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Assess the view that interpretivist methods are the most appropriate methods for researching society. (33 marks)
In this essay I am going to assess the view that Interpretivists methods are the most appropriate method for researching society by using Interpretivists and Positivists debate.
First of all, Interpretivists focus on how individuals behave and interact in society with the aims of searching for the meaning for participants of events, situations and actions on a micro approach, using qualitative methods of research. Interpretivists such as Webber argue that a full understanding of society can only be presented by understanding how individuals build up their patterns of interactions. This can be explained using the work of internationalists such as Winlow and Hall used unstructured interviews to research street violence. This method allowed participants to talk to the researchers as naturally as possible, which reinforces a true perspective of young people’s attitudes to the culture of drink and violence in the ‘night time economy’. Whereas this advantage used in qualitative research is not found in quantitative research which positivists use to conduct their research. Positivist’s research is based upon statistical data and scientific experiments using quantitative forms of research. As a result, this approach research does not go into depth of behaviour and attitudes, which doesn’t allow a valid insight to researching members of society. Winlow and Hall further points out that violence seemed to be accepted as inevitable because of the high alcohol consumption. Based on their Winlow and Hall findings, they were able to reject previous theories about night-time violence being a form of ‘resistance to oppression’. Due to the evidence explored, it is accurate to suggest that observational research gives the advantage of accessing accurate and realistic information that supports our understanding of certain social groups. However Positivists will argue that unstructured interviews are not highly appropriate form of research for reasons such as reliability. Winlow and Hall only interviewed 43 participants in one specific area of the England. Therefore this sample size lacks the evidence to generate the most accurate generalisations of our understanding of society. Whereas Positivists would use questionnaires as a means of investigating street violence, as this form of research gives the advantage of gaining a high sample size that is representative of the population. As a result this gains reliability of results, whereas on the other hand this is difficult for qualitative research due to the implications of gaining a large sample size.
Interpretivists also use ethnographic research also known as observational research to gain a true picture and accurate perspectives of attitudes, behaviour and the meanings of how members of society interact. Paul Willis (1977) used participant observation for researching attitudes of working class boys in secondary education. Willis gained an empathetic understanding of the group of boys; he found that they rejected school because they found it irrelevant to their future work plans. Additionally, Willis found that the group of boys engaged into the ‘canteen culture’ for the purpose of helping to pass time and also to regain power and status in society. Becker will further add that their anti-social behaviour was down to their way of conforming to negative labelling rather than rejecting it. Therefore it is clear from the evidence explored that ethnographic research from Paul Willis and Winlow and hall have proved that ethnographic research can uncover vital information of certain groups of society which effectively contributes to out understanding of members of society today.
Positivists would depend on using primary data of statistics of grades to gain an understanding of groups of students, this would advantage positivists as the statistics can be easily assessable and also a good source of material that allows researchers to analyse trends of results within specific social classes. Positivists’ researchers will criticise Willi’s research as having flaws that effect student’s behaviour. This is solely for the reason of the students being aware that they were being observed; therefore this increased the likely chance of the ‘Hawthorne effect’ to be implemented on the observed students. Therefore it is clear to suggest that Willis may not have gained a true understanding on the student’s attitudes and behaviour, and that his research may not be as valid and accurate to his understanding. Alternatively, Interpretivists would use sources of secondary data such as diaries as a means of investigating students as oppose to positivists primary sources of data of grades. For example, Gruwell work of using diaries of gaining an insight of student’s day-to-day experiences, which uncovered attitudes and explanations to their behaviour. Although one drawback of using secondary data is that it can easily miss interpreted which would lead to inaccurate theories and conclusions to be generated. Also secondary data can only be valid in that specific time period of when it was conducted. However Becker will argue that Positivists research is flawed and gives a false understanding of society, as Becker explains that the use of statistics and numbers does not tell you much about human behaviour in society.
Positivists however argue that laboratory experiments can provide useful data to our knowledge and understanding of society. Positivists explain how an experiment is a reliable method of research, as the conditions of the experiment can be easily repeated. For example, Positivists researchers Bandura, Ross and Ross (1963) tested children’s behaviour in the differences between before and after watching violent images. One of the conclusions drawn from the experiment is that the children behaviour turned more aggressively after watching the violent images. Postmodernists would add to this explaining how mass media performs a significant role of the behaviour and attitudes of members of society today. Interpretivists would argue that the experiment lacks ecological validity as the conditions are not true real life; therefore the validity of the experiment is flawed. Furthermore, the experiment does not distinguish between the effects of different types of violence in the media.
In conclusion, both Interpretivists and positivists have widely gained sociological credibility for their research to our understanding of society today. The work of Becker, Paul Willis, an Gruwell have generated accurate sociological evidence to why members of society act in different situations and also developing an insight to their attitudes and behaviour. Referencing back to Becker’s criticisms, I believe Positivism does not offer the same advantages as Interpretivists methods of research have. As Becker explains how sociology is not science and statistics and number cannot tell you much about human behaviour, as a result Interpretivists methods of research appear to be the most appropriate and accurate methods of research to our understanding of society today.