Seminar Series: Advancing and Innovating Methodology: 21st century challenges for social research

Examine innovative methodologies and modern day challenges in social research via seminar series

Researchers can learn about and discuss innovative methodologies and contemporary challenges in social research through a seminar series hosted by the Department of Cultural Anthropology and Development Studies at Radboud University’s Faculty of Social Sciences.

The first five events of the series ‘Advancing and Innovating Methodology: 21st century challenges for social research’ run between September 2021 and January 2022, with details of the further Spring seminars being announced in the autumn.

Each free interactive event will focus on a different theme and leading scholars from national and international universities will share their insight and expertise with the audience.

The seminars will be held in a hybrid physical-online format on the second Thursday of each month, and the co-organisers, assistant professors Edwin de Jong and Joost Beuving, encourage anyone interested to join in.

Register to join a seminar No longer possible. The series has run its course.

Dr De Jong says:  ‘Fundamental transformations in 21st Century society have accelerated scholarly reflections on research methodology in social research.

‘The ambit of this seminar series is to take stock of these reflections and contribute towards strengthening methodological literacy by advancing and innovating methodology.

‘A special challenge will be to ground methodological concerns in epistemological reflection, thus avoiding the pitfall of a problematic ‘toolbox’ approach towards social research.’

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Dr Beuving adds: ‘More broadly, the seminar series focuses on four, interrelated challenges that confront social researchers and teachers.

‘One, the consequences of the Covid pandemic raise new questions for fieldwork-based research, in particular how to relate distant, virtual research with ‘conventional’ fieldwork that revolves around face-to-face contact.

‘New and positive experiences with blended education, combining online and offline teaching opens up new possibilities but also pose challenges for teaching research methods.

‘Major social transformation in the past decade, in particular the rapid virtualization of society, raise novel interdisciplinary questions that prompt further development of research methodology.

‘Covid 19 has also made the world stop and people think about the urgency of issues such as climate, nature and inequality. To get to grips with the full complexities of the social-ecological realities that are at the basis of achieving an inclusive and green recovery, more creative, sensory and esthetic forms of research methods are needed.’

Each seminar will take place between 3.30pm and 5pm on the second Thursday of each month.

Researchers can attend in person at Radboud University’s campus in Nijmegen or via Zoom, with the location and the Zoom call details being announced ahead of each seminar.

For further details, contact the seminar organizers Dr Joost Beuving and/or Dr Edwin de Jong.

Seminar Series 2021/22

1. Narrative interviewing

16-09-2021 15:30-17:00 CET

Fundamental societal transformations especially in the sphere of climate change and economic crises require new narratives for self-understanding. Capturing such emerging narratives is central to a new wave of interviewing strategies known as ‘narrative interviewing’, focusing on how humans make sense of what happens around, as well as with, them through the stories they tell and listen to. There are several challenges to consider. For instance, some versions of narrative interviewing invite research participants to creatively frame their stories in a pre-existing format, such as an adventure story or a fairy-tale. Whereas this may foster the discussion of difficult topics or traumatic experiences, how to avoid the imposition of an external structure on research participants’ experiences? A special, internet-era challenge facing narrative interviewing consists of capturing stories that are told on-line (blogs; fora; social media) as the virtual sphere reconfigures the front-stage/back-stage dynamic; how does this resonate with conventional social science to contextualise narratives with direct observation of social practice?

These challenges will be discussed by Dr Sjoerd-Jeroen Moenandar (assistant professor at Rijksuniversiteit Groningen), presenting a plot-based approach to narrative interview; and by Dr Aaron Thornburg (associate professor of anthropology at Eastern Oregon University), on digital storytelling especially looking at so-called ‘deep stories’.

2. Citizen science/PAR

14-10-2021 15:30-17:00 CET

The 21st century saw the rise of scepticism toward the truth claims of science, associated with so-called ‘post truth’ discourses. This invited novel reflections on the role of the social sciences, reverberating with new public management-inspired budget cuts in public research funding that inspire a search for affordable research staff substitutes. In its wake followed an interest in the general public as ‘citizen scientists’. Citizen-science (CS) is relatively new to the social sciences. The ‘mass observation project’ conducted by Sussex University (1937-1962), documenting everyday life in Britain based on study of private photographs and film, presents an early example. In addition to the above-mentioned strategic considerations, a third objective to involve citizen scientists may be to emancipate the social sciences from its ivory tower and make citizen scientists co-owners of the research enterprise who control key research choices and interpretive strategies. In that case, what role is there for the researcher; as inspirator, facilitator, or as a mere observer of the process? And how do these various roles rhyme with accepted social science procedures and standards? Finally, how can citizen scientists benefit from their newly acquired role?

