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January 17, 2009 / C H Thompson

Understanding the reasoning behind different research methods

At AS level you learnt all about the different research methods used by sociologists. However that was the simple bit and you still need to know all that stuff as you’ll be using it in the subsequent exam questions.

You also need to know all about the different philosophies behind the two main research principles – quantitative and qualitative research methods.

Durkheim established the rules in social science research and this is why sociology is seen as a social science. This is because Durkheim said he was using scientific methods to measure the social world. His starting point was that society is influenced by social facts.

Social facts are the institutions, beliefs and values in society which impose themselves on people. For example the family is a social fact because it forms part of our consciousness. The family is a mechanism which affects the way we think and behave. The family provides us with a set of values which influences our behaviour.

The best way of understanding this, is to think or gravity. Gravity is a physical force which limits the type of things people do every day. And in the same way the family exists outside the individual (like gravity) and influences the behaviour of individuals. Therefore the influence of the family can be measured by sociologists using quantitative research methods (like questionnaires to produce graphs and charts) in the same way gravity is measured by scientific instruments.

Durkheim’s reasoning for this came from his study of suicide.  You will now need to examine Durkheim’s study of suicide in a more depth at this page. Go to the first slide show and ONLY read up to and including slide 5 and then return to this text. 

Durkheim used statistical evidence to study the different rates of suicide in different European countries. And so in the same way Durkheim studied different suicide rates, the crime module you’re looking at studies different crime rates using Durkheim’s principles, that crime is a social fact which exists external to the individual.

Task – please complete the remaining questions in this section. You will need to read through all the suggested areas to source the answers

Therefore in the same way Durkheim concluded that different types of societies created different rates of suicide. Similarly different societies have different rates of crime. In the same way this moved the idea of suicide as being an act of individual pathology to one of societal influences, crime could no longer been seen as an act of individual pathology but one created by the society a person lives in.

The first slide show provides a broad overview of why we have different research methods.


This second slide show provides a more detailed overview of why we have different research methods. Back to Crime Statistics page  or functionalist views on crime

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