Howard S. Becker is a master of his discipline. His reputation as a teacher, as well as a sociologist, is supported by his best-selling quartet of sociological guidebooks: Writing for Social Scientists, Tricks of the Trade, Telling About Society, and What About Mozart? What About Murder? It turns out that the master sociologist has yet one more trick up his sleeve—a fifth guidebook, Evidence.
Becker has for seventy years been mulling over the problem of evidence. He argues that social scientists don’t take questions about the usefulness of their data as evidence for their ideas seriously enough. For example, researchers have long used the occupation of a person’s father as evidence of the family’s social class, but studies have shown this to be a flawed measure—for one thing, a lot of people answer that question too vaguely to make the reasoning plausible. The book is filled with examples like this, and Becker uses them to expose a series of errors, suggesting ways to avoid them, or even to turn them into research topics in their own right. He argues strongly that because no data-gathering method produces totally reliable information, a big part of the research job consists of getting rid of error. Readers will find Becker’s newest guidebook a valuable tool, useful for social scientists of every variety.
“Evidence is a deeply thoughtful, original take on the relationship between our ideas, the observations we make, and our ways of figuring out how we know what we are talking about. Becker breathes new life into an important tradition that has been overshadowed—thinking about methodology in terms of the practical organization of data gathering, alongside the practical ends we may not suspect, but that end up black-boxed as ‘objective’ data.”
— Iddo Tavory, author of Summoned
“Becker calls Evidence a book he’s been writing for the seventy years of his professional life as a distinguished social scientist and— dare one say?— philosopher. For, beyond being a handbook for doing—and understanding— research, this is a guide to seeking the truth of day to day lives. No social scientist, humanist, or philosopher could imagine a better time for its appearance given the rise of reckless demagogic claims for a ‘post-truth’ age and their disparagement not just of science but democracy and our shared humanity.”—Michael Joyce, Vassar College
— Michael Joyce, author of Foucault, in Winter, in the Linnaeus Garden
About the Author:
Howard S. Becker has made major contributions to the sociology of deviance, sociology of art, and sociology of music. He has also written extensively on the practice of sociology. He received a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, where he was also an instructor in sociology and social sciences. He became profesor of sociology at Northwestern University, where he taught for twenty-five years. When he retired from active teaching he was a professor of sociology and an adjunct professor of music at the University of Washington. He lives and works in San Francisco and Paris.