May,+Chapter+1.doc - Perspectives on social scientific research Schools of thought in social research Objectivity Positivism Empiricism Realism

May,+Chapter+1.doc - Perspectives on social scientific...

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Perspectives on social scientific research Schools of thought in social research Objectivity Positivism Empiricism Realism Subjectivity Idealism Building bridges Postmodernism Feminisms and research Challenging the scientistic cloak Reason and emotion The critique of 'disengagement' Biography Feminist epistemologies Women, race and research Summary Suggested further reading This chapter introduces perspectives that assist in understanding the aims and practice of social research. These perspectives do not determine the nature of the research process itself, for there is a constant interaction between ideas about the social world and the data collected on it. That noted, a discussion of the main debates between these schools of thought, together with the key terms employed, will enable a consideration of their arguments and the assumptions that each make about how we can know the social world and what properties it contains. These may then be linked with Part II where we discuss the actual practice of research methods.
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8 ISSUES IN SOCIAL RESEARCH
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SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT IN SOCIAL RESEARCH A science is often thought of as being a coherent body of thought about a topic over which there is a broad consensus among its practitioners. As Alan Chalmers (1999) notes of the popular view of science: When it is claimed that science is special because it is based on the facts, the facts are presumed to be claims about the world that can be directly established by a careful, unprejudiced use of the senses. Science is to be based on what we see, hear and touch rather than on personal opinions or speculative imaginings. If observation of the world is carried out in a careful, unprejudiced way then the facts established in this way will constitute a secure, objective basis for science. (Chalmers 1999: 1) Yet the actual practice of science shows that there are not only different perspectives on a given phenomenon, but also alternative methods of gathering information and of analysing the resultant data. While these differences do affect the natural sciences, we are concerned here with the history and practice of the social sciences (see M. Williams 2000). To have differences of perspective in a site of activity such as social research appears to be problematic. Quite simply, if there is no one established way of working then surely that undermines the idea of a scientific discipline? Perhaps, though, we should challenge the idea that science is an all-embracing explanation of the social or natural world beyond our criticism, or that unity of method is necessarily a good thing. Instead, perhaps these matters are contested in both justification and application because there are political and value considerations which affect our lives? These are not within the power of science to alter, nor in any democracy should they be (see Fuller 2000). Its role is to understand and explain social phenomena, to focus attention on particular issues and to challenge conventionally held beliefs about the social and natural worlds. Social research, however, does differ from natural
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  • Spring '12
  • EmilieWiesner

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