Thinking with the Problem: Sociology and the Craft of Description

Thinking with the Problem: Sociology  and the Craft of Description

Howard Becker’s methodological practice of description has been debated, critiqued and renewed in a range of fields including sociology, anthropology, cultural studies, STS, drug policy and research and more recently Heather Love’s (2015) appraisal of deviance studies. Much of this debate concerns the uses of social research methods and their political effects. Taking up these concerns with the construction of social scientific knowledge this paper returns to the problem of description in Becker’s work. Focusing on his research on drug use and deviance (Becker 1953, 1963, 1967, 1998) it addresses the methodological problem of description in the research process and the effects of the descriptive method for situating knowledge of the problem. In reviewing the methodological relevance of problems as a tool for thinking sociologically the paper evaluates the contribution of Becker’s pragmatic methodology for a politics of knowledge production. In so doing it demonstrates how problems are transformative meetings of methods, objects, publics and disciplinary practices.

About the presenter:

Dr Nicole Vitellone is AF Warr Senior Lecturer in Sociology in the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology at the University of Liverpool. Her research to date has focused on harm reduction polices and practices and she has published widely on these areas. Her recent book Social Science of the Syringe (Routledge, 2017) is an investigation of Needle Exchange programs from a socio-material perspective.

Date & time

Mon 10 Dec 2018, 1–2pm


Larry Saha Room, Haydon Allen Building, ANU


Nicole Vitellone


Tim Graham


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