Essay on Social Surveys

1. Duncan Mitchell’s:

“Dictionary of Sociology”’ defines social survey this way: “The social survey is a systematic collection of facts about people living in a specific geographic, cultural, or administrative area”.

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2. Bogardus:

“A social survey is the collection of data concerning the living and working conditions, broadly speaking, of the people, in a given community”.

3. Ian Robertson:

“Surveys are frequently used in sociological research, either simply for the purpose of gathering facts {such as the political opinions of college students,) or for finding out about the relationship between facts (such as how sex, parental opinions, or social class, influence students ‘political views)”

4. E.W. Burgess:

“A social survey of a community is the scientific study of its conditions and needs for the purpose of presenting a constructive programme of social advance”

Social surveys are usually for dealing with many related aspects of a social problem. They provide the data for administration, rather than for the illustrative or descriptive material. They are generally quantitative and the history of the social survey is intimately bound up with the develop­ment of statistics.

“The early ancestors of the social survey are—’the Doomsday Book,’ ‘Stow’s Survey of Lon­don,’ ‘Camden’s Britannia,” the essays of 17th and 18th Century demographers, Arthur Young’s reports to the Board of Agriculture, and the two Statistical Accounts of Scotland”—(Ref.: Duncan Mitchell’s “Dictionary of Sociology”).

The modern social survey is said to be the product of the intellectual response of the urban middle classes to the social condition of town life in the 19th Century. In the modern period, three kinds of social surveys are often differentiated:

(a) The Poverty Survey (originating in the work of Booth, Row tree and Bowled, (b) The Ecological Survey (developed by Ratzel, Redus, Le Play and the Geddes; and (c) The Functional Study of the city (stemmed out of the works of Shadwell, the Chicago School, the Lynds, Warner and Lunt and Others).

The social survey method has the ultimate goal of seeking social facts. It normally involves the following steps: Enunciating the object or purpose of the survey; definition of the problem under study; the delimitation of the area or scope of study; examination of the available evidences or sources relating to the problem; preparation of questionnaire schedule; field work to collect data; arrangement, tabulation and statistical analysis of the data; interpretation of results; deduction and graphic expression.

The social survey is concerned with the collection of data relating to some problems of great social importance with a view to find out an effective solution for it. The survey is normally limited to a fixed geographic area or confined to a defined population.

The basic procedure is that people are asked a number of questions focused on that aspect of behaviour in which the sociologist is inter­ested. The focal point could be – “students’ participation in politics”, or “Opinions of highly edu­cated scheduled caste and scheduled tribe people regarding reservation”, or “Ayodya Problem” or any such topic or issue of social interest.

The total group of people whose attitudes, opinions or behaviour, the sociologist is interested in is called the “population”. The people are carefully selected so that they become representative of the population being studied.

They are asked to answer exactly the same questions, so that the replies of different categories of respondents may be examined for differences. In some cases, it is possible to survey the entire population, but time and expense make their procedure impracticable unless the population is a small one and confined to limited area.

In most cases it is necessary to survey a “sample”, a small number of individuals drawn from the larger population. This type of survey is often called “sample survey”. The sample must exactly represent the population in question.

If it does not, then any conclusions are valid only for the actual people who were surveyed (that is, the respondents) and cannot be applied to the entire population from which the sample was drawn.

One of the major virtues of the survey is that a large number of respondents can be included in it. For the very same reason both the method of getting the questionnaires completed, and the formu­lation of the questions to be asked, must be very carefully worked out.

Survey can be conducted in Various Ways:

1. One type of survey lies on contacting the respondents by letter and asking them to complete the questionnaires themselves before returning it.

2. Another variation in the procedure is that, an assistant of the surveyor delivers the question­naires to the respondents, requests them to complete it, and makes an arrangement to pick them up later.

3. Sometimes questionnaires are not completed by individuals separately but by people in a group under the direct supervision of the research worker. For example, a class of students in a college or a group of women at a meeting of the “Mahila Samaj and so on, may be asked to respond to the questionnaire together.

4. In some other surveys a trained interviewer asks the questions and records the responses on a schedule for each respondent. It should be noted, these alternative procedures have different strengths and weaknesses.

Social surveys, as it is clear from the above, may depend either on questionnaires which are self-administered, or on schedules which are completed by trained interviewers, or by the research worker personally. Social surveys involves same amount of home work or office work.

For example, schedules must be prepared with sample identifications (example, the addresses of houses or firms). If a mail questionnaire is to be used, the envelopes have to be addressed, stamped and posted.

If the enquiry is based on interviews, the interviewers will have to be very carefully briefed. When the schedules are completed and returned they are processed in such a manner that they could be pro­vided for computer analysis.

