Nature of research Nature of research

Nature of research


Nature of Research

The distinctive nature of social research derives in a significant measure from the real and supposed nature of the social phenomena which poses certain difficulties when it comes to the application of the sophisticated scientific procedures characterizing natural science to social phenomena. It does not mean of course that social sciences are not sciences in any real sense. We may like to see what the typical limitations of social science research are.

A basic difficulty when trying to describe how to do research is the gap between textbook accounts of how research should be done and how it actually is done. A number of valuable books have now been published in which some researchers "come clean" and provide accounts of how they did their research.

1. Soft science
In the case of the softer social sciences so little spontaneous guidance is afforded by the subject matter than in some of the natural sciences which have a logic of their own unobtrusively pointing the way that substantive research often yields a place to the repetitious discussion of methodology. The results of the social science inquiry are statistical, that is, presented in probability terms. They are never strictly categorical and clear-cut. A certain new technique of advertising may work better than the conventional method with a certain proportion of manufacturers while the conventional method would appear to suit the rest. The differences between two or more categories within a social system may be so small that nothing can be said conclusively on the basis of comparison. The researcher himself, being a human being, a member of groups, a buyer, etc, frequently affects the subject matter and in effect changes the whole situation.

2. Incomplete system
As contrasted with the natural sciences the social sciences can barely construct a complete system. A physicist can discuss and set up equations for the entire system in which electrons flow in a circular. But interactions among human being cannot be so described for the human "systems" get punctured so often and so easily that predicting a long term sequence of events becomes well nigh impossible since a number of new influences enter with each interchange among human beings; the system is never really closed. There is no denying the fact that many a serious problem of the world has barely been scratched. What causes war? What will ensure peace? Why so much dehumanization? Social science may, of course, be said to have made some gains in certain fields especially in the social sciences discipline, but many a huge human problem still remains untouched.

3. Society as a laboratory
The behavior of human beings is affected by diverse influences such as environmental, temporal, biological, psychological, and socio-cultural, all of them affecting it contemporaneously. The complexity of human or social data may be largely attributed to this. It is difficult for an observer to see the underlying uniformity in the profuse diversity of human behavior, which is in sense unique for each person. Hence it is a formidable task for a scientist to discover an order or principle which would apply to all human data. In social sciences, the laboratory is the society and the objects are conscious and active human beings. The observer and observed both being similar becomes so confused that an objective approach is really difficult to make. Moreover, except in a totalitarian society, a controlled experiment in the laboratory of society with free man is an object.

4. Light prediction
Social phenomena are complex to us because our knowledge of them is inadequate and our tools of study have developed a little beyond infancy. As contrasted with the physical sciences, the social sciences lack the power of exact prediction. This is attributed to the "erratic" idiosyncratic and "irregular nature" of human behavior. It must be said that the case of the unpredictability of social behavior is again, not so well-founded. Low predictive potential in social sciences is due mainly to our limited knowledge of relevant variables operative in the groups. As our knowledge of the variables increases and we are able to judge the effect of various variables involved, it will be possible for us to predict social events with much greater accuracy.

5. Heterogeneous
It has been argued that social phenomena compared to the physical ones are characterized by greater heterogeneity. Even if we accept this, it is possible by adequate stratification or classification effected in terms of certain properties to ensure a fairly high degree of internal homogeneity within each stratum. Thus, social research may reach conclusions of broad applicability.

6.  Cause and effect
In social sciences, it does not many a time, make sense to ask which is the cause and effect (e.g ., poverty and lack of skill). It is obvious that unless we realize this fact, we shall be asking wrong questions and finding wrong answers. The difficulties, which appear to preclude the possibility of a "science of society," derived from our underdeveloped techniques and methodology of the study and our consequent unfamiliarity with data rather than from the inherent differences between the data related to these two types of sciences.

Social scientists not to express despair and harbor doubt whether a science of society is really possible but, with the present limitations in view, develop special theories applicable to limited ranges of data and slowly build their way up toward more general theories of broader applicability.

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