Notebook

Moving beyond the explicit knowledge dimensions of experts

by Stefanie Döringer

In the article The problem-centred expert interview’. Combining qualitative interviewing approaches for investigating the implicit dimension of expert knowledge, I discuss the implications of merging two qualitative interview approaches in order to explore implicit and tacit dimensions of expert knowledge. This note refers to this paper and outlines how the idea of a methodical combination arose during my PhD thesis in human geography. 

In my research, I focus on the influence of ‘key agents’ from politics, economy, and administration, but also from civil society in regional development. These agents are considered to take a pivotal role in socio-spatial change process through their special capabilities, networks, and knowledge. In order to explore their individual agency and to reveal how these persons might change the development of regions, I considered it necessary to move beyond explicit expert knowledge and to generate insights on the personal perceptions, orientation, and relevancies that guide their actions.

Based on this interest and former research experience, I had planned to draw upon a qualitative approach and to conduct ‘expert interviews’. However, on thinking about the appropriateness of this method in terms of my research, many questions arose: Can the potential interview partners be considered ‘experts’ at all? Is it necessary to have a specific educational background or an official position to gain expert status? How is the knowledge of experts characterized and how does it emerge? And how can I enquire about personal opinions and perceptions of experts, which might only be obtained in an indirect manner? These considerations encouraged me to scrutinize my previous knowledge about expert interviews and to dig deeper into the literature of methodological research.

In dealing with different interview methods, I realized that my research interest can best be addressed by a combination of two qualitative interviewing methods: firstly, the theory-generating expert interview that discusses the definition of experts, the complexity of expert knowledge, and the structures of interactions in expert interviews. Secondly, I drew upon the problem-centred interview, which highlights individual perspectives of interviewees and provides a supportive interview design for exploring biographical experiences. The two methods share connectable epistemological and methodological premises and proved to be a useful combination when the individual agency of experts forms part of an investigation.

My work benefited from the in-depth engagement with methodological literature in different ways. Bringing together elements of both approaches not only helped me to develop an eligible methodological approach in accordance with my research interest, but also challenged me to sharpen the epistemological focus of my study and to refine my theoretical assumptions on ‘structure and agency’ in regional development. By examining and working with both approaches, I gathered useful knowledge about methodical challenges and was able to draw upon concrete interview techniques during the ‘problem-centred expert interviews’. In research practice, I could greatly profit from this intensive examination, for instance when dealing with unexpected events in the interview situation or when critically reflecting upon the interview experiences in the follow-up phase.

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Narrative Rhythmanalysis: the art and politics of listening to women’s narratives of forced displacement

By Maria Tamboukou

This paper draws on my Leverhulme funded project, Revisiting the Nomadic Subject, where I have explored the use of ‘the nomadic subject’ in feminist theory and politics. The main research question that I have raised is whether nomadism has become a concept politically loaded and irreparably infected with the unbearable heaviness of those who are not able to move and cross borders and boundaries—the dark side of the moon of privileged mobility. Taking up the salience of stories not only in recounting experiences, but also in forming an experiential basis for changing the subject and its world, I have interviewed 22 migrant and refugee women in Athens and Lesvos, Greece, about their experiences of being on the move. 

The research was conducted in Athens and Lesvos, Greece during the academic year 2018-2019. My participants were recruited through a number of NGOs and civic organizations working with migrant and refugee women and the main motivation for my participants was that they wanted their story to be heard and circulated among other women. Since this was a narrative research project, I only asked my participants two questions: a) tell me the story of how you travelled to Greece and b) how do you imagine your life in 5-10 years’ time. Out of the 22 stories, which were all recorded with the consent of the participants, 6 were conducted in Farsi, 5 in English, 4 in Arabic, 3 in French, 2 in Greek and 2 in Pashto. The Arabic, Farsi and Pashto interviews, 12 in total, were conducted with the presence of an interpreter. 

Asking women to narrate stories of traumatic and life changing experiences across borders and languages has been one of the major challenges of this research. Following tracks and traces of Arendt’s political philosophy, I have encouraged my participants to tell stories about their decision to leave, as well as about their experiences of travelling without feeling obliged to limit themselves within discourses of victimization and vulnerability. In this light I have asked them to recount their lives in the light of ‘who they are’, as unique and unrepeatable human beings, and not as ‘what they are’ —objectified ‘refugees’, ‘victims’, ‘stateless subjects’. These stories have created a rich archive of uprooted women’s experiences and have brought forward a wide range of new ideas, including the art of listening, which is the theme of this paper. Listening has indeed emerged as a crucial theme in this research, despite its neglected importance in politics, as well as in the theory and praxis of social movements in general and feminism in particular. Turning my attention to listening practices, I have particularly focused on the materiality of listening, the force of corporeal voices, the rhythms of embodied listening and their effects on understanding and making connections within the web of human relations.

