Outline and explain two reasons why Positivists generally prefer to use quantitative methods (10)

The theory and methods 10 mark question appears as a special treat at the end of paper 1 (Education, Methods in Context and Theory and Methods), you’ll also get a big 30 mark essay question at the end of paper 3 (Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods) too, but more about the 30 markers in other blog post.

The reason for splitting the theory and methods questions across two papers is probably to make sure that more students fail the exam, and possibly because the man has a burning hatred of teenagers.  Apparently every A-Level exam has one aspect split across two papers, so at least the hate is evenly distributed, otherwise this might be an example of a ‘hate crime’ against sociology students.

For 10 mark questions it’s good practice to select two very different reasons, which are as far apart from each other as possible. In this question, it’s also good practice to contrast Positivism to Interpretivism (to get analysis marks) and to use as many theory and methods concepts and examples as possible.

The first reason is that Positivists are interested in looking at society as a whole, in order to find out the general laws which shape human action, and numerical data is really the only way we can easily study and compare large groups within society, or do cross national comparisons – qualitative data by contrast is too in-depth and too difficult to compare.

Numerical data allow us to make comparisons easily as once we have social data reduced down to numbers, it is easy to put into graphs and charts and to make comparisons and find correlations, enabling us to see how one thing affects another.

For example, Durkheim famously claimed that the higher the divorce rate, the higher the suicide rate, thus allowing him to theorise that lower levels of social integration lead to higher rates of suicide (because of increased anomie).

However, Positivists have been criticised because quite often quantitative data lacks validity and totally fails to predict how humans are going to act, as evidenced in many recent events which ‘no one saw coming’ such as the Trump being elected and Brexit.

The second reason for preferring quantitative methods is that Positivists think it is important to remain detached from the research process, in order to remain objective, or value free.

Quantitative methods allow for a greater level of detachment as the researcher does not have to be directly involved with respondents, meaning that their own personal values are less likely to distort the research process, as might be the case with more qualitative research.

This should be especially true for official statistics, which merely need to be interpreted by researchers, but less true of structured questionnaires, which have to be written by researchers, and may suffer from the imposition problem.

However, even official statistics may be influenced by the opinions of those who collected them– Intepretivists argue that that these are socially constructed. For example, Atkinson argued that suicide stats reflect Coroners’ opinions about whether a death is intentional or not, we can never be certain whether the suicide stats actually tell us the objective truth.

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like to purchase more of the same…

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This entry was posted in A level sociology exam practice, Exams and revision advice, Social Theory (A2) and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Outline and explain two reasons why Positivists generally prefer to use quantitative methods (10)

  1. mittflorg says:

    Numbers can paint a picture that does conform to reality to a great degree. The problem with relying so much on quantitative data is the most of the world makes decisions based on affect which makes communicating findings harder.

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