30 Year - History 1400 x 300

In Conversation...

Part of our 30th Anniversary celebrations

Methodology faculty share personal reflections, insights and future plans
in this special anniversary close-up.

 

We insisted that any competent social scientist (our aim for PhD and MSc students) should be knowledgeable in both the quantitative and qualitative social science research traditions, for without such a competence how can one bring a critical eye to the literature?

George Gaskell, Co-Founder of the Department of Methodology

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Dr Ivan Deschenaux

What exciting collaboration are you currently working on?
Lately, I have been particularly excited about a new collaboration with  two colleagues in the Department of Methodology, Ms Poorvi Iyer and Dr Eleanor Power. Together, we are developing a new study of social identity in South Asia, focusing on how young adults respond to different “gazes”. This is an exciting piece of work investigating the extent to which social norms surrounding caste and gender in India are context dependent. Understanding this has important implications for the reduction of social inequality in the subcontinent.

Which research methods are you using?
As someone trained in ethnographic methods, I have found it particularly exciting to think about how hypotheses derived from ethnography can be tested using experimental methods, and it has been interesting to work on this as part of the project mentioned above. Having previously focused on Nepal, I have also found it illuminating to conduct a project in India and develop a broader regional perspective.

Professor Jouni Kuha

What is the most exciting aspect of your role?
One of the most unusual and exciting jobs that I do is working for the analysis team of the BBC/ITV/Sky exit poll for the UK General Elections. We work at a secret location during the election day, receiving the interview data from hundreds of polling stations and producing the forecast of the election result that is then announced to the whole nation and the world when the voting ends at 10pm. 

How does this work differ from your everyday research?
This draws on all my skills and knowledge as a statistician, but it is otherwise rather different from everyday research work. The analysis is done under considerable time pressure – the forecast is finalised and sent to the broadcasters in the last hour before the announcement – and its success or failure are soon clear to everyone. This is nerve-wracking but thrilling when it goes well, as it fortunately has done for recent elections.

Dr Audrey Alejandro

What is your favourite piece of research?
My favourite piece of research is my article Reflexive Discourse Analysis: A Methodology for the practice of Reflexivity. It offers a very practical answer to a problem a lot of researchers and students have. It is both very analytical and very creative with a unique writing twist that asks the reader to be reflexive about their experience of reading the paper. I love it! 

What are the most enjoyable aspects of your work?
My favourite experience is teaching the module Qualitative Text and Discourse Analysis that I designed. Beyond equipping the students with how to use the methods, the module helps them become more critical about the role of language and knowledge in society. Every year I am so excited about learning from them how the module has been a transformative experience that helped them rethink their role in society as social agents who can use what they learned to transform themselves and the way they speak the world into being.

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Dr Daniele Fanelli

What is the main goal of your research?
As a metascientist, my ambition is to understand and improve scientific knowledge and research practices. In 2019, I published my proposal of “K theory”, a mathematical framework to define, measure and study the knowledge produced by any research field.

What is the greatest triumph of your career so far?
A few months ago, I had the first independent support of this idea, thanks to a collaboration with the Brazilian Reproducibility Initiative. They are replicating 60 biomedical experiments and I measured the “K value” (which is the key quantity of my theory) of these studies. It turned out to be highly correlated with the subjective estimates about replicability, made by an independent panel of scientists (read more). I had spent years playing around with the equations of K theory and seeing them predict something new has been one of the greatest joys of my career.

Dr Ellie Knott

What is your favourite piece of research?
My favourite piece of research is my book Kin Majorities (McGill University Press). It will be published later this year and it’s a culmination of over 10 years of work — from qualitative fieldwork in Crimea and Moldova in 2012 and 2013 to final publication.

What is your book about?
I explore two rarely researched cases from the ground up, shedding light on why Romanian citizenship was more prevalent and popular in Moldova than Russian citizenship in Crimea, and to what extent identity helps explain (or not) the difference. The book offers a fresh and nuanced perspective on how we study the intersections of identity and citizenship and what studying the intersections means for how we understand post-Soviet (geo)politics. 

