Seminar series

Leading social scientists consider cutting-edge quantitative and qualitative methodologies, analyse the logic underpinning an array of approaches to empirical enquiry, and discuss the practicalities of carrying out research in a variety of different contexts


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Department seminars take place during Autumn and Winter term and are expected to take place in-person in most cases, with some recorded. Our seminars are free and open to all.

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Find recordings of some of our Department of Methodology seminars on YouTube.

Please note that the Department of Methodology Seminar Series runs exclusively during Autumn and Winter Term. The schedule for the upcoming seminar series will be updated here, on the seminar series webpage, in September 2024.

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Events archive


Autumn Term

Digi-queer Criminology and Addressing the Rise of Anti-LGBTQ+ Hate
Dr Justin Ellis
 - co-hosted with The Mannheim Centre, Department of Social Policy
Week 2 - 4 OCT 2023

The march of technology is often framed as essential for human progress. However, the social origins of stigma can be hosted in technological architecture and amplify prejudice. Increased vilification and harassment of LGBTQ+ people and their allies across many jurisdictions has highlighted the techno-social conditions under which prejudice can thrive. Dr Justin Ellis’ new book - Representation, Resistance and the Digiqueer: Fighting for Recognition in Technocratic times (Bristol 2023) draws on analysis of case law, parliamentary debates, social and mainstream media, and LGBTQ+ tech advocacy to consider the effects of networked digital organising and surveillance technologies on LGBTQ+ personal and political expression. This presentation draws on insights from the book and will resonate with scholars and students in criminology and related disciplines, policy makers, and media practitioners. These readers may seek to understand why, despite a range of legal protections for LGBTQ+ peoples across many jurisdictions, LGBTQ+ individuals and communities continue to face challenges of renewed complexity from anti-LGBTQ+ individuals, and anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups. These challenges include representational harms that denigrate, misrecognize, erase or omit diverse sexual orientation and gender identity. Within this context is a range of emergent technologies that will threaten and enable LGBTQ+ political and personal expression, including the proliferation of AI chat bots, synthetic media such as deep fakes, and the unregulated advance of the simulated experiences of the metaverse. This latest book builds on Dr Ellis’ ongoing program of research into diqiqueer criminology, including his first monograph Policing Legitimacy: Social Media, Scandal and Sexual Citizenship (Springer 2021). 

Dr Justin Ellis is a senior lecturer in criminology at the Newcastle School of Law and Justice and convenes the Bachelor of Criminology and combined degrees program. Justin has a PhD in criminology from Sydney Law School and has taught and researched in criminology for a decade, including at Sydney Law School, UTS Law School, and at UNSW. His research focus on social justice examines the relationship between digital media technologies and trust and confidence in criminal justice institutions, with a focus on policing in LGBTQ+ communities. Justin is editor-in-chief of Q1 ranked journal Current Issues in Criminal Justice, the journal of the Sydney Institute of Criminology.

Are Campaign Promises Effective?
Dr Michael Ganslmeier (Department of Methodology, London School of Economics)
Week 3 - 13 OCT 2023 

In democracies, political parties promise to expand social benefits to attract voters in the lead-up to elections. However, we know relatively little whether such campaign promises effectively sway benefiting voters. Using a regression-discontinuity design, we estimate the causal effects of an electoral pledge made by the German conservative party to expand pension benefits ahead of the parliamentary election in 2013. The results show that the promise increased alignment with the pledge-making party by 12.2% among eligible beneficiaries. These gains originate from the re-alignment of individuals who traditionally support left-wing platforms, while it had no mobilizing effect on inactive voters. In addition, we find that the pledge effect is larger among individuals with lower economic and social security. Finally, the policy-induced alignment gain is transitory as it disappears once the pledge is fulfilled. Overall, our paper shows that electoral pledges related to social benefits are rather temporarily persuasive than permanently mobilizing.

Analysing Age, Period, and Cohort effects using Scenario Trajectory Analysis with applications to political interest and social trust
Professor Patrick Sturgis and Professor Jouni Kuha (Department of Methodology, London School of Economics) 
Week 5 - 27 OCT 2023 

Social scientists across disciplines are interested in how phenomena of interest change over time and over the life-course. They approach this task by collecting measurements of the concept of interest longitudinally, either using repeated cross-sections, or repeated measures on the same units. When thinking about this type of change over time, it is common to divide the processes that drive change into Age (how the concept changes as we get older), Period (how the concept is affected by events at the time of measurement), and Cohort (how the concept is related to when people were born). A well-known limitation of analysing this type of data is that these three APC components cannot be separately identified because the terms are exactly mathematically dependent: A=P-C. This means that an infinite number of possible effect combinations are equally consistent with the data. In this paper, we present a new approach to analysing APC effects using a parameterisation which includes non-linear effects and an identifiable linear plane which contains the unidentifiable linear effects. While this does not solve the APC identification problem, it does enable some useful insights on the range of possible effect combinations, given the observed data. In particular, it can be useful in assessing existing claims about the shape of each of the linear components, or in assessing the plausibility of a priori theoretical conjectures. We illustrate the approach with two substantive examples: the development of political interest over the life course, and the decline in social trust in the United States from the 1960s to the 2000s. 

What chance of change? Reflections from participatory research on poverty across recurrent crises by Ruth Patrick and Maddy Power
Professor Ruth Patrick (Social Policy, University of York) 
Week 7 - 10 NOV 2023 

In this seminar, Ruth will reflect on over a decade of participatory research on poverty and social security. She will pull out some examples from her recent work on Covid Realities and Changing Realities, as well as marking 10 years since the Dole Animators film was first screened back in October 2013. Ruth will set out the justifications for adopting a participatory methodology, and its very real relevance to the social security policy sphere. As well as teasing out the particular possibilities in arts-based methodologies, she will think critically about the scope for achieving policy change against a very difficult and often stubborn policy context. Ruth will explore the scope for shifting from a change-making to an accountability frame and draw out the very specific ethical considerations when working in this way.

