Orientation Observation In-depth interviews Document analysis and semiology Conversation and discourse analysis Secondary Data Surveys Experiments Ethics Research outcomes



Social Research Glossary

About Researching the Real World



© Lee Harvey 2012–2020

Page updated 29 April, 2020

Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012–2020, Researching the Real World, available at
All rights belong to author.


A Guide to Methodology

1. Basics

1.13 Product or producer
Another tendency that misleads students new to social research is to suppose that all the work undertaken by one person is of the same sort.

So, for example, Emile Durkheim produced a study of suicide in which he undertook a comparative analysis of suicide statistics in Catholic and non-Catholic countries. He concluded that a higher degree of social isolation was, among other things, responsible for a higher suicide rate. Durkheim also wrote a small book on the method of social science in which he talked about social facts. As a result of these texts as well as his work on the Division of Labour, Durkheim has become known as a 'positivist' sociologist, who used and proposed quantitative methods to provide social explanations.

However, there is an argument that Durkheim's work is far more critical than anyone has given him credit for (Pearce, 1989). Furthermore, in his later work on religion, Elements of Religious Life (Durkheim, 1912), he abandons cause and effect and adopts a phenomenological approach in his exploration of the fundamental nature of religious life. In short, we can say that not everything Durkheim produced was of the same type.

Generally, one should not refer to the individual sociologist as a positivist, phenomenologist, functionalist, marxist, postmodernist or any other '-ist' and presume all the work he or she is involved in will fall into that category.

That would be like calling Pablo Picasso a 'cubist' painter. Certainly, there was a period in his early career when he produced 'cubist' paintings but this lasted only a few years out of a lifetime's varied work.

Thus, it is important to explore individual pieces of work to see what presuppositions and theories lie behind them, what methods are used to collect information and what processes are used to draw conclusions. Just because social scientists are labelled in a particular way it should not be assumed that the label is appropriate to all their work.

It is individual research studies rather than the entire work of an individual that can be categorised, in the same way that individual paintings can be categorised rather than the whole work of the painter. While it is sometimes hard to categorise some paintings that seem not to fit a particular style, so it is equally difficult to fit some social research studies into convenient categories.


Next 1.14 The research process