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4.3 Summary

If social researchers are to be effective in understanding people, they need to be detached from common sense (the perspective of the person on the street). However, they should not be so detached that they fall into the trap of imposing their own categories upon the object without regard for the experience of those involved (the perspective of the expert).

The standpoint of the ‘stranger’ provides a way of mediating between the detached position of the scientist and the personal ex
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4.2 The perspective of the stranger

One way in which it is possible to build links between everyday experience and social scientific research is to adopt the approach recommended by the philosopher and sociologist Alfred Schütz (1899–1959). As a refugee from Austria in the late 1930s, he found himself transported to America and encountered considerable difficulties in reorienting himself to new conditions and a new culture. This personal experience of not having familiar bearings, and of encountering the impact of cultural d
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3.3 Summary

Social scientific inquiry, like all human practices, operates through a set of taken-for-granted assumptions and draws upon the same skills we use in everyday life. It is difficult to separate the treatment of facts in social science from deeply embedded cultural values.

Social scientific knowledge is situated in two ways: historically in terms of the shared values and guidelines transmitted from previous studies in the social sciences, and socially within a specific cultu
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3.2 What does it mean for knowledge to be situated?

Scientific knowledge has been frequently portrayed as universally true. If this were the case then there would be no fundamental disagreements, for what counts as true would never change. However, what has been considered scientific in the past is now often seen as archaic or simply odd. The opposite approach would be to say that truth is relative – no one view is superior to any other. Both of these positions are simplistic. Contemporary defenders of science would argue that science is imp
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3.1 Theorising situations

This unit explores the processes through which we comprehend the world around us. When it comes to understanding and explaining the way that social life operates, social scientists draw from a conceptual tool kit, just as we possess a conceptual tool kit for watching a movie or as a spectator at any sports event. There are times when all human beings feel that something appears to be plausible or appears to be false and we are quite aware that others would disagree with our own point of view.
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2.5 Summary

In a rapidly changing world, the objects of analysis with which the social sciences are familiar (such as the state and the national economy) no longer seem to operate in the same way and are possibly becoming redundant. New problems and issues are emerging which demand innovation and flexibility.

The jargon of the disciplines in the social sciences can become a barrier to understanding. As a starting-point, you should simply treat terms as labels for sets of assumptions and ideas and c
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2.3 The challenge of terminology

Probably the biggest challenge that you will encounter is acquiring a command of the terms and concepts of this field of knowledge – even the words ‘philosophy’ and ‘science’ can seem off-putting. In your reading around this unit you will come into contact with a wide range of ‘-isms’, ‘-sophies’ and ‘-ologies’, some of which you may have encountered in previous studies. Actually, these terms are best seen as shorthand for groups of assumptions and ideas about the way th
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2.2 The challenge of methods

The methodological challenges facing the social sciences are best outlined in the form of a series of questions about how we should engage in research and what kind of research attitude is appropriate.

  • Should social scientists look to the assumptions and methods developed in the natural sciences or develop their own assumptions and methods?

  • Do the objects which we study in the social sciences, such as the self, society, the economy, i
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2.1 The challenge of change

We are living in a very complex and rapidly changing world. Social science does not exist in a vacuum: by its very nature, social scientific study directly considers those things in life which are close to our concerns as human beings – how we produce things, communicate with one another, govern ourselves, understand our varied environments, and how to solve the problems we face in the organisation of social relations and processes. The social sciences offer a way of dealing with all of the
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Learning outcomes

On completion of this unit you should be able to:

  • describe why and how we study social phenomena;

  • outline how theory can help us to deal with complex evidence;

  • give examples of the most appropriate theory;

  • identify which concepts are most useful for the task;

  • explain how hypotheses are generated;

  • summarise what makes our evidence and arguments more plausible.


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Introduction

In a complex and rapidly changing world, social scientific study examines how we produce things, communicate, govern ourselves, understand our environments, and how to solve the problems we face in the organisation of social relations and processes. This unit provides a basic overview of how social science contains deeply embedded cultural assumptions and outlines the important relationship between philosophical thinking and practical research methods in social sciences.

This material
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Acknowledgements

The material is contained in Citizenship: Personal Lives and Social Policy (ed. Gail Lewis) 2004, published in association with The Policy Press © The Open University, 2004. This publication forms part of the Open University course DD305, Personal Lives and Social Policy.

The material acknowledged below is Proprietary (see terms and conditions). This content is made available under a Author(s): The Open University

References

Audit Commission (2000) Another Country. Implementing Dispersal Under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, London, Audit Commission for Local Authorities and the National Health Service in England and Wales.
Bloch, A. (2002) Refugees' Opportunities and Barriers in Employment and Training, Department of Work and Pensions Research Report No.179, Norwich, HMSO.
Bl
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10 Further resources

A very useful overview of ‘migration’ can be found in Lewis (2003). A special issue of Critical Social Policy (2002, vol.22, no.3) on ‘Asylum and welfare’ focuses on refugees, asylum seekers and migration. Kushner's The Holocaust and the Liberal Imagination (1994) and London's Whitehall and the Jew (2000) provide comprehensive analyses of UK approaches to refugees in the 1930s.

In such a rapidly changing area of social policy, up-to-date information and anal
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9 Conclusion

In this unit we have explored the mutual constitution of personal lives and social policy through an analysis of the implications of different aspects of citizenship on the lives of refugees and asylum seekers. We have seen that legislation, social policy and practice concerned with asylum have profound effects on personal lives. Crucially, we saw that the very words used to describe people, their access to welfare, rights to work, legal status and the procedures for becoming a British citize
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8.1.2Why do you think the Home Secretary did not draw on this research when interpreting the asylum

Considering these findings alongside the statistical data and our personal stories, we can draw some conclusions about the production and reproduction of knowledge about refugees and asylum seekers through research:

6.2 ‘No-choice’ dispersal

Dispersal as a strategy aimed at resolving tensions, avoiding ‘concentrations of aliens’ and preserving ‘ethnic balance’ and ‘cultural homogeneity’ is not a new idea, but one proposed for the settlement of successive groups of refugees, and indeed immigrants, since the 1930s, and also used in the 1960s and 1970s in relation to housing and education (Lewis, 1998). The government's asylum dispersal policy of 1999, intended to ‘ease the burden’ of the south-east of England, was b
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2 Personal lives

We start our exploration of the interrelationship of personal lives and social policy with personal stories.

Activity 1

Read Extracts 1, 2 and 3 below, and make notes on areas of similarity and difference. What questions are raised a
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1 The aspects and meanings of citizenship

The issues discussed in this unit are considered in relation to different aspects and meanings of citizenship: people's legal and political status, their rights, opportunities to work, access to welfare, sense of identity and belonging, and practices of the everyday.

Throughout human history people have migrated from their place of birth for different reasons – for example, to seek new ways of surviving, to colonise new lands, to establish new markets for trade, or because they feare
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4.1 Introduction

Since the ending of the long post-war boom in the early 1970s, the EU has developed in response to intensified competition in global markets, the member states have been progressively ‘pooling’ their sovereignty in economic matters, and globalisation's political consequences have gone furthest in the EU, not least in its regions. There are thus additional, specifically EU, factors in the growth of regionalism. It has been encouraged directly by the EU's regional policies and the regional
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