Some Main Forms of Social Surveys:

Depending upon the purpose and the nature of study, social surveys assume different forms, Some form of social surveys are as follows: (i) Official, semi-official or private surveys, (ii) wide­spread or limited surveys; (iii) census survey or sample surveys, (iv) general or specialised surveys; (v) postal or personal surveys, (vi) public or confidential surveys; (vii) initial or repetitive surveys; (viii) regional or adhoc surveys, etc.

Controversies Relating to Social Surveys:

Though social surveys provide very useful information about our social life, its intricacies and problems, there has been a good deal of controversy about (1) The reliability and validity of results obtained from social surveys. (2) Another objection is regarding the extent to which individual char­acteristics may be assumed to relate to social properties. (3) Yet another doubt is concerning the validity of the replies to questions which are obtained in social surveys.

Though these objections have an element of truth in them, sociologists are trying their level best to make social surveys free from these controversies. They use different means to collect data to suit the sort of information they require for their study. While mail-questionnaires are perfectly alright to collect information relating to some straightforward topics, other topics may require the help of an expert interviewer.

Sample Surveys and the Random Sample:

Most of the sociological surveys are sample surveys. “A sample survey is a systematic means of gathering data on people’s behaviour, attitudes, or opinions by questioning a representative group’- (N.J. Smelser). It has three basic units: elements, a population, and a sample.

(i) Elements are units of analysis. These units are mostly people. They can also be households, castes, cities or even societies.

(ii) Population. The elements in a survey constitute the “population”. They could be, for example, all the members of a particular caste or cult, all the registered voters of a university senate etc.

(iii) Sample. A sample is any portion of a sensitive of the population. It means, it should precisely represent or reflect its elements. In fact, it is designed to be a precise reflection of population

Sampling is an important aspect of social survey. Sampling, that is, selection of the relevant units of inquiry for the collection of data, must be done in a scientific manner. To ensure that the units he selects really reflect the characteristics of the population, the researcher may resort to different devices such as “quota sampling” or “random sampling”.

The Random Sample:

Is a sample, the real representative of the total population? Whether its size has anything to do with its representative character? These are pertinent questions in the sample survey. The answer is equally simple. A sample could be more approximately representative even if its size is very small.

For example, in a nation like India, a representative sample of 10,000 people could be used to predict the outcome of the parliamentary elections. The standard method of ensuring that the sample is representative is to make a random selection of subjects from the population concerned. This selec­tion has to be done in such a way that every member of the population should get an equal chance of being selected.

Thus, “a random sample is one that is chosen in such a way that every element (or every combination of elements) in the population has an equal chance of being included in the sample”.

In this particular context, random does not mean “haphazard”. On the other hand, it denotes “equal probability of occurrence”. The process of creating a random sample usually begins with a
complete listing of the population. For example, students’ attendance register lists the undergraduate population of a college. Next all the names in the list are numbered. The sample is then selected from this list, say every 10th or 15th person from the population would be selected.

Another method of obtaining a random sample is to assign a number to each member of the population and then to select the sample by using random numbers produced by a computer. This method seems to be more reliable because it eliminates most sources of human error.

The basic features of random sampling are straightforward, but random sampling is not often in sociological research. The main reason for this is that adequate population lists (such as, the list of all the higher educated scheduled tribe and scheduled caste people, or the list of all the divorced persons etc.) are not always available.

Further, many projects study populations for which there is no list or directory in existence. (For example, the reliable list of households that possess television in India is not available.) It might be possible to make lists of such populations, but this would probably require more work than the study itself.

Where population lists do exist, they must be used with great care because they may be biased towards certain portions of the population. A list of doctors, for example, may include only registered medical practitioners, and it naturally excludes relatively good number of traditional medical practi­tioners including even some Ayurvedic doctors and Homeopathic doctors.

Other Kinds of Sample:

The random sample has served as a good model for designing other models of sampling. Some of them can be mentioned here.

1. Systemate (Pseudo-random) Sample:

The ratio of sample size to population size (say, 1 to 15) is used to derive a “skip” interval (K). Then every Kth element in a population is included in the sample. For example, every 15th student who registers himself or herself in the college office and who is regularly attending the classes might be included in the sample.

2. Stratified Sample:

This mode entails dividing the population into segments or strata, and then sampling within each stratum. This technique ensures that the different segments or strata will be represented in the sample in precisely the same proportion as they occur in the population. For example, if in the category of scheduled castes higher educated people constitute 10%, then, they will constitute 10% of the sample.

3. Cluster Sample:

This mode entails grouping elements of a population into geographic units. For example, student population of a University Campus could be sampled in clusters based on the different hostels in which they stay.

Sampling has been used for a considerable period of time. But controlled methods of sampling started in social research only in the beginning of this century. In England and Wales, Professor A.L. Bowley was one of the first investigators to use sampling methods in his five town-surveys. These he did before the First World War.

Afterwards, sampling methods have been applied in many branches of social investigation, in public opinion surveys, the assessment of social mobility, in the study of performances in intelligence tests, and so on. Sampling Techniques are being used by the official statisticians also.