Following the information footprint of firms
Dr Eddie Lee (Complexity Science Hub Vienna)
Co-hosted with Data Science Institute, London School of Economics
Week 9 - 24 NOV 2023 

Firms are information processing machines, but information use remains largely unobserved. We measure what firms read, their information footprint, using a data set of hundreds of millions of records of news articles accessed by employees in millions of firms. We measure and relate quantitatively three aspects: the volume and diversity of the footprint with firm performance. We show that reading volume grows superlinearly with performance measures; in some sectors, this exaggerates the classic heavy-tailed inequality in firm economics and reveals an economy of scale with respect to information. Then, by connecting diversity and volume, we show that the reading habits of firms are of limited diversity. Firms above a certain size reduce the relative diversity of information they consume, indicating the sudden onset of a coordination cost. Finally, we relate information diversity with performance to predict a range of information intensive or extensive strategies, whereby firms reinvest on the same topics or broaden consumption as they grow. In both strategies, firms cumulatively add to the diversity of the information portfolio, and we predict that old firms cumulatively consume a prodigious amount of information. The demographic comparisons provide a quantitative base for measuring the role of information in firm behavior.

Why are things this way? Reflections on a coproduced artwork as research 
Dr Eileen Alexander (Department of Methodology, London School of Economics)
Week 11 - 8 DEC 2023

In this seminar, Eileen Alexander will present work in progress on a creative participatory research project that she is facilitating in Hackney, East London. The project explores experiences of and responses to the cost of living crisis through photography. Eileen will reflect on the coproduction of an artwork as a qualitative research method, and share thoughts and ethical questions from the fieldwork and curation stages as the group works towards an exhibition at the LSE in March 2024. She will share some of her (developing) thinking on the benefits and tensions of building a research project around knowledge exchange and impact. The study is funded by the LSE Research Impact Support Fund

Winter Term 

Collecting public opinion in fragile and conflict states – the challenges and the rewards
Johnny Heald 
(CEO, ORB International)
Week 1 - 19 JAN 2024

Understanding what populations really think or feel should not really be that tricky. Right? In an age where the information environment is being manipulated, where trust in information sources is declining and with some world leaders restricting what we can and can’t see/ read there is, as ever, a huge roll for opinion polling. But any textbook and research tells us “our data is only as good as the sampling on which it is drawn”. Yet too few people look into the methodology, instead leaping straight for the headline findings.

Johnny Heald is an international pollster with more than 30 years of experience. In this lecture, we will discuss how we can collect and analyse the views of people living under ISIS, how we can get a better understanding of sentiment inside Russia, what people in remote locations in Africa feel about the global strategic competition. And show the steps needed to go through to ensure the data we base our decisions upon is representative of the target audience.

Qualitative methods for studying social security benefits: methodological reflections on an ongoing project
Dr. Kate Summers (British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Methodology)
Week 3 - 2 FEB 2024

The presentation will introduce the rationale behind, and reflect critically on, an ongoing project examining experiences of working-age social security benefits in the UK for people living with a long-term health condition or disability. The research is motivated by the intersection of a) understanding the experiences of a key claimant group at an important time in terms of policy context and debate, and b) improving and reflecting critically on qualitative methods used in this sort of research. Specifically, the presentation will reflect on the quality and depth of the data being produced; and appraise the role of the longitudinal and participatory features of the research. The presentations will end with raising some key questions and dilemmas in terms of the use of ‘lived experience’ data in social security policy research.

Race, Class, and What Else?  Policies and Politics in Four American Cities
Professor Jennifer Hochschild (
Professor of Government & Professor of African and African American Studies, Harvard University)
Week 5 - 16 FEB 2024

Since the 1960s, the study of policy and politics in American cities has revolved around the role of race or the interaction of race and class. This project examines the degree to which race/class hierarchy should remain the dominant paradigm in research on inequality in the United States. I consider four policies in four large American cities in order to see how well race/class inequality explains their trajectories.

The policy arenas are policing (especially “stop-question-frisk” in New York City), land use development (especially the BeltLine in Atlanta), school reform (especially charter schools in Los Angeles), and fiscal policy (especially public sector pension funding in Chicago).  The research base includes a national survey, elite interviews, media analyses, and perusal of documents.

I find that race/class inequality matters, but not uniformly and not straightforwardly. It is integral to, even determinative of, implementation and impact of the first two cases, but has an attenuated, almost submerged, role in the other two. On school reform, the politics of geography and institutional boundaries matter most; on pension funding, the politics of time horizons and generational injustice dominate.  This is an exercise in inductive theory-building; we need to develop more systematic analyses of when and why race/class inequality explains important swaths of American politics and policy-making.

Polarization over the Priority of Political Problems
Professor Benjamin LauderdaleProfessor of Political Science, University College London 
Week 7 - 1 MAR 2024

What drives ideological division about political problems? When prioritising which problems are most in need of redress, voters might disagree about the severity of individual outcomes that constitute such problems; the prevalence of those problems; or whether such problems are amenable to solution by government action. We field a large survey experiment in the UK and US and develop a new measurement approach which allows us to evaluate how ideological disagreements change when respondents consider the individual badness, social severity, and priority for government action of a set of 41 political problems. We find that large ideological divergences are observed in beliefs about social severity and priority for government action, not individual problem badness, and only in the US. An important implication of these results is that perceptions of problem prevalence are a key source of polarization over problem-prioritization in the US.

Temporalities and timelines in the aftermath of Grenfell
Professor Flora Cornish,
Professor in Research Methodology, Department of Methodology 
Week 9 - 15 MAR 2024

As massive social ruptures, disasters can be revelatory, disruptive and productive of power inequalities. The aftermath of a disaster is often characterized by contestations between authorities and affected communities over temporal classifications: whether the disaster was ‘foreseeable’ or ‘unprecedented’; whether it is ‘time to move on’ or time to be steadfast; whether change is happening fast enough or too slowly. In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, I worked with local researchers, community leaders and a designer to build an archive of the community experience of the aftermath, creating visual timelines to perform the temporality of the post-disaster period. I draw on these materials and their interpretations to examine the ‘temporality politics’ of post-disaster contestation. Small scale versions of the timelines will be on display.