Migrant and refugee women’s corporeal voices were at the heart of how I have made connections with their stories of travelling, even when they were recounting their stories in languages that I could not understand. The sonics of women’s stories thus gave rise to unexpected affinities, brought up the notion of ‘narrative rhythmanalysis’ as an analytical mode and shifted my interest and attention from orality to aurality. This turn also gave me the insight of transcribing these stories in two textual modes: as prose and as free verses. Outside these experimental modes of transcription, women’s voices keep on turning and returning—reminders of the impossibility of their textual transformation. Most importantly these voices boldly express migrant and refugee women’s will ‘not to tell a story’. Such ‘unruly’ narrative performances have opened up a new analytical pathway in my research: quite simply, consider the effects of decolonial thinking in unsettling processes of knowledge production within critical feminist theories.

Calls

Call for blog posts: the methodological challenges of doing research in a pandemic

After many weeks of lockdown measures, it is increasingly obvious that we are entering into a ‘new normal’ in which restrictions on movement and interaction will be imposed for the foreseeable future. This poses a profound challenge to the practice of social research, not least of all for those using research methods which involve interpersonal contact. To support the social research community during this difficult time, the International Journal of Social Research Methodology is inviting blog posts which reflect on the methodological challenges of doing research in a pandemic. This might include topics such as: 

  • Issues in rethinking project methods in the light of the pandemic
  • Is socially distanced research possible?
  • The ethics of observation in a time of pandemic
  • What might post pandemic methods look like?
  • Using remote methods?
  • Overcoming sampling issues in online and remote research
  • Using sentiment analysis to understand attitudes to social distancing/ virus spread
  • The role social media can play in researching a pandemic: for good or ill

However these are only suggestions and we’d be interested to receive contributions on any topic relating to the current difficulties we face as social researchers. We’d like contributions to be under 1000 words and map out issues in an engaging and accessible way with a view to the practical challenge of doing research in a pandemic. There’s more guidance for contributors available online here

Please send your posts to tsrm-editor@tandf.co.uk by July 31st 2020. 

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Sex and Gender in the Census: a debate

There is much debate, often fraught, about the change to guidance notes on completing the sex question in the 2021 UK Census. On the one hand, there concerns about the implications of a shift to self-identified gender as sex for data reliability.  On the other, sex, gender and sexuality and associated identity are nuanced and interdependent concepts if we are to capture lived realities. The disagreement ranges across conceptual, methodological and political realms. Reflecting this, we, the editors of International Journal of Social Research Methodology, do not all hold the same opinions on this knotty issue.

As a contribution to debate we are pleased to make a series of short article exchanges available to download for free. These pieces are written with passion by people with divergent views but who share a commitment to good social research and to social justice.  We are grateful to them for their contributions.

Alice Sullivan – Sex and the census: why surveys should not conflate sex and gender identity

Andi Fugard – Should trans people be postmodernist in the streets but positivist in the spreadsheets? A reply to Sullivan

Sally Hines – Counting the cost of difference: a reply to Sullivan

Alice Sullivan – Response to Fugard and Hines

Rosalind Edwards, Malcolm Williams and Brian Castellani

 

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The contribution of theory to an ethnographic case study on interprofessional placements in healthcare education

By Noreen O’Leary, Nancy Salmon and Amanda M. Clifford

This Research Note is based on my experiences of writing ‘The contribution of theory to an ethnographic case study on interprofessional placements in healthcare education. The paper is a reflection on designing an ethnographic case study which draws on theory from the initial stages of research design through to data collection and analysis.

Developing this paper differed from other work I had been involved in. For review and original research papers the structure is relatively clear, or at least there are many examples to draw on. Less guidance was available for a paper reflecting on how theory was applied to the design and implementation of research. I found that I needed to write out all the actions and phases I had gone through in detail, highlighting a back and forth process of review and revisions. It was only then I could retrospectively fully see the order and sequencing of what my co-authors and I had done. Early iterations read as long monologues, highlighting aspects of the thinking process and reasons for and against certain decisions. During author group discussion around how to make this information relevant to other researchers a structure began to emerge. We settled on distilling a set of key steps that underpinned our use of theory and illustrating these with examples of what we had done during our case study research. 

