Nikki Baker
Chapter Four - Methodology.

Various methods have been used throughout the research to gather further information about the chosen subject of why people enjoy the leisure pursuit of fox hunting.  This section will discuss these methods and will give explanation as to why a particular method has been chosen as opposed to another.  Methods are an important part of a successful research design and need to be conducted in a specific way to obtain the most valid and significant results for the available resources.

When considering the composition of this piece of research it was found that other researchers had investigated related topics and so the current piece was definitely something that would provide new information, especially considering the more recent developments in the sport.  The controversy involved in the topic made it all the more exciting to research as other people’s reactions were varied and sometimes slightly animated.  All of these helped when considering what methods of enquiry to utilise throughout the investigation.

For this particular piece of research it was more efficient to use quantitative methods, as time and money are not unlimited.  Qualitative methods have also been applied in this specific project however, to help understand the social situation being studied.  It is often perceived by many researchers that using both qualitative and quantitative methods complement each other, although they both have different objectives and problems.  Quantitative methods are objective and therefore allow the researcher to ‘collect facts and study the relationship of one set of facts to another’ (Bell 1993:5) [see references].  Qualitative methods can be useful when exploring ideas, and to widen the perspectives being observed, as a subjective perspective it can ‘produce a richness of information’ (Ryan 1995:28), and offers the researcher an insight to a problem.  To obtain valid information, it was decided that a qualitative approach would dominate the research; quantitative collation of information does not give participants the opportunity to contribute their own views giving the researcher the chance to gather new information.  To supplement the researcher’s knowledge, a small amount of quantitative research was conducted to further the understanding of the situation and surroundings involved with the particular target population.  ‘Conventionally, quantitative research is preceded by qualitative research in an attempt to confirm the validity of the question being posed, or to ensure that all the key variables have been identified’ (Ryan 1995:30).  However, there are also advantages of in proceeding in the reverse direction.  It enables the researcher to keep an open mind about the subject and the participants involved, and stereotypes kept to a minimum.

Overall it could be said that a large part of the research takes a quantitative approach.  Not only does it incorporate the use of a questionnaire, but the contributing factor of a substantial amount of literature studied has also helped to provide a direction for the research questions, both within the questionnaire and for the overall subject.  In quantitative studies ‘the literature is used deductively as a framework for the research questions or hypotheses’ (Creswell 1994:22).  A large part of the research began with and grew from the literature that was examined in order to get a broad knowledge on the topic, and it has been utilised to do a variety of things.  The review introduces the topic, providing a background for the basis for the research, details related literature to demonstrate previous results, which allows the researcher to make comparisons with the new findings from this particular investigation.  In other words, the old theories and results could be used to explain or demonstrate that a previous hypothesis is still evident.  Beginning with the history of fox hunting, the literature review develops to provide theories that can contribute to the reasons why people participate in the sport.  Following from that it discusses more recent publications in an attempt to display any new reasons or show that the same reasons still exist.  The literature enabled the researcher to develop the research with a questionnaire and provided some solid information that aided in the selection of questions.  It describes critically relevant major and minor publications related to the current study and attempts to add to the existing literature further information that could be expanded on in future.

The main source of the primary research was made in the form of a questionnaire (see appendix 2).  ‘A questionnaire, like participant observation, can be used before you begin your research… It can also be used after developing your Research Outline, as your only research technique, or as part of a group of techniques’ (Kane 1993:72).

A variety of questions were incorporated into the final draft, both open and closed.  Before the distribution of questionnaires a number of pilot questionnaires were administered and consequently slight changes were made to the language and sequence of questions to avoid any ambiguity and, ensure that the desired responses were achieved.  A cover letter was included with the questionnaires (see appendix 1) explaining to the participant its purpose, explaining how they were chosen as a participant, informing them that all answers are confidential, requesting the respondents’ cooperation and thanking them in advance and anticipation of their reply.  It also included contact details to give the participants the option to provide further information on the subject and to ask any questions that they may have.  The questionnaires were sent out with stamped addressed envelopes in hope that it would provide a higher rate of response.

