Documents in Social Research


This entry reviews the various ways in which documents have entered into social research practice during the 20th and into the 21st centuries. Four dominant modes of orientation are identified, namely, a focus on documents as sources of data (i.e., for their content); a focus on the ways in which documents—including research reports and data sources—are constructed and assembled; a focus on how people use documents—such as files, folders, and literary texts—in practice; and a focus on documents as agents that can impact upon and influence schemes of social action. In each case, examples—drawn from anthropology, history, literature, philosophy, psychiatry, psychology, and sociology—are cited to illustrate the key issues that characterize the orientation, and the theoretical or historical origins of the approach are identified. The entry concludes by highlighting how a consideration of documents as agents challenges many fundamental assumptions of traditional social scientific inquiry.

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