• Principale

3.2 PhD thesis

NoWeLU - COAS-College of Applied Science

Efficacy of Methods and Techniques of Sociological Research


Doctoral Thesis

in Social and Political Science


Candidate's name:                 Zamprotta, Italo, Matriculation number: 101571


Thesis Supervisor:                 Lawrence, Comm. Dr. S., Ph.D.                                       



Board of examiners:

President                               Lawrence, Dr. S., Ph.D.

Registrar                               Ramsay, H.E. The Lord Bishop Malik, D.D., Ph.D.

Member                                  Dongen, Dr. Prof. Hans

Member                                  Nykvist, Ass. Prof. Alvar

Secretary                               Hahnel, Ass. Prof. Gottfried

External Examiner                 Farina, Dr. Prof. Avv. Salvatore


London, 1980, July, 26


University year 1979-80










The First Part


Chapter I                The sociological tradition

§ I                           The perspectives view


§ II                          The experimental method


§ III                         A.Comte, H.Spencer, E. Durkheim, M. Weber


Chapter II              

§ IV                         The first methodological argument in sociology:

                                A.Quételet against A.Comte

The Second Part


Chapter III             The Methodology and the Methods of sociology research

§ V                          The psychosociological Methods


§ VI                         The questionnaires


§ VII                       The interview


§ VIII                      The historical and comparative Methods


§ IX                         Comparative Method


§  X                         The experimental Methods and the Quantification


Chapter IV             The researching Techniques

§ XI                        The technical Power and the Neutrality


§ XII                       The main Techniques of Sociology research 


§ XIII                      Participant observation


§ XIV                      The Interview


§ XV                       Group’s Interview strategies               


§ XVI                      The Questionnaire                                                                           


§ XVII                     The Techniques and the Researcher-Object relationship






Efficacy of Methods and Techniques of Sociological Research


The author has divided this work,which is Doctoral Thesis in Social and Political Science,into two parts.

In the first part, made up of two chapters and a total four paragraphs, he draws a general historical retrospective of the sociological thought of the 18th and 19th centuries, treating at lenght the thought and the works of the four sociologists he considers the most representative, that are A. Comte, H. Spencer, E.Durkheim, M.Weber.

The author lays particular emphasis on the first methodological argument arisen betwen the philosopher A. Comte (Montpellier, France, 1798- Paris, 1859) and the mathematician-statistician A.Quetelet (Gand, Belgium,1796 - Bruxelles, 1874).

The former is inventor of the term SOCIOLOGY, a discipline that he considered divised into two parts:


These two concepts represent a fundamental division of the contents of sociology that, in different forms and ways, has been manifested in history as well as at present.


In social statistics the main institutions or instutional bodies of society, like economy, family, politics are considered the principal unities of sociological analysis and sociology in seen as the study of the relations between these institutions.


Social dinamics, on the contrary, had to take as a unity of analysis a society as a whole and show how it develops and changes in time.


Comte considered the comparative study on societies as a whole of the most important topics of sociological analysis.

Quételet, in his turn, thought that in order to understand widely social phenomena was necessary to turn to a STATISTICS-MATHEMATICAL approach, which expresses social realities and social process in figures.


Therefore he conceived the theory of "SOCIAL PHYSICS" to which he wanted to apply also the calculus of probability that he had learned in Paris.


Unfortunately his numerous researches were forgotten and  after  a long time - unknown to several scholars - not only was Quételet neglected, but it was even thought wrongly that some american scholars of social sciences were the first to use STATISTICS-QUANTITATIVE METHODS.


At last the statistics-mathematical approach advocated by Quételet prevailed and nowadays all the sociologists, even the least familiar which numbers, report to it for their researches.


Comte believed that the methods of observation, experimentation, comparison of facts and compared history were sufficient even without what we now call "QUANTIFICATION", that in the definition according to number and degree.


Quételet proved, on the contrary, supported by numerous researches, that all the social phenomena can be submitted to statistical survey and, as a consequence, they become clear, understandable, interpretable, and they also allow for an adequate preventive action.


After this essential clarification, the author goes on with the second part, subdivided into two chapters and a total six paragraphs, where he first analysis the concepts of methodology and psychosociological methods of research, dwelling upon questionnaires and types of interview; then he analyses historical and comparative methods.