Spring Term

Climate Change Migration: Lessons from a Longitudinal Mixed Methods Study of Hurricane Katrina 

Professor Mary Waters (Harvard University) 
24 MAY 2024

The direct and indirect effects of climate change will produce massive immigration flows across the globe in the coming decades. Climate change will likely create flows of people fleeing violence and weather disasters as well as increasing and changing patterns of already existing labor migration. Professor Mary Waters will describe three types of climate migrants—disaster migrants, strategic migrants and people relocating as part of managed retreat. She will outline findings from migration and integration research that will be important for managing integration under these changed circumstances; an issue that has been neglected in the growing research on this topic. Lessons from the RISK project, a longitudinal mixed methods study of survivors of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina will illustrate integration challenges and opportunities.


Autumn Term 2022/23

Hedged Out: Inequality and Insecurity on Wall Street
Speaker: Dr Megan Tobias Neely
(Department of Organization, Copenhagen Business School)
Date: 11 October 2022 | Online
Abstract: Who do you think of when you imagine a hedge fund manager? A greedy fraudster, a visionary entrepreneur, a wolf of Wall Street? These tropes capture the public imagination of a successful hedge fund manager. But behind the designer suits, helicopter commutes, and illicit pursuits are the everyday stories of people who work in the hedge fund industry—many of whom don’t realize they fall within the 1 percent that drives the divide between the richest and the rest. In this timely discussion of her book, Hedged Out, sociologist and former hedge fund analyst Megan Tobias Neely will provide an outsider’s insider perspective on Wall Street and its enduring culture of inequality.
Using ethnographic vignettes and her own industry experience, Dr Neely’s book showcases the voices of managers and other workers to illustrate how this industry of politically mobilized elites excludes people on the basis of race, class, and gender. Dr Neely shows how this system of elite power and privilege not only sustains itself but builds over time as the beneficiaries concentrate their resources. Hedged Out explains why the hedge fund industry generates extreme wealth, why mostly white men benefit, and why reforming Wall Street will create a more equal society.

The Flexibility Paradox: Why flexible working leads to more work and what we can do about that 
Speaker: Professor Heejung Chung
8 November 2022
Online | Available to watch on YouTube
Abstract: Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, flexible working, which includes remote and hybrid working, has become the norm for many workers. However, does flexible working really provide a better work-life balance, enhance worker’s well-being and gender equality?
Using data from across Europe and drawing from studies across the world, I will evidence how flexible working can lead to workers working longer and harder, with work encroaching on family life. This is in part to our current work and work-life balance culture, where long hours work in the office is hailed as the ideal productive worker and where individuals are pushed to believe that they are the entrepreneurs of their own lives. This is compounded by the fact that workers face high levels of both employment and income insecurity. Welfare state retrenchment with the rise of workfare, decline in workers’ bargaining power, increased levels of precarity in the labour market all contribute to this.
The flexibility paradox manifests itself differently for men and women. Women end up exploiting themselves at home by increasing their time spent on childcare and housework, while men tend to increase their working hours in paid work reenforcing traditional gender roles. This pattern can be largely attributed to the prevailing gender norms around whose role it is to care, as well as due to the rise in the intensive parenting culture. The latter again can be linked to the rise in insecurity and the move towards work centric cultures, where parents need to invest more time and energy into their children to ensure their future labour market potential or security.
Finally, I show that the gendered flexibility paradox and assumptions around women’s flexible working can explain why women and mothers may especially be party to negative career consequences when working flexibly – namely the Flexibility Stigma. This in return explains why the expansion of flexible working may increase rather than decrease the gender pay gap, largely by reinforcing a two-tiered labour market structure.
However, all is not lost. I argue that changes in the way we think about work, work life balance and gender roles can help shape the outcomes of flexible working, as can building better institutions to help shape gender norms, work cultures, and to protect workers’ bargaining powers. 

Commitment through Sacrifice: How Longer Ramadan Fasting Strengthens Religiosity and Political Islam
Speaker: Dr Ozan Aksoy
22 November 2022 | Online
Abstract: Religions seem to defy the law-of-demand, which suggests that all else equal, an increase in the cost of an activity will induce individuals to decrease the resources they spend on that activity. Rather than weakening religious organizations, evidence shows that the sacrifices exacted by religious practices are positively associated with the success of those organizations. We present the first strong evidence that this association is neither spurious nor endogenous. We use a natural experiment that rests on a peculiar time-shifting feature of Ramadan that makes the fasting duration—our measure of sacrifice—vary not just by latitude but from year-to-year. We find that a half-hour increase in fasting time during the median Ramadan day increases the vote shares of Islamist political parties by 11 percent in Turkey’s parliamentary elections between 1973 and 2018, and results in one additional attendee per 1,000 inhabitants for voluntary Quran courses. We further investigate two mechanisms, screening and commitment, that could explain the effects we find. By testing their divergent implications, we infer that commitment is the mechanism triggered by sacrifice, which drives up the intensity of religious beliefs and participation that in turn bolster the success of religious organizations.


Winter Term 2021/22

Staging, editing and performing community: Using video methods to research a London ten-pin bowling league
Speaker: Dr Emma Jackson
(Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London
Date: 20 January 2022
Abstract: This talk explores the process of making a film about a ten-pin bowling league in London as part of a larger ethnographic project exploring everyday multiculture and urban change, in order to illustrate how using video methods to research belonging is deeply interwoven with practices of making belonging rather than merely documenting them. The wider project sought to examine both the bowling alley’s place in an area undergoing extensive remodelling and gentrification, and embodied practices of belonging as they unfolded within the alley itself with film used to capture the latter. Reflecting on both the process of generating visual material and the finished project outputs – including a short documentary film, a three-screen installation and three VR films – the paper explores the potential of video methods to enrich understandings of practices of belonging in place and to extend the possibilities for presenting place-based research in more compelling ways. The talk particularly focuses on how the process of making the film and the collaboration that involved – with each other and with the league – not only illuminated themes of belonging to a place and to a group in different ways but also actively shaped these dynamics at different stages of the process. At every stage of production, the film also acted back onto the world it set out to capture. Reflecting on the process of making the film, we explore below how different stages of the research process – broken down here into the staging, editing, and performing community – brought to our understanding and also fed into its shaping. In doing so we discuss some of the potentials and pitfalls of using video methods to explore belonging and community.

