Using Social Theory: Thinking through Research

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Michael Pryke, Gillian Rose, Sarah Whatmore
SAGE, Aug 13, 2003 - Social Science - 196 pages
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`If there is a single question that presses upon the intellect of the current generation of social scientists, it is surely: "what do the great insights of social theory imply for the way we conduct research and write about the social world?". Until now there has been no single text to turn to that explores the epistemological complexities of field work, the problems of writing and language, and of the logics of inquiry that link theory, method and evidence. Using Social Theory is a magisterial effort to open up the black-box of research methods, and to provide students, in a way that no other comparable text has done, with a road map for the practice of the contemporary human sciences' -

Michael Watts, Chancellor's Professor of Geography and Director Institute of International Studies, University of California, Berkeley

`From "theory talk to making it walk", Using Social Theory is one of the most useful and interesting books on the market. The authors demonstrate how to use philosophy and social theory as an indispensable toolkit for passionate and rigorous research. Essential reading for students and teachers in the social sciences and humanities' - Professor Elspeth Probyn, Department of Gender Studies, University of Sydney

Have you ever stopped to wonder about the influences that underpin research? If you are thinking about doing a piece of research, what difference might it make to the question you ask, to your approach to empirical work, analysis and writing of research, if you are influenced by one theoretical approach rather than another?

The chapters in this innovative guide share a common belief that thinking alongside ideas, philosophical persuasions, is an integral part of the research process; it is not an optional extra. It sets out ways to encourage the researcher to think through three key moments of the research process: the production of a research question; fieldwork; and analysis and writing.

As the authors demonstrate, research is not simply `done': it has to be thought about and thought through. The book's accessible style makes it suitable for anyone wishing to engage ideas in research in the social sciences and humanities.

 

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Contents

Introduction
1
PART I Asking questions
9
1 A question of language
11
2 The play of the world
28
3 A body of questions
47
CONCLUSION TO PART I
65
PART II Investigating the field
67
4 Imagining the field
71
CONCLUSION TO PART II
122
PART III Writing practices
125
7 Telling materials
127
8 Writing reflexively
145
9 Situated audiences
163
CONCLUSION TO PART III
181
Bibliography
183
Index
192

5 Generating materials
89
6 Practising ethics
105

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About the author (2003)

Before joining the Open University I worked in the School Management, UMIST (University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology), the Department of Land Economy, University of Cambridge, and the Department of Geography, Queen Mary, University of London. I was a Fellow of the Institute of Advanced Study and a Fellow of St John’s College, University of Durham from 1 October to 20 December 2007. I am a co-editor of the new Journal of Cultural Economy.

My research interests lie broadly within the field of visual culture. I'm interested in visuality as a kind of practice, done by human subjects in collaboration with different kinds of objects and technologies.

One long-term project, which resulted in a book from Ashgate Press in 2010, looked at family photos. I approached family snaps by thinking of them as objects embedded in a wide range of practices. I interviewed women with young children about their photos, and also looked at the politics and ethics of family snaps moving into more public arenas of display when the people they picture are the victims of violence. The book explores the different 'politics of sentiment' in which family snaps participate in both their domestic spaces in the public space of the contemporary mass media.

Other work is extending my interest in subjectivities, space and visual practices by exploring experiences of designed urban spaces. I completed an ESRC-funded project on this theme with Dr Monica Degen at Brunel University in 2009, in which we compared how people experienced two rather different town centres: Milton Keynes and Bedford. Monica Degen, Clare Melhuish and I started a new ESRC-funded project in the autumn of 2011. 'Architectural atmospheres, branding and the social: the role of digital visualizing technologies in contemporary architectural practice' was a two-year ethnographic study of how digital visualizing technologies are being used by architects in a number of architects' studio in London.

I'm also interested in more innovative ways to produce social science research, especially using visual materials. I was involved in organising the ESRC Seminar Series 'Visual Dialogues: New Agendas in Inequalities Research' (2010-2012). Please visit the 'Visual Dialogues: New Agendas in Inequalities Research' for more details. I'm also a member of the OpenSpace Research Centre.

Sarah is a graduate of University College London where she gained a BA (Geography) in 1981; an M.Phil. (Town Planning) in 1983 and, after a stint working for the Greater London Council, a PhD (Geography) in 1988. She spent 12 years teaching in the School of Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol, where she was promoted to a Chair in Human Geography in 1999 and awarded a DSc for published research in 2000. She moved to the Geography Discipline at the Open University in September 2001 as Professor of Environmental Geography. Sarah has also held visiting appointments in several institutions overseas including the University of California, Santa Cruz and the University of Wisconsin, Madison (USA); the University of Newcastle, (Australia); and the University of Trondheim (Norway). A Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) for nearly 20 years, Sarah was elected to the Council of the RGS/IBG and to membership of the Research Committee in June 2004 for 3 years. She is also an elected member of the Academy of Learned Societies in the Social Sciences and a Fellow of the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce). She is currently an editor of Environment and Planning, A (Pion) and of the Blackwell Dictionary of Human Geography (5th edition), and serves on the editorial boards of several journals. Her research focuses on relations between people and the material world, particularly the living world, and the spatial habits of thought that inform the ways in which these relations are imagined and practiced in the conduct of science, governance and everyday life. She has published widely on the theoretical and political implications of these questions in two main directions.

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