Factory produced building blocks in social research

I really should not be posting because I really am running on a tight timeline and have a lot to do. However, in trying to find a review of Putnam’s talk in one of Melbourne University’s theatres last night I came across Andrew Leigh’s notes from the introduction he gave at an earlier talk.

The secret is that while most social scientists use an artisan model, Professor Putnam’s research model looks more like a well-run factory than a craft workshop. A team of research assistants craft memos that summarise research findings on a particular narrow issue. Before your memo is finalised, you must present it to the full team, chaired by Bob, and comprising graduate students in politics, economics and sociology. Only then does it make it through to the man himself, who digests the findings, and then uses it to churn out beautifully readable prose – usually at around 3 in the morning. Being part of Bob’s research team was a highlight of my time at Harvard – and I learned why one of my predecessors described him as ‘the General Motors of American academia’.

Well, I guess that someone has to do the research that go into such broad claims. I am just so glad that it is not me.


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