Home News and Opinion 19/11/2017 - Big Ideas in Social Science: my review of the book
19/11/2017 - Big Ideas in Social Science: my review of the book PDF Print E-mail

In the December issue of Research Matters, the quarterly publication of the Social Research Association, I review Big Ideas in Social Science, edited by David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton. The current issue of Research Matters is for members of the Social Research Association only, but back issues can be viewed here, and I have reproduced the book review below.

Big Ideas in Social Sciences, 1st edition, Sage, 2016, eds. David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton:

A book review by Hannah Grene, Barncat Consulting

This short volume is a collection of lightly edited transcripts from the podcast series Social Science Bites.

In each interview, a social scientist discusses his or her work, and as the list includes leading experts such as Robert J. Shiller, Kate Pickett and Danny Dorling, this is an excellent way to get an overview of the latest thinking in social science. It is aimed at a generalist audience, but would also be a good read for social science students looking for contemporary viewpoints, or for busy professionals who want to keep abreast of the latest developments. The interview format makes it particularly easy to read, and having the journalist probe and challenge the expert on certain aspects of their work gives it an interesting dynamic.

What feels somewhat lacking, however, is any attempt to make the interviews more than the sum of their parts. The book is divided into sections which group interviews into broad themes, but there is no introduction to the book or to the sections. The brief foreword justifies this approach by explaining that since social science is so broad and diverse, discussions on the nature of social science are ‘both interesting and inconclusive’. But, as they also point out: ‘it is almost impossible simply to be a social scientist without reflecting on what you are doing’, and any social scientist reading this book will probably curious as to how these particular interviews were chosen for publication and how the themes for the sections were chosen. In particular, a reflection on the gender balance of the interviewees would be welcome – the section on births, death and human population is predominantly female, while all other three sections are predominantly male.

Given this lack of added-value, those who love podcasts might be better off going straight to the website for podcasts, which includes not just those in the book but more recent ones as well. However, for those who absorb information better by reading, this is a useful and engaging collection.


Barncat Consulting, Ballinaclash, Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow. Email: hannah@barncat.ie




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