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We Can Understand Transport And Social Exclusion Sociology Essay

This assignment will demonstrate how varied understandings may be derived from research through an examination of the research decisions taken in four studies concerned with social exclusion and transport.

In the context of the four papers, this assignment will start by considering differences in underlying methodology, followed by an exploration of middle range theory and how it may embed and direct subsequent studies. The potential range of understandings derived from each research design will then be followed by an examination of the methods that are positioned within. The contrasting meanings produced from two key sampling approaches will be explored, and the positioning of a researcher in the field, considered. Some of the main points relating to data analysis will be outlined, again suggesting a variance in subsequent understandings. Finally, this assignment will make a number of conclusions based on an examination of the four studies, suggesting how these ranging researching approaches based on transport and social exclusion may direct our understanding.

Methodology

Positivist and interpretivist research approaches have the potential to produce contrasting research understandings, although suggestion of a dichotomy may be false. Understood as the theory underlying research, methodology is distinguishable from research methods, which describes the means of collecting data. Although distinct, an interdependency between methodology and methods is evident because

‘alternative views of reality lead to:

Different propositions about what reality is [ontology]

Different ways of establishing what can be accepted as real [epistemology]

Different strategies for validating our claims about reality

Different techniques for collecting data’ (Hart 1998: 51).

Figure 1 introduces the research purposes of the four papers under examination, with appendix 1 describing an overview of all of the data examined in the case of each study. Rye and Carreno and Mackett et al’s research suggests a positivist orientation, reflecting an objectivist view of reality, or ontological position. Their research approach or epistemological association is with the natural sciences, where for example, deductive theory testing may be used to provide proof of knowledge based on externally occurring social facts (Bryman 2004, Clough and Nutbrown 2007). Contrastingly, Davey’s study may be associated with interpretivism, with a research approach or epistemological position that attempts to generate theories and ‘grasp the meaning of social action’ (Bryman 2004: 13). This is complemented by an understanding of reality or ontological position of constructionism, where the importance of human action on social occurrences is emphasised (Bryman 2004).

Figure 1. Research purpose

Lucas et al challenge the suggested dichotomy between positivist and interpretivist paradigms by combining research associated with both approaches in one study (Bryman 2004, Clough and Nutbrown 2007). It will be suggested that the critical epistemology of critique and action, and ontological orientation of collectivism are evident in Lucas et al’s study, influencing our understanding beyond positivism and interpretivism (Clough and Nutbrown 2007). Through an emphasis on purpose and the selection of the most appropriate research tools (Clough and Nutbrown 2007), critical research theory further highlights the false dichotomy relating to positivism and interpretivism. Rejecting value neutrality, overt partisanship is favoured while the reinforcement of social inequalities and the oppression of distinct social groups is challenged (Hammersley 2000).

Middle range theory

The way in which researchers ground their studies in existing literature and policy may vary subsequent understandings through: guiding the research approach; embedding new research in existing studies; and identify the need for further investigation (Hart 1998). Contrasting with the more abstract grand theories as typified by Talcott Parsons (Bryman 2004, Gilbert 2001), middle range theories may:

‘lie between the minor but necessary working hypothesis... and the all-inclusive systematic efforts to develop unified theory that will explain all the observed uniformities of social behaviour, organisation and social change’ (Robert Merton cited in Scott and Marshall 2005: 409)

These four studies are concerned with social exclusion which is widely understood as a lack of participation or integration within multiple areas such as employment, education, health and crime (Levitas et al 2007, Palmer et al 2006, SEU 1997). Figure 2 describes how Davey provides a transport context primarily through academic research. The remaining three studies are extensively embedded in current policy, demonstrating a high ecological validity (Rose 1984) with their investigations justified through proposed policy inadequacies (Clough and Nutbrown 2007), producing an understanding that contrasts with Davey.

Figure 2. Nature of social exclusion identified through a review of literature.

