Reflective Methodologies at the 9th Pan-European Conference

In 2014 we ran our conference funding for Early Career Researchers scheme for the first time. In this series of posts, some of the winners report from the conferences they attended with our support. 

By Gillian McFadyen

The end of September normally sees academics preparing for the start of the new academic year, organising teaching, office hours and greeting new students. However, for a lucky few, we managed to delay the start of term by a few days, escaping to the island of Sicily to partake in the 9th Pan-European Conference on International Relations (September 23-26th). Organised by the European International Studies Association and hosted by the Università degli studi di Catania, the conference was situated in the resort town of Giardini Naxos, with Mount Etna dominating the sky line.

In applying to the conference, my participation at EISA was three-fold. Firstly, I was a Chair for a Section on ‘Reflective methodologies and the challenge of doing methods’.  Although the theme of the conference was The Worlds of Violence, I overlooked the theme and instead focused on the issue of methodology and the practice of ‘doing research’.  Working in collaboration with Laura Considine (Leeds), our section was designed to examine and engage with the experience of doing research through the lens of methods and reflect on, engage with and subvert the practice of doing research.

The Section contained six sessions on methodological challenges: four panels, two roundtables, and included 26 scholars from across the UK, Europe and North America. The Section offered a space to critically challenge the traditional practice of methods within the multidisciplinary area of International Relations, Sociology and History and reflected on the relationship between theory and practice as well as exploring the politics of the historical method in the humanities.  Within the Section, the four panels covered the topics of Experiencing the practice of International Relations; Hitting the methodological wall: working with and through, methodology; How methods shape how we know: the disciplining of knowledge production and Critical approaches to methodology. Our two roundtables engaged with Methods as a site of critique, subversion and innovation and A third space- the challenge of doing methods.  As well as Section Chair, I acted as Chair and Discussant for one of our panels, as well as Chaired the final roundtable.

Finally, I presented a paper, ‘Silence in the archives: learning to work with a silent method’ in the Hitting the Methodological Wall panel. My paper discussed the various silences that I came across through my archival research, particularly, within the UNHCR and the British Cabinet archives in regards to the meaning and understanding of refuge. In undertaking archival research, one expects the research to influence shape and develop the project, however, my paper engaged with what occurs when you find silence- and how do you work with that silence.

The Section was a resounding success. We were able to engage with a wide audience, stimulating dialogue and critical discussions amongst our panellists and audience members. However, what really struck me was the interest generated by other early career researchers in the area of methodology. Many were eager to share their own reflections on methodology and the challenges, tensions and failings of ‘doing research’ and how this can be understood in the process of research.  One of the phrases that was mentioned numerous times throughout the section was the notion of ‘messy research’ and how as academics, we are actively encouraged to produce polished outputs where we discuss the knowledge produced.  Yet, in doing so, we are failing to engage, share and discuss the practices of knowledge production itself. How are we creating our research- what went wrong and how did we learn from it?  By learning to speak and reflect on our ‘messy research’ we can bring transparency and accountability to our research- as well as to other researchers, providing invaluable insights and experiences on the challenges of doing research, especially for those just commencing their academic career.

I would like to take this final moment to extend my thanks to the Sociological Review for the Early Career Researcher Travel Grant. As an ECR, support at this stage can be difficult to find, and with the financial assistance from the Sociological Review, they have enabled me to partake in a great conference experience, building networks, collaboration and future projects.

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