CHAPTER THREE - Research Methodology

Rebecca Hoad

The main aim for this investigation was to examine the past and current censorship and pornographic laws, and the problematic issues surrounding the topic.  Included in this investigation was an attempt to establish changing attitudes on the topic.

The study incorporated both primary and secondary research methods.  The aim behind the primary research was to discover current attitudes on pornography and the sex industry, by using questionnaires as a research tool.  Secondary research was conducted to gain a wide understanding on censorship and pornographic guidelines, and the issues with the contested debates on the topic.  This could then be applied to the primary research.

The purpose behind undertaking primary research is to determine whether the State are winning their battle to persuade the public to censor themselves, or whether the public feel censoring regulations are not significant.  The research is to establish whether individuals approve or disapprove of pornographic material.  Important in this study is the views of both genders.  This research aims was to find out what the public really thought, and to help with this, the research has been linked in with the censorship and social harm debate.

Quantitative research techniques have been used to undertake this investigation, which were questionnaires, a small discussion, and the viewing of a film for the primary research.  The film used has been classified by the BBFC, yet has caused controversy in the media.  The film titled Intimacy is directed by Patrice Chereau, and was classified in February 2001, later to be released in July 2001.  The film's content has shocked some critics within the media with its explicit sex scenes.  Critics suggest it to be,  ‘…the most sexually explicit English speaking film ever to be passed with an eighteen certificate.’  (Collins 2001 -- see references).  However director Chereau hits back stating, ‘…it is not a porno film.’  (Chereau 2001).  The media caused an uproar of controversial statements, believing it to be pornographic.  This film was chosen as it is a recent film and received a great deal of coverage.

Intimacy was the subject of a series of questionnaires, with a group of students at The College of St. Mark and St. John.  The aim of this research was to gain feedback on attitudes and assess whether these attitudes were of the same nature as the media expressed over Intimacy.  On gaining the feedback, it will help to determine whether the younger generation's attitudes have changed or not towards the sex industry, leading onto assessing whether the State should censor sexually explicit material or not.  A discussion took place after evaluating the results from the questionnaire, on issues commented upon by the respondents.  The purpose of this was to help the researcher understand remarks made by the respondents.

The setting for the viewing of the film was in a comfortable environment to make the participants feel at ease.  It was established after the researcher viewed the film, that the plot of Intimacy was confusing, so to eliminate this problem, a short reading containing a brief description on Intimacy was handed out along with the questionnaires.  (See appendix 4).

Questionnaires were chosen to be conducted, so a collection of data could be gained,  (Veal 1992) containing a record of, ‘…facts, comments and attitudes.’  (Hague 1993:12).  Questionnaires can be said to have two functions.  The first, ‘is to describe the characteristics of a set of cases.’  (De Vaus 1991:5).  For example their age and gender.  Secondly, to be able to determine whether there are any casual links, such as similarities of views between both genders which is apparent within this study.  (De Vaus 1991).  The latter means finding a link between the person’s views and their characteristics.

Prior to the commencement of the primary research, a pilot survey was carried out with a lecturer and a respondent.  It is important to conduct a pilot with a respondent as similar to the main study, which in this case was a student from The College of St Mark and St John.  (Oppenheim 1992). 

A pilot survey…can help not only define your subject, but also to give you some preliminary warnings…on problem areas, such as questions which are sensitive...or which elicit vague responses.  (Kane 1985:73).

Questions were altered after the pilots were conducted, such as those that gave vague responses.  It was established some questions were difficult to answer, due to the context, and the little knowledge that the respondent had on the topic.  As this would probably be the case for all the respondents participating, prompts were implemented after some of the questions.  To avoid influencing the respondent too much, the prompts were placed less obviously further down the paper, leaving space to answer initially before reading the prompts.  (See appendix 1).

Questionnaires need to be laid out simply and need plenty of space for replies.  (Kane 1985).  This questionnaire consists of two parts.  The first series of questions is to be completed prior to watching the film.  The second part, are questions to be answered after watching the film.  The main aim of this is to establish what the respondent’s feelings and opinions are before and after viewing pornographic material.  Also it is to help the individuals who may not be aware of the content of such a genre, so combating the problem of gaining vague feedback.  A general format discussed by Kane (1985) suggests questionnaires begin with broad questions, such as easy to answer questions.  Next should be a series of less interesting questions, and lastly the sensitive and personal questions should follow.  The questionnaire follows a similar structure.  Firstly beginning with broad questions on pornography and what it is about.  This is to establish what the respondents already know about the research topic, and their attitudes towards it prior to watching a film with sexual content.  These questions are rather open, but are still only generalised on the topic, so there is no limitation on answers.  Following this, is a series of questions linked to the film, to gain a general opinion to make comparisons or contrasts towards the remarks made by the media.  Lastly is another set of open-ended questions that are more sensitive and personal towards the respondent.  Open-ended questions were a large part of the questionnaire, as they allow the respondent complete freedom to reply.  These can be known as, ‘attitudinal’ questions that asks, ‘what people think of something…and ratings of things.’  (Hague 1993:29).  These sensitive questions were placed at the end of the questionnaire, as the respondents were more likely to be relaxed and at ease with the questions and environment.  Also after watching the film it may have helped overcome the embarrassment factor, if there was one to begin with.

