of the Sociological Method' (1895) and 'Suicide' (1897). Responses to Durkheim.
Lect. 10 Fundamentals of quantitative research; the operationalisation of concepts.
Lect. 11 Sampling: target population, sampling unit, sampling frame and types of sampling.
IV. Quantitative methods and statistical analysis 2 (week 4)
Lect. 12 Sampling: using official statistics.
Lect. 13-14 Levels of measurement; nominal, ordinal, interval variables; mode, mean and median.
Lect. 15 Statistical data analysis: univariate and multivariate analysis; correlation, causation, covariation.
V. Gathering data: primary sources (week 5)
Lect. 16 Introduction to the main methods of data collection used in sociological research. Questionnaires.
Lect. 17 Interviews: structured and unstructured; interviewing styles; individual, group, focus group.
Lect. 18 Ethnographic work and fieldwork protocol. Observation, participant observation and participatory action-research.
Lect. 19 Field and laboratory experiment.
VI. Hybrid methods and triangulation (week 6)
Lect. 20-21 The mass media: formal content analysis; thematic analysis; textual analysis; audience analysis.
Lect. 22 Network analysis: Mark Granovetter, 'The Strength of Weak Ties'.
Lect. 23 Test in class (1st September 2011)
VII. Further perspectives and considerations (week 7)
Lect. 24 Ethical issues in social research.
Lect. 25 Feminist methodology and postcolonial methodology. The problem with postmodernism.
Lect. 26 Literature review.
Lect. 27 The research report: taking social research to the larger world.
The assessment of this course will consist of:
1. Tutorial assignment: constructing a social survey questionnaire (weighting 50% of 7.5% of the second year grade).
2. Test to be held in class on 1st September 2011 (weighting 50% of 7.5% of the second year grade).
The test will cover the topics discussed in weeks 3 and 4, including quantitative methods of measurement and analysis, sampling techniques and the operationalisation of concepts.
3. Examination (weighting 17.5% of the second year grade).
There is a 3-hour examination in which you will answer 2 questions drawn from the lectures and the readings. The 3-hour exam includes this course and your fourth term course.
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