Study Notes

Research Design: Choice of Research Topic


Last updated 15 Jun 2020

While practicalities and ethics might have some impact on a sociologist’s choice of topic, and their theoretical perspective certainly does, there are other factors that influence this decision.

When sociologists choose what to research, they are undoubtedly influenced by their personal interest. Normally they will have identified a social problem or social phenomenon that they have a personal interest in trying to understand. Even Durkheim, who sought to be entirely objective in his research, had a close friend who committed suicide and this played some part in his choosing that subject to study.

This also links with theoretical perspective. Marxist sociologists are likely to want to research topics relating to social class or problems with capitalism, feminists likely to research topics relating to gender, etc.

Funding is a big factor. Sociological research is often paid for by academic research funding organisations, such as the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) or by non-governmental organisations with a particular interest in a specific social problem, or sometimes it is sponsored by an industry. These organisations expect some return on their investment and will be prepared to fund some topics and not others. For example, longitudinal studies will sometimes struggle to gain financial support because funding bodies would have to wait so long for publishable results. And an NGO or company is likely only to fund research into topics that coincide with their interests and aims.

Another key factor is opportunity. A researcher will choose a particular sociological topic simply because the opportunity arose. Venkatesh studied gangs in housing projects (estates) in Chicago because of their proximity to the university where he was studying.

Research Methods: Choice of Topic and Methods (Sociology Theory & Methods)

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