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The focus of investigation for my ECA is based on the topic of anti-social behaviour orders (ASBO's) and their effectiveness and role in what is defined as anti-social behaviour today. How have they impacted on the levels of anti social behaviour? How are they enforced / policed? Is anti social behaviour as much of a problem as is perceived in the media or is it exacerbated by the media's portrayal? And finally how are ASBO's perceived by the recipients? Are they seen as a 'badge of honour' amongst the youth peer group and could this have an adverse impact on the levels of anti-social behaviour?
The two articles which I have chosen for their differing epistemological positions are:
Anti-social behaviour orders (2006) by Youth Justice Board and
Anti-social behaviour people, place and perceptions (2007) by Ipsos MORI.
The document produced by the Youth Justice Board entitled Anti-social behaviour orders (2006) has an idealist epistemological approach to social scientific research which is evident in the following ways:
The research aims of this report were to examine the processes leading up to getting an ASBO, the perceptions by the key professionals involved in the ASBO process and the views and experiences of young people who had been the recipient of an ASBO. (Youth Justice Board, 2006) All of these aims lend themselves towards a qualitative style of research via participant interviews with the key persons involved in the ASBO process from Youth Offending Team caseworkers, Police Officers, Judges and the youths who had received the ASBO's. This qualitative style of research is one which is favoured by idealists due to open-ended nature of the interviews and the insight into individual experiences and relationships.
The methodology behind the selection sampled were figures which had been obtained from the Home Office's Anti-Social behaviour Unit and covered ASBO's which had been issued to the 10 - 17 year old age group across the 42 criminal justice system areas between 2000 and 2004. These areas were then ranked based upon the total number of orders issued and from this one youth offending team was purposively selected from each of the following criteria:
7 of the 10 areas with the highest number of ASBO's issued and
3 of the 11 areas with the lowest number of ASBO'S issued. (Youth Justice Board, 2006) This sample of 10 youth offending teams became the focus of the research.
The sample was selected to ensure that there was representation from across the Government regions and that each Youth Offending Team had enough ASBO's issued to provide an adequate sample of an urban / rural mix and also a mix of Black and Minority Ethnic populations. (Youth Justice Board, 2006)
The authors of the document highlighted some limitations of the data due to it being based upon a purposive sample from the chosen areas. (Youth Justice Board, 2007) Purposive sampling lends itself towards an idealist approach due to it being a sample that is selected by the researcher, (Wikipedia, 2009) which in turn could be subjected to the researchers own views, opinions and interpretation.
In terms of the body of the report the use of the in-depth interviews allowed an insight into the views and opinions of the key individuals involved in the ASBO's process and more importantly touched upon various aspects of my own research question in relation to ASBO'S, with the focus upon the effectiveness of ASBO's and the experience of young people involved in the ASBO process.
It is important to note that this type of qualitative research allowed for the perceptions and views of the key individuals to be expressed in a way which may not have occurred in quantitative research. It was interesting to see the different views expressed by the key persons involved in the ASBO process in respect of their effectiveness. The responses varied from the Youth Offending Team claiming that ASBO's were 'overused' (Youth Justice Board, 2006) and had 'little positive impact on behaviour' (Youth Justice Board, 2006) to the Police and local authority staff typically stating that they were used 'appropriately' and for the most part were 'convinced of their effectiveness'. (Youth Justice Board, 2006).
Individuals involved in the judiciary system had a completely different view of the ASBO process. It was clear that persons involved at this level did not appear to 'have a good grasp of what other options were available' (Youth Justice Board, 2006) as an alternative, such as Parenting Orders or Individual Support Orders (ISOs). Many of the persons involved at this level believed that 'the parents would have already made considerable efforts to modify their children's behaviour'. (Youth Justice Board, 2006) It was evident that persons involved in the implementation of ASBO's level lacked awareness of the other options that were available and of the other measures that could be used prior to applying for an ASBO. (Youth Justice Board, 2006)
The document produced by Ipsos MORI entitled Anti-social behaviour people, place & perceptions (2007) has a positivist approach to epistemology which is evident in the following ways:
The aim of this report produced by Ipsos MORI was to map how anti-social behaviour was perceived at local levels across England and how these perceptions had changed over time. (Ipsos MORI, 2007) This report also determined what local area features played a role in establishing the perceived levels of anti-social behaviour based on issues such as housing, health services and local transport etc and how the residents of these areas felt about anti-social behaviour compared to how they should feel based on the type of area they live in. (Ipsos MORI, 2007)
The data used in this report was taken from the 2006/2007 BVPI General User Surveys which are also referred to as Local Government User Satisfaction Survey (LGUSS). These surveys are compulsory and completed by the individual being surveyed. The survey from 2006 which was used as the basis of this report contained a set of questions on anti-social behaviour and was the only survey with enough responses to enable a detailed analysis at a local level. (Ipsos MORI, 2007)
This type of research allowed for a focussed quantitative approach to be taken involving a structured set of data. The initial data taken from the LGUSS allowed for the trends in perceptions to be analysed, this then led to the development of a Predictive Model based on local circumstances and how these affected the perception of anti-social behaviour. The final measurement was comparing these based on predicted perception and actual perception. The variations were then explained and common themes were identified as reasons why these variations had occurred such as impact of communication in an area, visible reassurance or lack of it, preventative measures and infrastructure / positioning of the area.
