Method in Social Science: A Realist Approach

Method in Social Science: A Realist Approach

Method in Social Science: A Realist Approach

Method in Social Science: A Realist Approach

Synopsis

Method in Social Science was widely praised on its first publication for providing a series of penetrating reflections on central questions in social science discourse. This second edition directly reflects new developments in the areas of philosophy and method. The introduction has been rewritten and substantially enlarged, clarifying many of the arguments that appear in the text. There is also a short discussion of the importance of narrative form, particularly useful for students concerned with the problems of writing, composition and presentation of their own material.

Excerpt

In the 1980s, the ideas of realist philosophy began to make an impact on social science. Yet the gulf between the more philosophical debates and the literature on how we should do social research remains wide, spanned by only the most rudimentary of bridges. Sadly, many social scientists can still only think of ‘method’ in terms of quantitative techniques, and even though these are now commonly supplemented by qualitative techniques such as participant observation and informal interviewing, the basic activity of conceptualization—which no one can escape—remains unexamined. Of course realism has not had a monopoly of innovations in philosophy and methodology in recent years. Particularly important has been the growing interest in language, writing and rhetoric, for these affect not merely how we re-present ideas for others but the very terms in which we think. Unfortunately these advances have been affected or infected by idealist currents which appear to rule out the possibility of any kind of empirical check on social science.

In view of this situation I believe that realism and the question of method remain very much on the agenda and that there is still far to go in developing a constructive discussion of method informed by realist philosophy. This remains the task of this second edition.

The book is intended both for students and researchers familiar with social science but having little or no previous experience of philosophical and methodological discussions and for those who are familiar with them but are interested in realism and method. These two audiences have different interests and preferences regarding style and content. The style and organization are emphatically geared towards the first group (reviewers please note!). I have therefore deliberately avoided spattering the text with name-droppings that would only alienate the first group even if they reassured the second. Issues are selected on a need-to-know . . .

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