Researching Society and Culture

November 8, 2012

Researching Society and Culture

Editor: Clive Seale

Edition: Third

Publisher: Sage

Pages: 636

Price: £85.00 and £.99

ISBN: 9781849207980 and 07997

Cultural studies is as much taken up with challenging the conditions of possibility that make certain types of knowledge possible as it is with the production and dissemination of new forms of discourse about contemporary culture. In this respect, a healthy suspicion of prescribed methods of carrying out research should be encouraged at all levels. Nevertheless, before developing an approach to research that is self-reflexive in its critique of established methodologies, students need to be introduced to existing methods available to them.

Researching Society and Culture provides one such introduction. Since the publication of the first edition in 1998, Clive Seale and his team of contributors have worked hard to develop the text beyond its original scope. Initially intended for sociologists, this book has now become a useful reference tool for students from a range of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences.

Although it is aimed at undergraduates in tone and coverage - the exercises at the end of each chapter may appear patronising to more advanced students - I would also recommend it to postgraduates embarking on empirical research for the first time. However, some of the changes to the new edition, such as the decision to increase focus on statistical analysis, result in a text that is of less relevance to cultural studies than if topics such as ethnographic, historical and documentary research had been given greater emphasis.

Each chapter is intended to provide a short introduction to a certain type or aspect of research but anecdotes and examples in some chapters are too long-winded and might have benefited from more rigorous copy-editing. This would have resulted in a more concise (and lighter) book. Consequently, students may end up opting for a less weighty tome with greater, more detailed focus on specific methods rather than burden themselves with a cumbersome 600-plus-page book that they may only dip into.

Seale seems to be fully aware of the risks involved in a text that purports to be a jack of all trades, and he has addressed anticipated criticisms through extensive suggestions for further reading, together with a companion website that provides a great supplement to the material covered in the book.

Some chapters from earlier editions that have been omitted from this edition have been included on the website, along with links to PowerPoint slides and other resources furnished by individual contributors. Slightly misleading, however, is the statement that readers get "full" access to journal articles published by Sage. The links provided simply take the reader to the standard Sage login pages, the assumption being that those purchasing the book will have institutional affiliation and/or an Athens login. Perhaps for future editions such material might be made "fully" downloadable (ie, at no further cost) to buyers of the book via a promotional login code or something similar.

Who is it for? Undergraduate and postgraduate students in the humanities and social sciences who are embarking on empirical research for the first time.

Presentation: Varies between chapters but overall clearly laid out with a well-organised companion website.

Would you recommend it? A comprehensive, if introductory, resource for students and lecturers teaching research methods.

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