A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book About Qualitative Research (Very Short, Fairly Interesting & Cheap Books)
Sage Publications, London
Short, more than fairly interesting and not too expensive, David Silverman's book is also provocative and pugnacious. The pope of qualitative methods passionately swings at perceived misconceptions and follies in qualitative sociological research. The aim of the work is to prod reflection about the reasons for choosing a qualitative approach, and the ways to best apply it. The book leads the reader from a consideration of what the study of the 'routine' can mean and why it is a worthwhile to the problems of taking the everyday as a source of information seriously. Key methods of qualitative research such as conversational analysis and the interview come under fire with tricks to improve them. Silverman then demonstrates how good qualitative research can be 'useful' with examples from practice. Playing the devil's advocate, the concluding chapters attack some contemporary foibles before providing a bullet point recipe for what the 'good' researcher should take into account. The most appropriate audience for these reflections seems to be the peers in the field, even though the 'you' mentioned in the introduction is clearly a student. This student has not yet faced the challenges of capturing and analyzing the exceptional in the everyday and might be permanently dissuaded from trying when confronted with Silverman's attacks on over-theorizing post-modernists or those who claim too much for the qualitative interview. In a particularly polemic chapter, Silverman almost convincingly makes the case that the only data worth having are those totally uncontaminated by the researcher – 'naturally occurring data' - everything else is 'manufactured'. Silverman wants the best from social science research and rhetorically has little room for 'fools'. The book sometimes suffers from diatribes against potentially innocent victims. Again, the average student will probably not have read the work of those lambasted here. But just as he attacks to save us from the excesses of the post modern, so he welcomes us to consider recent excellent research and overlooked scholarship. Indeed, the book almost seems to have been inspired by a need to draw attention to the legacy of Harvey Sachs (some 30 pages), focusing on his insights into the problems of pre-categorizing social observations and over-psychologising. Most chapters include lengthy illustrations of what Silverman considers to be admirable qualitative work such as Shaw and Kitzinger on help lines or Maynard on doctors and bad news. Particularly helpful for those needing to 'sell' the value of a qualitative approach to funding agencies is the chapter treating applied qualitative research and the unexpected insights that organisations and policy can harvest from rigorous qualitative work. Reading this book will put the more advanced student into the drawing room of active debates on how to do qualitative work and why, as the book is spiced with personal communications. The opinionated and colourful prose should inspire readers to join the debate, and think more clearly about qualitative research in an age that provides us with unlimited 'naturally occurring data' thanks to reality television.
Alison E. Woodward
Vrije Universiteit Brussel