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

8. Surveys

8.1 Introduction to surveys
8.2 Methodological approaches

8.2.1 Types of surveys
8.2.2 Positivism and surveys
8.2.3 Falsificationism and middle-range theorising
8.2.4 Criticism of the positivist (quantitative) approach to surveys
8.2.5 The social survey as a non-positivist method
8.2.6 Phenomenology and surveys
8.2.7 Critical approaches and surveys

8.3 Doing survey research
8.4 Statistical analysis
8.5 Summary and conclusion

8.2.7 Critical approaches and surveys
Critical social research uses any method to collect evidence. The key for critical social research is not so much the method but the contextualisation of the research, structurally and historically.

Marxists have used quantitative data; a technique that goes back to Marx. Marx, however, used, and reinterpreted, official statistics and other forms of extant data rather than undertake surveys; although he did at one point plan a survey with the intention of exploring the oppression of the working class (Marx, 1880).

Dunne's (1990) Quantitative Marxism is a well-cited edited collection of articles exploring how empirical data can be incorproated into Marxist analysis. It shows that it is possible to operationalise Marxist concepts either by using orthodox data and reinterpreting it, or by constructing data that are more congruent with Marxist notions. Cassia Baldini Soares et al. (2013) reiterated the need for critical social research into health to focus on Marxist dialectical methodology rather than specific methods, so that the use of quantitative data is located historically and structurally.

Marxism uses dialectic to reveal the connections among the sections of a given phenomenon as well as the connections between these sections and the social totality, thus studying how the movement is produced and seeking techniques and instruments to expose as completely as possible objects that are detached from reality.... Marxism in science produces knowledge on reality in order to transform it.... Marxism constitutes a philosophy of praxis. It is a theoretical and practical perspective that does not idealize science; it defines it as a social practice....

Critical theory is a form of Marxist critical social research, established initially in Frankfurt before some of its advocated emigrated due to the threat of Fascism in the 1930s. The Authoritarian Personality (Adorno et al., 1950) was a critical theory study of peredjudice that used quantitative methods within a critical framework. Adorno et al. Explored whether prejudice is the results of an individual's personality type.

Among other things, Adorno et al. undertook psychometric testing, following the piloting and development of a questionnaire, which they called the F-scale (F for fascism). In addition they undertook case studies and clinical interviews, which showed, for example, that children who had been brought up by very strict parents or guardians scored highly on the F-scale and this tended to be different from the backgrounds of low scorers. They argued that embedded personality traits predisposed some individuals to be highly prejudicial because of a positive reception to antidemocratic and totalitarian ideas. People with an authoritarian personality tended to: be hostile to people of inferior status and obedient of people with high status or authority (to the point of being obsessed by rank and status); conventional, upholding traditional values; somewhat rigid in their beliefs and opinions; preoccupied with power; likely to categorise people into superior 'us' groups and inferior 'them' groups, in particular ethnic groupings.

Adorno et al. argued that critical and harsh parenting led to the development of an authoritarian personality because the individual in question was not able to express hostility towards their parents and consequently displaced aggression or hostility onto weaker targets, such as ethnic minorities. (See CASE STUDY Authoritarian Personality for more detail.)

McLeod (2014) states that the study has been criticised on several levels. These are mainly from a positivistic perspective, such as: the lack of clear causal connection (harsh parenting style does not always produce prejudiced individuals); lack of exhaustive explanation (why are people prejudiced towards some groups rather than others?); limited sample; failure to examine alternative causal variables (Hyman and Sheatsley (1954) argued that lower educational level also explained high F-scale scores).

Next 8.3 Doing survey research