At this regards the author, refusing the traditional distinction between IDEOGRAPHICAL sciences (history belongs to as it studies unique and unrepeatable events) and NOMOTHETICAL sciences (sociology belongs to as it aims at making generalizations) follows the thesis of the great French historian Fernand Braudel (Lunéville-en-Ormois, France, 1902), who in his work "Ecrits sur l l'histoire" (Paris, 1969) collected a series of methodological essays by which he skilfully proved that man's life and evolution must be depicted from the gratest possible number of points of view supplied by discipline such as: sociology, anthropology, ethnology, geography, demography and economics.


All these aspects of man's life allow us to see the different dimension of the action of man and societies and to build a more concrete and consistent history. The history can must be the "common market of social sciences".

After clearing this matter, the author analyses the comparative method, which involves the parallel study of different groups, societies, communities and institutions that present similar models.


The comparative method - widely used also in the study of contemporaries societies - must not be limited to coeval societies.

The importance of historical data comes form this.


Karl Wittfogel (Woltersdorf, Germany, 1896), for instance, has outlined a chart of different societies, distant in time and space, but based on the bureaucratic despostism and the control of the natural resources of territory by a central power.


This has allowed the presentation of numerous and important generalization concerning characteristics common to these large sociopolitical unities (K. Wittfogel, Oriental despostism, Yale University Press, 1957).


In another comparative, historical study, Barrington-Moore Jr. (Washington, USA, 1913) has carried on research about the series of changes that have taken place in different countries that reached modernization through dictatorship or political pluralism (Barrington-Moore, Jr., The social origins of dictatorship and democracy, Allen Lane, London, 1967).


The author also dwells upon natural comparisons between the spanish and english conquests in America reported by Alexis de Tocqueville (Verneuil sur Seine, France, 1805 - Cannes, 1859) in De la Democratie en Amerique (Gallimard, Paris, 1835-40), which lead to reflections still useful nowadays  for the understanding of the completely different societies that flourished north and south of Rio Grande.


Then the author goes on analysing the experimental methods that allow the researcher to operate on small groups, that is social unities with predetermined characteristics as to hypothesis of work and, therefore, easily controllable.


In this way the technique used, such as "protective technique" or tests used to chek the reactions of the subject to the object he is presented to by the researcher, are examined; T.A.T., the is "Thematic Apperception Test", aims at making the subject "invent" a story supplying very few data, usually a series of pictures reproducing socially ambiguous situations.


This test studies the personality, but it can also be useful in sociology because some information concerns the model of social interaction as, for instance racial discrimination.


In the last chapter, dedicated to research techniques, the author tries the point out the fundamental problem the researcher has to face, that is technical power and neutrality in the sociological survey.


In fact, after explaining, in the previous paragraphs, how the research is placed within the general social procedure, the argumentation of the thesis aims at showing the efficacy achieved by employing these methods and techniques in the sociological researches.


Handbooks of techniques and sociological research deal with research techniques and end up talking about the sociologist's role.

But what power is the researcher endowed with?


He has the power to make one or more persons enter and remain in a situation of passiveness in order to be submitted to an interview, observation, etc.

We have three types of power:

  1. coercitive power  (potestas)
  2. normative power (auctoritas)
  3. remunerative power (governance).

Coercitive power makes the subject accepts to be submitted to research technique in order to avoid a direct sanction.

Using normative power the researcher makes the subject want the interview or test, etc. In order words appeals to be the social values that condition the individual.

Remunerative power consists in giving the individual who is willing to cooperate in the research something in exchange.


Traditional techniques operate, however, in situation of disparity as the individual is never put in contact, not even indirectly, with the object of the research and he never takes part in its various phases, as if the matter did not concerns him at all.


Being neutral or not is not a psychological fact, it is structural, that is it is not a question of good will, but an objective dispositions of the individual that play that role.


Both for the participant's observation or the interview (individual or of group) we have implicitly left without answer the following question: in which direction must one operate the changes of techniques and relations? and with which means?


Certainly one cannot give precise rules concerning the direction of change along which the researcher has to operate. We can however say that such direction is not left to the good will and liberty of the researcher himself.


How can we know this direction, then?