Dr Flora Cornish

What is the most exciting aspect of your research?
I am energised by the use of qualitative methods to change our ways of thinking and acting to redistribute power. In collaboration with communities, activists and creative practitioners, participatory methods help me democratise research and cultivate emergent, critical, hopeful articulations of social structures and problems.

What are the most enjoyable aspects of your work?
Learning by collaborating. My recent work tracked the trajectory of “recovery” in North Kensington after the devastating Grenfell Tower fire. Against an excruciating backdrop of let-downs and delays, the community taught me about their staying power, and the neighbourly care that keeps everything going, against all the odds. I love supporting PhD and master’s students through their own research projects, as the foundations of rigorous methods, nuanced theory and openness to the unexpected produce that thrill of surprise and learning, over and over again.

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Dr Ruxandra Serban

Do you have a favourite method of research?
My research is situated in the field of comparative politics. The comparative approach helps us to constantly push the boundaries of what we know about the political world.

Why is comparative research important?
It helps us understand that very few political phenomena are completely unique – they often occur in similar ways across different contexts. Gaining insights from other political contexts can also help us improve existing institutions, or design new ones. Perhaps the UK is original in questioning the Prime Minister every week at PMQs, but is this the most effective procedure for holding the prime minister to account? What kinds of procedures are in place in other parliaments, and do they perform better or worse? These are crucial questions about politics that can only be answered comparatively.

Professor George Gaskell

What is the importance of research methods?
These days “mixed methods” is trumpeted as an innovation in the social sciences.  In the Methodology Institute, as was, we were like Moliere’s Bourgeois Gentilhomme.  We insisted that any competent social scientist (our aim for PhD and MSc students) should be knowledgeable in both the quantitative and qualitative social science research traditions, for without such a competence how can one bring a critical eye to the literature?

What research are you currently working on?
Currently, I am participating in research projects on research integrity; a smart phone app to capitalise on the diversity in a community; the conditions for trust in science, and various behavioural studies to inform European consumer policy. In all these projects it is the research question that dictates the choice of method, but most often call for a combination of methods. A classic example from the distant past is still worth a read.  Kurt Lewin argued that “there is nothing so practical as good theory” and in Group decision and social change (1947) took methodological pluralism for granted.

Dr Marion Lieutaud

Which part of your research are you particularly proud of?
In my research and teaching, I build bridges between fields that seldom meet: feminist and critical perspectives on the one hand; computational and advanced quantitative methods on the other. We need critical scholars with quantitative expertise, and we also need data scientists to engage with questions of inequality. I love that I can play that connecting role and discuss with my students how quantitative praxis can learn from critical perspectives and serve aims of social justice.

What project are you currently excited to be working on?
As part of my Understanding Society grant, I develop research on migrant lives, which help reveal enduring gender inequalities: women follow partners and family, but men very rarely do, and that durably impacts gender roles. I also co-lead an exciting interdisciplinary project on online care/domestic platforms, which uses web-scrapped data and interviews with platform-using care and domestic workers to understand better who they are, and what labour relations and working conditions these platforms foster.

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Dr Chana Teeger

What is a key interest in your current research?
Currently, I’m working on a book manuscript that looks at history education in South Africa. I was interested in how young people born into democracy—the so-called “born frees”—learn about the country’s apartheid past and think about race and inequality in the present. At its core, my research grapples with the question of how people understand the causes of—and potential remedies for—inequality.

What other research projects are you excited about?
I’m also working collaboratively on a project with researchers at the Graduate Institute, Geneva. The project is a cross-national comparison of political and economic elites’ perceptions of inequality in Brazil and South Africa.

Dr Blake Miller

What is your favourite piece of research?
My favourite thread of research seeks to explore how different types of sensational news media can cause people to support or express violent attitudes. I am currently working on experimental and large-scale observational social media analyses to identify how certain moral and emotional framing of moral transgressions can lead to increased support for violence and increased violent expression online.

Do you have a favourite method of research?
I am a huge fan of mixed methods research. I think that research becomes richer and more credible when one can deploy multiple methods to solve the same problem. For example, while randomised experiments may more precisely identify causal effects, observational data can offer inferences untainted by the artificiality of experimental settings. Using the two together can balance precision in estimating causal effects with a rich view of how things work in the real world, outside of the confines of an experimental setup.

