Sage Publications, London (2015)
ISBN: 9781446294246 (pb)
Reviewed by Andrew Carlin, Manchester Metropolitan University
SAGE have entered another textbook into the competitive market for introductory level researchers. In his preface, Uwe Flick acknowledges that the market contains a range of “comprehensive textbooks” (p. ixx) and boasts that “comprehensiveness is not necessarily a virtue. Comprehensive treatments tend to be bulky and unwieldy and they can be overwhelming in the detail they present” (p. xx). Here, Flick attempts to spin a selling-point out of a weakness; and gets carried away by saying, without irony, that his new edition “includes guidance on, and reference to, further sources on the subject” (p. xx).
To ask what could be the pedagogic value of this limitation, that Flick himself acknowledges, misses the point. Some of Flick’s readership may only read one book on doing research in sociology and, whilst it does not cover all the issues required by more senior undergraduates in sufficient detail, it is a highly serviceable account of the core material at an introductory level. Then there are those who are known as “reluctant readers”. Instructors are very well aware that some students will never access recommended websites or podcasts, nor will they read selected chapters in popular textbooks, or follow up further readings.
Uwe Flick has produced a textbook for reluctant readers, for those students who do not engage with course material provided by course leaders. Furthermore, this is a textbook with a solid overview of both quantitative and qualitative research: this is a book that can be recommended to reluctant readers with confidence.
There have not been many changes in content between editions. The preface has been re-worded slightly to reflect that it is a different edition. Only a cynic would point out that the updated references this edition contains are to works published by SAGE (or that some of these cited references are to chapters from Flick’s The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Data Analysis, 2014). In the main, despite Flick’s prefatory claims to the contrary (p. xxii), changes (new headings) are cosmetic; some, however, are more significant. The “literature reviewing” chapter is moved from Part I ‘Orientation’ to Part II ’Planning and Design’. This is a welcome re-organisation that emphasises that writing a literature review is itself part of the research project rather than a necessary chore before the project proper begins.
Flick has re-positioned the “Ethics” chapter for this second edition, bringing it forward within the text from Part IV, Reflection and Writing to Part I, Orientation. This gives consideration of research ethics more prominence – this sublime re-ordering of the contents distinguishes research ethics from the “add-on” status it was afforded in the first edition, and the ubiquitous default position within introductory textbooks. The relatively impoverished treatment that ethics receives, however, negates this improvement. What is needed is consideration of research ethics beyond a discrete chapter, with attention to ethics embedded throughout an introductory text. This will help students see ethical approval as an integral part of the sociological project; not, like literature reviews, another hurdle to be jumped. I have no doubt that a third edition will be commissioned in the future, and such moves would be most welcome and truly innovative.
I would be doing a disservice to Flick, and especially to SAGE, if I failed to remark on the design of the book. Pages are extremely well-spaced and attractive to read; a useful and user-friendly “navigator” at the beginning of each chapter informs readers whereabouts they are in the research planning process; a gorgeous bronze typeface graces diagrams, textboxes, and chapter dividers. As readers would expect, SAGE provide a Name Index and a Subject Index; and, in a book of this nature, a glossary of terms (p. 264-272).
This is an engaging book, clearly written, designed for comprehension rather than comprehensiveness. All students will benefit from reading it: this may be the only text on doing research that some will read, and for this cohort it covers the basics; while those who want to be stretched further will not have wasted their time in reading this.