The questionnaires were dispensed amongst followers of a particular hunt at a rural destination in Gloucestershire.  This specific hunt is a long running, well-established group, and is generally well attended.  There is a large amount of subscribers and members of the specific hunt group, but it is unlikely that every member will be present every week, so this restricted the number of questionnaires distributed to forty.  This was a restriction, but the delivery of too many questionnaires would take too much time and money to administer.  The population chosen for this particular research were those followers who were in attendance on Saturday 26 January 2002.  This is an incredibly small percentage of followers compared to the estimated total of followers in this country, which has been reported at 1,280,000 people (Telegraph, 10 Feb 2001).  So, the data that is collected is not likely to be representative of the whole population, nevertheless, it provides some useful initial insight and demonstrates some possibilities as to why people go fox hunting.

Surveys and questionnaires are popular forms of inquiry as it is thought that they are easy to construct, conduct and that is easy to measure the results that are produced by them.  Questionnaires ‘are the most common technique used in survey research’. (De Vaus 1986:5).  Questionnaires are believed to be easy to conduct, as the researcher is able to collect information on the same variables for at least two cases, and so are characterised as being systematic or structured.  This enables the researcher to organise quantitative data in a more formal way.

The design of the questionnaire can a have an effect on the answers received from the targeted group.  It is important that the questions are laid out in an appropriate way so that the respondents do not become confused or miss any questions (Kane, 1993:74).  Data were collected by means of a questionnaire containing 12 items.  All the questions included were tested prior to handing them out using pilot questionnaires and alterations were made, with some questions being moved or removed, in order to obtain the correct information with as little ambiguity as possible.  Postal questionnaires were chosen as opposed to surveys as they can ‘be completed conveniently and in privacy’ (Kane 1993:87).  This does not always mean a high response rate will be achieved, not having someone there to encourage the completion of the questionnaire can be a disadvantage, and questions cannot be asked immediately if the question is not fully understood.  The questionnaires were returned very efficiently, although only almost 50% were returned in total, it was still considered enough to use as information to provide answers to the subject questions being asked.

Participant Observation

The other primary form of investigation utilised in this specific piece of research was conducted using the method of participant observation.  This process involves three steps, locating the social situation, doing participant observation, and making an ethnographic record of the findings.  When conducting participant observation it is important to ‘cultivate appropriate interpersonal skills as well as related abilities to think and act with sensitivity and creative judgement…’ (Jorgensen 1989:9).  Ethnography can occur in most social situations and can develop an awareness of social situations for the researcher.  All situations in which participant observation takes place have similarities.  Wherever they are located the situation being observed have three common elements, place, actors, and activities.  Participant observation for this particular piece of research was considered necessary as although people can have different lifestyles, occupations, ages, they can also share a common identity in a social situation, and this is particularly true in this situation.  When observing at the hunt on Saturday 10 March 2002 it became obvious that the participants involved all had different social backgrounds but with one common interest that brings them together once or twice a week.

While observing this group of people it was interesting to observe the way that people act in order to become part of the situation.  As a person or group of people become familiar with an environment it is possible to notice differences in peoples clothing, behaviour, demeanour and terms of identity.  This was an easy observation to make throughout this area of the research as this group of hunt followers have their own riding colours and a their behaviour was both calm and yet excitable.  It would appear that people have a strategy for coping with certain situations, and these have been observed in the diary produced and presented in the appendices (see appendix 3).

The observation was a major part of the research as it helped the investigator to identify any stereotypes that may or may not be true, and it also helped to understand the reasons that people gave in the responses to the questionnaire.  The observational part of the research also enabled the researcher to identify areas of hunting that were not and are not obvious until you have participated in a hunt.  Participant observation allowed a lot of the theory that had been learnt in the literature review to be applied and adapted, and allowed the researcher to understand fully the purposes that hunting has in the rural community.  What would have been more beneficial to the researcher would have been to be able to follow the hunt fully on horseback.  On this particular occasion it was thought best that the researcher followed the hunt on foot, attempting to guess which route the hunt would follow.  Future observations would possibly be made on horseback, or in an area more familiar to the researcher.


