Social research

Empirical social research refers to the systematic collection of data from the social sciences, social facts through observation, survey / interview, experiment, or so-called through the collection process generated data and their evaluation. In addition to the general sociology and the special sociologies ( such as the family, organizational or occupational sociology ) empirical research is considered to be third major area of sociology. At the same time it is a cross-disciplinary experience science because it provides other social sciences collection procedures and methods (eg political science in the choice of research; economics and business administration in marketing research, social psychology with experiments and the Economic and Social History with quantitative methods ), to the development of sociology was indeed involved in a prominent, but not exclusive way.

  • 7.1 Reference
  • 7.2 Institutes


The empirical research developed in the 19th and 20th centuries from various disciplines predecessor. Mention should be primarily the old system, which had developed statistical methods for the mercantilist state administration. Were then carried out in the 19th century, especially in Great Britain Social Surveys for the study of problems of integration and poverty alleviation. In Germany, the club raised for social policy in the last third of the 19th century, numerous inquiries, which were focused on the "social question " and the preparation should be used to social legislation. Much of the impetus since the beginning of the 20th century, especially from studies in the United States. Notably, community studies (eg Middletown by Robert S. Lynd and Helen M. Lynd ), operating tests ( such as those in the Hawthornewerken by Elton Mayo and his staff ) and, finally, the ethnographic methods and differential charging process of the so-called Chicago school enriched the repertoire of the empirical social research. From the 1930s, the opinion and market research gained great importance. In Europe, came the empirical research, as well as the empirical electoral research, especially under American influence, until after the Second World War to unfold.


With empirical social research a number of very different objectives can be pursued:

  • Can social issues (eg unemployment rates, suicide rates, crime trends, the extent of xenophobia and v. a m. ) are described using systematically collected data and developed on this basis, working hypotheses,
  • Can social science theories and hypotheses developed from it be verified by empirical data ( deductive approach ),
  • It can theories and hypotheses based on empirical observations developed or modified ( inductive approach ),
  • It can (eg social policy ) planning and decision making processes are supported by scientific results, while paths are shown, social problems practically and politically to deal with.

Qualitative vs. quantitative methods in the social sciences

In the social sciences a very controversial discussion is about whether it is better to conduct empirical research using qualitative methods or quantitative methods to today. In this methodological dispute, which was held very violent especially to the late 1960s, flow methodological, sociological- theoretical and sometimes political- ideological issues with a.

In the quantitative social research is mainly working with standardized data (such as the results of surveys in which respondents choose between fixed response alternatives ) because standardized information can be very easily processed with statistical methods. As a methodological basis of quantitative empirical social research are certain currents of modern philosophy of science, such as the analytical philosophy or critical rationalism of Karl Popper and Hans Albert. An important principle of quantitative social research is that research principle is to run independent of the subjectivity of the researcher / the researcher (the principle of intersubjectivity ). The goal of quantitative social research on the one hand in the description of social " macro phenomena " (such as birth rates, unemployment, etc.) exist or in the testing of hypotheses derived from social science theories.

In parallel with the quantitative social research has since the 1920s, the qualitative research developed, which works with unstandardized data as it is collected, for example, in open interviews that resemble more like a normal conversation as a standardized survey. In the context of historical sociology and the history of ideas of sociology also the source of criticism is one of the qualitative method. Advantages of the more developed in the 1990s, methods of qualitative data collection and combined techniques (eg, participant observation, qualitative interview, group discussion ) can be seen by representatives of qualitative social research that hereby captures the action orientations, relevance settlements and patterns of interpretation of the actors in the subject area often better could be than with standardized methods.

In general, qualitative research does not aim to review a pre- (that is, prior to contact with the empirical field) formulated scientific hypothesis, but the goal is more deeply explore social structures and processes and to explore and social structures of meaning visible to make. The different forms of qualitative research always begin with an individual access to the field, with the consent (easy access ) or of the field during a sensitive phase politicized (difficult access ).


For paradigm differing views on the relationship between sociological theory to empirical social research, the discussion of three sociologists was Paul Lazarsfeld, who is considered the founder of the "administrative research", Theodor W. Adorno, who criticized last empirical research of his philosophical position increasingly stronger ( to see the current position of Empirical Social Research in Germany and sociology and Empirical research), and Robert K. Merton, who sought to mediate between grand theories and theory further social statistics with the concept of theories of the middle range.

C. Wright Mills has one hand in the concentration on the "administrative research" ( already out of the necessity of project financing out ) seen in his influential work, The Sociological Imagination, the danger of bureaucracy and technocratic subordination of the social sciences, on the other hand, facing away from the society of real problems "big theory " the only ideological utility of the same.