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Social Research & Reflexivity


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Table of Contents

Introduction: Motivations for a Contribution PART ONE: CONTENT Commitment, Criteria and Change Mediation and Research Representation in Question? PART TWO: CONSEQUENCES Reflexive Practice Positioning and Belonging PART THREE: CONTEXT The Political Economy of Knowledge: Relevance, Excellence and Reflexivity Universities as Research Sites Cultures of Research Production A Way forward: Active Intermediaries

About the Author

Tim May originally trained and worked as an agricultural engineer. After his PhD (1990), he was appointed to a lectureship at Plymouth (1989-95) and then moved to the University of Durham (1995-99) and was appointed at Salford in 1999. He became Director of the Centre for Sustainable Urban and Regional Futures in 2001. He is currently Professor of Social Science Methodology and Director of Research at the Sheffield Methods Institute, University of Sheffield. He has held research grants from many sources including: ESRC; EPSRC; AHRC; Mistra (Swedish Environmental Research Foundation; Regional Development Agencies; Core Cities Group; Office of the Deputy Prime Minister; Higher Education Funding Council; Local Government Management Board; Economic and Social Research Council; Manchester City Council; the CONTACT group of the four Greater Manchester Universities and the NHS. In addition to the books and journals listed below, Tim May has contributed chapters to the following publications: May, T. and Perry, B. 2013 'Reflexivity and Data Analysis'. In Flick, U. (ed). Handbook of Qualitative Data Analysis. London: SAGE. May, T. 2013 'Reflexivity'. In Kaldis, B. (ed). Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Social Sciences. London: SAGE. May, T. and Williams, M. 2010 'Commitment and Investigation in Knowing the Social World'. In Olsen, W. (ed). Realist Methodology, Volume 1: Practical Realist Ontology. London: SAGE. May, T. and Powell, J. 2007 'Michel Foucault'. In Edwards, T. (ed). Cultural Theory: Classical and Contemporary Positions. London: SAGE. May, T 2006 'Critical Theory'. In Booth, C. and Harrington, J (eds). Developing Business Knowledge. UWE/ SAGE. May, T. 2005 'Reflexivity and Sociological Practice'. In Williams, M. (ed). The Philosophical Foundations of Social Research, Volume 3: Social Reality and the Social Context of Social Research. London: SAGE. May, T. 2004 'Poststructuralism', 'Critical Theory', 'Postempiricism'. In Bryman, A., Lewis-Beck, M. and Futing Liao, T. (eds). Encyclopedia of Social Science Research Methods. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE. May, T. 2002 'The Discontented Epoch: Freedom and Security in Bauman's Postmodernity'. In Beilharz, P. (ed). Zygmunt Bauman: 4 Volumes. Volume 3, 'The Postmodern'. London: SAGE. Professor Beth Perry is Professorial Fellow in the Urban Institute, University of Sheffield. Beth joined the Urban Institute in September 2016, following her appointment as a Professorial Fellow in the Faculty of Social Sciences. Since 2010 she has been the UK Programme Lead for the Mistra Urban Futures Centre, with headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden and sits on the International Board. Beth's research focuses on critically interrogating and developing pathways to more just sustainable urban futures. She focusses on urban governance, transformation and the roles of universities, with an emphasis on socio-environmental and socio-cultural transitions. She has written widely on these issues and is currently working with Prof Tim May at the Sheffield Methods Institute on two co-authored monographs on reflexive social scientific knowledge production and the changing relationships between cities and knowledge. She is working with Tim on two major ESRC grants as well as the delivery of an international programme of work on Realising Just Cities. Jam and Justice: Co-producing Urban Governance for Social Innovation is a three-year project funded by the ESRC Urban Transformations programme, with partners at the Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation and the Universities of Manchester and Birmingham. Whose Knowledge Matters? Competing and Contesting Knowledge Claims in 21st Century Cities is a collaboration between the University of Sheffield and the University of Twente in the Netherlands funded by the Open Research Area initiative and focussed on citizen knowledges in sustainable urban development projects. Beth leads a team of researchers at the Urban Institute working across these projects.


'Tim May and his colleague, Beth Perry, are uniquely placed to move knowledge production and deployment beyond the usual nostrums. Experienced and well-informed academics, they choose to occupy the space "betwixt and between" the academy, public engagement, and critical reflexivity. For them, the complex interplay of institutional structures, policies, theories, methods, and academic framings are to be understood together reflexively in the context of ongoing activity between and within universities, regions, and policy programs.

This challenging analysis builds on years of experience, charting a course between the dysfunctional utopianisms of positivism, relativism, and cynicism to argue for a committed re-engagement with human problems in their complexity. This is accomplished through the mobilization of multiple perspectives, expertise, and the direct engagement in contexts of action capable of affecting the analyses.

Together these views constitute a harsh critique of academic business as usual and of dystopian schemes that masquerade as the latest intellectual trends or policy fad. But May and Perry do not stop at critique as do most. They offer possible ways forward that are demanding but possible to engage for those who really care.

This is a report from the trenches where a few scholar-actors are doing vital work under difficult conditions. My hope is that this book will cause the powers that be in academia and in government to stop and reflect, to engage with these critiques, and to alter the dysfunctional working conditions that rob society and academia of the critical reflexivity needed for meaningful social change -
Davydd J. Greenwood, Goldwin Smith Professor of Anthropology,
Cornell University

'Thought provoking and well organised this is an entirely novel and well thought out discussion of reflexivity. It is much more sophisticated than anything else I have come across. Books which follow in the area will have to pay regard to it, because it is the most comprehensive and nuanced statement yet' - Malcolm Williams, Director of School of Social Sciences,
University of Cardiff

The dimensions or concepts used in the book would be to help in reflecting on reflexive practices in a more general sense, a useful tool, especially if you want to improve framework conditions, or space for reflection in specific scientific communities. (Translation). -- Karen Mogendorff * KWALON *

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