Professor Jonathan Jackson

What innovative technology do you use to inform your research?
I study crime and police-citizen relations from an applied psychological perspective. One thing that I’m doing at the moment is using virtual reality technology to study the impact of police drones in the context of policing and public health, testing a psychological theory about the subjective experience of fairness and legitimation.

What are the most exciting aspects of this study?
One defining feature of this ambitious social science study is the photo-realistic quality of the experience; another is the use of Steam (an online game platform) and directed advertising to recruit research participants at a scale.

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Dr Eleanor Power

What is an area of your research that you are proud of?
Recently, I published a paper that was some six years in the making. It started when I was chatting with two friends and colleagues who worked in very different academic fields than me (Jessie Barker, a behavioural ecologist, and Marion Dumas, now at LSE’s Grantham Institute) about a hunch that I had, based on my ethnographic research on religious practice in South India.

What was the idea behind this piece of research?
I had noticed that people seemed to reap very different reputational benefits from their religious action, and I had some ideas as to why. They were intrigued, and more importantly saw a way forward: formalising my hunch with an agent-based model. So, through life changes and career moves, we developed the model and found some credence to my hunch, and other new insights, too. For me, this was a great collaboration: true interdisciplinary cross-fertilisation, and a chance to work with friends.

Dr Milena Tsvetkova

What is your current research about? 
My current research is about the causes and consequences of inequality in social interactions and daily decisions. It involves two different methods. In some of my work, we design and conduct online experiments to study how wealth can end up unequally distributed when people choose whom to help. In other studies, we analyse large-scale online data to investigate how people’s socioeconomic status affects their cultural interests, purchasing decisions, social interactions, and opinions. 

What is the most prominent theme in your research? 
My work is interdisciplinary and combines theories and methods from sociology, social psychology, behavioural economics, network science, and computer science. I have collaborated with computer scientists, physicists, a philosopher, a management scholar, a mathematician, and an ecologist. I am also particularly proud of working closely and publishing together with LSE students.

Dr Cohen Simpson

What are the main themes of your research?
I mix mathematical sociology and evolutionary anthropology to research properties of the formation of human social networks. For example, in a study funded by the British Academy and published in the journal Social Networks, I used data from 4,713 rice-growing smallholders in 162 villages in China to show that the relative importance of mechanisms of friendship systematically varies with the amount of agricultural land under each farmer’s control. Crucially, my findings challenge common assumptions about friend choice by demonstrating that the salience of the mechanisms governing who we befriend can be highly context dependent.

What research are you currently looking forward to working on?
I am currently working on an exciting new longitudinal study with my LSE Methodology mentor and colleague Dr Eleanor Power wherein we test evolutionary predictions around male and female sociality using data from nearly all adults in two Tamil villages in South India.

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Dr Siân Brooke

How does your passion for diversity in computing extend beyond the academic?
My activism extends beyond my work to include feminist campaigning, widening participation in universities, and outreach with teaching programming. I organise events with the Data Science Institute, the Oxford Internet Institute, Alan Turing Institute and Hertie School to bring together graduate students and junior scholars who use data science to challenge inequality. It is vitally important to me that academia and computing is as open and accessible to everyone.

What are your favourite themes in your research?
My research broadly examines technology culture, with a focus on sexism and intersectional discrimination. Whilst I work on gender in programming, discrimination in online labour markets, I really enjoy examining the nuances and language of joking on the internet. I have published several papers on memes, looking at how people represent identity in anonymous online spaces. My work encompasses both this informal participation in technology in joking, with more formal routes such as learning to code online.

Dr Aliya Rao

What is your favourite piece of research?
My favourite piece of research is my book “Crunch Time: How Married Couples Confront Unemployment”. The book let me showcase the lives of families experiencing unemployment, to really get into their homes and the rhythm of their daily lives.

