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December 19, 2014 / C H Thompson

Problems of the experimental method in sociology

  • it’s difficult to identify and isolate a single cause of a social issue such as underperforming at school as there could inevitably be multiple causes
  • because of the above it’s impossible to isolate variables for testing on their own to see if they’re the cause. For example the causes of underachievement at school could be subcultural or economic or dietary etc.
  • as sociologists want to study people in their normal environment such as a school, but any laboratory setting is an artificial situation – it’s not real life – a point exacerbated by the fact people would know they’re being experimented on and so The Hawthorne Effect would undermine the validity of any experiment being conducted
  • as mentioned on previous page in a laboratory scientists have a control and experimental group so they can compare results. This poses a range of ethical problems for sociologists particularly as the experimental group could suffer negative effects from the experiment being conducted on them. In addition people might not want to be experimented on in the first place

Despite the above some experimental techniques have been used in the form of field experiments.

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