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Research Methods: Examples

Research Methods: Examples

Author: Zach Lamb

Recognize important examples of research methods in practice.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

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Hello, and welcome to Sociological Studies. As always, thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to study society.

In this lesson, we're going to talk about two specific research methods in sociology, in-depth interviewing and participant observation. We're also going to explore the work of two prominent sociologists, Lois Benjamin and William Foote Whyte, who used these methods to develop impactful social research.

First, we have Lois Benjamin, a contemporary sociologist interested in issues of race among successful African-Americans. Benjamin wrote a book called The Black Elite, which is a great example of how to use interview research effectively.

Interview research is a methodology where research subjects are asked a series of questions by the researcher, and Benjamin was using a particular kind of interview research relying on semi-structured in-depth interviews. The researcher asks open-ended questions, and the interview takes more of the form of a conversation where the interviewer will follow up with things that the interviewee said. By asking open-ended questions then, it allows the person who is being interviewed to elaborate at length what they feel is important to them and to articulate their meanings and their world view in their own words, rather than in the words of the researcher.

So Benjamin did this. She did approximately 100 in-depth interviews. She was a black woman herself, and she was interested in learning about issues of racial injustice after the Civil Rights Movement in the late 20th century. So she was particularly interested in black elites and how they saw racism in their everyday lives.

Benjamin did her interviews with successful African-Americans and found that despite ostensible improvements in social standing with the Civil Rights Movement and time passing, contemporary African-Americans still suffer from racial hostilities. So this is a strength of in-depth interviewing. It allows the respondent to be more candid and conversational and to articulate the constraints they face.

Next, we're going to talk about William Foote Whyte, who was an American sociologist who did excellent participant observation work. Really helped to bring this methodology into sociology from anthropology where it began.

So to define participant observation then, participant observation is a research method where subjects are observed in their natural setting going about their day-to-day routines. To really immerse himself in the population he was trying to study, William Foote Whyte lived for three years in an Italian community of Boston during the 1930s. He was interested in learning about the social life of street gangs.

So he ends up writing this book called Street Corner Society that came from his three years of participant observation immersion research within the community. Whyte called the town he studied "Cornerville," and in Street Corner Society, he argued that the prevailing stereotypes that the outside world, people outside of Cornerville, the stereotypes they looked at the people of Cornerville with were inaccurate. The people were actually hardworking, successful, and even dreamt of sending their kids to college. So in this way he refuted stereotypes through participant observation research.

Participant observation, social scientists like to say, it's really a way of making the familiar strange and the strange familiar. We walk around with taken for granted assumptions, but actually going and living in this community and experiencing interacting with these people, becoming a member through participant observation, allows us to refute these stereotypes.

Well, I hope you enjoyed learning about two of the primary methodologies sociologists use to gather data, participant observation and in-depth interviewing, as well as talking about two sociologists who used these methods to produce groundbreaking work, Lois Benjamin and William Foote Whyte. Thank you for joining me, and have a great day.

Terms to Know
Interview Research

A research methodology where subjects respond to the questions of a researcher in interviews, focus groups, or questionnaires.


A research methodology where subjects are observed in-context going about their daily lives.

People to Know
Lois Benjamin

American sociologist who studied "The Black Elite" using interview research methodology.

William Foote White

American sociologist who studied street life among Italian immigrants using participant-observation research methodology.