Tag Archives: Research Methods

Video Sources for teaching Research Methods

This post is simply a list of good videos for teaching and revising research methods

Social Surveys

Doing Sociological Research – If you can get over the desperate attempt to be ‘down with the kids’, then the section on survey research in education offers a very useful explanation of sampling and operationalising concepts such as social class.


Milgram’s obedience experiments (youtube) – Link takes you to a contemporary version of Milgram’s experiment, which reveals depressingly similar results to the original.

The Stanford Prison Experiment (youtube)

A good example of a field experiment measuring how the public respond differently to differnt ethnicities engaged in stealing a bike.

This is a second field experiment measuring how the public respond differently to differnt ethnicities engaged in vandalising a car from the everyday sociology blog (videos removed but a good explanation on the blog)

Unstructured and Semi-Structured Interviews

Many episodes of Louis Theroux are good for unstructured interviews – I especially recommend the following –

America’s Medicated Kids (Youtube) – Louis even talks about ‘being a T.V. interviewer in the introduction. Also it should be fairly obvious why ‘unstructured interviews’ are suitable for researching these children.

Louis Theroux Behind Bars (Youtube) In which Louis interviews a man sentenced to over 500 years in jail

This is an interview with Louis Theroux (Youtube) talking about why he likes ‘unstructured interviews’ – about 1.13 in

OK – It’s not a video, it’s a podcast – but from about 5 minutes in there are some interesting results from research based on interviews with 18-25 year olds on the question of ‘why they drink to excess’. Their insights tell you much more than stats ever can about youth binge drinking today.

Participant Observation

Tribe with Bruce Parry is a good, basic introduction to the advantages and Limitations of using Overt PO to research traditional societies in remote rural settings. I especially recommend the episode on the Suri in Ethopia.

For Covert Participant Observation, the standard ‘classic video’ from the late 1990s is Donal Macintyre’s research with the Chelsea Headhunters (link is to college’s estream and requires password)

Another ‘covert classic’ is the Secret Policeman – College estream link (needs password)

Official Statistics

The Office for National Statistics has a huge array of videos on youtube. Some of the most interesting include – (1) Immigration Stats (2) Household Wealth (3) Cohabitation in the UK (4) The Latest on the Labour Market, including unemployment stats

Secondary Qualitative Data

The Freedom Writers – (link to college estream, requires pass word) A film based on a true life story of a teacher who gets her disinterested English literature students to tell their own stories using diaries

The BBC’s who do you think you are is an accessible way to introduce the usefulness of secondary qualitative data. This is a link to one episode on estream (password required)

TED Talk – what we learned from 5 million books – using google ngrams to quantify the content of books

Longitudinal Studies 

The Marshmallow Experiment (Youtube)  – Measures deferred gratification in children and then tracks the children through childhood to see the effects of deferred gratification on future test scores in education.

Another classic is 7 Up – This is the original 1964 documentary and the trailer for 56 up 

Other Videos

It’s a bit long winded, and it is a cartoon – but this is a good xtranormal video (link to youtube) that goes over the pros and cons of quantitative versus qualitative research – using the topic of researching children with ADD as an example.


The British Social Attitudes Survey and the Myth of Meritocracy

The latest findings of the British Social Attitudes Survey were released recently. The survey involves over 3,000 interviews annually and participants are selected using a technique called random probability sampling.

The chapter on peoples beliefs about ‘meritocracy’ is especially interesting in the context of education. Meritocratic factors are seen as being the most important when it comes to a person “getting ahead” in modern Britain….

  • 84% say hard work is important;
  • 74% think a good education is important
  • 71% say ambition.
  • 33% think knowing the right people is important.
  • 14% think that being born into a wealthy family was thought to be important
  • 8% thought that a person’s race/ethnicity was important

So since 1989, people believe that the importance of ‘ascriptive factors’ (which people are born with or into)in influencing where you end up has fallen. Your own individual effort and ambition is seen to be much more important!


Now this seems to be at odds with the actual facts – there is just too much evidence suggesting a strong relationship between private schools and the top jobs (you have to come from a wealthy background to get into a private school).

Just a couple of examples of the links between wealth (ascription) and ‘getting ahead’-

In this post I mentioned the following – Of 80,000 15-year-olds who’d been on free school meals in 2002, only 45 had made it to Oxbridge- compared to the high-end private Westminster school which averages 82 successful applicants every year

And in this post – quoting George Monbiot ‘A new report by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) shows that intelligent children from the 20% of richest homes in England are seven times more likely to attend a high-ranking university than intelligent children from the poorest 40%

You might also remember the post in December which reminds us that black students are much less likely to get into Oxbridge.

It may be that our society is more meritocratic than 20 years ago but class and ethnic background matter more than people think – the British public at large are surely here suffering from a ‘myth of meritocracy’ – perhaps because it is more comforting to delude yourself than face the stark truth that our society is still riddled with class inequalities?

Public attitudes towards benefit claimants

The results of the latest British Social Attitudes Survey are out today (or mabe yesterday by the time this goes up!) – one of the sections is on attitudes to benefit, taxation and inequality.

According to the Daily Telegraph today – the British Public are more right wing than under Thatcher.

“A major analysis of social attitudes over the last three decades also found fewer adults wanted the Government to redistribute income and many believed inequality was down to “individual laziness on the one hand and hard work on the other…  public opinion is “far closer” to many of Thatcher’s core beliefs than it was when she left office. [Also] after 13 years of a Labour government, the study found more people were against disproportionately taxing the better off.

Summarising the report further the article says –

Asked why some people were “in need”, 26 per cent said they were lazy and 38 per cent said inequality was simply an inevitable consequence of modern life.

