Research aimed at revealing the underlying power relations between subjects and those over whom they have influence or control, or illuminating the often undeclared interests of individuals in powerful organizations and institutions. Investigative research in social science shares features with investigative journalism. A pioneering rationale for investigative research in sociology was provided by Californian sociologist Jack Douglas. The frontispiece to Douglas's book on investigative research (Douglas, 1976) is a quote from Thucydides' The Peloponnesian War: ‘Not that even so the truth was easy to discover: different eye witnesses give different accounts of the same events, speaking out of partiality for one side or the other or else from imperfect memories.’ Here Douglas turns to classical literature to reaffirm an ancient interpretive principle—and the important word in the quotation is not so much ‘different’ or ‘imperfect’, but ‘partiality’. For Douglas:using basic ideas of truth, we find that the social world in which we live, especially American society, is a complex, conflictual, and problematic world in which people, both unintentionally and purposefully, often (but not always) construct complex ways of hiding important parts of their lives from the outside public, especially researchers. Social research methods must always be constructed in accord with the basic ideas of truth and the basic goal of achieving truth in this kind of social world. (1976: 3).Within Douglas's investigative framework, then, there is no absolute truth, rather a ‘multiperspectival conception of truth’. And it is not to scientific methods and replicatable techniques that the investigative Douglas turns in his quest for such truths:Only a tiny fraction of the information collected and social research done in our society is collected or done by sociologists or by people who have seriously studied sociology. Most social research information is discovered by social research done by people of practical affairs, such as journalists collecting information through interviews, writers doing life stories by taping long talks with the subjects, retired politicians writing memoirs or publishing diaries, businessmen trying to determine the profitability of a new housing development or a new toothpaste, government officials trying to determine public response to a new schedule of bus fares or the amount of crime, and so on almost endlessly. (1976: 14).This is not a programme for systematic research methods training in graduate schools of social science (Sugden and Tomlinson, 1999). It is, though, a realistic appraisal of the nature of knowledge generation in advanced liberal democratic consumerist societies. And Douglas's arguments lie within a well-established critical tradition in North American cultural criticism, journalism, and campaigning sociology (and comparable streams of critical oppositional and investigative traditions in other countries). The roots of the investigative tradition lie within the muckraking tradition of journalistic writing in the USA in the first decade of the 20th century, when ‘investigation and exposure, watchdog functions of a democratic press’ (Kaplan, 1975: 151) characterized the investigations and writings of a generation of journalists—and novelists such as Upton Sinclair—who prompted reform and intervention by the federal government in the ruthless and exploitative practices of giant industries. Insurance companies, railroads, the liquor business, and the medicine and meat industries were all exposed, and opened up to the reforming regulatory zeal of the US president, Theodore Roosevelt. Lincoln Steffens, from 1901 editing the McClure's Magazine (monthly circulation 360,000), was the most prominent of such journalists, ‘the publicly recognized leader of a movement that was at the peak of its influence at the beginning of 1906’ (Kaplan, 1975: 146). The investigative muckraking tradition was later complemented by a radical strain of critical writing best embodied in the figure of Randolph Bourne. Bourne's essays for the New Republic from 1914 included ‘The Undergraduate’, in which he bemoaned the fraternity-dominated college life based on a ‘sporting attitude’ which is anathema to an intellectual, enquiring life (Bourne, 1977: 212–15).
Subjects: Sport and Leisure.