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Theory & Methods

The 'nutshells' provide concentrated summaries. Use the arrows or swipe across to explore topics in more detail, including key perspectives and sociologists.

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Topic 1 - quantitative research methods

In a nutshell

Quantitative research methods are favoured by positivists because they are objective and numerical, which means data can be cross-examined to generate cause and effect relationships, and generalisations can be made. Quantitative research methods include laboratory experiments, field experiments, questionnaires, structured interviews and official statistics.


In a nutshell

Qualitative research methods are favoured by interpretivists because they provide deep, subjective and meaningful insights into social behaviour. Qualitative research methods include unstructured interviews, participant observations and documents.

Topic 3 - Sociology and Science

In a nutshell

Positivists argue sociology can be a science by modelling itself on the natural sciences, using quantitative methods and induction or verificationism to establish observable patterns in behaviour and develop casual laws. On the other hand, interpretivists argue sociology cannot be scientific, because humans are governed by internal meanings. Therefore, the task of sociology is to use verstehen to uncover such meanings. Alternatively, Kuhn sits on the fence of the debate and believes sociology will never pass the stage of pre-science because there is never one dominant perspective, and it may never have a unifying theory.


In a nutshell

Positivists believe society could be improved through objective scientific knowledge, free from values of the researcher. Interpretivists, on the other hand, argue it is impossible for sociology to be value-free due to how research is subjective and influenced by values in all aspects. For instance, the sociologists own values influence the method they may use. Alternatively, Weber fits between the two and argues sociology cannot be free from values in the research process, but can be free from values when collecting data.


In a nutshell

Functionalism is a structural perspective that views social order as based on value consensus. Parsons believes society is a system of independent parts, in which the function of each part is to help meet the needs of the system. Individuals are integrated into the system through socialisation and social control.

topic 6 - Marxism

In a nutshell

Marxism is a structural conflict theory that has a fundamental rejection of capitalism. In capitalism, the bourgeoisie exploit the labour of the proletariat. They maintain their position through control of the repressive state apparatus and through hegemony. Marx believed that a dictatorship of the proletariat, leading to a classless society was inevitable. There are differences, however, between the types of Marxists. For example, Gramsci takes a more voluntaristic view that sees a greater role for human consciousness and action in bringing about change. Additionally, Althusser sees changes as the outcome of ‘structural determinism’.

topic 7 - FEMINISM

In a nutshell

Feminists study society from the perspective of women; they see women as subordinated by men, and seek to free women from their oppression. However, different feminists differ on the means in which they should do so. Liberal feminists seek legal reforms and a change in attitudes to bring equality. Radical feminists, however, see patriarchy as the fundamental conflict in society and believe separatism is the only solution. Marxist feminists determine capitalism to be the main beneficiary of women's oppression and not men. Difference feminists determine all women to be different, and therefore each woman experiences a different level of oppression.


In a nutshell

Unlike structural theories, action theories are micro-level approaches that see society as constructed by members’ interactions and meanings. Weber’s social action theory believes social behaviour should be understood through the level of cause and the level of meaning. Symbolic interactionism sees us as creating meanings through interactions in which we take the role of the other. Phenomenology and ethnomethodology see society as an inter-subjective reality created out of members typifications or common sense understanding.

Topic 9 - Globalisation, Modernity & Postmodernity

In a nutshell

The nation-state is the focal point of modern society, but globalisation undermines this. Technological, cultural, economic and political changes are creating a ‘global village’. Postmodernists argue that these changes indicate the arrival of a postmodern society, which leaves society as unstable, fragmented and media-saturated. They reject meta-narratives such as Marxism because there is no objective criteria to prove whether a theory is true. However, Giddens believe such changes are the result of a late-modern society, not a postmodern society.

Topic 10 - Social Policy

In a nutshell

Sociologists often research social problems that have an influence on social policies. Functionalists see sociology as providing objective knowledge to guide social policy to help society function. Social democrats believe sociology can propose policies that make major structural changes, such as the abolition of poverty. Marxists remain critical of social policy in arguing they maintain capitalism. Similarly, feminists see policy as a reflection of patriarchy, however, they use research to influence policy in favour of women. The new right outright reject social policy in suggesting it provides a culture of dependency. Postmodernists also reject policy in determining it aims to fix issues that do not exist.

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