Research design

Distinct from the methods embedded within it, research design may vary our understanding of research by facilitating the direction in which data is subsequently collected and analysed (Bryman 2004). Of particular importance within a multi-disciplinary field like social policy, a robust research design may be required in order to produce a comprehensive policy evaluation (Hakim 2000).

Figure 3 describes each research design, which may be considered in the context of each studies purpose in Table 1. Our understanding of research may be broadened by the use of secondary data, which has the potential to enhance study feasibility. Subsequently, Rye and Carreno and Mackett et al avoid the need to collect national level empirical data, or deal with its associated issues of resourcing and access (Hakim 2000). Furthermore, Mackett et al do not encounter experimental social research participant access issues, while also avoiding bias through the nature of secondary data in an experimental setting being ‘double blind’, where empirical work is separated from the research question (Rosenthal 1976 cited in Hakim 2000). One disadvantage of secondary data relates to quality and availability, evident in Rye and Carreno’s study where the examination of such a specific policy area results in a limited range of data, potentially impinging the depth of the resulting critique (Bryman 2004) and our subsequent understanding.

Figure 3. Research design

Use of multiple researchers may increase our understanding of research, benefitting Rye and Carreno as they use data in a way that differs from its original purpose. The wide range of research and presentation skills needed for Lucas et al’s case study also benefits from the use of a widely skilled research team, especially as the case study has the potential to use multiple researchers to investigate multiple cases, while using multiple methods from any research design and including any sort of evidence (Hakim 2000).

The case study may expand our understanding of research. Described as a design with the most rigour, the potential for a varied and flexible approach is complemented by the capacity to research one area in a range of ways through data triangulation (Denscombe 2007, Hakim 2000, Scott and Marshall 2005). The ad hoc sample survey is subsequently described as: ‘the most multi-purpose of all research designs’ (Hakim 2000: 59) and as widely used for ‘highly focussed studies of particular groups or narrowly defined issues’ (Hakim 2000: 80), suiting Davey who aims to access characteristically distinct and widely dispersed minority groups.

Research methods

Alongside research theory and methods design, data collection is described as one of the ‘three major ingredients of social research’ (Gilbert 2001: 15). Sitting within the research design framework, ‘methods’ describes to the route of data collection, not to be confused with methodology which provides the rationale (Clough and Nutbrown 2007).

Figure 4. Research methods

The ranging routes for data collection have the potential to vary our understanding, as described in figure 4. It is feasible for Lucas et al to incorporate a wide range of methods within the case study design, enhancing our understanding through varied and numerous routes of enquiry (Hakim 2000). Use of semi-structured interviews allows Davey’s exploratory study to make use of a wide range of indicators, guiding data collection while providing the potential for the respondent to present unexpected information (Bryman 2004). A lack of data transparency and control may be evident in Rye and Carreno and Mackett et al’s studies, resulting from the reliance on data produced by others. Considered to be a key instrument for planners (Gatrell 2009), Mackett et al’s utilise a Geographical Information System (GIS) to test the capacity for accessibility to be effectively resourced and managed.

Figure 5. Concept indicators

Our understanding of the quality of data collection may be facilitated through an examination of concept-indicator links which describe the strength of connection between the study purpose and measure (Rose 1984). Figure 5 summarises the indicators which are accessed through the methods employed. Illustrated through the journal articles, the concept-indicator link may be questioned in Rye and Carreno’s study as demographic data primarily relates to older people in Scotland, despite their study relating to disabled and older people in Scotland and Wales.

Sampling

Data may be sampled from a proportion of the specified wider category or population when it is infeasible to: ‘collect data from everyone who is in the category being researched’ (Denscombe 2007: 13). Rye and Carreno’s document based study does not utilise sampling, and Mackett et al are unable to make wider inferences about their experiment as St Albans is selected as an experiment location by convenience, based upon an existing working partnership (AUNT-SUE 2010). Both projects indirectly incorporate representative sampling through their use of national level statistics, highlighting how the use of existing data may lack transparency relating to quality and research influences (ONS 2008).