Only 57 per cent of people said the Government was responsible for reducing inequality – compared with 64 per cent two decades ago – and just 36 per cent said the Government should redistribute income.

The study also found only a quarter of people believed the Government should spend more on benefits – half the number that believed this in the mid- to-late 80s.

Miss Young added: “The survey points to a nation at political crossroads between left and right: it is perhaps little surprise that the election resulted in a Coalition. On the one hand we are seeing a hardening of attitudes towards welfare reform whilst on the other there is strong support for investment in health and education.”

However, if you read the summary of the report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation they point out that according to their previous research most people strongly supported progressive tax and benefit system and were supportive of targeted interventions to improve life chances for the disadvantaged, when presented with evidence about unequal life chances.

It’s worth bearing in mind that British Social Attitudes Survey does ask very general questions without any context. If, as JRF says, and if, as I do in AS Sociology right at the beginning of the year, you contextualise poverty by looking at the experience of being poor and focussing on lack of opporunity, you generally get a more symapethic left wing view.

However, in wider society (with the exception of those ‘how the other half live programmes’ which were on recently which were sympathetic to people living on benefits) the public generally don’t get to see the wider context of why people are on benefits – they just see J Kyle blaming the poor for being poor. Unfortunately lack of context means ignorance about the issue – and ignorance breeds intolerance.

Robert Reiner in ‘Law and Order’ also argues that neo-liberal societies tend to breed intolerant attitudes – people generally have harsher attitudes to those less fortunate to themselves – blaming other people for their own misfortune, when of course the reality is that the neo-liberal state (if you follow Harvey) has actually create more unemployment and less stable jobs that lead to more people being on benefits.

Now I’m feeling depressed – time to go drink some spiritual gin – well it is Christmas after all!

Tuition Fees – the public just aren’t that interested

Given that opinion polls suggest the public are against the university fees increases I got to wondering how much people actually really care about the issue! (Apologies btw – I posted this twice – the last version formatted oddly)

Obviously this isn’t an easy thing to research – but I thought a quick trawl through the Guardian online public commentary might provide some insite.  

This is obvioulsy non -representative – you could in fact call it a purposive sample – but this should tell us something  – my reasoning – Guardian readers are likely to make up the main base of wider public support against the raising of tuition fees –  the readership is older, left wing and middle class – so if these readers don’t seem interested in the protests, one can reasonably assume that there is no popular groundswell of meaninful, passionate opinion against the rising of tuition fees, even if the opinion polls tell us that 75% of the population are oppossed.

There are 36 million unique hits on the Guardian website every month – but if you look at the commentary on items sucha as this about the tuition fees and students protests – you find a few hundred comments, maybe a thousand,  which to my mind doesn’t represent an engaged civil society debating the issue online, and it certainly doesn’t suggest popular heartfelt support for the student protestors.  

So while a lot people say ‘I don’t agree with the increasing of tuition fees’ when aksed in a poll,when push comes to shove, the wider population just couldn’t care less. Students can protest all they like, the fees increase is here to stay

Having said all of that – a quick trawl through the ‘readers comments’ on  the Guardian online gives you a lot more to think about than a TV news item with ‘experts’. Below are some of my faves –

Comment 1 – [the recent protests] should remind us all that we have been living in relatively calm times for a while. Britain remembers times that were not very calm at all. It is just the beginning for the Government. If they think it will just go away because Dave shouts a few Headmasterish slogans, then they have another think coming. Read your history Dave. This is what happens when people feel like they have been treated unjustly. It has happened many times in our history, it will happen again.

Comment 2 – I am sure a lot of this is about more than fees for those who were running around Oxford street etc smashing things up – it is about seeing banks getting more and more money whilst whole community’s are targeted for the second time by neo-liberalism. First they came and took working class jobs and decimated industry and now they are coming for the benefits that have kept those people able to eat at least – and then they wonder where the anger comes from….And yesterday in the US the banks payed out bonuses early so their staff could buy Christmas presents whilst thousands protested outside them asking for jobs. People can see that what is happening is the biggest gulf opening up between ‘them’ and ‘us’ since feudal times.

Comment 3- I quote directly from Rachel Burden on 5live yesterday lunchtime “there look to be roughly 10,000 students protesting so far. All very calm at the moment so no real story yet, we’ll cross live if there are any developments” Kind of puts all the “if only they were peacful their message would get across” into perspective doesn’t it?

Comment 4 – I dislike the monarchy, to be fair I found it quite amusing

Comment 5  – I can’t believe senior police called their officers ‘brave’, what exactly is brave about dressing in full armor and attacking unarmed protesters? They really have done themselves no favors, and they wonder why the majority of people these days don’t like them. Fools.

Web site of the week – the British Sociological Association

It may be aimed at post-grads and beyond, but The British Sociological Association is useful to the average A level student in five ways –

  1. The ‘what is Sociology’ section of the site is readily understandable – and of direct relevance to the ‘should sociology be a science’ debate
  2. The press releases section offers some nice summaries of recent research – (Interestingly for staff at the college who read this – one recent finding is that subcontractors on building sites maintain their contracts through offering kick backs to the company that runs the building project – which might help explain the poor build quality of just about everything that’s gone up since I arrived at the college 8 years ago. )
  3. The section on ‘what do Sociologists do’ might be useful to any student considering a degree in the subject – although I imagine such numbers will diminish following the Tory cuts.
  4. The ethics section – useful for research methods
  5. Finally, and a bit cynical this last point, reading around the site gives you an insight into how academics make quite simple sociological ideas sound more complex than they have to!