You are here

Social Research and Reflexivity

Social Research and Reflexivity

  • Tim May - Cardiff University, UK, University of Sheffield, UK, University of Salford, UK
  • Beth Perry - Professorial Fellow, Urban Institute, University of Sheffield

248 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd
What are the critical gaps in thinking about reflexivity and social research?

How is reflexive practice shaped by the contexts and cultures in which researchers work?

How might research practice respond to twin demands of excellence and relevance in the knowledge-based economy?

Thinking reflexively about the inter-relationships between social research and societal practices is all the more important in the so-called knowledge economy.

Developing reflexive practices in social research is not achieved through applying a method. Where and how researchers work is fundamental in shaping the capacities and capabilities to produce research as content and context lie in a dynamic interaction.

This book not only provides a history of reflexive thought, but its consequences for the practice of social research and an understanding of the contexts in which it is produced.

It provides critical insights into the implications of reflexivity through a discussion of positioning, belonging and degrees of epistemic permeability in disciplines. It is also highly innovative in its suggestions for ways forward in research practice through the introduction of active intermediaries.

Overall, the book offers an exciting new position on reflexive research that will generate much debate through its successful achievement of two difficult feats: providing essential reading for orientations on reflexivity and social research in the twenty-first century and making a landmark contribution to thinking and practice in the field.

Social Research and Reflexivity is suitable for advanced undergraduates, postgraduates and social researchers in general across a number of disciplines including geography, social research, management and organizations; economics, urban studies, sociology, social policy, anthropology and politics, as well as science and technology studies.

Introduction: Motivations for a Contribution
Commitment, Criteria and Change
Mediation and Research
Representation in Question?
Reflexive Practice
Positioning and Belonging
The Political Economy of Knowledge: Relevance, Excellence and Reflexivity
Universities as Research Sites
Cultures of Research Production
A Way forward: Active Intermediaries

'Tim May and his colleague, Beth Perry, are uniquely placed to move knowledge production and deployment beyond the usual nostrums. Experienced and well-informed academics, they choose to occupy the space "betwixt and between" the academy, public engagement, and critical reflexivity. For them, the complex interplay of institutional structures, policies, theories, methods, and academic framings are to be understood together reflexively in the context of ongoing activity between and within universities, regions, and policy programs.

This challenging analysis builds on years of experience, charting a course between the dysfunctional utopianisms of positivism, relativism, and cynicism to argue for a committed re-engagement with human problems in their complexity. This is accomplished through the mobilization of multiple perspectives, expertise, and the direct engagement in contexts of action capable of affecting the analyses.

Together these views constitute a harsh critique of academic business as usual and of dystopian schemes that masquerade as the latest intellectual trends or policy fad. But May and Perry do not stop at critique as do most. They offer possible ways forward that are demanding but possible to engage for those who really care.

This is a report from the trenches where a few scholar-actors are doing vital work under difficult conditions. My hope is that this book will cause the powers that be in academia and in government to stop and reflect, to engage with these critiques, and to alter the dysfunctional working conditions that rob society and academia of the critical reflexivity needed for meaningful social change -
Davydd J. Greenwood, Goldwin Smith Professor of Anthropology,
Cornell University

'Thought provoking and well organised this is an entirely novel and well thought out discussion of reflexivity. It is much more sophisticated than anything else I have come across. Books which follow in the area will have to pay regard to it, because it is the most comprehensive and nuanced statement yet' - Malcolm Williams, Director of School of Social Sciences, University of Cardiff

The dimensions or concepts used in the book would be to help in reflecting on reflexive practices in a more general sense, a useful tool, especially if you want to improve framework conditions, or space for reflection in specific scientific communities. (Translation).

Karen Mogendorff
Wageningen University

Sample Materials & Chapters

Chapter 1: Commitment, Criteria and Change

Tim May

Tim May originally trained and worked as an agricultural engineer. After his PhD (1990), he was appointed to a lectureship at Plymouth (1989-95) and then moved to the University of Durham (1995-99) and was appointed at Salford in 1999. He became Director of the Centre for Sustainable Urban and Regional Futures in 2001. He is currently Professor of Social Science Methodology and Director of Research at the Sheffield Methods Institute, University of Sheffield. He has held research grants from many sources including: ESRC; EPSRC; AHRC; Mistra (Swedish Environmental Research Foundation; Regional Development Agencies; Core Cities Group; Office... More About Author

Beth Perry

Professor Beth Perry is Professorial Fellow in the Urban Institute, University of Sheffield. Beth joined the Urban Institute in September 2016, following her appointment as a Professorial Fellow in the Faculty of Social Sciences. Since 2010 she has been the UK Programme Lead for the Mistra Urban Futures Centre, with headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden and sits on the International Board. Beth’s research focuses on critically interrogating and developing pathways to more just sustainable urban futures. She focusses on urban governance, transformation and the roles of universities, with an emphasis on socio-environmental and socio-cultural... More About Author

SAGE Knowledge is the ultimate social sciences digital library for students, researchers, and faculty. Hosting more than 4,400 titles, it includes an expansive range of SAGE eBook and eReference content, including scholarly monographs, reference works, handbooks, series, professional development titles, and more.

The platform allows researchers to cross-search and seamlessly access a wide breadth of must-have SAGE book and reference content from one source.

SAGE Research Methods is a research methods tool created to help researchers, faculty and students with their research projects. SAGE Research Methods links over 175,000 pages of SAGE’s renowned book, journal and reference content with truly advanced search and discovery tools. Researchers can explore methods concepts to help them design research projects, understand particular methods or identify a new method, conduct their research, and write up their findings. Since SAGE Research Methods focuses on methodology rather than disciplines, it can be used across the social sciences, health sciences, and more.