Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
RN20_09a: Measuring, Automation, Diagrams, Podcasts: Extending Qualitative Data Analysis
Friday, 23/Aug/2019:
11:00am - 12:30pm

Session Chair: Lars Fynbo, VIVE - The Danish Centre for Social Science Research
Location: UP.3.209
University of Manchester Building: University Place, Third Floor Oxford Road

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What Do Sociologists ‘Measure’ When Speaking of Happiness (and How)?

Nikolai Narbut1, Irina Trotsuk1,2, Valeriya Grebneva1

1RUDN University, Russian Federation; 2Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, Russian Federation

In recent years, the issues of happiness have become phenomenally popular especially for different global rankings. There is a wide range of quantitative studies (mass surveys), whose authors seek to characterize population of different countries by the level of happiness, and, thus, present international ranking of countries according to this level. Even without taking into account a certain absurdity of attempts to compare multi-million communities by their level of happiness, the results of such surveys raise a lot of questions for they are often contradictory, especially when it comes to international comparisons and national surveys (in an international study a country can be presented as quite unhappy while according to national polls its population is much happier). Many scholars admit the necessity to systematize interdisciplinary definitions of happiness, to create typologies of factors influencing everyday interpretations of happiness (dominant media discourses in particular) and lists of empirical indicators to ‘measure’ it. However, this is not enough for clarifying what people really mean when answering surveys’ questions and describing themselves as happy/unhappy. Qualitative methods can be a solution here, for instance a combination of the unfinished sentences technique, narrative interview and Twenty Statements Test. Such a combination can serve as a methodological experiment and a preliminary stage for designing a mass survey questionnaire, because it allows to make necessary changes in the standard questionnaires on happiness, thus, ensuring more valid and reliable results of mass surveys.

Automated Text Analysis In The Domain Of Qualitative Research. A Methodological Approach

Axel Philipps

Leibniz University Hannover, Germany

A new development in qualitative research methods challenges the drawn boundary between quantitative and qualitative research. Qualitative researchers are currently confronted with a growing number of software solutions for automatic ‘qualitative text analysis’ that were engineered by computer linguists, computer scientists and others (see e.g., Ignatow and Mihalcea 2016). As a consequence, researchers with a background in qualitative research are now confronted with text mining tools, which support interpretive social sciences to a limited extent. Moreover, as latecomers, they are in a position to assess the usability of automated text analysis tools rather than advancing software solutions dedicated to qualitative research.

My presentation discusses challenges and opportunities to implement and apply text mining technologies in qualitative research. My main objective is to identify requirements that support qualitative inquiries. It starts from the observation that text mining tools enable researchers to classify, group and rank a large textual corpus. Such an approach might offer new and unfamiliar perspectives on data for qualitative researchers. However, I argue the salience of text mining technologies for qualitative research will increase if we shift away from methods of grouping and clustering whole text corpora to processes that automatically detected documents that do not fit into applied conceptual constructs provided by interpretively oriented social researchers. Especially textual data that deviates from proposed conceptual constructs offers empirical material to interpret contrasting documents and then to specify and adjust existing assumptions, hypotheses and theories.


Ignatow G and Mihalcea R (2016) Text mining: A guidebook for the social sciences. London et al: Sage.

Towards An Ethics Of Rupture: Diagrams As Technique In Social Research

Natasha Ewa Whiteman1, Russell Dudley-Smith2

1University of Leicester, United Kingdom; 2UCL Institute of Education

This paper focuses attention on one of the most under-discussed yet widely deployed conventions for the analysis of social processes: the creation of diagrams. We argue that these are only fully productive if they take relational form. Often, they do not. One aspect of the productivity of such diagrams is examined: their ability to encourage an estranging move from both scholastic a priori theorisation and sedimented common-sense understandings of the world. They are then a key technique for what we have termed an ethics of rupture. Their implications for the practice of sociological research is considered via reference to the writing of Bachelard on the requirement in science for artificial technique (Bachelard, 2002 [1938], 1968 [1940) and Bourdieu’s imperative that researchers work towards sociological reflexivity (2019; 1991 [1968]; 1992). These themes are illustrated through interview data generated during a study of media filesharing activity: the necessary diagrammatic principles are applied to this setting. The result is contrasted with a well-known diagram, Howard Becker’s (1963) classic typology of deviant behaviour, that, we argue, does not succeed in making the necessary break with non-relational conventions. In presenting our analytical shift, we introduce an alternative mode of diagramming the social, Social Activity Method (Dowling, 2009, 2013). Through this organisational language, the paper questions the taken-for-grantedness of the 'conceptual exercises' (Bailey, 1994) of some sociological research and draws attention to the way that diagrams may become corrupted via traces of the ‘known.’

Sound as a Landscape for Reflection on Thesis Writing

Marianne Høyen

Aarhus University, Denmark

This presentation discusses the use of podcasts to inquire how students cope with writing their final master’s thesis and shows how this approach offers a qualitatively rich way to support future thesis writers.

The last decade has seen the publication of vast numbers of study skills books and an increasing focus on study skills on university webpages so, as podcasts are becoming increasingly popular, I wanted to examine whether this aural medium can provide a useful space for students to reflect for on their own writing processes. Sound offers the listener possibilities to engage with content in other ways than text or videos, so podcasts may provide a fruitful alternative to existing formats.

I contacted five students for whom writing their thesis was an ongoing process and arranged to interview them five to seven times from the outset through to submission. I talked with the students about their thoughts, considerations, fears, and hopes in relation to the task ahead. These differed considerably for each student, partly depending on students' life-styles, their prior experiences in school and at university and their aspirations for the future.

From the interviews I created podcasts around the students' experiences of thesis writing to make a space for reflection for new thesis writers.

The presentation will discuss theories of sound, present the intentions behind the making of the podcasts and how they aim to meet students known and unknown needs as writers, and offer examples from the podcast.

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