One of the main benefits of writing this paper was that it immersed me in the realm of theory in research. Having previously found this to be a somewhat intimidating and confusing space, it forced me to deeply engage with not only theories themselves but really consider how and why theories are used. One of my key learnings was that there is often no perfect fit theory for a piece of research. I realised that my role as a researcher is to identify a theory or theories that add depth to the research, and which can be justified in terms of relevance to my specific research question and design. This perspective simultaneously made theory use seem less daunting and more beneficial to research. To quote Kurt Lewin (1951) ‘there is nothing so practical as a good theory’

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COVID 19 and ‘Big Qual’ Research

By Lynn Jamieson, University of Edinburgh

It seems appropriate to review the possibilities of secondary analysis of data that has already been gathered by face-to-face techniques, as the current pandemic closes down many such forms of research. The substitution of virtual means of data collection for face-to-face means, such as interviewing using internet telephony, is not the only possible response to barriers against tried and tested methods; researchers at or able to return to the design stage might consider the creative possibilities of drawing together existing archived qualitative data for new research. 

Secondary analysis of qualitative data remains a relatively under used research strategy, despite the accumulation of anonymised, quality-assured and well-documented data that has been carefully curated in official archives having been generated by peer-reviewed, funded and published studies. Researchers seem less able to see secondary analysis as ground breaking and, in the case of qualitative research, heightened sensitivity to the creative connection between researcher and researched builds concerns about ethics and intellectual property.  However, in our published work (Davidson, Edwards, Jamieson and Weller, 2019) we counter these claims and point to the ground breaking opportunities of merging data from several studies in a new data assemblage using a set of steps that iteratively combine breadth and depth.  The way of proceeding that we advocate, helps the analyst to ask new questions, to make theoretical use of comparison and, in the process, extend the generalisability of qualitative research. 

Our method is the outcome of a project under the umbrella of the National Centre for Research Methods http://bigqlr.ncrm.ac.uk/. We set out to develop materials that would assist other researchers to remain true to the principles of qualitative research while working with what could be called ‘big qualitative data’ or ‘big qual’ for short – a data assemblage that is much larger than the typical volume of a single project and too large to readily tackle solely by conventional qualitative analysis techniques. We have called our method of ‘big qual’ secondary analysis the ‘breadth-and-depth method’. 

The four steps in the method are described using an analogy with different stages in an imagined archaeological project. At each step, it may be necessary to return to the starting point or a previous step.

  1. The researcher’s research questions shape the direction of an enquiry-led overview of archived qualitative research using meta data about the archived data sets. This is equivalent to an archaeologist using photographs taken in an aerial survey to select ground for further scrutiny.
  2. Computer-aided scrutiny using text searching means that are so-called ‘data mining;’ albeit that the techniques used are more like surface mapping of the breadth of the selected data collections. This is like the archaeologists’ ground-based geophysical survey on the surface of an area to assess what merits closer investigation by digging.
  3. Analysis of multiple small samples of likely data, equivalent to digging shallow ‘test pits’ to find an area worthy of deeper excavation.
  4. In-depth analysis of the selected sample, using techniques and processes drawn from the repertoire familiar to qualitative researchers. This is the equivalent to archaeological deep excavation.

Our own demonstration project worked with the Timescapes archive https://timescapes-archive.leeds.ac.uk/  Because we were interested in possible convergence by gender in the language and practice of care and intimacy over time, we re-assembled data from across four projects into age cohorts of men and women. This new data set is now available for research and teaching purposes

Announcements, featured

The 10th International Conference on Social Science Methodology

The 10th International Conference on Social Science Methodology of RC33 (“Logic and Methodology in Sociology”, of the International Sociological Association) will be held in September 2020.

One of our IJSRM Editorial Board members is conference Chair.  He writes:

We organize our 10th International Conference on Social Science Methodology which will be held in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, on 8-11 September 2020. The local host of the Conference will be the Department of Social and Political Sciences, University of Cyprus.  The conference venue is the luxurious Landmark Hotel.

The thematic focus of our Conference is: Empirical Research and Society. We live in an era of “alternative news” and “climate change denial”. We experience a political life where populism prevails over scientific evidence. In such turbulent times, it is important for methodologists to investigate how to encourage society to re-focus on robust scientific evidence. We aspire for our Conference to fully cover the diverse interests of our members (qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods).

We will be running an IJSRM panel session on ‘Who owns data? Big data and democratisation’ at the conference, chaired by our co-editor Malcolm Williams. Brian Castellani (also co-editor), Evelyn Ruppert, Susan Oman and Maggie Walter will be addressing knotty questions around who owns the questions, the research and the data, and who should own the questions, the research and the data, in discussion with the audience.  If you’re attending the RC33 conference (and what self-respecting methodologist wouldn’t want to), please come along and participate.

We will also be contributing to an ‘ask the editors’ session that is part of the conference.

You can find further details of the conference at: http://cyprusconferences.org/rc33/