Nature and Significance of Social Research:
In the contemporary world every society today is faced with serious social, economic and political problems. These problems need systematic, logical and practical solution. Problem solving is a technical process. It requires among all other things and accumulation of new knowledge. Research provides means of accumulating such a kind of knowledge and wisdom. In other words research is a systematic effort at gathering, analysis and interpretation of the problems confronted by humanity. It is a thinking process and a scientific method of studying a problem and finding a solution. Social research, however assumes a distinct character of its own in a significant measure when it comes to the application of scientific process as in natural sciences, to social phenomena. Unlike, physical and natural sciences, in social research the objects are conscious and active human beings. The individual behaviour of the objects whether it is free or determined makes the social research really a difficult job. Further, the researcher and object being similar, the scope of an objective approach in social research is limited to a considerable extent.
Types of social research: There are two types of social research.
1. Pure/Fundamental Research: These researches may be conducted either for the verification of some old theory or establishment of a new theory. In this kind of studies old theories should constantly be tested in order to make them more perfect.
2. Applied Research: This kind of studies deals with application of the result of fundamental research to social problems. Applied research generally takes the form of social surveys.
Social Work Research: Social work research is an indirect or enabling method. Social research occupies a very important place in the field of social work. Social work requires proper understanding, collections and analysis of social facts. For it social research is an effective method and we collect empirical data through research. The solution to individual, group and community problems are found out by research. Therefore, social work research is ‘an organized effort to acquire new knowledge about various aspects of society and social phenomenon’. In the field of social work, social work research (SWR) is used as an auxiliary method. Social work research offers an opportunity for all social workers to make a difference or modification in their practice. There is no doubt about the fact that social worker will be more effective practitioner guided by the findings of social work research. Thus, social work research seeks to accomplish the same humanistic goals, as does a social work method. Social work research deals with those methods and issues, which are useful in evaluating social work programmes and practices. It explains the methodology of social research and illustrates its applications in social work settings.
Nature of Social Work Research:
Social work research primarily deals with problems, faced by professional social workers, social work agencies and community in its concern with social work functions. In other words, in social work research the problems to be investigated are always found in the course of doing social work or planning to do it (Dasgupta, 1968). It is very obvious that in social work research the study of a problem is from the point of view of social work and that of professional social work. The designing of research, problems, data collection and its interpretation will have to be attempted in a manner as would be useful to professional social work which would add new knowledge to the social work theory and practice and improve the efficiency of professional social workers.
Social work research mostly draws its inferences through inductive reasoning. That is, inferring something about a whole group or a class of objects from the facts or knowledge of one or few members of that group or class. Thus, in social work research, inductive reasoning carries us from observation to theory through intervention/assessment.
Scope of SWR: Its scope is based on the nature of social work. Scope means opportunity, outlet, range of action, change to make use of research. Before independence there was not much change to use S.W.R. After independence there are plenty of opportunities to make use of S.W.R. in India. According to our constitution, India should aim at becoming welfare of children, women, handicapped, old and the people affected by natural calamities like flood, earth quake, cyclone, etc. and manmade calamities like wars, riots, migration, etc. Therefore, there is need to study the welfare needs and social problems through research.
There is need to evaluate the programmes already undertaken. Hence the various ministries and the planning commission and various departments at the centre and state are asking social work institutions and agencies to conduct research to social agencies and institutions. Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), Natural Institute of Public Cooperation (NIPC), and many foreign agencies are providing funds for conducting research. University Grants Commission (UGC), Department of Social Welfare Board, Central Social Welfare Board (CSWB) and many other departments are providing grants for conducting social work research in India.
Purpose of SWR: Social work is a practical profession. As such, the major objective/purpose of social work research is to search for answers to questions raised regarding interventions or treatment effectiveness in social work practice. In other words social work research attempts to provide knowledge about what interventions or treatments really help or hinder the attainment of social work goals. In addition, it also helps in searching for answers to problems or difficulties faced by social work practitioners in the practice of their profession. Ultimately, it helps building knowledge—base for social work theory and practice.
A research design is a systematic plan to study a scientific problem. After selecting the topic the researcher is to plan how to conduct his/her research in the most efficient and successful manner. Good planning gives the researcher right direction for the successful completion of the project. The plan of study is called research design. Research design is a blue print for the proposed study.
A Research design is a logical and systematic planning and directing a piece of research. Research design addresses itself to certain key issues such as:
Thus, the details about these issues constitute a research design. To be more specific, a research design includes the details about the problem, the objectives, research questions, area of study (population), sampling method, and method and techniques of data collection. In fact, research design spells out in considerable detail what occur in the research process.
Importance of Research Designs:
Types of Research Designs: There are three types of research designs. Namely:
1. Exploratory (or) Formulative Research Designs
2. Descriptive Research Designs
3. Experimental Research Designs.
1. Exploratory /Formulative Research Designs: Explorative research studies are also termed as fromulative research studies. The main purpose of such studies is that formulating a problem for more precise investigation or of developing the working hypothesis from an operational point of view.
