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  • Mayank Sehrawat

The Evolution of Research Methods in Sociology: Navigating Legal Approaches

Mayank Sehrawat,

O.P. Jindal Global University


Sociological Research is a systematic study of social phenomena by measurement techniques like focus groups and ethnography. It is concerned with understanding our social lives better while looking at them in newer ways. The main aim of sociological research is to move away from everyday manners in which humans consider sociological questions. Sociological research works with a combination of theoretical thinking to identify causes and effects. It brings up surprise elements in both questions that it asks and in the findings that it brings out. These questions generally pertain to what gets people worried about though contradictorily the findings often run counter to what we believe.


Sociological research methods can be broadly categorized as quantitative and qualitative research methods. Quantitative methods measure social phenomena with the help of mathematical and statistical methods as well as analysis. These methods are associated with functionalism (a framework that thinks of society as a complex system that works together for the promotion of solidarity) and positivism (an approach that studies society on the basis of scientific evidence and methods like experiments and statistics). Qualitative methods are aimed at gathering rich and detailed for an in-depth understanding of individual human actions in social circles. This approach is more interested in human interactions and a search for deeper understandings. In search of a more comprehensive understanding of studying subjects, these two methods can be combined.


Ethnography is a type of qualitative research approach which does a first-hand study of people using participant observation. The researcher tries to live and work with the community of people he wants to observe. It aims at gaining deep insight and knowledge of relatively small-scale social phenomena. The research method has been quite useful in providing the information on behaviour of specific people of a certain community and how people understand their own behaviour. It also provides observations of how certain sections of the society perceive various situations and how they act in furtherance. However, I feel people might act in a certain different way when they know they are being observed. This feeling of self-consciousness might affect the way communities behave and make ethnography open to misinterpretations. Ethnography is also a challenge when it comes to studying large communities. For example- social media platforms provide a detailed consumer interest portfolio by observing their daily habits and choices.

Another upcoming qualitative research method is focus groups. Focus groups are group interviews where a certain group of people gather and the observer lets them discuss on a particular topic and exchange views. The observer acts as a mediator by asking specific questions and directing discussions. Since a lot of people participate at one point of time, the sample size can be quite large. The only drawback is that participants might try to perform as per the moderator’s expectations. Another quantitative method of sociological research is surveys which involve questionnaires being given to or administered directly to a generally large group of people. This group of people is considered as the population and their survey produces a result that can be applied to a broader area though are less fine. The data gathered allows social actions to be analysed using mathematical and statistical modes. Surveys might often become too generalized and conclusive while bringing uniformity in the results.

Sampling is another quantitative approach to sociology. It allows researchers to concentrate on a proportion of the population that is representative of a sample from the whole. This method assumes that a population sample chosen carefully can be generalized to the whole population. A necessary caution is that the sample population should be typical of the whole which is ensured by random sampling. An advantage of sampling is that a large number of people can be studied in limited funds. However, samples deliver precise findings with shallow representations and responses.

Historical analysis provides us with a time perspective to better understand the material we collect about certain problems. Some periods can be studied by directly talking to survivors but these can only date back to the past 80-90 years. While looking at older date’s sociologists look at archives, library records, magazines, newspapers, and tax records. This analysis needs to be studied patiently and systematically in order to be reliable. While researching on relatively shorter time periods investigators apply a comparative historical approach.


Each of these sociological methods poses a different problem as could be garnered by the above description. Sociological researchers have tried to investigate the life and social phenomena by posing varied questions and then search for their answers. Though sociological research might be clearly methodized but in reality, these steps cannot be followed closely because practical social interactions are very different. Another problem that arises is starkly differentiating between causation and correlation while researching and not muddling them into one. There also needs to be a clear distinction between an independent variable and dependent variables (variables can be anything from differences in age to crime rates). The researcher is also burdened with lengthy-time periods needed to interact with communities or have discussions with them. Questionnaires might look like an easy method that covers huge chunks of the population but the formulation of these questions is a tricky job and often non-responses of respondents create further problems. Further, sociological research poses ethical dilemmas in cases where there is a deception being practised against the subjects of the research. Another case is where the publication of research adversely affects the feelings or lives of a certain community and those who have been subjects. No research method can fulfil all criteria and be perfect in their findings. Since individual methods have a number of variations, sociological researchers combine various individual methods in a single research. Numerous methods are used to supplement the whole research altogether, a method which is called triangulation. Sociological research despite its numerous problems has been taken up by zealous researchers who have produced intriguing results.


Triangulation stands as a robust method, complementing sociological research despite its inherent challenges. Through varied approaches - quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods - researchers navigate the complexities of societal study, fostering a nuanced understanding. This method's strength lies in its ability to mitigate biases and enhance the reliability and validity of findings. The zealous pursuit of sociological inquiry has yielded compelling results, shedding light on intricate societal mechanisms. Despite inherent issues like subjectivity, ethical considerations, and access limitations, researchers persist, driven by the desire to unravel societal complexities. These tenacious efforts have unraveled diverse perspectives, enriching our comprehension of social phenomena. However, acknowledging the limitations is pivotal. Sociological research faces persistent challenges, including interpretative subjectivity and the ever-evolving nature of societies. Yet, the perseverance of scholars ensures a continuous evolution of methodologies and approaches. In conclusion, while sociological research grapples with challenges, the dedication of researchers, supplemented by triangulation methods, has laid a solid foundation. As new inquiries arise, embracing these challenges with innovation and rigor will fortify the discipline, paving the way for deeper insights into the intricate fabric of human society.


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