Practice Question: Examine epistemological foundation of qualitative methods of social research. (10 Marks) (UPSC 2017)
Approach: Introduction; Analyse qualitative methods, Stress on epistemology in qualitative research, Criticism; Conclusion.
Sociologists often begin the research process by asking a question about how or why things happen in this world. It might be a unique question about a new trend or an old question about a common aspect of life. Once the sociologist forms the question, he or she proceeds through an in-depth process to answer it. In deciding how to design that process, the researcher may adopt a scientific approach or an interpretive framework.
Sociologists make use of tried and true methods of research, such as experiments, surveys, and field research. But humans and their social interactions are so diverse that these interactions can seem impossible to chart or explain. A scientific process of research establishes parameters that help make sure results are objective and accurate. While many sociologists rely on the scientific method as a research approach, others operate from an interpretive framework. While systematic, this approach doesn’t follow the hypothesis-testing model that seeks to find generalizable results. Instead, an interpretive framework, sometimes referred to as an interpretive perspective, seeks to understand social worlds from the point of view of participants, which leads to in-depth knowledge.
USE OF SCIENTIFIC METHOD
According to George Lundberg (1946), scientific method consists of three basic steps, systematic observation, classification and interpretation of data. Through
these steps, scientific method brings about not only verifiability of the facts, but also it lays the confidence in the validity of conclusions. The scientific approach has one characteristic that no other method of attaining knowledge has – objectivity – through which we can attain consistency in the explanation of the same facts and events time and again. There is a well-conceived self-control mechanism all along the way to the scientific approach. This mechanism is so designed that it not only controls and verifies the facts, events and conclusions but it also keeps the researcher away from his personal beliefs, perceptions, biases, values, attitudes and emotions. Thus the approach helps the researcher attain objectivity.
APPROACHES TO SOCIAL RESEARCH
There are two prominent approaches to study a problem in social research. They are:
1) Qualitative approach
2) Quantitative approach
When the researcher attempts to retain the totality of a phenomenon while verifying propositions regarding it, he/she adopts a qualitative approach. This approach describes the experiences of people in-depth and permits the researcher to record and understand people in-depth in their own perceptions. Qualitative approach helps us to examine the nature of human behaviour and experience and social conditions. It also permits the researcher to study selected issues, cases or events in-depth. While using this approach
the researcher seeks to capture what people have to say in their own words.
Qualitative approach takes into consideration ‘detailed descriptions’ of situations, events, interactions, people and their observed behaviours. These data are also available in the form of ‘direct quotations’ from people about their experiences, attitudes, beliefs, and thoughts. Data in qualitative approach are collected through direct observation, participant observation,
in-depth interviewing, case studies, recorded documents, open-ended questionnaires and journals.
Quantitative approach focuses on objective and standardized means of inquiry and application of statistical analysis for attainment of objectivity and generalisations. The researcher identified the various components of the problem and operationalise the concepts into variables. Quantitative researchers use interview, questionnaire and structured observation as major methods to collect data. Quantitative approach use standardized measures that fit diverse opinions and experiences into predetermined response categories. This approach
measures the reactions of a large number of individuals to a limited set or questions, thus facilitating comparison and analysis of data with the help of close-ended questionnaires, attitude scales, rating scales and postal surveys.
STEPS IN SOCIAL RESEARCH
(1) Formulation of Research Problem
(2) Review of Related Literature,
(3) Formulation of Hypotheses
(4) Working Out Research Design
(5) Defining the Universe of Study
(6) Determining Sampling Design
(7) Administering the tools of Data Collection and Others.
SIGNIFICANCE OF SOCIAL RESEARCH
Ø It inculcates scientific and inductive thinking.
Ø It provides new ideas and insights.
Ø It promotes the development of logical habits of thinking and organization.
Ø It evaluate existing policies and helps to formulate new policies.
Ø It solve various operational problems related to economy, politics, business and Government.
Ø It studies social relationships and helps to solve various social problems.
Ø It helps to improve the level of living in the society.
‘Social Research’ is again a broad term having a reference to different kinds of scientific inquiries conducted in the field of social sciences and the behavioural sciences (the distinction between social sciences and behavioural sciences is itself not very clear). Sociological research, for example, which may be an especial concern for quite a few may be considered a part and parcel of the general category or rubric that is designated as ‘social research’. It may be said that, all sociological research is ‘social research’ but not all ‘social research’ would qualify as sociological research.