Out of the four papers, understandings about a wider population may only be derived from Lucas et al’s positivist orientated representative end-user surveys. The exact sampling approach is not described, subsequently limiting our understanding although the high rigour of Lucas et al’s study may have presented a challenge in prioritising study details to include in the article (Elsevier B.V. 2009a). Although response rates are provided suggesting an avoidance of non-sampling error, potential bias may also be suggested as characteristics of the population, or sampling frame are unclear and some of the population is unaccounted for (Bryman 2004). This includes: low frequency bus users in Braunstone and Trevithick [on-bus surveys]; illiterate service users in Walsall [postal survey]; those without a telephone in Wythenshawe [telephone survey]; and those for whom there is not a current telephone number in Wythenshawe, as the sampling frame dates back to 21/07/2006.

Interpretivist orientated non-probability sampling restricts our understandings to those under examination, but may facilitate access to specified social groups like those harder to engage in research, producing an understanding that is more in-depth (Scott and Marshall 2005). Reasons for favouring this approach may include:

Inadequate population information

Insufficient capacity to represent all population characteristics

Inappropriateness of probability sampling approach (Denscombe 2007).

Davey recruits participants through Volunteer Community Co-ordinators (VCCs) who act as gatekeepers, subsequently sampling by convenience (Bryman 2004). Quota sampling is used to ensure a representation of Maori, Pacific and Asian respondents (Denscombe 2007) with snowball sampling used in the recruitment of respondents from minority ethnic backgrounds, in order to overcome cultural barriers (Bryman 2004). Lucas et al’s identification of bus schemes or ‘cases’ are purposively sampled according to four key criteria, following a review of available grey literature (Denscombe 2007). It is unclear if Lucas et al representatively sample local practitioners as the approach used to balance service delivery and administrative practitioner interviews is not described. For example, stratified sampling may facilitate wider inferences as each member of each sector may have an equal chance of selection, contrasting with snowball sampling where initial participant contact could be exploited within each sector to access further practitioners (Bryman 2004, Denscombe 2007).

Although Lucas et al and Davey both access participants considered difficult to engage in research, understandings of the two studies vary based on their research purpose. Contrasting with Lucas et al’s critical stance where the experiences of end-users are used to justify the challenging of existing policy (Clough and Nutbrown 2007, Hammersley 2000), Davey is supportive of policy and collaborates with the New Zealand Government’s Office for Senior Citizens (OSC) on the original report Coping without a Car (Davey/OSC, 2004) from which this research paper is derived. Some note how such collaboration has the potential to threaten researcher autonomy through the legitimacy and interests of government varying from the researcher, influencing our subsequent understanding (Bechhofer and Paterson 2000).

Fieldwork

Commonly a feature of qualitative methods and the interpretivist approach, fieldwork facilitates direct access to participants, allowing our understanding of human agency to develop through closer examination (Bryman 2004, Clough and Nutbrown 2007), contrasting with the studies undertaken by Rye and Carreno and Mackett et al which may be considered as: ‘fairly clearly detached from its context’ (Bechhofer and Paterson 2000: 91). Fieldwork is subject to varying definitions, ranging from in depth participatory research which emphasises epistemological connections with social anthropology and ethnography (Bechhofer and Paterson 2000), to less involved approaches such as the interview (Flick 2009).

Communications between the researcher and the researched are described as the: ‘main “instruments” of collecting data’ (Flick 2009: 106) and positioning in the field is of key importance, as described in figure 6. Positions may range from observation where interaction and influence are minimised, seen in Lucas et al and Davey’s interviews, to participation where the researcher may be covertly embedded within their research, like in ethically laden covert participatory research (Bechhofer and Paterson 2000, Bryman 2004). Subsequently, outsider and insider perspectives result from observation and participation respectively (Adler and Adler 1987 cited in Flick 2009), suggesting the limitations of Davey and Lucas et al to provide an understanding of insider perspectives (Bechhofer and Paterson 2000).