Who Counts? A Methodological Agenda for Researching Deep Poverty
Speaker: Dr Daniel Edmiston
(School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds)
Date: 3 February 2022
Abstract: Official statistics are inherently political: they have the capacity to make and unmake social groupings ‘as a knowable object of government’ (Ruppert and Scheel, 2021). In this talk, I will demonstrate how official poverty statistics render certain populations more socially legible than others in welfare politics in two key respects. First, government reporting on low incomes tends to rest on a binary distinction between ‘the poor’ and the ‘non-poor’ based on an anchored threshold. Such approaches assume low income lives can be treated as uniform without significant analytical coarsening or loss. Second, hyper-marginalised groups are often ‘missing’ altogether from poverty statistics due to the conventional sampling strategies of underlying surveys. Much more than merely technical or pragmatic, such data practices reflect a set of theoretical and normative judgments about who counts when it comes to researching poverty and social policy. These limitations are all the more acute within the context of COVID-19 and an increasing depth of poverty across many late capitalist contexts. In this talk, I will introduce a new project exploring the changing determinants, dynamics and policy implications of deep poverty in the UK. I will present some of the methodological challenges associated with doing so and the initial findings motivating the research.

Financial Institutions, Neighborhoods, and Racial Inequality
Speaker: Professor Mario Luis Small
(Department of Sociology, Harvard University)
Date: 10 February 2021
Abstract: Research has made clear that racial inequality is affected by neighborhood conditions. One important condition is the accessibility of financial establishments. We examine how living in minority neighborhoods affects ease of access to conventional banks vs. to alternative financial institutions (AFIs) such as check cashers and payday lenders using data from Google Maps other sources. Based on more than 6 million queries, we compute the difference in the time required to walk, drive, or take public transit to the nearest bank vs. the nearest AFI from the middle of every block in each of 19 of the nation’s largest cities.  Results suggest that race is strikingly more important than class: even after numerous economic, demographic, and structural conditions are accounted for, the AFI is more often closer than the bank in well-off minority neighborhoods than in poor white ones. I discuss implications.

Mobile methods in digital spaces: Collecting qualitative data with mobile messaging apps
Dr Katja Kaufmann
(Institute of Geography, University of Innsbruck)
Date: 3 March 2022
Abstract: Users’ lives are becoming ever more mobile, more ephemeral, and intimately associated with the small screens of permanently connected smart devices. As a result, individuals’ everyday experiences around mobile media use are increasingly inaccessible and retrospectively elusive in traditional sedentary methods.
Here, the affordances of smartphones offer enormous methodical potential for mobile in-situ research. Until now, smartphones are predominantly used as tools in quantitative research, e.g., to automatically log large data sets or to alert participants in mobile experience sampling. In qualitative research, however, the potential of smartphones and mobile media apps such as mobile messengers seems to have been largely overlooked so far and is only gradually emerging, not least due to the occurrence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated need for remote research approaches.
In this talk, I advocate for better use of the characteristics of mobile media for the study of mobile, connected everyday life in qualitative research. In particular, mobile digital spaces that users have already appropriated for their communicative practices hold the potential to produce meaningful data in-situ. Drawing on case studies, e.g., on connected refugees, on media practices of young people, and on everyday spaces during the pandemic, I show how the affordances of mobile media can be used by qualitative researchers to investigate emergent mobile phenomena in depth, compensating for the limitations of traditional methods. Further, I discuss the pros and cons of using mobile media for mobile methods and look into the accompanying ethical issues, considering both the power relations at play and the practical aspects.

Know it when you see it? The qualities of the communities people describe as “diverse” (or not)
Speaker: Dr Maria Abascal
(Assistant Professor of Sociology, New York University)
Date: 10 March 2022
Abstract: We explore what people mean by “diversity” when they use the term to describe real communities. “Diversity” can refer to multiple differences—ethnoracial, economic, etc. It may also refer to multiple dimensions of the same difference, i.e., heterogeneity or group representation. Analyzing a new survey of Chicago area residents, we ask: (1) When people describe a community as diverse, on which kinds of differences—ethnoracial, economic, etc.—are they drawing? (2) Within each relevant difference, are evaluations of diversity predicted by heterogeneity, the share of specific groups, or both? Findings reveal respondents associate diversity primarily with a community’s ethnoracial attributes, followed by its economic attributes. Within ethnoracial attributes, both heterogeneity and the share of disadvantaged ethnoracial groups, especially Blacks, predict assessed diversity. Within economic attributes, income inequality predicts assessed diversity, albeit negatively, but the representation of poor people does not. We discuss implications for research and policy related to diversity.

Autumn Term 2021/22

The emotional management of maternal guilt across the income spectrum
Speaker: Dr Priya Fielding-Singh 
(Department of Family and Consumer Studies, University of Utah)
Date: 30 September 2021
Abstract: Maternal guilt is prevalent in the US, as most mothers report feeling guilty about their inability to live up to the unreasonable expectations set by intensive mothering. How do mothers emotionally manage this guilt? Using in-depth interviews among a socioeconomically diverse sample of 74 mothers in the San Francisco Bay Area, this talk takes up these questions through the lens of maternal foodwork - a central intensive mothering task. I find variation in how mothers across the income spectrum manage the guilt created by the demands and pressures of feeding their children. Lower income mothers primarily employ the emotion work strategy of downscaling, whereby they work to suppress feelings of guilt in order to come to terms with their current foodwork realities. In contrast, higher income mothers engage in upscaling, whereby they work to escalate feelings of guilt to fuel additional physical and cognitive food-related labor. The findings show how emotions and emotion work strategies are not only key to understanding how mothers manage maternal guilt; they also help to explain the maintenance and reproduction of intensive mothering ideals over time.

