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Social Research Methods: Revision Class 2 methods to cover: a) Visual Methods b) Historical Methods Summary of key areas, essential points, main approaches.

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Presentation on theme: "Social Research Methods: Revision Class 2 methods to cover: a) Visual Methods b) Historical Methods Summary of key areas, essential points, main approaches."— Presentation transcript:

1 Social Research Methods: Revision Class 2 methods to cover: a) Visual Methods b) Historical Methods Summary of key areas, essential points, main approaches and arguments.

2 Visual Social Research Methods 1. Why use visual methods? Social research methods can be accused of over-stressing language at the expense of other dimensions of social life (e.g. visual and other sensory experience). The inclusion of visual data can therefore help to make social research less reductive (i.e. less over-simplified).

3 2. How is visual perception social? Our visual perception is shaped by our culture and society. The way we see depends upon the way we live. Our social actions are influenced by our visual perception. The way we act depends upon the way we see. This means that the visual dimension of our everyday lives is socially significant.

4 3. How important is visual interaction? A great deal of social interaction is unspoken and takes the form of visual communication. Visual communication is often subtle, complex and implicit. The importance of eye-contact in social interaction should not be underestimated. The eye itself can be thought of as having a sociological as well as a physical function.

5 4. What is the sensory turn? The sensory turn refers to a recent surge of interest in visual data and visual research in sociology and (especially) anthropology. Some anthropologists have argued that thissensorial revolution could be as significant as the textual revolution of the 1970s. The textual revolution led to diverse aspects of social life being understood and analysed as texts…

6 5. Why should social science take visual research seriously? There are 2 main arguments: a) The Postmodern Argument Suggests that society has entered a new historical era in which images have replaced texts as the dominant cultural form. If writing was fundamental to modern society, then images are fundamental to postmodern society. We live in an image-based culture.

7 b) The Ontological Argument Suggests that visual culture has always been central to human social life. Points to the key role of visual markers of identity, status and belief in traditional and pre-modern societies (not just todays society) In addition it can be argued that sociology in the past has often involved elements of visual analysis without realising.

8 6. What is Visual Data? Until recently visual data basically meant photographs. But the sensory turn has led to a broader definition of visual data as the whole field of the seen and the observed. On this definition visual data is extremely rich and diverse, incorporating most aspects of social life. It therefore has great potential for social research.

9 7. What are the main categories of visual data? a) two-dimensional visual data = flat images. Existing images = produced by the people being researched, either in the past or for the research. Produced images = produced by the researcher. b) three-dimensional visual data = meaningful objects (material culture) c) lived visual data = spaces, environments and locales d) living visual data = bodies, movement and interaction

10 8. What are the main trends in visual sociological research? 1) Production and/or use of photos as a method of documentation. 2) Critical analysis of advertisements as systems of ideological meaning. 3) Analysis of how visual representations are used in social situations. 4) Use of video recording of social interaction to analyse patterns of movement and gesture.

11 9. How can visual images be analysed? a) In terms if their content: (what they contain, what they exclude, what they say or mean, what they suggest). - Photo-analysis - Semiotic Analysis - Content Analysis

12 b) In terms of how they are used: (why they have been produced, how they are used, how people talk about them, how people use them to talk about other things). - Photo-elicitation Photo-Analysis = Direct analysis and interpretation of photographs by the researcher. Interrogating an image for its meanings by asking critical questions about the image.

13 Semiotic Analysis = A method which tries to unlock the hidden ideological meanings in an image by identifying the relationships between the signs in the image. Content Analysis = involves devising categories and counting the number of times a visual content falls into each category as a way to draw conclusions. Photo-elicitation = Using photographs as a tool in qualitative interviews by asking the research participants to talk about the images (which may be existing images or produced images).

14 10. Key areas to revise: What you should be able to talk about - Why should methods have a role in social research? - What is visual data and what kinds of visual data are there? - What methods can be used for analysing visual data? - What are the strengths and weaknesses of some of these visual methods? (e.g. semiotics, photo-elicitation).

