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Using Examples Discuss the Strengths and Weaknesses of Interactionist Research Methods. Part

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Using examples discuss the strengths and weaknesses of interactionist research methods. Part B
One method of research used by Interactionists is known as the un-structured interview. They are less strict than an ordinary interview and are similar to that of an everyday conversation. Although it will be based around a specific subject or topic it allows the interviewee to go deeper into the question and give a more in-depth opinion. Unstructured interviews are commonly, open-ended and flexible as they can go beyond the question. (reference) whilst having an specific topic for the overall direction of the interview’s structure the flexibleness of the style can enter areas which may not be or have seemed not to be important.
Although unstructured interviews are helpful they do hold some weakness, firstly the process can be expensive and take a great amount of time for discussion with more than just one person to improve reliability. A great deal of time is also spent in collecting and analysing the answers given afterwards due to key words, progression of trends and so on. Furthermore it is known that some participants to put themselves in a favourable position to the reality. Lastly it can be difficult to separate bias from opinion if the interviewer becomes friendly with the interviewee.
However in comparison to this, it allows the interviewer the opportunity to come across in a more friendly and open manner than an appearance which may make the interviewee feel tense or worried, Ann Oakley, a feminist sociologist, stated ways of interviewing in an approachable and friendly manner, therefore allowing the interviewee to open up and share information which may have been closed off by more official methods. Finally, by following ethical practices the interviewee is fully aware of the subject and commonly gives consent to discussion. (reference)
One other method used by Interactionists is participant observation; this is a form of qualitative research. It’s primary aim is to gain a close understanding and familiarity with the selected group or individual, this is done through intense involvement with their environment and way of life over an extended period of time to observe it on a first hand basis and the reasoning behind it.
There are two forms of participant observation known as covert and overt. Covert observation is when those being observed are unaware of either the true intentions of the sociologist or the fact they are being studied by the sociologist. Whilst overt is when this is where the group or individual is aware that they are being studied by a sociologist who is participating.
The strengths of participant observation vary to the type one chooses to use, taking this into consideration, one strength of this method is the capacity to ease within the group to gain knowledge and understanding that outsiders cannot see. Although this is more effective in covert form, as it allows groups who may not want to be studied to be understood and protected at the same time, this could be because of illegal activities, from negative stigma being attached to the group etc. One example would be Macintyre’s ‘Chelsea Head-hunters’ where Macintyre gains the trust of a violent football group whilst filming and noting subjecting them unknowingly to study.
Secondly a further benefit of this type of covert observation is that the Hawthorn effect is not a playing factor in the study. (Pearson, 2005) this is where the observed are aware of the observation and therefore behave differently often to enhance the way they feel should be shown. As the people being studied are unaware of the intentions of the sociologist they therefore avoid this effect as they were accepted as one of their own and not as an outside source.
However one major drawback of covert participant observation, ethically, is that the observe may be required to participate in illegal or dangerous events in order to stay within the group. Furthermore, removing yourself from the group after covertly participating can be difficult and on occasion hold consequences .
On the other hand overt participant observation has its benefits it allows information to be openly documented, avoids problems such as ‘going native’- where the observer loses objective view of the situation and becomes part of the observed social group and lastly the question of ethical conduct is more easily addressed in the group who are aware of the researchers role ( Pearson, 2005). An example of this is Eileen Barkers study of the Moonies, where she discussed the methods used in her study which allowed the opportunity to discuss in depth about their thoughts on being a Moonie.
In contrast to this another method or research is known as non-participant observation, Similar to participant observation although the sociologist does not participate in the activities of the group again, either overtly or covertly, only observing and noting the activities
A key asset of non-participant observation is the ability to objectively and quickly record required data as the observer is observing and not actively joining in with the group in question. Additionally as the observer does not need to be involved in any other capacity it allows the conduct of the observation to be less challenging
In contrast to this a weakness of non-participant method is that by not actively participating in the group it can be made more difficult to attain the depth and meaning behind the interactions.
Pearson,2005,ParticipantObservation [Online] Browne, K, 2006 "Sociology for As and A2" Polity Press, London
CGP-AS &A2 sociology -published coordination group publications Ltd 2012

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