5.1 Empirical enquiry It has been the intention of this book to show how empirically grounded critical social research can be accomplished. However, it is as much about reaffirming a way of thinking as it is about providing approaches to data. Indeed it is not data collection but the intrinsic critique of the interpretative framework that marks out critical social research from other forms of social scientific and cultural enquiry.
Critical social research is clearly not constrained by its data collection techniques. The empirical studies analysed above include the whole gamut of research tools: observation, both participant and non-participant; formal interviews with random samples; semi-structured, unstructured, and in-depth interviewing; key informant testimonies; analysis of personal and institutional documents; mass media analysis; archive searching; examination of official statistics; and reviews of published literature. Furthermore, critical social research also uses a wide variety of analytic techniques: ethnographic interpretation; historical reconstruction; action research; multivariate analysis; structuralist deconstruction; and semiological analysis.
It is not data collection devices nor analytic techniques that sets empirical critical social research apart from either explanatory or interpretive approaches. It is the way in which data are approached and the framework within which data are analysed that is crucial. Critical social research does not set out to find the ‘causes’ of observed social phenomena. Nor does it satisfy itself with the interpretation of the meanings of social actions. Critical social research is fundamentally critical because it aims to shatter the illusion of observed ‘reality’.
This book will have succeeded if, after reading it you are no longer able to watch a movie without being overwhelmed by the obviousness of its ideological coding; cannot sit through a news broadcast without being exasperated by the constant manifestations of oppressive mechanisms; become infuriated when you walk into a toy shop and see banks of girls toys packaged in pink and sporting smiling faces of pretty but inactive girls (unless they are performing housewifely chores). It will have succeeded if you are able to articulate this exasperation and fury through the generation of an empirical critical enquiry. In short the book succeeds if, on the one hand, you see, and are able to analyse, class, race, gender (sexuality, age and disability) oppression in every walk of life, and, on the other, have the confidence to undertake empirical critical research.