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Statistics anxiety: Busting the ‘anxious women’ myth?

By Dr Vicky Gorton and Dr Kevin Ralston

For many students, Statistics = Anxiety. This anxiety is often characterised as limiting students’ engagement with statistics and impacting on their performance on quantitative methods courses at university. The relationships between age, gender and statistics anxiety are some of the most examined in the research literature. A survey of these findings might lead us to reformulate the Statistics = Anxiety equation to read: Statistics + Women => Anxiety, as previous research has tended to identify women as more likely to experience anxiety and at greater levels. 

In our article, ‘Anxious women or complacent men? Examining statistics anxiety in UK sociology undergraduates’, we wanted to revisit the core demographic variables of age and sex to examine their association with reported anxiety of statistics. Unlike most other research in the field however, we modelled an interaction between these two variables. This allowed us to explore whether reported anxiety of statistics varies within and between sexes by levels of age (comparing under 25s and over 25s). 

The research is based on a secondary analysis of a dataset on the attitudes of sociology and political science students towards quantitative methods. These data, gathered by Williams et al. (2009) and shared on the UK data archive, are amongst the most comprehensive ever collected on attitudes of undergraduates to QM. Crucially, for our aims, the students were asked whether they felt anxious about learning statistics. This made it possible to interrogate these data to explore in detail the relationship between age, gender and anxiety of statistics. 

The methods we used for the analysis are the same general techniques that many social science undergraduates will learn about during their own quantitative methods courses – logistic regression models and bivariate analysis. Our paper provides a simple applied account of these methods, which would be a relevant example in learning-teaching settings. 

The results indicate that it is older men, not women, who are most likely to report experiencing anxiety of statistics in social science contexts. This is only apparent when considering the interaction between age and gender, without this interaction there is no difference between men and women in the likelihood of experiencing statistics anxiety. 

It is therefore possible that young men, who are less anxious, have driven the gender differences that have previously been reported in research. This is to say that, rather than experiencing excessive anxiety, women may seem more anxious in previous studies because of their comparison to a group of more complacent young men. 

The results call into question the potentially damaging ‘anxious women’ narrative that predominates the literature on the teaching-learning of maths and statistics. We suggest that this paradigm may be misleading, distracting, and an oversimplification. Despite the research focus on statistics anxiety, there is no strong evidence that it has a meaningfully negative influence on the learning of statistics for those on social science courses. By comparison, the pedagogical implications of an issue like complacency in this context has received little consideration. Overall, we argue that it is time to move away from the perception that women studying social sciences are excessively anxious of statistics. Our findings strongly suggest that this is a myth in need of busting.


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.

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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’