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Doing Qualitative Research: A Practical Handbook

David Silverman
Sage Publications: London
1999
0761958231 (pb); 0761958223 (hb)
15.99 (pb); 49.50 (hb)
336

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Front Cover
This is an exemplary book; it is not only very practical but truly scholarly. As befits any text on qualitative methodology, or indeed any contemporary social endeavour, the author dismisses dualism. Ironically, he explicitly addresses the book to students and novices - and this is a totally un-necessary bit of dualism as the book offers a great deal to experienced researchers. Basically, I have adopted the simple approach of identifying what appear to me as the specific strengths of the book. I will also, after many years of teaching social research, unashamedly write about my personal responses and judgements, trying to emulate Silverman's clarity of language and freedom from jargon.

The book opens with the almost obligatory discussion of the characteristics of qualitative and quantitative research, but then questions the prevailing dichotomy and points to the need for proper criteria of quality to be applied to all research. Much more usefully, this is later accompanied by a very useful discussion of the criteria which might be applied to assist us in making the best selection of methodology for the subject of our own inquiry. Any researcher who utilises the same tired old methods whatever the question should read this chapter and internalise its lessons.

The book as whole comes to life through a series of brief summaries of various research projects. Having spent many years using one of the various anthologies of research accounts as an accompaniment to teaching social research, I am delighted to see these integrated into the textbook itself. I know from my own former students that they learned a great about research simply by discussing and arguing accounts of the research experience of their forerunners.

Current students are all too often pressured to pursue what a colleague termed 'technological instrumentalism' rather than genuine inquiry. This is often fostered by academic bureaucrats, who may even ask that grant applicants specify the outcomes of their research, despite the fact that if this can be done, the research concerned must be either trivial or totally un-necessary! Silverman's chapter on originality in research is therefore especially welcome. Real scholarship demands genuine inquiry and exploration, hence creativity and originality.

He follows this with some vary sound advice on choice of a subject - graduate students who read and understand this chapter would probably be much less likely to drop out as a result of becoming stalled in mid-project. Having dealt here with the extent to which no inquiry can be free of theoretical pre- suppositions, the reader must proceed to the next chapter on the nature of theory and its diversity of forms. This is indeed a tour de force of simple and lucid expression.

Given these foundations, the chapters which follow on methodology, data collection and analysis, management of the research process, and the writing up of research are all excellent. One of the delights to me is to find that the author strongly challenges the sacred cow of triangulation, but then my one disappointment is that he might have dealt more fully with the potential values of multiple-methods studies. My own experience in both carrying out such studies and integrating the work of multi- disciplinary teams, and recognising the ontological problems posed by using multiple perspectives, demonstrates that they offer a great opportunity for knowledge-building. Personally, I see them as something like Wolcott's metaphor of photography which is cited by Silverman to emphasise the importance of determining the level at which we might study a topic - wide angle lens or close-up lens. A whole series of inter-related photographs, each showing a different degree of detail, cannot only give us a much better view of the whole, but can demonstrate the way in which each view relates to others.

In summary, this is an outstanding text and could be recommended not only to novice students but to all interested in the execution or consumption of research.

Elery Hamilton-Smith
LaTrobe University

Copyright Sociological Research Online,