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Social research methods

Exploring the methods, tools and techniques for studying social life

In our social research methods work, we're investigating the different methods, tools and techniques for studying social phenomena and generating information and data about all aspects of social life.

The distinction needs to be drawn between qualitative and quantitative social research methods. It is the nature or character of the research – the questions to be explored, the phenomena or processes to be studied – that determines the research design and which methods will be most appropriate.

We use a range of research methods to investigate empirical phenomena and social processes relating to a range of social science topics – including social class, taste, identity, race and racism, postcolonialism, gender inequality, education, social values, inequalities, food consumption, consumerism, work and employment, happiness and well-being, homelessness, ageing and embodiment, and environment.

Our research covers the following topics

  • Interviewing/interviews, including life history/oral history and focus groups
  • Ethnographic approaches such as observation and participant observation
  • Surveys and questionnaire design
  • Case studies, archival research and historical method(s)
  • Content analysis, textual analysis and semiotics
  • Discourse analysis, discursive psychology, and conversation analysis
  • Arts-based methods and photo-elicitation
  • Social network analysis
  • Epistemology and the philosophy of social science
  • Ethical issues in social research
  • Social theory and critique


We have partnerships with:

  • International Sociological Association (ISA)
  • European Sociological Association (ESA)
  • British Sociological Association (BSA)
  • Council for the Defence of British Universities (CDBU)
  • University and College Union (UCU)
  • The Vegan Society
  • Research Advisory Committee of the Vegan Society
  • All Party Parliamentary Group on Vegetarianism and Veganism
  • Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics
  • St Mungo's
  • The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development 

Discover our areas of expertise

Social research methods is one of four areas of expertise in our Sociology research area. Explore the others below.

Sociology of culture

We're probing the link between culture and power, confronting societal issues, and looking at the ideological function of culture in naturalising them.
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Identities and inequalities

We're asking questions around who we are, who is different from us, and who we want to be, to challenge structural violence and reduce inequality.
Boy in Delhi, India, collecting rubbish
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Social theory

We're drawing on classical and contemporary social thought, philosophy, political economy, social anthropology and history to explain and analyse social processes, issues, and concerns.
Young child holding sign at a climate change protest
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Research groups

Sociology and Social Theory Research Group

This group is a hub for interdisciplinary exchange on questions of theory and methodology in the study of contemporary society.

Education, Social Justice Transformation Research Group

This group seeks to open up opportunities to share and explore critical, radical, alternative and liberatory approaches to the research and practice of education across multiple global contexts.

Interested in a PhD in Sociology?

Browse our postgraduate research degrees – including PhDs and MPhils – at our Sociology and Gender Studies postgraduate research degrees page.