It is a rather broad category of research. It includes unstructured preliminary studies designed to develop relevant concepts, to formulate research questions, to choose problems. Many exploratory studies have the purpose of formulating hypothesis. It increases the investigators familiarity with the phenomenon he/she wishes to investigate. For instance, if a researcher wanted to study social interaction patterns of HIV/AIDS patients but knew little or nothing about the phenomenon, an exploratory research would be appropriate.
2. Desctive Research Designs: Descriptive research designs/studies are those studies which are concerned with describing the characteristics of a particular individual, or of a group or a community. For example, A researcher who is interested in studying people of a community, their age and sex composition, caste wise distribution, affiliation to religion, level of education, occupational status, designs his study as descriptive study.
The purpose of descriptive design is to portray accurately the characteristics of a particular individual, group, community or situation; to determine the frequency with which something occurs. An enormous amount of social research has been concerned with describing the characteristics of communities.
3. Experimental Research Designs: Hypothesis testing research studies (generally known as experimental studies) are those where the researcher test the hypothesis of causal relationships between variables. The experimental design is one in which study is made of relationship between two sets of variables, generally described as control group and experimental group.
The concept of experimental design in sociological studies refers to systematic studies of human relations by making observations under conditions of control. Control is obtained by selecting for observation two groups of like individuals. Then one group called the experimental group is given some treatment or is subjected to some force which the other group called the “control” group is denied. Observations and measurements of the relevant variables under study are made before and after the experiment. Mean measurements and the changes in them are made. If the changes in the experimental group are significant in comparison to the changes in the control group, then we conclude that the change is due to the special treatment given to the experimental group.
No finding can be accepted short of confirmation of the results by repeated studies under same conditions. In experimental studies the researcher is an observer and not an active agent of change.
Types of Experimental Designs:
1. Cross Sectional Research Design: In this type of study, controlled comparisons or study is made on a particular day or time, in a section or part of the universe or area of study, to find out the true study. If it reveals a relationship encouraging further research it serves its purpose.
1] Police checking on a certain day all the vehicles to find out whether those driving them have proper license or not.
2] Checking a sector of the library to find out whether books are stolen or not.
2. Before and After Research Design: This is the classical pattern of “before and after experiments” that operate from the present to the future. In this design an attempt is made to measure the effects of a social programme or a social force on a group. Measurements of the relevant variables are made before and after the experiment. If the measurements of variables under study indicate a significant difference between the measurements before and after the experiment, then we can conclude that the experimental group.
This design can be used with one control group and many experimental groups to find out the effect of various variables.
3] Ex-Post-Facto Designs: In this design some present effects or incidents are traced backward to an assumed causal complex of forces at a prior date. For example: how this patient got AIDS. Another example; Children were born without limbs. Cause – their mothers had used the drug called Talidomine during the pregnancy. Result – babies without limbs were born to those mothers.
This design restricts research to those problems for which adequate records are available. If a crucial variable is not recorded, the gap cannot be filled in and this design cannot be used. In this design the evaluator does not have good control of causal variables, study conditions, outside variables and measurement of dependent variables.
Social research is a very complex problem and it us usually difficult to find out good and accurate results with the help of one method alone. In fact, a good social investigator must be prepared to use various methods as complementary to each other. Some of the important research methods are:
1. Social survey method
2. Case study method
3. Statistical method
4. Experimental method
5. Historical method
6. Analytical method
7. Interview method
1. Social survey method: Survey method is one of the techniques used in the analysis of fact finding. They are the widely used method of social research. A fact finding analysis is necessary to solve the innumerable problems in a society. Adequate information about them may not be available in records, files and other sources. A study of them require systematic of gathering and data through personal contacts, interview techniques etc. they are called social survey. Survey means viewing and interpreting things rigorously and comprehensively. Started with this connotation it has undergone such a revolution. Now a days survey method is not a way of collecting data but also analyzing the result statically, systematically. Surveys have a particular method of data collection, a particular method of data analysis and a particular substance.
Surveys are useful in formulating hypothesis. The function of a survey depends on the purpose for which it is required and how much of information is already known about the problem. It is a technique of investigation and it refers to direct observation of a phenomenon and collection of information through personal interview, questionnaire etc. They provide causal and meaningful exploitations. Survey method has great potential in addressing so many theoretical questions in social sciences.
Definition: According to A.F. Wells “A social survey is a fact finding study dealing chiefly with working class poverty and with the nature and problems of community”.
2. Case study method: Case study has been traditionally a method of qualitative analysis. It was developed particularly in U.S.A. and is extensively used in psychology, education, sociology, economics and political science. It has been regarded as best suited for tracing the evolution and growth of a social problem in it s different aspects. This tool appears especially useful in an under developed country where varied social institutions interact mutually.
