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Salsa Dancing into the Social Sciences: Research in an Age of Info-Glut (my reading notes)

Granville Island dancersIf you’ve followed me on Twitter, or have read my blog for any length of time, you probably know that in my early years, I was a competitive salsa dancer. I was trained as a classical dancer as a child, and then moved on to salsa, tango, merengue and finally specialized in salsa, to the point where I competed in dance tournaments and I taught how to dance this particular style. I can dance decently now, but I am no longer competitive, because of course, the PhD. (By the way, these are two random salsa dancers on Granville Street back in Vancouver who allowed me to take a photo of them)

Anyways, I was VERY keen to read Salsa Dancing into the Social Sciences: Research in an Age of Info-Glut by Kristen Luker.

I won’t say that I dislike Luker’s book, because I didn’t. I did hope it would be written as *I* (a former competitive salsa dancer, and now a professor of political science/public policy) would do it. But then again, I think that’s a bit of a Reviewer 2
approach. Anyways, there are many things that are worth highlighting and that I enjoyed. There are also things I did not enjoy, as I said on Twitter. I sort of expected some connection between salsa dancing and sociology. I know Professor Luker IS a sociologist and I love her narrative style throughout the book. But I didn’t find salsa dancing moves here. No swaying, no footwork metaphors, no spins, no deep connection between dancers (a pre-requisite for salsa). Not even emphasis on technique.

My complaints about the lack of actual technical salsa moves’ metaphors in the text, Luker’s is a fantastic book for social scientists, primarily sociologists but useful for other disciplines, to be read on Monday evenings, weekly. My complaint stands, though. Yes, Luker talks about salsa-dancing social scientists and at some points I can see how her rhetoric mirrors flowy salsa movements. But, and I know I’m going to sound like Reviewer 2, this is not how I would have written a salsa dancing social science book.

HOWEVER…

I do thoroughly recommend it for several reasons.

  1. it provides excellent detailed explanations on actual research methods, eschewing towards qualitative and historical-comparative.
  2. links methods and mechanics of research
  3. describes how to do the research process and social science methods to conduct said research.

Certainly, Luker teaches more qualitative than quantitative methods but her Salsa Dancing book definitely has the inner thinking of a quantative scholar throughout.

It took me almost until the end of the book to REALLY understand what Luker meant by a salsa-dancing social scientist (someone who moves horizontally, nimbly and swiftly – this description is actually mine).

If you are a doctoral student, maybe you could read it during “Reading Break” and then work through chapter by chapter along with Luker’s exercises. I like that Luker combines the conversational tone of Bolker with methodological rigour of Dunleavy and exercises like Sternberg. And my warning stands, particularly those of you who like me may be actual competitive dancers.

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