The purpose of this module is to introduce you to research methodology and methods. In the course of the module you will develop an appreciation of what is entailed in conducting research in a professional field. The module content will follow the stages of research, starting with the research problem/question through to the presentation of findings. This module provides students with an introductory grounding in research methods. This module is also intended to prepare students who will progress to masters or doctoral level to begin to think about the academic research process and the task of developing and conducting a research study.
The Nature of Research in the Social Sciences
Research in the social sciences is driven by methodology (the overarching approach you adopt to your study, including your theoretical standpoint or the values with which you approach the entire research undertaking) and method (the specific way that you conduct the study: how you gather the data, your sample selection etc). In the text thatfollowswe will look first at the question of methodology and then at method.
The first thing to appreciate about social science research is that it is not neutral. Infactthere are some grounds for maintaining that research in the natural sciences is not a neutral undertaking either. The way we do research and the research choices we make are coloured by our personal and professional standpoints. This has been highlighted by social scientists (see Walford, 1991), but also by some in the natural sciences like Professor Tim Hunt ( Nobel Prize, 2001) in relation to his research into the mechanisms of how cells divide (BBC, 2011).
Research perspectives in social sciences and education have changed over time. Research is often seen as being divided along the lines of positivism and post-positivism (the latter dominated by interpretivism and what are call naturalistic approaches). (In this description we take post-positivism to be all approaches that distinguish themselves from a purely positivist approach). Positivism, in its pure form, implies belief in an external, knowable truth, a belief that science can represent this and a view that to uncover this should be the aim of research. This pure position is difficult to maintain today, but some social scientists tend to this direction, preferring to work with large, numerical, experimental studies, drawing primarily on quantitative (analysing numbers and statistics) rather than qualitative data (analysing texts and language) (see, for example, Gorard, Rees & Fevre, 2006) Many social scientist see the study of the social world as very different from the study of phenomena in the natural world because social situations are influenced by diverse contextual conditions; these, and the research subjects who are embedded within them, are also subject to change. In addition, changes in understandings of how we can know thingshasmoved much social research beyond a positivist understanding towards a range of post-positivist views. The view taken by many social scientists that our knowledge of the social world is socially constructed has meant the development of more critical and interpretive approaches to research. All these research approaches are referred to as “paradigms”. A paradigm is the world view underlying a particular theory or methodology. Every research methodology relates to a paradigm.