Participation

Participant as observer

Observer as participant

Observation

Figure 6. Gold’s fieldwork continuum (1958 adapted from Bechhofer and Paterson 2000:92)

Data analysis

Although it is intended to focus on the authors own interpretation of their data, it should be acknowledged that the routes used for study evaluation may vary according to the nature of the research, as described in figure 7.

Data coding involves the categorisation of raw data for analysis, functioning to provide an understanding of the original hypothesis through the indicators that have been used (Denscombe 2007). Rye and Carreno’s financial calculations do not require coding and the GIS system used by Mackett et al categorises the demographic and spatial data entered.

A lack of detailed information evident in various places of the journal articles, and in particular relation to descriptions of data analysis, has the potential to limit our understanding. The level of data analysis detail reported in Davey’s journal article is negligible and it is necessary to access the questionnaire through the original report to increase study credibility through closer scrutiny (Bryman 2004). Subsequently, rigorous self auditing is evident, strengthening our understanding as the coding undertaken by Davey is subject to researcher group analysis to establish themes which then enhance data dependability. Based on the journal article alone, Lucas et al do not demonstrate dependability in relation to their local practitioner and end-user interviews as again, negligible self-auditing is evident and details about the coding process are absent, again highlighting the potential challenge presented by journal articles where the word count may be significantly lower than other format such as books or full research reports (Bryman 2004).

Figure 7. Stages for deciphering quantitative and qualitative sociological studies, adapted from Rose 1984: 104, 131.

Data presentation style has the potential to vary our understanding with Davey and Lucas et al emphasising agency by using direct participant quotations, something commonly used to present qualitative research data (Gilbert 2001), having the potential to provide a ‘thick description’ or rich account of their studies while enhancing transferability (Geertz cited in Bryman 2004: 275). Descriptive statistics are used in all of the studies and may enhance our understanding, facilitating the communication of large amounts of data. An understanding of respondents personal information and profiles is achieved through the use of nominal or named data (for examples see Lucas et al table 2, Davey 2004 appendix 3), and an understanding of transport views is gauged through ordinal, or named and ordered data (see Davey 2004 appendix 3 question 11). Interval data, or named data with an order and apparent interval is used to organise a range of transport statistics into years (see Rye and Carreno tables 1,2,3), and continuous data is used in all of the studies except that of Davey to describe monetary values to the nearest pound, although the rounding is not described in some studies, potentially influencing our understanding of the data presented (for example see Mackett et al table 4). All papers use tabulated grouped frequency distributions to provide an understanding of the frequency at which a range of variables have been measured, as described in figure 8 (Denscombe 2007).

Consideration of the internal empirical validity, or the validity of empirical data collection and processing, may facilitate how we understand the quality of a study (Rose 1984). Detailed information is provided on Rye and Carreno’s plausibility check, the operation of Mackett et al’s GIS system, and Lucas et al’s monetary value calculations. However, descriptive detail is lacking on Lucas et al’s representative end-user surveys, making replication infeasible (Bryman 2004), and Mackett et al use benches as an policy option and indicator but exclude it from their output (see Mackett et al, figure 4), limiting subsequent understandings. Mackett et al’s policy test is the only indication in the four papers of the relationship between two variables being tested, with policy options [independent variables], producing ranging numbers of people able to access the Old Town Hall [dependent variables]. Otherwise, none of the articles examine the relationship test for association using statistical significance. An absence of inferential statistics, may further demonstrate the influence of policy purpose on research as policy critique and an exploration of understandings is clearly prioritised by the authors (Denscombe 2007). Based on the methods details provided, only Lucas et al’s surveys produce an understanding that is generalisable to a wider population (Bryman 2004), with this opportunity utilised to make inferences about all end-users in the four schemes (see Lucas et al table 1).

