The editors of recently published An End to the Crisis of Empirical Sociology? take a moment to discuss how the field of social research is changing and why their new book is so important.
Social research is facing challenges, as well as exciting new opportunities, from the growth of private sector research companies, rapid advance of social media, and intense debates on privacy and big data. At the same time in universities , research councils and learned we are debating the teaching of research methods. How can we ensure the training of future generations of researchers? In what ways do we need to update training and how can we maintain and enhance quality in research? These debates have wide implications for research on families and relationships as we consider the diverse and dynamic nature of intimate and family life.
The idea of ‘crisis’ is discussed in the opening chapter by McKie and Ryan. The idea of a crisis in social research coalesced around developments in big data, the growth in research undertaken by private sector companies and charities, and debates on causality and the claims emanating from research projects. In questioning any simplistic notion of a ‘crisis’, this book brings together well-known, leading authors in the field as well as newly emerging young scholars to explore the many innovative strategies and techniques being employed within the social sciences.
In subsequent chapters colleagues working at the forfront of these debates offer a range of data and insights on these issues. Evelyn Ruppert examines the ecologies of big data, while Richard Webber and Trevor Phillips use a range of demographic data to research entrepreneurship among different migrant groups. Various applications of big data are examined by Roger Burrows, and David Miller and William Dinan to research elites and the super-rich. These chapters illustrate the practical uses of big data for social scientists. This topic is further explored by Dhiraj Murthy in his analysis of how twitter data could be used to answer sociological questions.
Further innovations in research techniques are discussed by David Byrne in his use of the extended case study to conduct comparative research on cities. Annabel Tremlett and Roxy Harris consider how researchers could go beyond the interview to use a range of ethnographic methods. Focusing on survey data, Rachel Lara Cohen discusses the possibilities of a quantitative feminist sociology. The advantages of mixing quantitative and qualitative methods are explored by Alessio D’Angelo and Louise Ryan in their analysis of migrant social networks; most research project designs are mixed method and this is a core debate for researchers. Despite the many opportunities for innovative research, there are practical challenges in teaching research skills to under graduate sociology students, as discussed by Malcolm Williams, Geoff Payne and Luke Sloan. In his thought-provoking epilogue, Mike Savage reflects on the many ways in which sociologists are responding to on-going challenges and ends on a rather optimistic note.
The book provides up to date and accessible material of interest to diverse audiences, including students and teachers of methods, research design, data analysis, policy analysis and social media. The authors offer critical insight into how education/ academia is responding to methodological advances and innovations and the impact of this for student training.
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