Social Theory and Applied Health Research (Understanding Social Research S.)
Dyson, Simon and Brian Brown
Open University Press, Buckingham
Dyson and Brown have not written a 'how to do' research text, rather this book seeks to link the theory behind research to its practice. Social Theory and Applied Health Research above all questions the assumptions on which the practice of research is based. The target audiences for this book are social scientists conducting applied health research as well as health and social care professionals. Whilst the experienced academic researcher would find this a work of interest, I suspect that it will be particularly helpful to new researchers like myself. I would especially encourage nurses, community workers etc. who are perhaps having to undertake applied research as a result of professional requirement or for further study, to read this book. It is tempting as a novice researcher to rely on 'how to do' books, and they do have their place, however, I have found that the deeper understanding gained from reading this book has been really helpful. Not least in demystifying somewhat the frequently esoteric language of research, both in the main text and with the helpful addition of a glossary. Above all I would say that this work gives you insight which helps to increase the confidence with which you face your research project.
The power of this book is that it guides you on a critical and deeply questioning journey through the many and varied theoretical backdrops that inform our work. The authors achieve this with a humour and humanity that gently points out that things are not necessarily quite as perfect as those text that take the authoritative high ground would like make them seem. Yet they do this without disrespecting the richness and potency of the theory which informs our work. Above all they seek to link theory to practice, addressing both the thinking which inspires our work and the limitations of these theoretical frames to our practice.
The book is well structured covering 11 chapters, including both an introductory and closing chapter. The chapters are broken down well into substantial but manageable sections and each main chapter concludes with a list of suggested further readings. There are also multiple examples from practice and some helpful illustrations. The main chapters cover 9 topics, which are; positivism and subjectivism, scientific realism, postmodernism, values, scientific communities, validity and reliability, implications for strategy, implications for analysis and authenticity in research. Chapter 4 'Projecting the field: postmodernism' is quite outstanding. I have rarely seen postmodernism discussed with such clarity and yet retaining sufficient depth. I also particularly liked Chapter 6 'A confederacy of dunces: science and scientific communities', which highlights the discrepancies between the popular image of the purity of the scientist and the deeply socially imbedded and quite contingent nature of our work. Indeed with one possible exception each chapter is excellent. I have some mild quibbles with Chapter 10 'Credibility, trustworthiness and authenticity in research', though it is still good. I did get a slight sense here that there may be a hint of favouring a deconstructive text and context based approach. Whilst the journey through this book has repeatedly turned a critical eye on each and every approach it guides us through, I sense that the critical eye may have blinked for a moment when came to deconstructive approaches, which are not subject to the same level of critique.
This is quite an excellent book. The experienced researcher should find it a refreshing reminder of the many traditions of thought which embrace our practice. To the researcher with limited time and finances in the field of applied health and social research I would say that this is a must read. Personally I have already familiarised myself with the authors' wider works and have already recommended this text to my Head of Subject as a work to which she may wish to direct her students.