Forms of Life
The Method and Meaning of Sociology
A concise, accessible, and engaging guide for students and practitioners of sociology.
In Forms of Life, Harry Collins offers an introduction to social science methodology, drawing on his forty-plus years of conducting high-profile sociological research. In this concise, accessible, and engaging book, Collins explains not only how to do sociology (the method) but also how to think about sociology (the meaning). For example, he describes the three activities that are the foundations of sociological method (immersing oneself in a society; estranging oneself from that society; and explaining what has been discovered to those who have not been immersed) and goes on to consider broader questions of the meaning of science in relation to social science and the scientific authority of “subjective” methods. He explains that sociology is the study of social collectivities (often overlapping, subdividable, and embedded), and cites Wittgenstein's notion of “forms of life” in his definition of collectivity.
Collins covers such methodological topics as participant comprehension; interview-based fieldwork (“expect plans to fail”); interactional expertise; alternation and methodological relativism; tangible and inferential experiments; tribalism and emotional loyalty; and how to communicate your findings. Finally, he offers recommendations for “saving the science of sociology,” considering, among other things, sociology's identity as a discipline and the perils of both “groupism” and being too afraid of it. Appendixes offer a code of conduct for interviews; a list of his relevant publications; and an account, in Q&A form, of a disastrous day in the life of a sociologist doing fieldwork.