Salsa Dancing into the Social Sciences: Research in an Age of Info-glut

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“You might think that dancing doesn’t have a lot to do with social research, and doing social research is probably why you picked this book up in the first place. But trust me. Salsa dancing is a practice as well as a metaphor for a kind of research that will make your life easier and better.”

Savvy, witty, and sensible, this unique book is both a handbook for defining and completing a research project, and an astute introduction to the neglected history and changeable philosophy of modern social science. In this volume, Kristin Luker guides novice researchers in:

  • knowing the difference between an area of interest and a research topic

  • defining the relevant parts of a potentially infinite research literature

  • mastering sampling, operationalization, and generalization

  • understanding which research methods best answer your questions

  • beating writer’s block

Most important, she shows how friendships, nonacademic interests, and even salsa dancing can make for a better researcher.

“You know about setting the kitchen timer and writing for only an hour, or only 15 minutes if you are feeling particularly anxious. I wrote a fairly large part of this book feeling exactly like that. If I can write an entire book 15 minutes at a time, so can you.”

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Editorial Reviews
I enjoyed this book very much and I thought it was one of the best books on the philosophy of the social sciences I have read, ever.
— Tyler Cowen
Times Higher Education Supplement
Kristin Luker has managed to produce a charming and effective manual on how to get through the research process with most of one's enthusiasm still intact. This is a guidebook for the methodologically bewildered, with an attractive blend of homespun wisdom, illustrated from her own research career, as well as glimpses of herself, her family and her enthusiasms--of which the salsa dancing of the title seems to be one--threaded through a lucid and accessible discussion of the elements of research practice. Although it will be a comforting and useful read for postgraduates, which is its intended market, it is already on my undergraduate recommended list. This is a refreshing and well-judged guide produced by an engaging writer in touch with a long career's lessons and the changing realities of researching today. For young researchers undertaking their first project or beginning a dissertation, it should prove an excellent guide. The book sets out to rethink the existing conventions of research practice...A great deal of the book's attractiveness lies in its refusal to pursue the grandiose and the ineffable. Endorsing what used to be called "theories of the middle range," this approach eschews master narratives and grand theory. A little modest realism about what the aims of social research can be, and ought to be, rather than inflated claims and rhetoric in pursuit of what it hoped to be for so long, goes a long way, and makes for a book that will, I suspect, generate a spirit of optimism in those who fall for its down-to-earth charms...Above all, however, this is a book to enjoy--and for a text on method this is rare indeed. Really enjoyable writing among social scientists is itself, unfortunately, a rarity, and it is a pleasure to welcome into the canon someone who celebrates the teaching role as well and successfully as Luker. Her determined cheer is a tonic, and a perspective well worth fostering in every student approaching the social-research process. More than that, however, she has developed a robust, effective approach to the conduct and practices of research and to the question of how one should prepare for research.
— Leslie Gofton
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674031579
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/15/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Kristin Luker is Elizabeth Josselyn Boalt Professor of Law and Professor of Sociology at the University of California at Berkeley.

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Table of Contents

1 Salsa Dancing? In the Social Sciences? 1

2 What's It All About? 22

3 An Ode to Canonical Social Science 40

4 What Is This a Case of, Anyway? 51

5 Reviewing the Literature 76

6 On Sampling, Operationalization, and Generalization 99

7 Getting Down to the Nitty-Gritty 129

8 Field (and Other) Methods 155

9 Historical-Comparative Methods 190

10 Data Reduction and Analysis 198

11 Living Your Life as a Salsa-Dancing Social Scientist 217

App. 1 What to Do If You Don't Have a Case 229

App. 2 Tools of the Trade 233

App. 3 Special Resources for Specific Methods 236

App. 4 Sample Search Log 242

Notes 243

Bibliography 285

Author's Note 311

Acknowledgments 312

Index 315

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