The main and must important source is again the object. So, any change must respect the "physiological" increasing and expanding laws of the object (of that man, of that group), within the social class which he object belongs.


Let's now examine the attitude of the researcher toward the object.


Traditional methodology places as main objective of the interview (and also of the observation, of the interview of group, etc.) the acquisition of places of information. For this reason various espedients are used, even if in the last few years the importance of professional ethics has been rather felt; it is not however much widespread and is based on false principles as it presupposes that the researcher and the object are at the same level, which actually is not true.


The refusal however of traditional methodology must not be founded on moralistic bases, but on basis of convenience and scientific legitimacy.


The analysis of social reality shows us that in society the conflict is streaming more and more is becoming radical.


It is natural that the interview, as any other technique, is the place of argument between he who holds a technical power and the object, who has no power.


The researcher must not worry about giving rise to arguments that he must reduce to objective facts in a logical concatenation depriving then of every personal element.


In conclusion, the researcher must deal with the object respecting his individual characteristics and keeping well in mind the historical characteristic as well as the development of the class the object belongs to.

What kind of language it has to be used?


It is a minor, simple and accessory problem as it is first necessary to solve a substantial problem, that is to get know directly how the object lives, what and how he thinks, his values, his needs, his concrete problem and above all, the resources he has to solve them.


When the researcher has acquired all these data, he will easily solve also the problem of the language because, by, then, he will be deeply involved with the group or with the object.


At the end of this thesis the author feels his duty is to talk, although briefly, of which must be, in this opinion the duties of the researcher.


First of all, the researcher arouses a conscience in the object. Arousing a conscience is based on the analysis; therefore the researcher must know perfectly well, for each case, the type and degree of conscience of the object, and must as well know the real terms of the objective situation in which the object is.


Secondly the researcher must not reduce his action to the simple identification of the object needs, but he must also operate in order to meet these needs, and, above all, to organize them following a mounting line of conscience and social importance.


In order to do this the researcher musts know which objective laws rule the dinamics of groups, their development and their transformation; social general power, how it acts and on which forms it socializes; the laws of development of society and how social collective action actually acts.


All this, more than other specialistic knowledge needed for each case, represents the technical competence of the researcher, which must be placed at the object's service.


How can the researcher acquire all this knowledge?


Therefore the main source of technical knowledge always is and remains social practice, that is the reflections on what reality lived directly and in the first person which can teach from time to time.


It may be therefore that, especially at the beginning, the technical knowledge such a researcher has, is poor, uncertain and fragmentary.


It is however a necessary knowledge.


The researcher who has not such technical knowledge and only founds his "work on conscience" and behaves as a "politically commissary" in a narrow sense, may come across a group or an object, who has already a conscience, and not be able to satisfy their or his objective needs.


In that case this researcher becomes useless for the group; what in worse, he may try to hide (more or less consciously) his own incompetence, making the object running corresponds to the real prospectives of the object, is a "false" conscience".







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                                          in appendice il Sistema di politica positiva di Auguste Comte, Giuffrè, Milano,1959   


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                                          Comunità, Milano, 1979


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[1965] Russell. B.              Freedom Organization (1814-1914)

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                                         nella formazione del mondo moderno, a cura di Domenico Settembrini, presentazione di Luciano Gallino,

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[1970] Seger, I.                 Knaurs buch der modernen soziologie

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[1971] Jonas, F.                 Geschichte der Soziologie

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[1972] Aymone, T.             Scuola dell’obbligo, città operaia

                                         Laterza, Bari


[1976] Toynbee, A.            Mankind and Mother Earth

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                                         terra, Garzanti, Milano, 1977     



My integral doctoral thesis is cataloged at the Library and Documentation Center of Trade Union Head-quarters in Biella, and at the Turin Public Library; and at Municipal Central Library of Turin. 

(Per la trascrizione sul web del Compendium, nel 2006, mi sono avvalso della consulenza di mio figlio Lorenzo, Dottore in Fisica, studioso di lingua inglese, che mi ha corretto alcune imprecisioni linguistiche).

Ultimo aggiornamento Venerdì 30 Giugno 2017 17:57


www.italozamprotta.net Italo Zamprotta il promotore delle Università Popolari di Biella