Studying social norms in artificial societies with multi-agent reinforcement learning and Melting Pot
: Joel Z Leibo
(Research Scientist, DeepMind)
Date: 14 October 2021
Abstract: How do societies learn and maintain social norms? Social norms enable cooperative behavior in a wide variety of collective action problems which otherwise would fail due to free-riding and defection. They are critical to our welfare because they discourage harmful behaviors (e.g. smoking in public places) and encourage beneficial behaviors (e.g. voting). On the other hand, social norms can also sometimes be unfair (e.g. rules for who gets to speak first), or just plain silly (e.g. rules for when to wear a tie). In this seminar we will discuss how methods derived from artificial intelligence research, based on multi-agent reinforcement learning, can be used to investigate norm learning dynamics in artificial societies. These methods allow more fine-grained modeling than can be achieved with other modeling techniques like matrix games. To illustrate, we'll describe Melting Pot, a new open-source benchmark test suite supporting research in this area. We will also discuss implications for modeling human societies. 

Transparent and Robust Causal Inference in the Social and Health Sciences
Speaker: Carlos Cinelli
(Department of Statistics, University of Washington)
Date: 28 October 2021
Abstract: The past few decades have witnessed rapid and unprecedented theoretical progress on the science of causal inference, ranging from the “credibility revolution” with the popularization of quasi-experimental designs, to the development of a complete solution to non-parametric identification with causal graphical models. Most of this theoretical progress, however, relies on strong, exact assumptions, such as the absence of unobserved common causes, or the absence of certain direct effects. Unfortunately, more often than not these assumptions are very hard to defend in practice. This leads to two undesirable consequences for applied quantitative work: (i) important research questions may be neglected, simply because they do not exactly match the requirements of current methods; or, (ii) researchers may succumb to making the required “identification assumptions” simply to justify the use of available methods, but not because these assumptions are truly believed (or understood).  In this talk, I will discuss new theory, methods, and software for permitting causal inferences under more flexible and realistic settings. In particular, I will present a novel suite of sensitivity analysis tools for identification via regression adjustment and instrumental variables, which can be immediately put to use to improve the robustness and transparency of current applied research. I will also show graphical tools for the algorithmic derivation of sensitivity curves in arbitrary linear structural equation models. These tools empower scientists, and policymakers to both examine the sensitivity of causal inferences to violations of its underlying assumptions, and also to draw robust and trustworthy conclusions from settings in which traditional methods fail.

Can Big Push Infrastructure Unlock Development? Evidence from Ethiopia
Speaker: Dr Niclas Moneke 
(Department of Economics, University of Oxford)
Date: 18 November 2021
Abstract: Roads are instrumental to market access. Electricity is a key technology for modern production. Both have been widely studied in isolation. In reality, infrastructure investments are commonly bundled. How such big push infrastructure investments interact in causing economic development, however, is not well understood. To this end, I first develop a spatial general equilibrium model to understand how big push infrastructure investments may differ from isolated investments. Second, I track the large-scale road and electricity network expansions in Ethiopia over the last two decades and present causal reduced-form evidence confirming markedly different patterns: access to an all-weather road alone increases services employment, at the expense of manufacturing. In contrast, additionally electrified locations see large reversals in the manufacturing employment shares. Third, I leverage the model to structurally estimate the implied welfare effects of big push infrastructure investments. I find welfare in Ethiopia increased by at least 11% compared to no investments, while isolated counterfactual road (electrification) investments would have increased welfare by only 2% (0.7%).


 Winter Term 2020/21

What is “urban data justice”?: Defining, conceptualizing, and exploring data use, re-use, and refusal for racial justice
 Dr Matthew Bui
(Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow, The NYU Alliance for Public Interest Technology)
Date: 21 January 2021
Abstract: This talk explores the relationship between marginalized communities of color and data, foregrounding questions about power, inequality, and justice within the aspiring “smart” city of Los Angeles. First, I will briefly touch on a study that proposes a typology of community-based engagements with data for racial justice: namely, data use, re-use, refusal, and production. Building on this work and considering the politics of data re-use and refusal to keep powerful actors accountable, I will discuss in detail a second study, which leverages an original Yelp dataset to construct and deconstruct a novel indicator of urban displacement, using coffee shops as a flashpoint for urban change. This work theorizes and conceptualizes “urban data justice” as a community-engaged vision and praxis while also articulating and exploring a more politically engaged, grounded, and mixed-method approach to “data-driven” research and policy. In all, I ask: how do we tell stories with—and about—data? Who benefits from these dominant narratives about data? How can we subvert unequal power relations within—and of—data within an age of datafication?

Designing deliberation: Three ethnographic challenges
Speaker: Dr Nicole Curato
(Associate Professor, University of Canberra)
Date: 4 February 2021
Abstract: There have been increasing calls to implement deliberative democratic processes or minipublics to deepen citizen participation in policymaking. Advocates argue that these forums’ design features of (1) inclusion via random selection, (2) open-minded deliberation, and (3) consequential recommendations are critical in revitalising democracy today.

This presentation critically interrogates these processes’ core design features based on autoethnographic fieldwork on deliberative forums in conflict zones in the Philippines. It poses three ethnographic challenges on the ethics and politics of implementing these design features in contexts defined by fear, emotional trauma, and micropolitics of everyday life. By posing these challenges, this presentation aims to pluralise what it means to conduct ‘good’ deliberation based on normative theory grounded on ethnography.

An Imperfect Match? Gender and Racial Discrimination in Hiring Across Skill Matching
Speaker: Dr Kate Weisshaar
(Assistant Professor, Sociology Department at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill and faculty fellow at the Carolina Population Center)
Date: 11 February 2021
Watch a recording of this seminar here.
Abstract: This talk considers how gender and racial discrimination in hiring screening decisions is related to applicants’ match or mismatch on skills required for the job. In the talk, I will present findings from an ongoing collaboration with Koji Chavez and Tania Cabello-Hutt. Theoretically, this project works toward extending and integrating hiring matching theories with discrimination theories. We differentiate between competing theoretical predictions as to whether gender and racial discrimination in hiring is responsive or resistant to applicants’ levels of skill match for the position. To test these predictions, I present results from two original experimental studies. The first, a survey experiment, assesses whether respondents’ levels of stereotyping against Black and women applicants depend on whether fictitious job applicants’ skills match or do not match the job’s requirements. The second empirical study draws from an audit correspondence study of employers. In this study, we examine how employer bias varies across levels of applicants’ skill matching as well as the types of skills the applicants match or mismatch on. Overall, we find that increased skill matching is associated with decreased hiring discrimination, but that there is some variation in these effects across different types of skills. The talk concludes by suggesting methodological implications for future research in terms of identifying and interpreting skills, as well as research more generally on hiring discrimination.