These questions will be discussed by Dr Cynthia A. Grace-McCaskey (assistant professor at East Carolina University), who specifically focuses on citizen science in anthropology based on her work among coastal communities; and by Dr Jens Andersson (senior researcher at Wageningen University & Research), looking at farmer participation in agronomic research based on his work in the African countryside.

3. Virtual ethnography/e-research

11-11-2021 15:30-17:00 CET

21st-Century challenges raise challenging questions for fieldwork-based research: how to relate distant, virtual research with ‘conventional’ fieldwork that revolves around face-to-face contact? This rhymes with a tendency to consider social contact in ‘deterritorialized’ terms, accelerated by global migration and the mass embrace of digital technologies. To some, this virtualisation of society ushered in new forms of being - homo digitalis - who exists only through and via virtual webs of exchange. Its proponents conversely argue that homo digitalis requires new models for conceptualising the self as well as conviviality/social life, which urges social scientists to fundamentally and reflexively reconsider their research practices. How to observe social practice in virtual space, which defies conventional observational strategies, seems an especially challenging methodological point. Others instead argue that classical visions of modern society (e.g. Gesellschaft, imagined community, organic solidarity) remain a valid entry into understanding virtual societies, which requires perhaps an adjustment, and not a fundamental reorientation, of social science practice.

These challenges will be discussed by Dr Shireen Walton (lecturer and senior tutor at Goldsmiths, University of London), who focuses on virtual ethnography based on her fieldwork in Iran, the UK, Italy, and online; and by Dr Ingrid Boas (associate professor at Wageningen University & Research), zooming in on mobile technology/virtual ethnography based on her work among coastal dwellers in Bangladesh.

4. Sensory methods

07-12-2021 15:30-17:00 CET

The complexities of 21st century made people think about the urgency of issues such as climate, nature and inequality. To grapple with this, more creative, sensory research methods are needed, rhyming with the realisation that direct observation and interviewing methods as the golden standard in fieldwork may need rethinking. This exclusive focus misses an important dimension as humans draw on a much broader sensory spectrum: taste, smell, sounds, body language, and so on. This realisation ushers in new methodological challenges. For instance, sensory spectra are in practice difficult to disentangle: our senses may register something before we can actually see it. How, then, to relate the various sensory spectra to one another; integration, iteration or substitution? Another problem, it appears that different cultures identify different sensory spectra, and that some cultures recognize extra-sensorial perception. How, then, can a social researcher versed in one sensorial tradition come to terms with a different one, and which new challenges does this present for outsider/insider relations? And how does overcoming such challenges yield novel insights in 21st century problems?

These questions will be further developed by Dr Jo Vergunst (senior lecturer and head of department at University of Aberdeen), who specifically considers the landscape; and by Dr David Howes (professor at Concordia University), looking at the architecture of the senses.

5. Visual methods

13-01-2022 15:30-17:00 CET

The past two decades witnessed an explosion of globally circulating imagery, a consequence of the uptake of mobile phones fitted with high-definition cameras coupled to the spread of social media use. Photo and film have thus transformed from a reporting device, common in the classic era of ethnography when cultures were displayed through evocative photographs and film, to the data itself. Because the internet reconfigures front stage / back stage dynamics, this requires newly rethinking how images impact on the presentation of the self and/or how individual and group identity is shaped through globally circulating images. At the same time, capturing pictures and footages to unveil important aspects of society remains a tested methodology since the classical era. Riding the wave of 21st century emancipation, this raises new questions about representation, to which a new wave of methodological thinkers is coming to terms with reflexively. A new, special challenge consists of reversing the roles: tasking research participants with the collection of visual information aimed at revealing key properties of their respective societies.

These challenges will be debated by Dr Katy Jenkins (professor at Northumbria University Newcastle), specifically looking at participatory photography based on extensive qualitative research among women groups in Cajamarca (Peru); and by Dr Eva van Roekel (assistant professor at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and also a professional documentary maker), talking about a study of silence.