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Record Type: Review   ID: 574

Method in Social Science: A Realist Approach (2nd ed.)

Sayer, Andrew

 This is a standard text presenting the realist approach in the social sciences. It could be followed in developing a conservative approach to the study of exceptional human experience using realist methodology. The realist approach, unlike constructivism, is based on the assumption that "the world exists independently of our knowledge of it" (p. 5). But—it also (realistically) grants that "our knowledge of that world is fallible and theory-laden" (p. 5). Thus in conceptualizing research and research results we have to consider the conceptualizer as part of our data. And beyond this, in an appendix entitled "Notes on Realism, Writing and the Future of Method in Social Science," Sayer points out (again, realistically) that "knowledge is invariably presented in the form of texts" (p. 258). Scientists tend to underestimate the fact that in science (as anywhere else) not only does "language and the devices and forms we use for constructing texts have a degree of autonomy and a largely hidden influence on how we represent knowledge and how it is read, they also influence the content of the research itself" (p. 258). This textual aspect of science is present from the beginning, in the jottings of field or lab notes, through the "finished" product in which the scientific findings are presented to the world. Thus to maintain a realist scientific approach we must be aware of the possible effect our text may have on others. We need to be aware of the literary processes we are using, such as narrative, metaphor, and figuration, and the role of rhetoric. In regard to EHEs, we are doubly concerned with texts, for the data consist of narratives, so we write texts about texts. Very little conscious appreciation has been given to this fact, except to dismiss using texts as data, a practice Sayer decries.
Publisher Information:London: Routledge, 1992. 314p. Bibl: 299-309; Chap. notes: 267-298; 12 figs; Index: 310-313; 1 table
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