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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.

Read the introduction to Part One.

240 pages | 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2017

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Political Science: Public Policy

Sociology: Methodology, Statistics, and Mathematical Sociology


"Evidence is thoughtful account on how to do social science research and should be read by those who engage in such work. Becker shows the importance of thinking about the practical aspects of methodology in collecting data and transforming it into evidence. In a world of fake news and anti-vaccination rhetoric, there is no timelier book than Evidence to show us how to think through these and other issues."


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, author of Foucault, in Winter, in the Linnaeus Garden

“With Evidence, Becker has written another must-read book for students and experienced sociologists, as well as also for all of those who do not yet understand how and why the sociology is a real science.”

Liens Socio

Table of Contents


Part 1. What It’s All About: Data, Evidence, and Ideas
1. Models of Inquiry: Some Historical Background
2. Ideas, Opinions, and Evidence
3. How the Natural Scientists Do It

Part 2. Who Collects the Data and How Do They Do It?
4. Censuses
5. Data Gathered by Government Employees to Document Their Work
6. Hired Hands and Nonscientist Data Gatherers
7. Chief Investigators and Their Helpers
8. Inaccuracies in Qualitative Research

Afterword: Final Thoughts


Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

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