Tricks of the Trade: How to Think about Your Research While You're Doing It

Howard S. Becker

Book cover

My boss (a PhD economist) lent this to me some time ago, and as I’ve recently been feeling inclined to go back to school for an econ PhD, I picked it up a couple of months ago (I didn’t finish it until now because I accidentally left it in my sister’s car in DC). The author is a sociologist, so many of the topics and approaches that he discussed were new to me. And while I didn’t read anything that seems like it would be directly useful in economics research, I have a feeling that several of Becker’s ideas, or at least perspectives, will stay with me. He focuses a lot on the idea of exploring and pushing your sample space, and in particular looking proactively for cases that would challenge your hypothesis. I also enjoyed the discussion of “analytic induction,” specifically the question of to what extent it’s appropriate for a researcher to redefine the concepts being studied as he or she learns more about them. In many ways this book reminded me of Deborah Stone’s (excellent) “Policy Paradox”–taking a subject that people often inaccurately portray as a supremely rational process and talking seriously about the roles that imagery and narrative play in its conduct.

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars