Social Research

Fourth edition

by Sotirios Sarantakos

Chapter 2 - Varieties Of Social Research

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Educational objectives
After completing this chapter, you will:
  1. have a clear idea of the distinction between qualitative and quantitative methodologies;
  2. have knowledge of the ontological and epistemological underpinnings of modern social research;
  3. be able to recognise the interconnections between perception of reality, knowledge extraction, methodology, methods, and research;
  4. understand fully the nature of qualitative and quantitative research, their similarities and differences, and the type of issues they are most suitable to address;
  5. be in a position to see social research as a pluralistic enterprise, employing a variety of equally valid and legitimate frameworks and aiming at a multiplicity of research outcomes.


  1. The bases of methodological distinction
  2. Quantitative methodology
  3. Qualitative methodology
  4. Mixed-method research
  5. Internet research
  6. Critical research

Points to remember

The following are the major points introduced in this chapter. Ensure that you are very confident with their meaning, content, context and significance.
  1. There are many models of social research.
  2. Diversity in research reflects diversity in paradigms, in methodologies and in the methods they employ.
  3. A paradigm is a set of propositions that explains how the world is perceived.
  4. A methodology is a model entailing the theoretical principles and frameworks that provide the guidelines as to how research is to be conducted.
  5. A method is a tool or an instrument employed by researchers to collect or analyse data.
  6. The two methodologies are the quantitative and the qualitative methodology.
  7. Examples of paradigms are positivism symbolic interactionism, phenomenology, ethnomethodology, hermeneutics, psychoanalysis, ethnology, ethnography and sociolinguistics.
  8. Examples of paradigms developed within a critical perspective are critical sociology, conflict school of thought, Marxism and feminism.
  9. Many methods employed in qualitative research are also employed in quantitative research.
  10. The quantitative and qualitative methodologies vary fundamentally from each other.
  11. Quantitative methodology takes a rigid, objective, neutral and 'scientific' stance and employs a perspective which resembles that of the natural sciences.
  12. Qualitative methodology adopts a subjective perception of reality and employs a naturalistic type of inquiry. Its central principles are openness, process-nature of the research and the object, reflexivity of object and analysis, explication and flexibility.
  13. Quantitative methodology sees reality as objective and simple, qualitative methodology as subjective and problematic.
  14. Quantitative methodology explains human action in terms of nomological principles, qualitative methodology explains human action in non-deterministic terms.
  15. Quantitative methodology supports a value-free inquiry, qualitative methodology a value-bound inquiry.
  16. Quantitative methodology is deductive, qualitative methodology is inductive.
  17. The researcher is rather distant and passive in quantitative research, but active and close to the participants in qualitative research.
  18. Qualitative research entails subject-directed paradigms, object-directed paradigms and development-directed paradigms.
  19. Quantitative methodology has been criticised, among other things, for the way in which it perceives reality, people and research, the methods it uses, the politics it supports and the relationship it establishes with the researched.
  20. Qualitative methodology has been criticised, among other things, for not being able to cope with demands related to reliability, representativeness, generalisability, objectivity and detachment, ethics and the value of collected data.
  21. Qualitative research entails subject-directed paradigms, object-directed paradigms and development-directed paradigms.
  22. Quantitative and qualitative methodology are equally valuable and useful in their own context.
  23. The main differences between the various types of research originate in their ontology and epistemology.
  24. Ontology is the science of 'being', and is concerned with the nature of existence and the nature of reality. It asks: What is the nature of reality?
  25. Epistemology is the science of knowledge, its nature, scope and basis. It asks: How do we know what we know?
  26. Ontologies inform epistemologies; epistemologies guide methodologies; and methodologies determine the nature of methods.
  27. The quantitative and qualitative methodologies are product of their ontological and epistemological determinants.
  28. Quantitative and qualitative research, although different, can be employed together in the same project, as shown in the mixed-method research.
  29. Mixed-method research eliminated the dichotomy that separated quantitative and qualitative research, and which dominated the research debate for a long time.
  30. Internet ('virtual') research shifts investigation to a new domain that expands the options and possibilities beyond those of the ('real') research of the past.

Short-answer questions

Answer each question carefully (there is no need to write down the answer). Consult your Social Research text when your memory fails you or when you are in doubt about the accuracy of your responses.
  1. What are the main assumptions of quantitative methodology?
  2. What are the main assumptions of qualitative methodology?
  3. What is meant by 'nomological thinking'?
  4. List five major 'problems' of quantitative methodology.
  5. What do critics mean when they say that positivistic research fails to distinguish between appearance and reality?
  6. Quantitative methodology is criticised for being technocratic. What does this mean and why is it considered a problem?
  7. What are the general criteria of qualitative methodology?
  8. From which theories does qualitative methodology draw its major theoretical guidelines and principles?
  9. What is a 'naturalistic method' and what is its significance for social research?
  10. What are the central principles of qualitative research?
  11. What is meant by 'openness' in qualitative research?
  12. What are the research foundations of qualitative research?
  13. Describe five important differences between quantitative and qualitative research.
  14. Discuss critically the three criticisms of quantitative methodology, which you consider most important.
  15. What is the meaning of the statement "objectivity can only lead to a technocratic and bureaucratic dehumanisation"?
  16. Why is qualitative inquiry often called "naturalistic" inquiry?
  17. How can you explain in simple words the meaning of a "re-constructed" reality?
  18. Explain in simple words the meaning of the concepts "intentionality" and "bracketing", as employed in phenomenology.
  19. Why is it important to know about ontologies and epistemologies when studying social research?
  20. Which ontology and epistemology provide the framework of quantitative research?
  21. Which ontology and epistemology provide the framework of qualitative research?
  22. What are the main principles of constructionism?
  23. What are the main characteristics of objectivism?
  24. What are the main criteria of realism?
  25. In what ways does the perception of reality differ in qualitative and quantitative research?
  26. How do positivists and interpretivists perceive the purpose of research?
  27. Given the standard definitions of quantitative and qualitative research, how can you justify the use of both approaches together in the mixed-method approach?
  28. Is the mixed-method research a novelty or has it been employed in the past? If so, in what way?
  29. What are the advantages of mixed method research, and who benefits most from this procedure, the quantitative or the qualitative researchers?
  30. How would you describe formal qualitative research and its position within the standard qualitative research?

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Practical exercises

Choose two articles from professional journals, one employing a quantitative and the other a qualitative methodology. Then:
  • Describe in point form the features that reflect the 'quantitative' and 'qualitative' nature of the methodology.
  • Contrast the two articles in terms of their background methodologies, so that their nature becomes clear and obvious.
  • Show which of the two articles was more successful in answering the research questions and why.
  • Discuss critically the social significance of these articles, that is, the extent to which the knowledge they gained about the issue they investigated could be employed to construct effective social policies.