15 Historical Social Research Methods 1. Why use historical methods? Time is a key feature of social life. Without understanding the past and historical processes of change, it is impossible to fully understand the present. Society is never static or fixed, it is constantly changing, so it needs to be seen in a historical context.

16 2. What are the main approaches to historical social research? a) Social history (macro/structure) Focuses on broad historical changes in social structure. b) Cultural History (micro/agency) Focuses on how people in the past have created meaning and viewed their world.

17 3. What are the characteristics of (macro) social history? The macro historical sociology of the 1970s and 80s was known as the second wave. It was a reaction against the a-historical functionalism of the mid-20 th century. The second wave focused on the relationship between social classes and the state, on the relative importance of political and economic factors in structural social change.

18 4. What was the cultural turn and what impact did it have on approaches to history? The 1990s witnessed a cultural turn across the social sciences, involving a new emphasis on the role of interpretation and meaning-making processes in social life. This cultural turn also led to new approaches to history and historical research, associated with the waning of the macro social approach and the rise of a micro cultural approach.

19 5. What are the characteristics of (micro) cultural history? The cultural turn had two main impacts on historical research: i) New understandings of time emerged. Time has come to be seen as partly subjective rather than purely objective. (time has come to be seen in terms of how it is socially interpreted and understood by people).

20 ii) New scepticism concerning claims about the past. The notion of historical research as a process of discovering the truth about how things really were has been widely challenged. Instead the past is seen as always in part a narrative constructed through historical writing itself (i.e. a story told by the historian). This has led to more awareness of how our accounts of the past are never simply neutral, but are always shaped by the society, culture and politics of the present.

21 6. What special difficulties are faced by historical social researchers? Historical researchers must usually deal with documentary sources rather than living human beings, meaning there is no direct access to the phenomena of interest. Unlike an interviewer, a historical researcher cannot usually get straight to the questions they are interested in, because they must work with the available sources. These can be unmanageable in quantity. Written sources can often be mute and stuck in their own time, and the researcher may have to use special techniques to make them speak.

22 7. What are the different kinds of historical sources? Historical sources can encompass every kind of evidence human beings have left of their past activities, but in practice most sources are written documents: - Newspapers - Autobiographies/Memoirs - State Records - Letters/Diaries - Local Govt Records - Church Records - Records of Trades Unions, Political Parties, Businesses, Landed Families, Pressure Groups, Universities, etc.

23 8. What is the hierarchy of sources? Primary Sources – are original sources produced during the period of interest (these may be either unpublished or published) Secondary Sources – are what historians have written about the past. Traditionally historians have seen primary sources as superior to secondary sources. But following the cultural turn it is more likely to be acknowledged that all sources are partial in different ways.

24 9. What strategies can be used to approach sources? The Source-Oriented Approach – the researcher takes a group of primary sources and allows them to shape the nature of the enquiry. The Problem Oriented Approach – the researcher formulates a specific research question and examines a selection of relevant sources for the light they shed on this question. Each strategy has considerable drawbacks, and in practice historical researchers must usually settle for some combination of the two.

25 10. What are the key principles of source-criticism? Sources must always be put in context: - Why was the source produced? For what reason was it written? The purpose for which a source was produced will influence everything it contains. - Why has the source survived? This can tell the researcher a great deal about the significance of a source.

26 Social historical researchers can also use oblique methods to interpret sources: a) Reading sources against the grain This involves reading sources for traces of information that the author was not aware of setting down (attitudes, assumptions, etc). b) The regressive method Using what is known about a later period to work backwards and piece together aspects of an earlier period (usually where there is a lack of primary sources).

27 Key areas to revise: What you should be able to talk about - Why is the historical dimension important for sociology? - What impact has the cultural turn had upon historical social research? - What kinds of historical sources are available, what are their strengths and weaknesses? - What different strategies can be used to approach sources and what are their advantages and disadvantages? - What is source criticism and what techniques can researchers use to interpret sources?

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