This analysis took into consideration factors for the predictive model such as depravation, population density and then linked them to perceptions of anti-social behaviour in order to present an accurate picture of how perceptions compared across different areas. (Ipsos MORI, 2007)
Contrast: Idealism and Positivism
These two reports undertook two very different epistemological stances in relation to idealist and positivist approaches adopted in the reports.
In terms of the aims of the two reports both were clear in what they wanted to achieve from their research. The Youth Justice Board (2006) report focussed more on the processes, perceptions, views and experiences of those involved in the ASBO process which fitted in with the Idealist approach and the qualitative style which was used. The aim of the report produced by Ipsos MORI (2007) on the other hand was to map how anti-social behaviour was perceived and how these perceptions had changed over time based on other issues such as housing, health services etc. This report focussed more on quantitative datasets and used local demographics in order to ascertain how residents felt about anti-social behaviour compared to how they should feel using predictions based on the type of area they live in.
The use of quantitative data as demonstrated in this report lends itself towards a positivist approach to social scientific research.
The data and methodology which were used for both reports were very different with one being based on interviews and the other using local government survey. The report produced by the Youth Justice Board (2006) initially used quantitative data from the Home Office's Anti-Social behaviour Unit in order to identify the areas which were sampled, the report clearly stated that the data had some limitations due to it being based on a purposive sample. In effect what this means is that the sample was selected by the researcher for specific reasons and generally are selected because they meet a certain criterion for the purpose of the investigation. This report clearly states that because of this type of sampling 'the findings cannot be viewed as representative of the national population of young people on ASBO's.' (Youth Justice Board, 2006) The sample was also picked to ensure a good mix of individuals was sampled during the interview process.
The report produced by Ipsos MORI (2007) states that 'by definition, the scale and impact of anti-social behaviour can only be measured by gauging the perceptions of those whose lives are affected by such behaviour'. (Ipsos MORI, 2007) Positivists tend to prefer structured methods of research which produce data which is measurable, they use structured interviews / surveys which in the case of this report was taken from the 2006/2007 BVPI General User Surveys which should produce a large sample of data which is necessary to develop and compare general explanations. The role of local demographics played an important part in assessing how anti social behaviour is perceived and allowed for a comparison of predicted perceptions and actual perception.
From a personal perspective I can see valid arguments for both of these approaches to social scientific research, the idealist approach and qualitative style of research allows for engagement with the subject and is especially relevant to my research topic for the ECA, in the case of the report by the Youth Justice Board this allowed for all persons involved in the ASBO process to be interviewed and also allows the researcher to gain an insight into what the perceptions and experiences are of all those involved. This method also allows for the interviewee's own opinions to be recorded in a way that will actually mean something to the research. This style of research can be a more flexible approach to what questions are asked and even the way they are asked i.e. the way a question is asked during the interview of a youth would not necessarily be the same as when interviewing a magistrate. This style also allows the researcher more flexibility during the interview to omit, include or even change the questions they are asking. There are negative aspects of this approach including one researchers interpretation of the data may be entirely different from the next and this needs to be borne in mind.
The positivist approach and quantitative style of research does not allow for flexibility this means that all participants are asked the same questions, in the same way and in the same order and the responses which the participant can give are closed-ended. The advantage of this is that it allows for a meaningful analysis to be carried out on the responses given.
As highlighted earlier this type of research allowed for predictions to be made and in the case of the report by Ipsos MORI they combined local demographics in order to predict how individuals should feel based on the area they lived in. The positivist approach is more of a structured approach than that of the idealist with the objective of predicting and describing the characteristics of the data.
Both approaches are as equally valid as each other and are not mutually exclusive of each the epistemological approaches detailed here. The use of one or the other should not be deemed an indicator of how scientific the method is but more a differing approach based on the researchers understanding of the problem under investigation.