I am going to look at the advantages and disadvantages of using ethnographic methods for sociological research. Ethnography is in-depth research into people’s lives through the use of primary data such as Observations and Interviews, and also secondary data such as diaries, and official documents. The first method of research I am going to look at is a primary research method that is unstructured interviews.
There are a few advantages to unstructured interviews such as; if a researcher is going to conduct and unstructured interview then the participant is more likely to discuss sensitive information with them, this is because they may feel that the interviewer is sympathetic and understanding and so are more likely to open up towards them. Another advantage is that it allows people to explain their answers further if they need to, for example with questionnaires the person answering may not be able to explain why they put that answer, and so their point is not put across as they would like to have been.
There are also some disadvantages to unstructured interviews such as it takes time and can cost a lot of money; although this method is very effective at finding out detailed information about a person and their life, it can take a lot of time to conduct an interview and even longer as it is unstructured so the interviewer can ask as many questions as they like; it could cost quite a lot as you might need to hire an office to do so, and if you need to interview a lot of people over a few days the cost could rise very quickly.
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Also interview bias is another disadvantage; this means that the interviewer can ask questions that can influence the answer, which then affects the outcome of the results. Interviewer bias can be illustrated through the use of leading questions for example “Do you get on well with your boss? ” this question can make the interviewee question their relationship with their boss, and subtly raises the prospect that maybe they don’t get on with their boss.
Another method of primary research covert observation, this involves the researcher joining the group that they are studying, and in covert observation the researcher does not tell them or allow them to find out their true identity. There are some advantages to covert observation such as it has high validity, as the researcher gets first-hand information about the people they are studying.
This is a major advantage to covert observation because if this was done by someone else it may not be on the exact same topic and so not all the information they need is there. Another advantage of this method is that it avoids the observer effect, which is that people change their behaviour when they know they are being observed, and this would not show a true reflection of what they are really like.
Some disadvantages to covert observation is that the participants are unaware of the experiment and so this is an ethical issue, as some people may not have wanted to be a part of the experiment, and if they find out that they are they could try and sue the researcher. Another disadvantage of this method is that the researcher could become influenced by the group and when writing their findings down it could be in favour or prejudiced against the group.
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