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Making the most of existing data Peter Jackson Cooking numbers and eating words… ESRC Festival of Social Sciences Leeds Town Hall, March 2007.

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Presentation on theme: "Making the most of existing data Peter Jackson Cooking numbers and eating words… ESRC Festival of Social Sciences Leeds Town Hall, March 2007."— Presentation transcript:

1 Making the most of existing data Peter Jackson Cooking numbers and eating words… ESRC Festival of Social Sciences Leeds Town Hall, March 2007

2 Families remembering food Project funded via the Leverhulme Trust programme on Changing Families, Changing Food An inter-disciplinary programme involving health researchers, social scientists, historians etc Collaborative project with Graham Smith (School for Health and Related Research) and Sarah Olive (ICoSS) An oral history project, re-using existing archival collections.

3 Changing Families, Changing Food

4 Families remembering food Re-analysing life history data from three existing collections The Edwardians 100 Families Millennium Memory Bank.

5 The Edwardians 444 interviews collected by Paul Thompson and research team at Essex Schedule-driven interviews covering parents, childhood, schooling, employment, politics, religion, class, marriage (and food) Collected in the 1970s Up to 6 hours long Tapes and transcripts

6 100 Families >200 interviews, also collected by Paul Thompson at Essex Interviews with members of 2-3 generations of the same family Similar schedule to the Edwardians (focusing on Families, Social Mobility and Ageing) Collected in Approx. 5 hours long Tapes and transcripts

7 Millennium Memory Bank c.2000 interviews collected by wide range of interviewers for broadcast on local radio stations Coordinated by National Sound Archive (British Library) but highly variable in content, length, quality etc. No schedule but covers a wide range of topics Collected in 2000 Digitally recorded, summaries (no transcripts).

8 Value of re-use To challenge present-day myths Changing gender roles and domestic routines Inter-generational transmission of family values (constructions of motherhood, fathers and sons etc)

9 The myth of the family meal (The Edwardians) the decline of the family meal never universal (geographically, by social class etc) in Edwardian England, families rarely had a regular family meal (working or middle class) meal times regulated by the demands of factory work mid-day rather than evenings a (middle class) ideal rather than a routine practice.

10 Mens role in domestic life (100 Families) women take primary responsibility for domestic chores (cooking, cleaning etc) where men cook it is usually in exceptional circumstances (death or hospitalisation of spouse, at weekends and special occasions, as a hobby…) cooking to cope.

11 Challenges and issues of re-use Practical issues: Re-using existing datasets can be an efficient use of limited research time (avoids time-consuming recruitment of respondents, training of interviewers, data collection, transcription etc) Working to someone elses agenda (cant ask follow-up questions) Schedule-driven interviews facilitate comparison between respondents but schedule may not cover your specific interests (free-form narrative often more revealing but limits comparison) Temptation of extracting data on a specific issue (e.g. smoking in 100 Families, Rosemary Eliot, Oral History, 2001) when the strength of life history is to locate specific issues in wider biographical and social context.

12 Challenges and issues Epistemological issues Life histories involve a dialogic between past and present (the past seen through the lens of the present) Memory is often incomplete, distorted, unreliable – but life history focuses on the role of memory, nostalgia, selective remembering and forgetting (the myths we live by) Spontaneous contributions vs prompted reflections Participants were invited to reflect on their Edwardian upbringing from the perspective of the 1970s (but not to discuss changes during the intervening period) Interviews were recorded under specific historical conditions and reflect the concerns of that period.

13 Challenges and issues Ethical issues Often easier to interpret other peoples data than material you have collected yourself (emotional and analytical distance) Ethical responsibility towards respondents and interviewers (e.g. where transcripts include interviewers notes) Although respondents have signed off their interviews (giving written consent to re-use), ethical issues arise in re-using data for different purposes than interviewees anticipated.

14 Conclusion Many benefits of re-using existing datasets An under-used resource Need to understand the nature of the dataset, when and how interviews were recorded etc. Need to be aware of practical, epistemological and ethical issues.


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