Research Design: Selecting a research topic

Although practicalities and ethics may play some role in a sociologer’s decision, it is not the only factor that has an impact.

Sociologists are naturally influenced when they choose which topic to research. Normally, sociologists will have identified social problems or phenomena that they are personally interested in studying. Durkheim himself, who was determined to be objective in his studies, had a close friend that committed suicide. This may have played some role in the choice of subject.

This is in line with the theoretical perspective. Marxist sociologists might want to explore topics related social class or to problems with capitalism. Feminists, on the other hand, are more likely than Marxist sociologists to be interested in research topics related gender and sexuality.

Funding is a major factor. Research in sociology can be funded by non-governmental organisations like the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), or academic research funding bodies such as ESRC. These organisations are looking for a return on their investments and will likely fund only certain topics. A longitudinal study, for example will not always be funded because the funding bodies must wait so long before publishing results. Additionally, an NGO/company will fund research only on topics that match their interests or aims.

Another important factor is chance. One of the most important factors in sociological research is opportunity. Venkatesh studied gangs and housing projects in Chicago (estates) due to their proximity to the university he was attending.

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