What did you enjoy most about this book?
As a qualitative researcher, one of the most exciting aspects of my methods is that I get to be a part of people’s lives for a period of time. It was an immense privilege for me that I was entrusted with this honour by the families I interviewed for my research. It was a pleasure to get to amplify their experiences.

Professor Patrick Sturgis

What is the main subject of your research?
I am, at heart, a survey researcher who is interested in both the design and the application of modern survey science. My substantive research harnesses the power of representative sampling and careful questionnaire design to address important societal questions relating to how populations and groups think, feel, and behave.

What are the aims of your research?
My methodological research aims to shed light on how features of a survey design influence the quality of the data obtained and to use this knowledge for continuous quality improvement.

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Dr Kate Summers

Which part of your research are you particularly proud of?
Thanks to the diverse group of passionate methodologists in the department, my work has developed in recent years to consider more centrally the links between the methods I use and the substantive insights they generate. I am particularly proud of the participatory research practices I am now developing.

What project are you currently excited to be working on?
In my area of research, which focuses on economic inequality and social security policy in the UK, participatory practices have the potential to bring new forms of knowledge to the fore and to challenge received policy wisdoms. My most recent British Academy project is using participatory approaches to devise improved methods for groups who may be excluded from more “traditional” qualitative methods: I’m excited and hopeful about what we will create!

Dr Patrick Gildersleve

What are you most looking forward to with your research?
In my short time at the Department of Methodology I have been lucky enough to be granted research freedom to refine and publish work from my PhD in news media and on Wikipedia. I am looking forward to building upon this with new ventures and collaborations in my research career. 

Which aspects of your work do you feel proud about?
A large part of my research is to collect data at scale from different sources across the World Wide Web. It has been a pleasure to share this work and these skills while teaching at the Department of Methodology and I am consistently impressed when seeing students’ own inventive projects. I’m also proud of my work more generally in teaching other quantitative and computational skills and in supervising MSc projects.

Dr Ellen Watts

What is the most prominent theme in your research?
I’m interested in anything and everything that connects politics and popular culture. I’m currently writing an article about Marcus Rashford’s child poverty activism, exploring how he draws on different sources of authority to claim to understand and represent people’s experiences. The Department of Methodology has been a great place to think and talk about expertise and authority. Who gets to be an expert, and what makes something authoritative?

Have you enjoyed any recent collaborations?
With colleagues at Royal Holloway, I enjoyed exploring how expertise is constructed in TV news about the economy. We found that some think tanks come to have an almost unquestionable expert status, which serves expectations around journalistic objectivity better than it serves us as viewers and citizens.  

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Dr Stuart Bramwell

What is your greatest career achievement so far?
Having a founding role in WhoGov will sit as the achievement I am most proud of in my career so far. WhoGov is the largest data set on governing cabinets in existence, boasting coverage of 177 countries from 1966 to 2016. I was honoured that the American Political Science Association (APSA) chose WhoGov to win the Lijphart / Przeworski / Verba award for best data set in 2021. 

What projects are you most looking forward to working on?
I have been working with colleagues from the University of Oslo and Harvard University on an article which quantifies the role democracy plays in understanding rates of female participation using WhoGov. I am excited to continue to update WhoGov during my career so we can continue to expand our understanding of the individuals who run the world. This will involve adding more years and extra variables such as social class, ethnic identity, and many more.

Dr Friedrich Geiecke

What area does your current research cover?
I am interested in research topics at the boundary of economics and fields such as machine learning or natural language processing.

What project are you currently excited to be working on?
In one project, my co-authors and I are studying whether reinforcement learning could help improve the allocation of government resources in challenging dynamic environments. Other projects I am excited about are in innovation, macroeconomic fluctuations, or political economy. 

Professor Kenneth Benoit

What are your primary research interests?
I’m known as a political scientist through my research and my background, but at heart I am a social scientist methodologist. My primary interests over more than two decades of research and teaching are in quantitative methods for studying the social and political world.

What is one of your achievements in your field?
My core focus is on methods for the quantitative analysis of textual data, using applied computational and data science approaches to natural language processing. I’ve been involved in several large projects in this field, including the creation of a significant software library named “quanteda” for the R programming language.

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