This is a very good method of collecting information about an individual, a family or a group of persons, community. Each can be considered a unit of investigation. Whatever the unit of a case studies, it is treated as a whole in the context of specific situations. The wholeness is determined through an abstraction of ideas. In one case, an individual’s specific behaviour may be perceived as a totality; in another case, a situation consisting of group activities may be treated as a whole. It is an intensive study through which one can know precisely the factors and causes of a particular phenomenon. It is a kind of qualitative analysis.
Definition: According to P.V. Young, “Case study is a method of exploring and analysis of life of a social unit, be that a person, group, a family, an institution or even entire community”.
3. Statistical method: This method is comparatively of a more recent origin. It was first used in biological sciences and astrology but gradually it was put to use in social sciences too. At present, statistical methods are widely used in economics, psychology and anthropology. They are being increasingly used in the study of purely social phenomenon, and attempts are being made to provide quantitative measurements to them.
Definition: According to Lovitt, “Statistics is the science which deals with the collection, classification, and tabulation of numerical facts as the basis for explanation, description and comparison of phenomena”.
This method of studies has their own limitations. One of the important limitations of this method is that it is of quantitative rather than qualitative by nature as much problems falling under later category cannot be covered in that.
4. Experimental method: This method is widely used in the physical sciences. In fact, the whole system is based on experiments to be carried out in the laboratories. But in so far, as social research is concerned this method is being applied in a very limited sense. This method implies that there should be controlled conditions and circumstances and under those circumstances some conclusions should be derived. The basic factor in case of experiments is the control over the subject of study and its effect upon the dependent variable.
Definition: According to Festiger, “The essence of an experiment may be described as observing the effect on a dependent variable of the manipulation of an independent variable.
Experimental methods are of various types, such as trial and error experiment, controlled observational study, natural experiment, laboratory experiment, Ex-Post-Factor technique etc. and in a research design these occupy a very important place and position. In social research we deal with social institutions, customs and traditions, which again vary both from society to society and country to country and it is impossible to apply this method in their study as well.
5. Historical method: History is a meaningful and an organized record of past events. Historical research attempts to establish facts so as to arrive at conclusions concerning past events. This is usually accompanied by an interpretation of these events and of their relevance to present circumstances and what might happen in the future. The main purpose of historical research, therefore, is to arrive at an accurate account of the past so as to gain a clearer perspective of the present.
Historical data plays a very important role in the social research. A chronological order of past event will be of little use for a social research scholar. In a social survey, social position, human institutions and their developments should be studied. The present day problems will have to be linked with the past events and useful conclusions should have to be derived. Generally there are three major sources of historical information before a researcher:
a) Accessible documents
b) Cultural and analytical historical material, and
c) Reliable sources of personal knowledge.
These major sources can be used by the social researcher to the extent these are relevant to his/her research work. It should always be kept in mind that all historical details are not authentic and these could not be fully relied upon.
6. Analytical method: For quite some time analytical method was not applied or considered suit¬able for the study of Sociology. George Simmel and Durkheim were first who applied this method for the study of Sociology. Under this system an investigator presumes that certain ideals are existing in the society and he either strengthens his presumption or tries to, disprove that. In this system he also studies the causes and effects of social happenings.
But this system too suffers from some serious defects. One of the difficulties with this method is that the social ideals are not uniform throughout the society and vary from one society to the other. Thus whereas on the one hand an Investigator, under certain circumstances, may arrive at certain conclusions about certain social ideals, another investigator under different circumstances may derive at other conclusions about the same social ideas. Then another difficulty is that it is very difficult to easily analyse the causes and effects of every happening because of their complex nature and character Not only tins, but we also find that there is a difficulty in isolating social causes and effects apart from political, economic or cultural effects because each one is closely linked or concerned with the other. Still another difficulty is that there can be happenings which have so complex character that it might be fairly impossible to discuss their causes and effects in their entirety War and revolution can be quoted as such happenings. Due to these difficulties usually analytical method is not very much encouraged.
7. Interview method: Under this method an investigator personally questions the informant and seeks the type of information required by him. The greatest advantage of this method is that the investigator can depend on the information collected by him and that he can also understand the mood and nature of the informant, which he can express in his conclusions. But there is also difficulty about this method. It is just possible that the informant may not be prepared to supply information directly but may be ready to send information in writing. But one of the limitations of the system is that it entirely depends on the interviewers who may not be capable enough of extracting maximum information. He may also not be capable enough to probe deep into the mind of the informant. The investigator can collect the necessary information by administering various types of interviews such as:
Steps in Social Work Research:
The main steps in social work research are as follows.
1. Identification of the problem: The very first of social work research is to identify the subject and nature of the problem and setting of goals.
2. Need assessment: The problem identified has to be relevant to the study that the researcher makes and the branch of the social work which the researcher is going to study.
3. Review of literature: Mere selection of problem is not sufficient. For proper understating of the problem the researcher has to review the literature related to that problem. The earlier studies, if any, which are similar to the study in hand, should be carefully studied. An exhaustive library will be a great help to the researcher at this stage.
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