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Record Type: Review   ID: 568

Social Science and the Self: Personal Essays on an Art Form

Krieger, Susan

 Krieger, who is a sociologist and feminist scientist, says she wrote this book to offset the standard social science approach to a scientific observer. They "tend to view the self ... as a contaminant. The self—the unique inner life of the observer—is treated as something to be separated out, neutralized, minimized, standardized, and controlled. ... My central argument in this book is that the contaminant view of the self is something we ought to alter. I think we ought to develop our individual perspectives more fully ... and we ought to acknowledge, more honestly than we do, the extent to which our studies are reflections of our inner lives" (p. 1). [As one who has been associated with parapsychology for four decades, I can say the same situation applies there: even though an experimenter effect has been verified, acknowledgment of its presence is not built into experimental designs and it is usually only mentioned in the discussing as having possibly being present.] Krieger argues here "for the inner, individual view, and for the importance of developing it in our studies. ... I believe that increased personal understanding can help us think more intelligently and fully about social life" (p. 2). She notes that her argument is based in her own experience. Increasingly, she says she has "come to think in personal terms about the social science I do" (p. 2). She points out that although at one time she could write about her work separate from herself, she can do so no longer [nor can this abstractor]. She states: "I now need to speak more directly about my involvement with any subject I study. Writing about others, or about a social process, without reference to the self has come to feel alienating and untrue to me" (p. 2). Thus, her approach in this book is autobiographical. The first two chapters comprise Part I, which is about her social scientific education. In Part II she presents four chapters about the vulnerability she experiences as a writer, and how her brother’s suicide helped her to "take the risk of writing this book in a personal way, despite ... feelings of vulnerability" (p. 42). There is a chapter on different ways the self can be present in writing, and she calls for improved articulation of the self. In the following chapter she continues to write about first-person writing, and ends with the realization that "we must teach ourselves that the individual view need not be apologized for and that we have a right to be a part of what we know" (p. 55). Krieger then reviews two books on autobiography writing—Clifford Geertz’s focus on the self in writing about anthropology and Carolyn Heilbrun’s book about the "limitations on our awareness of female possibilities that result from the nature of the plots we use for thinking about women’s lives" (p. 57). (Heilbrun is a feminist, English professor, and writer of detective fiction.) Part III, Individuality, begins with a chapter on Georgia O’Keeffe, quoting from her writings on "the subjective and interpretive role of the self in relation to problems of knowledge" (p. 67). In the next chapter she moves to the experience of another culture—that of the Pueblo Indians—and describes how they feel personally about the pots they make. This is continued in the next chapter, in which she writes of "individual difference in a collective tradition" (p. 91). In the next chapter she points our the similarities between psychotherapy and making pottery, and the relation of the self to both. The fourth section, Teaching and Research, consists of three chapters in which she concludes: "We need to link our statements about those we study with statements about ourselves, for in reality neither stands alone" (p. 183). The final section, Other Voices, consists of two chapters on Problems of Self and Form, which are intended to serve as an appendix and conclusion to the book. She presents the views of eight women in the social sciences concerning the use of the self in their studies. They represent six fields: anthropology, communication studies, education, history, psychology, and sociology. The import of the book is whether social scientists will be willing and able, within their science, to say, "You may not like it, but here I am" (p. 244).
Publisher Information:New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1991. 273p. Bibl: 265-273; Chap. notes: 245-263
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