Strengthening sociological research through public records requests

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14 Scopus citations


Sociologists rarely attempt to obtain public records through freedom of information requests (FOIR), despite the numerous ways such requests can contribute to social research. FOIR refers to the process of procuring data from the government through public records laws and requests. The limited sociological literature on FOIR largely portrays it as a critical-activist tool that requires an uncertain and time-consuming process. But these conceptions vastly limit the scope and usefulness of FOIR as a data collection method. This article provides a recent review of sociological literature that highlights four primary uses of FOIR: (1) to carry out archival research on government action, (2) as a supplementary data source in case studies, (3) to evaluate and complement existing data sources, and (4) to examine the organizational characteristics of public agencies. However, few of these studies provide details of the FOIR process. Therefore, I describe a successful application of FOIR to familiarize researchers with the process of brokering for access to data. These examples provide concrete illustrations of how FOIR can contribute to sociological research and may encourage academics to consider FOIR a valuable data collection method.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)110-117
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Currents
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2016
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences(all)


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