Citation inequities in the social sciences: The case of Communication studies
Speaker: Dr Deen Freelon
(Associate Professor, UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media)
Date: 18 February 2021
Watch a recording of this seminar here.
Abstract: Calls for equity across categories of race, gender, and national identity are nothing new in politics or the academy. Yet the social sciences continue to marginalize both research on and by members of such identity categories. To quantify these inequities, I analyze citation patterns from ten prominent journals in the field of Communication between 2000 and 2019.

The data come from Web of Knowledge, and the analysis focuses on each author’s identity and professional characteristics, including race, gender, country of employment, and discipline. As this research is currently in progress, the talk will focus on the methods used to collect and preprocess the data. Also, a preliminary descriptive analysis of gender disparities in Communication citation practices will be presented. This research offers both a model methodology and an empirical baseline for measuring inequities in citation practices across disciplines.

Using eye movements to predict large-scale voting decisions in direct democracy elections
Speaker: Dr Jason Coronel
(Assistant Professor, School of Communication, Ohio State University)
Date: 11 March 2021
Watch a recording of this seminar here.
Abstract: Over 100 countries allow people to vote directly on policies in direct democracy elections. Politicians are often responsible for writing ballot language, and voters frequently encounter ballot measures that are difficult to understand. We examine whether eye movements from a small group of individuals can predict the consequences of ballot language on large-scale voting decisions.

Across two preregistered studies (n = 120 registered voters and n = 120 registered voters), we monitored laboratory participants’ eye movements as they read real ballot measures. We found that eye movement responses associated with difficulties in language comprehension predicted aggregate voting decisions to abstain and vote against ballot measures in U.S. elections (total number of votes cast = 137,661,232). These findings expose the concerns of direct democracy elections as politicians and interest groups may inadvertently or deliberately influence election outcomes by crafting difficult-to-understand ballot language. However, our study also lays the groundwork for how these concerns can be addressed through eye movement monitoring. Since eye movements provide a continuous measure of reading performance, they can potentially reveal whether the challenges in understanding ballot language occur at the level of specific words, sentences, or the entire text. Eye movements may be able to assist researchers and policymakers in crafting ballot language that is comprehensible to a larger group of voters.

Mobilizing Social Capital for Pretrial Release
Speaker: Professor Sandra Susan Smith
(Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice, Harvard Kennedy School)
Date: 25 March 2021
Watch a recording of this seminar here.
Abstract: Spending more than one day in pretrial detention can significantly and negatively shape individuals’ short- and long-term outcomes. Pretrial detention places detainees at risk of serious physical harm, negatively affects case disposition, increases the likelihood of future penal system involvement, and reduces individuals’ access to a broad range of opportunities. To date, however, we know relatively little about the resources that individuals deploy to navigate the pretrial process so as to avoid some of its more negative effects. In this study we draw from 191 in-depth interviews with participants in San Francisco’s Pretrial Diversion Project to examine whether, when, among whom, and for what purposes people draw on their social networks to get out of jail, especially during the all-important first few days of detention when the collateral consequences of detention are arguably set in motion. Preliminary analysis reveals that pretrial detainees rely heavily on family members, especially mothers, to mitigate the material, social, and emotional consequences of pretrial detention, as well as for help securing release. Fellow inmates also prove to be an extraordinary resource, acting as sources of social and emotional support more often than romantic partners, friends, or jail officials. Patterns of social capital mobilization, however, vary by detainees' age, gender, race, and arrest history. These findings provide important contributions to the growing literature on the front end of criminal case processing, which has yet to systematically consider the extent to which and how social networks and social capital shape the pretrial experience and related outcomes.

Autumn Term 2019/20

What do we mean by a "hard-to-reach" population?: Legitimacy versus precarity as barriers to access
Speaker: Rachel Ellis, PhD 
(Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice, University of Maryland)
Date: 8 October 2020
Abstract: A myriad of articles and textbooks advise qualitative researchers on accessing “hard-to-reach” or “hidden” populations. In this presentation, I compare two studies that I conducted among justice-involved women in the U.S.: a yearlong ethnography inside a state women’s prison and an interview study with formerly incarcerated women. Although these two populations are interconnected – and both deemed “hard-to-reach” – the barriers to access differed. In the prison ethnography, “hard-to-reach” reflected an issue of institutional legitimacy, in which researchers must present themselves and their proposed study as legitimate and worthy to organizational gatekeepers. In the reentry interview study, “hard-to-reach” reflected an issue of structural precarity, in which researchers must navigate the everyday vulnerabilities of research participants’ social position to ensure inclusion and accessibility. Juxtaposing these two experiences, I propose greater nuance to the term “hard-to-reach,” such that researchers may proactively address potential institutional and structural barriers to access.

Citizen assemblies, inequality, and deliberation in rural India: An approach combining causal inference, qualitative analysis, and machine learning
 Vijayendra Rao
(Development Research Group, The World Bank)
Date: 22 October 2020
Watch a recording of this seminar here.
Abstract: This talk will review two projects that analyze transcripts from a total of 400 village meetings (gram sabhas) in rural South India. 300 transcripts (collected in 2002-4) are analyzed using “hand-made” qualitative analysis in the context of a natural experiment, and 100 (collected in 2014) are analyzed using text-as-data methods with a combination of random assignment (of women leaders) and regression discontinuity (assigning the entry of women’s self-help groups).  The results show that despite high levels of caste and wealth inequality, citizens are active participants in village meetings, that there is a great deal of gender inequality in deliberation, and that reserving seats for women presidents sharply reduces gender inequality, as does the introduction of women’s self-help groups, but they crowd out more organic forms of deliberation.