In terms of internal theoretical validity, or an examination of theorising in the context of the empirical data and research question (Bryman 2004, Rose 1984), it may be demonstrated how research presented in journals has the potential to produce an incomprehensive understanding. Mackett et al make a range of assumptions in the data utilised, overlooking key information like mobility scooters as a mode of transport. However, as their theorising emphasises testing the capability of their GIS policy tool their assertions are in line with the presented data, despite a dependency on high quality large scale data being overlooked in their conclusions. Rye and Carreno inadequately argue a relationship between bus demand and ticket price based on two statistics that detail a percentage change in different geographical areas over a ten year period. Furthermore, assumptions and comparisons are drawn between regional and national concessionary reimbursement systems without describing regional systems, questioning subsequent understandings.

Figure 8, Grouped frequency distributions

The purpose of a study may be considered as influencing our understanding with a clear distinction evident between Davey’s study and the remaining three, as described in figure 9. Davey’s evidence of transport exclusion supports government policy through the subsequent wide distribution of leaflets by her collaborator - the New Zealand Government - which are based on her study. An agency level solution supportive of policy is evident as older people are advised in the leaflets that: ‘forward planning will make life easier’ (Davey 2007: 62). Contrastingly, the other three articles analyse data within a context that highlights inadequacies in current policy, with Lucas et al in particular advocating those who may be considered oppressed.

Figure 9. Main study conclusions

Journal publications should not be overlooked as a factor influencing our understanding. Although Ageing and Society, the source of Davey’s paper, does not explicitly describe any publication priorities (Cambridge University Press 2010), Transport Policy, the source of the other three papers provides extensive submission criteria, describing publication priorities as having: ‘special priority to understanding the nature and influences affecting policy change, including technical, attitudinal, institutional, structural and political constraints’ (Elsevier B.V. 2009b), supporting a critical orientation.

Final Conclusions

Our understanding of social exclusion in a transport context may have an underlying positivist or interpretivist orientation, and may be theory or policy orientated and with a perspective that supports or criticises existing policy. Our understandings may be directed to multiple facets of social exclusion and transport, ranging from how national financial policy is evaluated, to the individual views and perspectives of those affected. We may derive a rigorous and localised understanding of existing provision, or understand experiments that demonstrate how policy may be improved. Our understandings may be directed by methods that have the potential to facilitate a wider comprehension through generalisability, or emphasise those that are more in depth that allow access to those considered harder to reach in research. We have the potential to understand the perspective of the researched, or to observe them. We then have the subsequent potential to evaluate research in different ways in order to assess the quality of understanding, while examining data presented in a range of ways, that describes varied meanings.

It became evident how our understanding of subsequent research stages was influenced by an underlying epistemological and ontological positions. Davey’s interpretivist study provides one example as to understand social meanings while recognising the role of agency, her design allowed access to a widely dispersed hard to reach group, with a semi-structured interview method facilitating the collection of agency level data. Non-representative sampling was appropriate for a more in depth exploration as opposed to the generalisation of a wider population, and the undertaking of fieldwork again, allowed an emphasis on the perspective of the participants. The presentation of direct participant quotations ensured resulting data again highlighted the role of human agency. The inclusion of Lucas et al’s study which utilised both interpretivist and positivist aspects highlighted how traditional dichotomous debates may be surpassed, and that critical research approaches driven by the selection of the most appropriate research tools, in accordance with the purpose may surpass traditional dichotomous debates.

A lack of information may hinder our understanding, although the descriptive constraints of journal articles are acknowledged. Journal publication priorities may also shape our understanding and data transparency may limit our understanding, evident through secondary data use and under emphasised research collaborators. Finally, the purpose of research may vary our understanding as Davey’s supportive policy approach contrasted with the other studies, and in particular that of Lucas et al, argued to have a critical orientation.


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