Using documents in social research

Using Documents in Social ResearchUsing Documents in Social Research by Lindsay F. Prior
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My last bed-side reading has been a heavy academic book by Lindsay Prior called „Using documents in social research“, Sage, 2003. This is an enlightening book for someone like me with little experience in social sciences. The reason I bought the book is because we often have access to a lot of documents in our case studies. I wanted to know how to handle these documents as data sources in my research. This book, though a heavy read at times, has a lot of wisdom. The main thesis is that documents are not static objects that you read and are done. Documents are dynamically created and shared in social settings. In order to make best use of documents in social research you need to take into consideration issues such as: who created the document why? who were the intended readers? Documents are social agents by themselves and are open to interpretation, manipulation etc. „Our focus, then, will be on the study of documents in their social settings–more specifically on how the documents are manufactured and how they function rather than simply on what they contain.“ (pp. 4). When studying documents we need to see their social power, what they have led to, how they are used by people in different times, and try to understand why. We need to understand the goals of the authors, why and how they wrote the document. Often the authors have written the documents because they lived in some social settings that urged them to write the document. What were those social settings? Important to understand the social power of documents and how they have made people (readers) act in different ways.

Great analysis of documents that you consider as bible but with a closer scrutiny you see they are not mere facts as you thought they were. For instance, documents from WHO on „reason for death“ are analyzed in interesting ways. Concepts such as ecological fallacy are introduced. We get introduced to the idea that the same document with exactly same content can be interpreted in totally different ways by different people. Strong! You need to read this if you are serious about documents in social science research!

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