Researching a confessional society

David Beer
University of York


Mike Savage and Roger Burrows (2007) have written recently about what they describe as a 'coming crisis of empirical sociology'. According to the authors this crisis is driven by an emergent tension between traditional social research techniques, which look increasingly limited in terms of scope and depth of insight, contrasted against the vast transactional database resources used for analysis by the business sector. The problem, they contend, is that, in a context where 'data on whole populations' are 'routinely gathered as a by-product of institutional transactions' (Savage & Burrows 2007, p. 891), and where social researchers are faced with falling response rates and difficulties in attracting willing participants, the traditional methods upon which we have relied are beginning to appear somewhat insignificant, or even irrelevant. It would seem that this sense of impending crisis may not be restricted solely to the academic discipline of sociology.