Postmodernism and Social Research

Postmodernism and Social Research

Postmodernism and Social Research

Postmodernism and Social Research


• What is postmodernism?

• How can it be used to develop social research?

• How can we do social research in more creative ways?

This book integrates philosophical and theoretical ideas with fieldwork and supports the development of research methods with a sharper interpretive and self-critical edge. It provides an overview of postmodern themes, evaluates the possibilities and dangers of postmodernist thinking and develops ideas on how a selective, sceptical incorporation of postmodernism can make social research more conscious about problems and pitfalls, and more creative in working with empirical material (so called 'data'). A reflexive orientation runs throughout the book, which addresses themes such as how to understand the individual in research, how to deal with the knowledge/power connection, how to relate to language and how to unpack rather than take for granted socially dominant categories in research work. One chapter addresses the research interview in the light of postmodernist concerns about the naivity of assuming that the interviewee is simply an informant, a truth-teller authentically expressing his or her experiences and meaning. Other chapters address issues of voice, interpretation, writing and reflexivity. The book includes a range of empirical illustrations of how postmodernist ideas can inspire social research, and in all it represents an essential text for students and researchers alike.


‘Postmodernism and social research’ is a combination of words that one does not meet frequently. Actually, most people probably associate postmodernism with a lack of interest in, or even direct scepticism of, the very idea of ‘social research’, as conventionally understood. Social research is supposed to be about finding out how things are ‘out there’ in society through empirical inquiry. Postmodernism, as least as most people seem to write and talk about it, puts up a number of critical reactions. ‘Finding out’ is not what postmodernism is about; ‘how things are’ implies a truth-telling in which a preferred ordering of the world aims to discipline subjects and fix their reactions; society is not accepted as an object or empirical context but as a construction made up of professional communities (and other groups); empirical inquiry would for many postmodernists be seen as a rhetorical device giving legitimacy to the making of the mentioned truth claims, in which a particular vocabulary is arbitrarily presented as superior to others. The ‘social’ in social research also triggers scepticism and resistance among advocates of postmodernism, who strongly emphasize language and text as the only possible targets of concern: ‘the social’ doesn’t really fit here.

As Rosenau (1992: 1) writes, ‘The challenges post-modernism poses seem endless. It rejects epistemological assumptions, refutes methodological conventions, resists knowledge claims, obscures all versions of truths, and dismisses policy recommendations.’ From the opposite angle, the average person interested in social research has little interest in or tolerance with an . . .

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