Book Review: Community Research for Participation (2012)

At a time when social scientists have to demonstrate more than ever the value and applicability of their work, community research is an increasingly attractive alternative to traditional methodologies. Central to this burgeoning methodology is the recognition that the traditional objects of social research possess skills and expertise that can make invaluable contributions to projects, generating contextualised knowledge alongside, rather than about, local communities.

Community research provides an answer to persistent entreaties for academics to climb down from the Ivory Tower and get their hands dirty, such as Clair Shaw’s recent account of ‘flipped academics’  in The Guardian. Similarly, the interest in Bent Flyvbjerg’s Real Social Science: Applied Phronesis (reviewed here by Flora Cornish) is testament to the popularity of the turn to practice that community research embodies. Despite this, there is a paucity of texts dealing with the theoretical and practical issues involved with conducting research with communities. As such Lisa Goodson and Jenny Phillimore from the Institute for Applied Social Studies at the University of Birmingham have compiled a rich and timely methodological text by drawing on a number of disciplinary backgrounds and national contexts. Continue reading

Prisons, Ivory Towers and Social Research

‘You have been told to go grubbing in the library, thereby accumulating a mass of notes and liberal coating of grime… This is called ‘getting your hands dirty in real research’… But one more thing is needful: first hand observation. Go and sit in the lounges of the luxuryhotels and on the doorsteps of flophouses; sit on the Gold Coast settees and the slum shakedowns; sit in Orchestra Hall and in the Star and Garter burlesk [sic]. In short … go get the seat of your pants dirty in real research’ (Robert Park,  Unpublished).

Academics, and in particular social scientists, are often charged with being detached from the ‘real’ world. Many social scientists are not. Yet having studied at three universities, I have bumped into a few who most definitely are. Somewhat ironically, on paper, I am against the idea of this detachment. To an extent though, I too might be guilty of this. I have studied prisons in quite some detail over the last four years. However, until very recently I had never been to a prison. This article intends to share with you part of my experience, and to share with you my confirmation that ‘ivory tower academia’ alone will not suffice in understanding the social world. Continue reading