I???m getting used to the idea that piecing together a PhD is likely to involve periods of thinking about all sections at once. Reading some expansive texts one day, which provide a theoretical context for ones ideas, is then followed by a day???s discussion and consideration of appropriate research methods. So it was that last week I attended the first of three workshops spanning the autumn to spring months under the DREaM banner: ???Developing Research Excellence and Methods???. At its heart this project is designed for Library and Information Science practitioners and researchers, but as one of my supervisors is a leading figure in the whole scheme I was grateful to have been notified of the events and very happy to attend.
There are three workshops, but they are bookended by two more conference-style events. There will be folk who attend every session, although special efforts have been made to treat workshop attendees as a cohort who will work together. Workshop one took place at Edinburgh Napier University, Craiglockhart Campus, on 25 October 2011.
I???m reluctant to write too much here when the whole DREaM project is deliberately placing a great deal of information online. Here, then, are some links:
DREaM home page, with background information about the project
DREaM online community, complete with video, slides and other material from the project
DREaM: event two (first workshop, 25 October 2011; archive material due soon...)
What I should write about however are the aspects of the day of greatest relevance to my research, which I???ll base around the three main visiting speakers that we heard from???
???Introduction to Ethnography???
Paul Lynch, Department of Management, University of Strathclyde
- From a researcher???s perspectives, ethnographic techniques enable observation and analysis of a vast array of potential sources. It demands an awareness of ???personal reflexivity???, reflecting on whatever the observer brings to the table in terms of experiences, prejudices and so on.
- The study of subcultures came into Paul???s talk and I was interested to see that they may be structured around both permanent/ongoing interests (clubs, fashions, etc.) or temporary phenomenon such as events (DREaM workshop participants, perhaps). It follows, therefore, that this has relevance for my festivals based interests, perhaps as an alternative to social capital as a binding theory?
- As for research methods, from participant observation to documentary analysis, responses to observations are prioritised: recording comments while they???re fresh, drawing on almost anything that seems relevant to the research. There???s also plenty of merit in getting stuck in, living the life of the observed and thus gain plenty of first hand insights.
- Data issues: avoiding contaminating the data is very important??? or at worst being aware of what???s happening if this occurs. So keep a diary for thoughts and reflections, distinguish between what???s presented as a public outcome from the research and what???s held back, consider focusing on cultures which are not too far removed from the researcher???s own.
- When writing up key distinctions and perspectives occur: detachment / involvement; subjectivity / objectivity / insider / outsider.
???An Introduction to Social Network Analysis???
Louise Cooke, Loughborough University
- Louise gave a very good introduction to a topic, and form of research, that I???m very interested in using. She also said that the need to perfect the maths involved is decreasing thanks to the tools now available.
- After some definitions, about what constitutes a network and its constituent parts, we looked at some examples ??? complete with arrows to demonstrate the relationships between nodes. Those which demonstrated change over time were particularly interesting, showing how interaction over time between members of a community led to a much more complex and potentially rewarding set of relationships.
- The ???strength of weak ties??? was drawn upon: those which help link one network to another, or provide some of Putnam???s bridging social capital perhaps. See Mark Granovetter (1973) for more on this.
- Four key social network theories were discussed:
- Small world phenomenon: akin to ???six degrees of separation???.
- Strength of weak ties: from Granovetter.
- Embeddedness: whereby a social network might be embedded in an organisation, yet not in a way that reflects the formal structure of the organisation.
- Social capital: improve the network and you can improve the group???s effectiveness, building social capital; the particular conception of social capital being to be used is likely to be affected by the particular case you???re studying.
- Within the conceptual discussions, some core concepts:
- Directed and undirected network: with or without arrows.
- Density and centrality: such as the proportion of possible ties that have actually been formed; then the centrality of a particular node in the overall network.
- To some extent social network analysis was presented as a starting point: it can reveal relationships, but not necessarily say much about them, so more work is needed. This works well for me as I???m interested in change over time, over the course of a festival or event ??? further analysis can try to get the root of the changes that have been identified.
- If problems are identified, what???s causing them?
- Can SNA identify particularly effective communicators, or potential information bottlenecks?
- As for gathering the data, online surveys were recommended, providing a nice spreadsheet for instant interrogation. That said, much data already exists, through emails, social media, group memberships and the like.
- Software: UCINET was recommended as worthy of a look ??? it does much of the maths and it draws you some nice graphics.
- There???s a free guide to SNA which uses UCINET, see Robert Hanneman at University of California.
???Introduction to Discourse Analysis???
Andy McKinlay, University of Edinburgh
- Andy covered a lot of ground in his talk, which was somewhat truncated thanks to the extensive lunch: social networking in action.
- He brought us back to thinking through the reasons for carrying out particular research, identifying four methods for devising research questions ??? each of which can spur considerations, thoughts, ideas for further investigation:
- It was also apparent from Andy???s quick review of the Library and Information Science literature that a wide variety of topics and themes are covered within each field.
- Discourse analysis: rich data from the media, documentary sources and primary research from the investigator. If it needs transcribing, do it.
- To a large degree the discussion led on topics that are familiar to undergraduate dissertation research: carrying out interviews, focus groups and the like to gather data.
- The use of ???convenience??? sampling, rather than ???randomised???, is another familiar approach.
- Characteristics of the discourse were identified??? it may be...
- ???Andy???s slides go into depth on each of these.
- Discourse analysis is therefore a means by which to identify and analyse what people say and some of the meanings behind it: why are they saying what they???re saying?
- The qualitative approach helps retain more depth to the data, it gives it a voice in the research.
The workshop concluded with a discussion on research ethics, which clearly has considerable implications for the research methods listed above. This might be the decision to carry out covert ethnographic research, or the apparent need to know a lot about people in order to put together meaningful social network analyses.
I???m looking forward to the next workshop, which will be at the British Library in January. The topics covered will again be methods-focused, which is entirely appropriate as I put together the conceptual basis for my research ideas. The range of methods available, and their relative flexibility, should make for plenty of opportunities to carry out some innovative research in an dynamic field of the festival industry: engaging audiences and contributors for their benefit of all.