Doing Research on Participation Conference @ Manchester
Methods and Data for Understanding Everyday Participation
25-16 May 2016
Why a conference on cultural research methods?
Whilst the symbols and practices of cultural consumption occupy a central position in core debates within the humanities and social sciences, much cultural participation research tends to consider methods as mere tools for data analysis. Yet as the recent emphasis on the ‘social life’ of methods in fields such as Science and Technology Studies and the anthropology of expertise makes clear, methods should be seen as loaded devices, which are both rendered by and shaping of the social world.
In research on cultural participation, the domination of the sample survey, using traditional categories of cultural engagement and employing standard statistical analysis to examine the relationships between them, has reflected and reinforced a particular way of understanding participation; one that tends to hide as much as it reveals. This is not to say that survey research no longer has anything to contribute, but that other methods need to be brought into play, partly to help unpack the findings of standard approaches, but also to provide entirely different ways of ‘seeing’ participation. Crucially, this includes routes into understanding the forms, dynamics and consequences of participation that are placed outside or lie beyond the reach of traditional methods.
The call for ‘mixed methods’ approaches has become a customary trope within the social sciences behind which there are differing views as to what this might mean in practice for doing participation research. Pierre Bourdieu was one of the first in the field to recognise the importance of mixed methods strategies. His methodological toolkit ranges from the use of interviews and photographs in the anthropological tradition to statistical methods from geometric data analysis. But at the same time, Bourdieu and his followers also make strong claims against certain analytical alternatives.
To expand the reach of cultural participation research, several new models have been proposed. For example, Michelle Lamont’s concept of national repertoires deals with theoretical and methodological challenges for cross-national comparative research on boundaries, while Nick Crossley’s relational sociology highlights the limitations of Bourdieusian approach for the understating of networks of relationships embedded in social worlds.
These new frameworks, directly or indirectly, call for the refreshing of methodological paradigms. From an empirical perspective, thanks to the development of new quantitative methods for interrogating survey data, research has been able to provide more refined answers to more specific hypotheses. While multilevel regression models and GIS approaches allow an understanding of the impact of place on participation, social networks analysis illustrates how complex relationships among individuals can be, and classification techniques, such as cluster and latent class analysis, provide evidence about the shapes and patterns that participation takes. Alongside a vast number of techniques from different traditions, increasing online participation demands that we expand research to encompass virtual social networks, making big data and associated methods important analytical tools of for understanding participation.
For more information on this event, go to the Conference Website.