The major factor in determining a sociologists method of research is their overlying sociological perspective, yet practical restraints such as time and finance will also have a bearing on the structure of this study.
There are two fundamental methods of investigation within the sociological framework: phenomenology and positivism. Phenomenology refers to the study of various forms of consciousness, that is the ways in which we as individuals understand and interpret the world around us. This approach can be largely derived from the work of Max Weber (Social Action perspective) who believed that people could not be studied in the same way in which the physical world can be, as people attach meanings to the things that they do. Positivism on the other hand is based on the logic and method of science. The approach sees empiricism as the only valid form of human knowledge, and can be traced back sociologically to the work of Comte. He though this very idea to be both possible and desirable.
The methodological approach utilised for this study was that of positivism as this seemed to be the more practical of the two, certainly with regards to time limits and costs. The main body of the research took the form of a social survey in the form of a structured questionnaire. The advantages of this method were its speed and low cost. Furthermore it had the capacity to be quickly analysed and verified easily. Lastly it eliminated the concept of interviewer bias. If the study had been conducted on a wider audience I would have added the fact that generalisations could have been made from the results, but on such a small scale it would be dangerous to do so.
There are however disadvantages in that the statistics used gave no individual meaning, there would also be problems in assessing the honesty of the respondents and if the response rate was low then the overall results would be less reliable when making generalisations. Furthermore no questions can be truly standardised as people attach different meanings and interpretations to each question. However in this case the advantages for using this approach far outweigh the disadvantages.
As the structured questionnaire was the primary form of gaining information it was important that they were constructed in a way that was easily understood by the respondents. The questionnaires had to take on an interesting format to keep the respondents interested, and the questions themselves had to be relevant and to the point.
Secondary data also played a vital supporting role to that of the primary data gained. One found the source of the secondary data to take the form of government statistics on prisons and reports by prison directors, newspaper reports, the data of independent prison agencies such as NACRO and television programmes such as the recently broadcast Panorama which reported on the effectiveness of prison.
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