Monday, 14 January 2013

Luker & Research Anxiety

           The first three chapters of Salsa Dancing into the Social Sciences provide some cause for anxiety on the part of would-be social science researchers.  Luker explains that individual research methods are more than established best practices.  She argues that research methods carry with them historical and political baggage (Luker, 2008, p.30).  This baggage, coupled with the inescapability of the “social influence” informing our decisions about how to study the social world (Luker, 2008, p.31), makes it incredibly difficult to approach a research project with any hope of ascertaining something close to the truth.  Luker compares the search for objectivity to the practice of trying to achieve Zen enlightenment (p.6). She does not expect to achieve it, but she claims the process is worthwhile in itself. A student fresh to the process of social science research could potentially feel pessimistic about Luker’s lowered expectations. Moreover, despite the bold promises made to readers at the end of the first three chapters, Luker fails to deliver much in the way of concrete advice to students trying to grapple with these issues. 


  1. Hi Nicholas - I'm struck by your comment on Luker's lowered expectations....the pursuit of Zen enlightenment doesn't sound like a low expectation to me! Perhaps you can expand on that point?

  2. I am curious what Luker would say about the idea of finding "truth" in research, as you mentioned, through the lens of postmodernism that our culture sees through. The idea that everyone constructs their own truth coupled with information overload in the world today seems to make research in the social sciences overwhelmingly expansive.

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  4. Hi Nicholas, I had the opposite reaction to the reading.
    I actually find Luker's introduction liberating rather than discouraging. She questions the absolutism of research methods, and in doing so encourages students to have the confidence to trust their own feelings about whether a particular method is working for their research or not, and take risks with the way they go about their work rather than sticking to something that is not ideal for the sake of respecting the rules and authority of tradition.
    Learning about the contextual factors that affected the way various methods were valued over others and how these attitudes have changed over time reminds me, as a student starting out in this course, to not be afraid to question things as I learn more about these methods and be open and flexible as I start to think about the assignments we have coming up.
    I also enjoy the more casual writing style, just because its so different than most of what we read in grad school, I find it more relatable, and helps me to better digest the information she's putting out.