Sociology is the study of society. But how exactly do sociologists go about doing studying society – and even more fundamentally, what in fact is ‘society’? As you will discover in this module, these two questions are very closely related: what you think ‘society’ is will inevitably shape the way you go about investigating and trying to understand it.
Is society something external to individuals, something that shapes our existence and sets limits on the kind of things we can do and the kind of people we can become? Are there rules governing human behaviour in the same way as there are rules governing phenomena in the natural world? If so, should the detached, objective methods of the natural sciences be employed in the study of society?
However, humans not only react to their environment, they consciously act upon it, continually constructing and reconstructing their worlds in creative, intelligent and imaginative ways. Should, then, the purpose of sociology be to uncover the meanings and interpretations held by individuals? And if so, what about the sociologist’s own meanings and interpretations, their own opinions and biases – should these be excluded from the research process, or form an integral part of it? Is objectivity desirable – or even possible – in the social sciences?
These are the kinds of questions you will begin to grapple with in this introductory methods module. The module is very interactive, and you’ll be encouraged (and supported) to become active researchers yourselves. In seminars you’ll practice compiling and administering questionnaires; you’ll conduct, record, transcribe and analyse an interview; and you’ll carry out a small ethnographic study.
You’ll also work in groups on designing your own research project, from coming up with an original research question, to deciding which method(s) to employ and what group to research, to working out how to gain access to this group, what sampling techniques to use, what ethical issues there are, and how to record, analyse and present your findings. At the end of the module, all of this will be brought together in a presentation – and you’ll be surprised how much you’ve learned along the way!