Introducing November’s theme: Methodologies

Above image: Sizing Up Gender (Ben Barry, Calla Evans, May Friedman)

This month’s digital theme is Methodologies. This can hardly be called a ‘theme,’ so central is it to the practice of sociology and cognate disciplines. Cutting across research interests and tackling some of the most difficult questions we face – of ontology and epistemology – we expected to receive an exciting and diverse set of pitches for this month. We have not been disappointed, and have decided to make ‘Methodologies’ an annual digital theme. In this way, we hope to keep our finger on the pulse of methodological developments in the discipline and beyond.

The Sociological Review’s archive is an invaluable resource for all things methods and methodologies. For as long as the journal has been publishing (some 100 years), it has hosted debate and reflections on methodology. Writing in 1936, for example,

Felix Kaufmann implores readers of the journal to ‘go back to the fundamentals of knowledge’ through ‘thoroughgoing reflection.’ This process of reflecting on the production of sociological knowledge has continued throughout the decades and notable advances in methodology have been made in the pages of The Sociological Review. In 2000-2001, for example, Ruth Halliday and Sarah Pink exchanged their views on visual and video methods, hashing out the contours of this methodological discussion. In 2012, The Sociological Review published the Monograph Live Methods, edited by Les Back and Nirmal Puwar, which reflected on old and new sociological methods, and invited us to think again about ‘what sociology was, is and might be’. Live Methods’ is still making waves today, as testified to by some of our blogs this month.

Covid-19 has effected every aspect of our lives, and methodology has not been immune. Earlier this year we hosted Teaching Research Methods in a Time of Crisis, responding to an appetite to share thoughts on how to introduce students to methods – and their attached methodologies – at a time when going out into the social world is risky at best, and impossible at worse. Emma Jackson summarised the event for our blog, which we hope will prove useful to those reading this blog series who also teach.  

On the blog this month we are thrilled to be publishing blog posts about methodologies of various kinds. Rachel Benchekroun writes about participant-created, hand-drawn sociograms as an evocative visual and participatory method of producing data. Two of our blogs reflect on the process of researching itself, with Hayley Butcher on the related emotional labour while Sampurna Das asks: ‘But what if a sociologist is an introvert?’ It seems that many sociologists have turned to collective methodologies throughout lockdown and we hear about two such project: Project P and The Hundreds. Jennifer Saunders introduces her use of ‘Deep Mapping’ while Laura Nelson argues that the future of machine learning is qualitative. Completing the collection, Sherif Youssef borrows from Bauman’s ‘liquid modernity’ to explain the ethos of his fieldwork after the failed Arab Spring.

Our Instagram ‘Image-Maker in Residence’ is taken on by the research team behind the ‘Sizing Up Gender’ project, Ben Barry, Calla Evans, and May Friedman. The images are the culmination of a research project involving 13 participants representing their lived experience with dress, identity, gender and size. Using relational and arts-based methods, Sizing Up Gender allows for a consideration of embodied performances at the axes of weight and gender identities. It animates our digital theme, showing us the payoffs of thinking methodologically with art. Follow us on IG (thesociologicalreview) to see all the images.

Every month we make papers from our archive relating to our theme free to access. This month, as mentioned, we had plenty to choose from. We have selected Gillian Rose’s 2014 paper ‘On the Relation between ‘Visual Research Methods’ and Contemporary Visual Culture’, an important intervention in visual methodologies and the status of the image in sociological research. We also have made Meritxell Ramírez-i-Ollé’s ‘Friendship as a Scientific Method’ free to access after publishing it last year. It argues that friendships formed in the course of scientific research should be foregrounded in discussions of how the sciences are done.

With this collection we have only hoped to graze the surface of ‘Methodologies,’ and have endeavoured to bring you a selection of different approaches and practical to theoretical blogs. We invite you to return to the journal’s archive to continue your reading, and to join in the conversation on Social Media. Next year we will return to this theme, and we look forward to picking up this thread then.

– Laura Harris

Laura Harris was The Sociological Review’s Digital Engagement Fellow (with Sarah Perry). She now works at Manchester Metropolitan University, researching the effects of Covid-19 on freelance theatre makers. She tweets @Lauramaharris

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