Factors associated with COVID-19 related mortality using the OpenSAFELY platform
Speaker: Elizabeth Williamson
Associate Professor of Biostatistical Methodology, Medical Statistics Department, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine)
Date: 12 November 2020
Watch a recording of this seminar here.
Abstract: This talk will present an overview of the recently developed OpenSAFELY platform, which brings together primary care data and data on COVID-19 outcomes, including test results, hospital admission and mortality. 

OpenSAFELY uses a new model for enhanced security and timely access to data: we don’t transport large volumes of potentially disclosive pseudonymised patient data outside of the secure environments managed by the electronic health record software company; instead, trusted analysts can run large scale computation across near real-time pseudonymised patient records inside the data centre of the electronic health records software company.

The talk will discuss the structure of the platform and then present the recently published results about factors associated with COVID-19 related mortality and current extensions underway to develop risk prediction models allowing for the changing burden of infection over time. It will touch on other questions that we have addressed using the platform, including effects of inhaled corticosteroids on COVID-19 outcomes.

COVID Realities: A collaborative and participatory approach to understanding the experiences of low-income families during COVID-19
 Dr Maddy Power and Dr Ruth Patrick
(University of York)
Date: 26 November 2020
Watch a recording of this seminar here.
Abstract: In the early days after the outbreak of Coronavirus in the UK, there was much talk of us ‘all being in it together’, the idea that the virus did not discriminate and could affect us all. But a narrative of unity and a commonality of experience contrasts with experiences and risks of Coronavirus, and the subsequent economic shocks, which are profoundly unequal.

This talk will provide an overview of the COVID Realities project, a research collaboration between parents and carers, the Universities of York and Birmingham, and our third sector partner, the Child Poverty Action Group (funded by the Nuffield Foundation as part of their rapid-response to COVID-19). It will outline our collaborative approach to research during COVID-19, including a synthesis of existing and ongoing research into poverty in the UK (focusing on the impact of COVID-19); and the facilitation of conversations and resources for the research community on methodological and ethical challenges during a time of COVID-19.

It will describe our approach to participatory research with parents and carers who are living on a low income and explain how we strive to value varied forms of expertise within the project, drawing upon this at every stage. It will discuss the COVID Realities website, through which participants can document their experiences via online diaries, responding to a pre-recorded audio-visual ‘big question of the week’ and participating in monthly online 'big ideas' groups. Finally, it will consider some of the methodological challenges we have faced so far and outline our plans going forward.

Border-Free ELF: Using Individualized Spatial Data to Measure Ethnic Segregation
Speaker: Dr Neelanjan Sircar
(Assistant Professor, Ashoka University and Senior Visiting Fellow, Centre for Policy Research)
Date: 10 December 2020
Watch a recording of this seminar here.
Abstract: One of core problems in the spatial social sciences is the measurement of racial or ethnic segregation and fractionalization. Traditional measures, like dissimilarity (D) or Herfindahl-Hirschman (HHI) indices, are highly sensitive to the borders of the geography being used (e.g., county, neighborhood, census tract). To alleviate these concerns, we develop a mathematical framework to measure segregation using ethnolinguistic fractionalization (ELF) indices that can be calculated purely from spatial or social distances between individuals or households without the artificiality of geographic borders — what we call border-free ELF.

We apply our insights to a dataset comprised of 4380 geocoded households in the National Capital Region (Delhi metropolitan area) in India. We make three key claims. First, the use of geographic borders can significantly overstate the amount of segregation. Second, unlike traditional measures, border-free ELF can detect individual “perceptions” of spatial similarity and dissimilarity and plausibly be used to analyze the correlates of different perceptions. Finally, border-free ELF can be deployed with survey data to provide an individualized picture of the relationship between racial/ethnic fractionalization and public goods provision.


Winter Term 2019/20

Deliberating Inequality: using focus groups to study the social formation of beliefs about economic inequality
Speaker: Dr Kate Summers, Fellow in Qualitative Methodology and Associate of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE), London School of Economics.
Date: 23 January 2020
Abstract: Existing evidence suggests that people dramatically underestimate levels of economic inequality while overestimating the extent of social mobility. A growing body of work has used experimental methods to investigate how providing factual information about inequality affects people’s concerns about inequality and support for redistributive policies. 

However, existing research has been preoccupied with documenting people’s descriptive understanding of economic inequality; we know much less about people’s beliefs about what causes income and wealth inequalities. Existing (experimental) studies also treat individual participants as the unit of analysis, implicitly assuming that beliefs are formed and expressed individually.

I will present the design rationale and preliminary insights from ongoing research aiming to address these shortcomings. I will demonstrate how we are using a focus group approach that allows us to study the discursive

Bad Neighbours: The Health and Well-Being Effects of Social Noise
Speaker: Prof Diana Weinhold, Associate Professor in Development Economics, Department of International Development, London School of Economics.
Date: 6 February 2020
Abstract: Heuristic reports suggest residential neighbour noise is ubiquitous and a major source of stress to those affected.  However there is little good evidence on the scope and severity of the problem as myriad methodological hurdles impede analysis.  Lacking “hard” evidence of harm, neighbour noise – if controlled at all - tends to fall under nuisance, rather than environmental health, regulations.  We analyze the health effects of residential noise annoyance using a longitudinal survey of over 5000 adults in the Netherlands between 2008 and 2013 that includes a broad variety of socio-economic, demographic, and health information.  Exploring to what degree a non-experimental, observational study like this one can address selection bias issues, we additionally collect data on home moving and a psychometric measure of sensitivity to stress.

Overall we find surprisingly strong effects of residential noise annoyance on both measures of subjective well-being as well as a variety of health outcomes, including cardio-vascular symptoms, auto-immune conditions associated with joint and bone disease, headache, and fatigue. Finally, we discuss the role of compelling yet suggestive evidence in social research and policy making.

