From ‘gentlemanly’ to professional social science research

In his book, Identities and Social Change in Britain since 1940, Mike Savage discusses the developments in research methods and how they are intrinsically linked to sociocultural change. What was once a ‘gentlemanly’ pursuit, becomes more bureaucratic. His approach is to take a historical perspective, enabling us to reflect on the context in which research methodologies emerge and on their impact. He explores the ‘messiness’ of the research process itself, when investigating social data collected in the 50’s and 60’s.

For me, this is interesting and helps me reflect on the methodological paradigm in which I am working. What will my research methods reveal about the context in which I operate? Can I find a way of reflecting on this when discussing my methodology? Can I make it part of the research rather than secondary to the data collected from interviewees.

for recent interviews, I have started to think about the activities surrounding the actual interview. The way I communicate, not the fact that it is by email, but the nature of the language used to discuss mundane things such as where we should meet, how we come to a decision and how we greet each other. On the whole, I am interviewing people I know and sometimes bump into in Birmingham. Occasionally, they pick up on a point we had discussed during the interview and start to elaborate on it – clearly having had the opportunity to reflect. What does this reveal and is it significant? We characterize the creative industries as being highly networked and relatively informal – is this reflected in my approach and my relationship to the sample? I am working with people I know.

When discussing the ’empirically minded social scientist’, Savage states:

‘This all involves a considerable research apparatus, one which does not sit above the social world but which is itself embedded in contemporary life. There is a curious blindness as to the footprint of the social sciences themselves.’

And he goes on to make a broader point:

‘I argue that many of our enduring preconceptions of identity need to be understood in terms of specific ways that they originated in the specific historical events of the 1950s and 1960s.’

He also draws my attention to the idea of exposing and ‘making visible, in social research as doomed to failure. Making the lives experience transparent, relies on excluding certain features. Savage is drawn to the work of Timothy Mitchell which is concerned with ‘locationless logic’. He also refers to Carolyn Steedman and her work on social identity which I have explored briefly. Steedman’s research on autobiography as a process introduced in UK education has relevance when exploring the narratives cultural entrepreneurs construct when being interviewed.

So what is my professional approach and context?



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