Within the practical constraints of time, money and availability, there were many areas of concern. It is important that the research is valid in its content. The size of the research is important, as it must ensure that an adequate number of hunters are represented, although the task of collecting and evaluating results must be considered to be feasible.  Although questionnaires are a good ‘method of collecting, organising and analysing data’ (De Vaus 1986:7), many criticisms also accompany them.  These can include the fact that some people may not have a large knowledge on the topic of the questionnaire and therefore will not provide a valid set of results, or it could be that the participant will interpret certain questions in a different way to the researcher.  Sending the questionnaires through the post to the respondents was also difficult, as not all of the questionnaires were returned.  The questionnaire also assumed that most of the participants had some knowledge of the history of the sport and the current day politics surrounding the sport.  

By using the qualitative, open ended questions in the questionnaire, analysing the results proved difficult, providing the researcher with varied but extremely emotive and passionate responses, and as mentioned earlier in the investigation possibly providing the researcher with as many reasons as participants.  It will be very difficult for the researcher to record accurately these feelings as each person could have a different interpretation of what passion is.  The researcher was also unsure that the responses obtained honest, or simply what they thought the researcher wanted to hear.  One of the most important criticisms of questionnaires in general is that they do not enable the researcher to adequately understand the subjective views of the informants, as some areas of life are not quantifiable (De Vaus 1986).  This can include feelings and honesty.  A problem that can occur when utilising postal questionnaires is that the researcher is not guaranteed a high response, it is probably better to carry out an interview technique questionnaire to obtain a 100% return (if everyone agrees to cooperate), but given the social situation when the questions would have to be asked, this would not be convenient.  Letters reminding the participants to return the questionnaire would be beneficial if more time and money were available.  Another problem with a postal questionnaire is the response may not come from the person targeted.  A common case is where men complete questionnaires for their wives, however on this occasion more replies were received from female participants suggesting the opposite perhaps.  With the current issues surrounding fox hunting again at the forefront of political interest, many people may feel unable to respond, as they are concerned about where the results may end up, and the effect it may have on the outcome of the political debate.  It may also be because of the possible fear of harassment from hunt saboteurs.

Problems are inevitable when considering the use of participant observation.  Although a diary of events was made throughout the day, it is impossible to record absolutely everything, and certain events will have been forgotten and therefore not included.  As the observations were noted in a ‘free’ manner, many things that may have been of interest could have been ignored unintentionally.  Maybe a more structured approach would have provided the researcher with a more specific set of results. (Kane 1993: 53).  It is also difficult to understand the full extent of a hunt without having ridden on one.  Following by car does not provide the researcher with an opportunity to be completely in with the action that horse followers may observe.  When recording the findings of participant observation it is often very difficult not to make any judgements and not to comment on what is seen.  Any personal values that could be thrown in may affect what and how things are recorded.  ‘However, no matter how impartial you try to be, you are a human being with a particular set of orientations which influence the way you see the world’ (Kane 1993:54).

Fox hunting is a popular yet very controversial sport in this country.  Although the number of participants remains quite high, it is difficult to approach followers during a hunt, and therefore it was more successful to arrange the delivery of the questionnaires through a huntsman known personally to the researcher. Although it is still highly popular in the rural areas of the country relevant texts in this particular field were limited, many concentrating on the topic of animal cruelty and the prospect of a ban?  This has of course been a highly controversial issue throughout the history of fox hunting which has become more and more evident in the media, as animal rights groups continue to grow.  However the foot and mouth outbreak during 2001 put the likelihood of a ban to the back of the Government’s plans for the duration of the crisis, and so it is only recently that Parliament has again addressed the subject.  The constant changes in proposals by the Government on the licensing of fox hunting or prospect of a ban has not helped with the researcher’s ability to gain access to a hunt, and to hunters’ opinions.  The ongoing debate in the House of Commons and House of Lords means that it looks likely that fox hunting will only continue in licensed places, and it is likely that this will only take place in areas where pest control is necessary.  Some feel threatened enough that their pastime may not continue that they do not wish to admit their true feelings on the subject, while others may have over emphasised their attitude and over expressed their feelings to demonstrate that it is still a popular sport.