Research for social change: A scholar-activist perspective
Speaker: Prof Carin Runciman, Associate Professor at the Centre for Social Change, University of Johannesburg.
Date: 20 February 2020
Abstract: Globally, the working class finds itself under attack through the advance of neoliberalism. In South Africa, black working class communities have, since the end of apartheid, continued to resist the structural inequalities created by neoliberalism, apartheid and colonialism. This paper provide a reflexive account on how my research with, on and for community organisations and social movements has attempted to play a wider role in forging progressive social change. The paper reflects on two interventions I have made into public and policy debates in South Africa. The first concerns the portrayal of black working class communities engaged in community protests for basic needs, such as housing, water and electricity. It is estimated that at least two such protests have occurred a day in South Africa since 2005. This has led to state responses that have sought to characterise protesters as part of an ungrateful and undeserving poor to outright state violence. The second considers the role of research in a campaign against amendments to the Labour Relation Act (LRA) in order to protect the right to strike in South Africa. The paper will reflect upon my experience of being a scholar-activist and what this means for research practice, design and methods. Critically, this paper will reflect upon the structural power I am afforded as a white, cis-gendered, middle class female academic to speak for and on behalf of those I research with and on, the implications this has for research and movement building

It's slippery at the top: churn and anxiety amongst elite families
Speaker: Dr Luna Glucksberg, Research Fellow, International Inequalities Institute, London School of Economics
Date: 12 March 2020
Abstract: This paper takes as a starting point the apparent paradox in the behaviour of elite families who strive to accumulate more and more wealth, fearing to lose their position at the top and slip down the inequality curve. To unpack this contradiction the paper explores the fundamental problem that all elite families face, or rather are told they face, by their advisers: the issue of ‘generational algebra’.

Autumn Term 2019/20

How the Financial Times uses data visualisation to find and tell stories
John Burn-Murdoch, Senior Data Visualisation journalist, Financial Times
3 October 2019
Over recent years data visualisation has become integral to the Financial Times’ journalism, playing key roles in everything from rapid-fire analysis of elections, to deeply-reported stories on socio-economic inequality, to interactive explorations of the challenge of tackling climate change. At the heart of this move is a firm belief that visual communication can be a powerful way of conveying a message. This talk will demonstrate what new studies on visual perception and communication tell us about how people read charts, and how the Financial Times uses these findings to hone its visual journalism. The talk will also demonstrate how data visualisation is not only useful as the final step of delivering a message, but can also be a valuable tool for discovering stories in the first place.

When form leads to function: social network closure, social identity threat, and performance among women entrepreneurs
Dr Raina Brands, Assistant Professor in Organisational Behaviour, London Business School
Date: 17 October 2019
Abstract: We examine how the structure of entrepreneurs’ social networks differentially shapes women’s and men’s outcomes. We contend that the degree of closure in female entrepreneurs’ social networks affects how concerned they feel about being judged through the lens of negative gender stereotypes (i.e., their experience of social identity threat), which in turn affects their entrepreneurial success. 

Using data from a survey of entrepreneurs in Study 1, we observe that women (but not men) entrepreneurs who report more closure in their social networks experience less social identity threat and, as a result, are more likely to have incorporated their ventures. Study 2 confirms that the trust that is inherent in closed social networks accounts for our effects. Using an experimental design, we find that individuals who are assigned to a closed (versus sparse) network experience more interpersonal trust, which reduces social identity threat for women (but not men). 

Our findings suggest that a closed social network may inoculate women against the risk of being derailed by negative stereotypes in the venture creation process. We conclude by discussing the theoretical and practical implications of our findings.

The effects of class and the privilege of politicians on self-percieved status: A survey order experiment
Joe Greenwood, LSE Fellow, Department of Government, London School of Economics
Date: 31 October 2019
Abstract: This research seeks to answer the following questions: how does a political class that is seen as highly privileged influence self-perceived status amongst the public and vice versa?

To do so it exploits a question order experiment that was included in one of the surveys fielded for Joe's PhD research. That experiment asked all respondents about their self-perceived status relative to society and their personal acquaintances, with one third being asked those questions first, one third being asked them after self-reporting their class, and one third after self-reporting their class and then indicating how privileged they think politicians are.

The prevailing view amongst respondents is that politicians are highly privileged relative to themselves and society at large, and the survey experiment will allow identification of the effect of that view on self-perceived status as well as the effect of self-perceived status on perceptions of the privilege of politicians. Crucially, if consideration of the privilege of the political class has implications for how the electorate see their own status then it provides another powerful reason to call for the diversity, and visible diversity, of political representatives.

Intersectionality and Peace Processes in Post-Accord Colombia
Dr Elena Stavrevska, Centre for Women, Peace and Security, London School of Economics
Date: 21 November 2019
Abstract: Over the years scholars have problematised the notions of justice and peace and the critical importance of addressing structural injustices in creating sustainable peace. This has included gendered injustice that feminist peace scholars have often highlighted. Yet, we continue to lack a comprehensive understanding of the intersectional aspects of sustainable and just peace.

This talk provides a framework for an intersectional analysis of peace processes by combining insights from Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory on structural intersectionality and Nancy Fraser’s tripartite social justice model. Using that framework to analyse the Colombia Peace Accord of 2016, the talk highlights the gendered, classed, and racialised ways in which indigenous women in Colombia have been affected by it and questions the possibility of reconceptualising transitional justice and peacebuilding efforts in a manner that takes into account intersectional discontents.

Dimensions of statehood: A conceptual approach
Dr Randi Solhjell, Senior Research Fellow, Norwegian Police University College and the Center for Research on Extremism, University of Oslo
Date: 5 December 2019
Abstract: Many scholars have attempted to understand the “state” in sub-Saharan Africa, often leading to conceptualizing of what the state is not, rather than what it is. As a response, a growing body of critical literature have engaged in a deeper immersion into constituent parts of the state. In light of these contributions and based on long-term fieldwork in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), my approach is to show that statehood is not given, but rather consists of multiple realities of state-society interaction to be empirical investigated. I argue that statehood can be seen as constituting (at least) of three different dimensions, namely space, distinction and ideology. By this, I mean that statehood are sites (space) that entails contestations (distinction) and narratives (ideologies).  These dimensions are seen in relation to each other and together can enable scholars to engage with a “thick” understanding of statehood. Moreover, these dimensions are layers of abstraction, both concrete and abstract, on the mundane social processes that produce and reproduce statehood in Africa and beyond. Dimensions of statehood mean to address the relations between performing and enacting the state in how they attribute meanings to statehood expressed through the lens of public goods.