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Postmodernism and Social Research

Mats Alvesson
Open University Press: Buckingham
033520631X (pb); 0335206328 (hb)
£16.99 (pb); £50.00 (hb)
vii + 200

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Front Cover
'The falseness of a judgement is to us not necessarily an objection to a judgement: it is here that our new language perhaps sounds strangest.' (Nietzsche, 2003: 35)
'…expressing doubt about postmodernist ideas is not necessarily anti- postmodernism, and can be seen as well in line with a postmodernist ethos.' (Alvesson, 2002: 45)
Alvesson describes his own book as an impossible mission. A reading of the book persuades the reader that this is an accurate judgement. The attempt to synthesise postmodern theory with social research is clearly an ambitious objective. It is this objective that Alvesson attempts to achieve within this text. He fails by his own admission.

The reflexive re-evaluation of social research is the central theme of the book. The writer reluctantly – often vehemently undermining the label – adopts a postmodern perspective in order to re-focalise social research. The outcome of this discussion appears to propose the concept of a more self-aware approach to social research. This is a generalised outcome that cannot fail to improve any form of research. However, the reader is left considering if the involvement of postmodern theory is required for this outcome to be reached. Ideally any form of evaluation or critique of social research should incorporate an analysis of the self-awareness of the research and its interpretations.

The problem for Alvesson, and for any understanding of postmodernism, is the fluid and protean nature of postmodernism. Alvesson is aware of this problem and is careful to detail it in the beginning chapters of this book.

The book is structured to include nine chapters; the contents of each are too thorough to detail within this short review so I shall give a brief overview. The opening chapters are concerned with the context, definition and problematic nature of postmodernism. The following chapters then offer insights into specific methodologies and offer intimations of future postmodern directions. The book is concluded with a specific re-evaluation of the writers own research piece from a postmodern perspective. This gives a useful insight into the practical implications of the previous chapters. Finally the conclusion section attempts to crystallize the arguments for a postmodern reconsideration of social research.

The structure described above combined with the book's repetitive nature and its short clearly headed subsections, suggests that it has been written for reference purposes rather than cover-to-cover reading. The text seems to be designed as a kind of social research companion. The ease of access to specifically required research information is a highlight of this text.

The objective of this book is to attempt to unite or find some common ground between postmodernism and social research. In my opinion, the book achieves the opposite. As the synthesising exercise is attempted the incompatibility of postmodernism and social research becomes more obvious. This is not a criticism of the writer; it is because of the thoroughness of the writing that the differential gap is widened. As the writer analyses the research processes the clarity of the definition of postmodernism disappears. The compromise required to fit postmodernism into a form of social research hollows out the original concept. The conclusion section attempts to smooth over these problems and it is for this reason that we are left with the suggestion of a reflexive re-evaluation of social research as opposed to a radical reworking.

This is a highly self-critical and pragmatic text that will prove useful for researchers who wish to reconsider their approach from a postmodern position. However, inevitably, it is not a text that can give any form of consolidated postmodern social research. This text describes the process of a social researcher adapting to postmodern theory, not a postmodern theorist adopting social research practices.

David Beer
University of York


NIETZSCHE, F. (2003) Beyond Good and Evil. London: Penguin.

Copyright Sociological Research Online,