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The main methods in psychosocial research

The main methods in psychosocial research

January 25, 2022

Psychosocial research marked a break with the traditions that had dominated scientific thought in psychology and in other specially social disciplines. Among other things, it has allowed generating orderly and systematic ways of making scientific knowledge and understanding reality (that is, research methods), avoiding the classic separation between individuals and society.

Next we will make a general review of the traditions that have marked psychology as a scientific discipline and we will describe the concepts of methodology and method, to finally present the main characteristics of psychosocial research close to the critical orientations of contemporary thought.


  • Related article: "What is Social Psychology?"

Main traditions of psychology research

Being a scientific discipline, psychology has been part of the traditions and transformations that have historically marked the terrain of science. The paradigm that has traditionally dominated this terrain has been the positivist , which is based on the idea that there is a reality that can be revealed from a methodology and a specific method: the hypothetical-deductive, which offers us to explain, predict and manipulate the functioning of that reality.

However (and given that this paradigm is also established through the separation between nature and culture), when trying to explain social phenomena, which did not seem to follow the same patterns as natural phenomena, the hypothetical-deductive method was faced with some challenges. Many of them were solved through the calculation of probabilities, that is, from anticipating future behaviors, taking care that external factors did not intervene in the process, or in other words, evaluating those probabilities in an objective, neutral and impartial manner.


Some time later, this paradigm faced new challenges, when through relativistic theory, the theory of chaos and feminist epistemologies, among other theories of knowledge, it became evident that the position of the researcher is not neutral , but it is a position located in a body, an experience, a history and a specific context; What also inevitably affects the reality you are studying.

From that point on, very diverse research methods have emerged and allow us to take into account the terrain of experience as a key element; besides valid and legitimate, in the construction of knowledge.

  • Maybe you're interested: "The 9 differences between qualitative and quantitative research"

Methodology or Method? Examples and differences

The concepts of methodology and method are widely used in research and are also often confused or used as synonyms. Although there is no unique or definitive way to explain them, nor do they necessarily have to be separated, here is a proposal for defining both methodology and method, as well as some differences in the models.


Methodology: place the tools somewhere

With the term "methodology" we usually refer to the theoretical perspective in which the procedure or system that we will follow during an investigation is framed . For example, the traditions of contemporary and Western science are often divided into two major frameworks: qualitative methodology and quantitative methodology.

The quantitative methodology is the one that has been especially valued in the scientific field and is based on the hypothetico-deductive method that seeks to establish probabilities and predictions appealing to the impartiality of the researcher.

On the other hand, qualitative methodology has gained ground in the area of ​​social sciences and in the critical orientations because it allows us to elaborate understandings about a reality by recovering the experience of those who are involved and involved in that reality, including the person who investigates. From this, the concept of responsibility and ethics in research has taken on a fundamental importance.

In addition, starting from there, a methodological-inductive model was configured, which does not seek to explain a reality but to understand it; which implies that an action or a phenomenon is not only described, but that when they are described they are interpreted. In addition, they are interpreted by a person or a group of people located in a specific context, with what it is understood that this interpretation is not free of judgments ; it is an interpretation elaborated in correspondence with the characteristics of that context.

Both the quantitative methodology and the qualitative methodology have criteria of scientific rigor that make their proposals valid in the field of science and can be shared among different people.

Method: the tool and the instructions

On the other hand, a "method" is an orderly and systematic way that we use to produce something; so in the field of research, the "method" usually makes a more specific reference to the research technique that is used and to the way in which it is used .

The method is then what we use to gather information that we are going to analyze and that will allow us to offer a set of results, reflections, conclusions, proposals, etc. An example of a method can be interviews or experiments that are used to collect and group a set of data, such as statistical figures, texts, and public documents.

Both the methodology and the research method are defined based on the questions we want to answer with our research, that is, according to the problems that we have set.

An approach to psychosocial research

As we have seen, traditionally scientific knowledge has been produced from an important dissociation between the psychic and the social, which has given rise to the now classic debates between nature-culture , individual-society, innate-learned, etc.

In fact, if we go a little further, we can see that it is also based on the Cartesian mind-body binomial, which has been translated into the divisions between subject-object and subjectivity-objectivity; where objectivity is what is often overvalued in the scientific field: reason over experience, a reason that as we said before is presented as neutral, but that is established between a multiplicity of rules, practices and relationships.

So the term psychosocial refers to the connection between psychic elements and social factors that configure identities, subjectivities, relationships, interaction rules, etc. It is a theoretical perspective and a methodological position that tries to undo the false divisions between the social and the psychic.

The critical perspective in psychosocial research

In some contexts, the psychosocial perspective has come very close to critical theories of science (which pay special attention to the effects of science on the reproduction of social inequalities).

That is, a psychosocial perspective that is also critical not only seek to understand or interpret a reality, but also locate the relations of power and domination that make up that reality to generate crises and transformations.

Incorporate a critical perspective that has to do with reflection to promote emancipatory action; make alliances by detecting the power relations that hold and at the same time open certain possibilities for action; make an explicit criticism of the relations of ownership assuming that the act of investigating affects and impacts the specific terrain that is being studied.

Examples of methods in psychosocial research

The methods in psychosocial research have been categorized under different names to facilitate use, rigor and reliability. However, when taking into consideration how the person who investigates affects the reality he is investigating; and that the methods are also not neutral, they can share some of the parameters with each other. That is, they are flexible methods.

In this sense, any orderly and systematic way of gathering information to understand a phenomenon in order to blur the boundaries between the psychic and the social, could be a method of psychosocial research.

Some examples of methods that have been especially relevant because they have allowed to put into play what has been described above are discourse analysis, mobile drifts in research, biographical methods such as life stories , autoethnography, ethnography, and the already classic in-depth interviews.

There are also some methods that are more participatory, such as participatory action research and narrative techniques, where the main purpose is for knowledge to be co-constructed between the researcher and those who participate, thus generating a horizontal relationship during the research process and with this, to question the barrier between two practices that have been understood as separate: research and intervention.

Bibliographic references:

  • Biglia, B. & Bonet-Martí, J. (2009). The construction of narratives as a method of psychosocial research. Shared writing practices. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 10 (1) [Online]. Retrieved April 11, 2018.Available at //s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/6521202/2666.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A&Expires=1523443283&Signature=PdsP0jW0bLXvReFWLhqyIr3qREk%3D&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DNarrative_Construction_as_a_Psychosocial.pdf
  • Pujal i Llombart, M. (2004). The identity. Pp: 83-138. In Ibáñez, T. (Ed.). Introduction to social psychology. Editorial UOC: Barcelona.
  • Íñiguez, R. (2003). Social psychology as critical: continuity, stability and effervescence three decades after the crisis. Inter-American Journal of Psychology, 37 (2): 221-238.

Psychological Research - Crash Course Psychology #2 (January 2022).


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