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A Matter of Record: Documentary Sources in Social Research



A Matter of Record: Documentary Sources in Social Research

John Scott

ISBN: 978-0-745-60070-3 January 1991 Polity 200 Pages


This textbook aims to give an introduction to the use of documentary sources in social research. It is designed to be a companion to courses in research methods in the social sciences and history and a reference text for those beginning research on documentary sources. The book begins with an overview of the nature of social research and the variety of methods which can be used. Scott identifies three types of evidence useful in such research - physical evidence, personal evidence and documentary evidence. He argues that the logic of research is common to each type of evidence, but that each involves specific methodological issues. An appraisal grid for the analysis of documents is presented, showing the criteria which must be used in evaluating documentary sources. In the following chapters these criteria are applied to the variety of documentary sources available to the social researcher: census data and official statistics; government publications; directories and yearbooks; personal diaries and letters.

List of Figures VII

Preface ix

1 Social Research and Documentary Sources 1

Evidence and data in social research 2

What are documents? 10

2 Assessing Documentary Sources 19

Authenticity: soundness and authorship 19

Credibility: sincerity and accuracy 22

Representativeness: survival and availability 24

Meaning: literal and interpretative understanding 28

3 The Use of Documents in Social Research 36

The search for King Arthur 38

Who wrote the Zinoviev letter? 43

The social meanings of suicide 48

Social research and the relativity of accounts 54

4 The Official Realm: Public and Private 59

The State, surveillance and secrecy 60

Official documents in the State 63

Official records in the private sphere 78

5 Administrative Routines and Situated Decisions 83

Conceptual instruments and administrative routines 84

Situated decisions 90

6 Explorations in Official Documents 96

Occupation, class and inequality 96

Class schemas and the problem of meaning 111

Measuring the class structure 117

The records of health, welfare and education 123

Business and industrial records 129

7 The Public Sphere and Mass Communication 136

Public opinion, the media and the audience 137

Images, content and meaning 143

Directories, almanacs and yearbooks 156

The annals of the rich and powerful 163

8 Personal Documents 173

Diaries, letters and autobiographies 174

Photographs and visual sources 185

Notes 198

Index 227