Research was conducted on types of questioning to avoid any problematic questions.  The ‘Fuzzy Word’ question (Kane 1985), is a term referred to words having different meanings.  ‘Fuzzy words can creep into almost any question.’  (Kane 1985:78).  The questionnaires have attempted to avoid this issue, by placing prompts and examples to save confusion.  The ‘Double’ question (Kane 1985), is another confusing term, meaning a question could be asking two or more questions in one.  ‘A question that to you seems extra carefully worded, may be a mind-bender to your respondents.’  (Kane 1985:78).  By undertaking a pilot questionnaire this helped establish the confusing answers, and eliminate or alter these questions.  The ‘Cover-the-World’ question (Kane 1985), expresses the idea that these questions become too generalised, meaning answers are non-specific.  The questionnaire for this investigation used this format specifically for question one, in the first section.  (See appendix 1).  This was implemented, as there needed to be an answer gained.  If limitations was implemented, it could result in the respondent withholding information, ‘…and it is important to capture the exact words which are given in the reply.’  (Hague 1993:53).

As the investigation is covering a sensitive topic, this may of caused restrictions.  Respondents may have felt embarrassed or uncomfortable with the content of the film and may have effected the results.  To help overcome this issue, the questions were utilised as a questionnaire format, so the respondent could remain anonymous, and hopefully answer as honest as possible.  The issue still remains though, that there was little personal contact between the researcher and the respondent.  It was only during the short discussion after the questionnaires were completed, personal contact was made, but again it was difficult to detect whether the respondent’s feelings were sincere.  Due to these complications, questionnaires were decided it would be the better format to adopt.  This is because it is less likely that the surrounding group would influence each respondent.  In the investigation it has to be accounted, that the respondents may be answering what the researcher wants to hear, or even what is deemed as acceptable in society today.  This is a problem, but as no contact is made with the respondent and researcher during the completion of the questionnaire, this decreases this problem.

A sample size of twenty respondents took part in the primary research.  It is evident such a small number is an unrepresentative sample, but, ‘…mainly because of cost, [and time] it is not usually possible to interview all the people who are focus of the research.’  (Veal 1992:148).  Due to this investigation, there is no particular focus group.  For a representative sample a range of groups should be targeted, such as gender, age, occupation and class.  This would determine a range of opinions from a diversity of groups.  This investigation could not commit to such large-scale, so a small group of students was targeted, ranging from the ages of twenty to twenty-six years, and of mixed genders.  Each member is practically in the same position at present, but they may have very different upbringing and backgrounds.  The results could have been effected by their upbringing, and what is deemed as acceptable.  So questionnaires are best here, as some views may want to be kept confidential.  Two transcripts of the questionnaires can be read in appendix 2 and 3, completed by one male and one female respondent.  When the results was analysed, it was taken into account the sample size would not express the whole of societies attitudes towards the topic.

In the following chapter – Results and Analysis, graphical data will be displayed for several of the questions as, ‘…trends and patterns can be seen more easily in graphic form by most people.’  (Veal 1992:189).  For graphical results from the complete questionnaires, see appendix 5 and 6.  Due to the format of the questions, coding the data for the results proved difficult for specific questions.  These included, ‘Cover-the World’ questions, as there was an array of answers.  (Kane 1985).  To overcome this, main comments were drawn out, and similar remarks were arranged together.  To avoid this problem throughout the questionnaire, several other types of questions were present, such as a type that had dichotomous outcomes.  (De Vaus 1991).  Coding the data for these questions would only consist of having two options.

A range of materials was accumulated to initiate the secondary research.  This research was to gain an understanding of the background research already available on pornography and censorship.  Quantitative methods were used to complete this research, to provide solid information and a guide to further research.  Another main objective was to help simulate areas of discussion, all of which the above is presented in chapter one and two.

Academic literature was compiled for the background research.  There was a wide reading base for the general topic of pornography, and especially the social harm debate.  However much of the literature was one-sided on the debate, all of which was contributing to Dworkin's theory on pornography that, ‘…the female…becomes the victim of the male.’  (Dworkin 1981:133).  Much of this literature is very influential and biased, though despite this; relevant material was located on arguing for the rights and freedom of pornography.  Again it has to be noted that pornography is a sensitive topic, and will be addressed throughout the investigation.  Some of the academic literature was dated; nevertheless it proved very beneficial for the study on the historical background.  Also it helped display that there has still been minimal improvements into committing to a definition on pornography and censorship, or suitable legislation to commit too.  Many of the investigations were dated, and this is why primary research is being undertaken to establish current views.  The BBFC have also contributed to more up to date research.

For extended research on recent works an ample amount of information was gained via the Internet.  A web search was adopted to locate information on legislation and reviews of the film, Intimacy.  This was accessed through the BBC online web address.  Most of the information supplied by the BBFC was through a web site dedicated to their organisation, and contributes a number of sections on procedures and delegation involved within the classification process.  Brief contact was made with the BBFC through an emailing system to assist in additional information for the investigation.

The last quantitative research method conducted, involved the exploration of relevant newspaper articles and journals.  The journals contributed to Chapter two - The BBFC, gaining some more recent works.  Newspaper articles helped discover many reviews on Intimacy, with a combination of opinions from the film.  These are expressed in the following chapter.  These articles contribute to the views and attitudes expressed on pornographic material of today.  Though again they are biased writings.

This chapter has discussed the main points of the reasons behind why certain research methods were practiced.  Once all the information was collated, it was then possible to discuss and present the findings.  

Chapter 4