STUDYING SOCIETY

Social Surveys & Quantitative Data

Social Surveys & Quantitative Data

Society is made up of a number of social structures i.e. groups or institutions. Examples include the family, the education system and the legal system. Sociologists try to understand what processes take place within these social structures and how this affects human behaviour. Some of the important processes examined by a sociologist include:

Socializationin which the individual learns how our culture operates and how to behave appropriately within it.

Primary socialization refers to the socialization we receive from those closest to us in our earliest years. The family, for example, plays a huge role in shaping our understanding of what is good and bad, as well as the way we learn and use language.

Secondary socialization takes place beyond our family home – in schools, churches, workplaces, in peer groups and through the mass media. Here we learn the norms and values of society and the subcultures within it.

Norms refer to what society regards as acceptable behaviour in certain social contexts. In a waiting room, for example, the norm would be to sit quietly and patiently for your turn.

Values are what a society regard as important and worth pursuing, for example freedom of speech and material success.

Subcultures are social groups whose culture, norms and values differ from those of the mainstream. ‘Emos’ are part of a youth subculture.

Social issues are problems faced by people in society and they come about when social processes have gone wrong. A poor education may result in educational underachievement, for example, which may lead to poverty.

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Social Surveys and Quantitative Data

Social surveys collect quantitative data, which is information received in numerical or statistical form. The results are often presented in tables, charts or graphs.

A longitudinal study is one which takes place over a long period of time and may focus on the same group of people so that changes can be observed over the years. This is a costly and time consuming process and requires the same standard to be applied across the length of the survey.

Social surveys may collect information in the following ways:

Postal questionnaires: These are sent via post or email.

Hand-delivered questionnaires: The researcher will both hand out and collect the questionnaire in person.

A structured interview: in which a trained interviewer asks planned questions and records the answers. This may be done face-to-face or by telephone.

In each of these kinds of survey questions may be open ended or closed. Open ended questions allow room for detailed and individual responses. Closed questions ask the respondent to choose from a list of answers. This has the advantage of being quick and makes the analytical process easier.