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Monthly Archives: February 2014

I am attending the NCRM Research Methods Festival in July, Oxford. I like the fact that it is called a Festival rather than a Conference as I think it sets a particular vibe about what the event aims to achieve – which is to get people excited about research methods and for those of us who are already excited, provide the best place to meet other excited geeks. I think this is an important event as I’ve heard that Research Methods seems to be a topic students are bored by and tends to get offloaded to new lecturers or PhD students. But there is no reason for Research Methods to be boring or a burden.

In the evening of the festival, there is an entertainment programme. The great sociologist and Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed presenter Laurie Taylor will be speaking on one night and Red Magic, a socialist magician on another. There is also an option for a walking tour of Oxford and a film showing of the British longitudinal ITV documentary, 7Up, which follows the lives of a group of children who were aged 7 in 1964 to the current day (which is a similar age group to the 1958 Birth Cohort study I am using for my PhD)

Having a film viewing at a conference or event is an interesting idea. If I were to show a film I would show possibly the only comedy about the pitfalls of positivist social science – Kitchen Stories (2003).

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Kitchen Stories is a Norwegian/Swedish comedy set in the 1950s about sophisticated Swedish researchers going out to observe the kitchen habits of single men in rural Norway. Inevitably issues arise with the research design: observer effects, research ethics, power relationships in research, the trials and tribulations in working with cross-country research teams and so on… All with a soundtrack which includes the fabulous Swedish Jazz Pianist, Jan Johansson.

If anyone can find any other research methods related films, then please let me know – Pygmalian / My fair lady is another one perhaps?

Maybe one day we could put on a Research Methods film festival! *faints with excitement*

(c) 2014 Annika Coughlin

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Today, Professor Stuart Hall died at the age of 82. Many obituaries have been written but I wanted to write about what he meant to me.

I am not an expert on his work by any means. My awareness of Stuart Hall is mainly through my father who used the course materials prepared by him when he was doing a foundation course in Social Sciences with the Open University in the 1980s – when I was a child.

This was a time when there was mass unemployment, strikes and riots. Margaret Thatcher was in power and in my household she was a massive hate figure. We grew up on benefits but this doesn’t mean you are a lazy scrounger like the modern media likes to suggest, rather, my father decided to get educated. In those days I think people on benefits could get their fees for the OU paid by the government, so he did a few modules in Social Science. Stuart Hall was the course leader of the D102 unit, Conformity, Consensus and Conflict, and wrote the unit handbook. He wrote in a very accessible, respectful and friendly way. In this unit he explained the concept of ideology and why the working classes voted for Thatcher. There is a lot in there about striking and industrial relations and a critique of the concept of ‘false class consciousness’. Of course I couldn’t really read them then – being a child and all (although they are also illustrated with photos and drawings), but my dad who used to go off on one about Thatcher quite regularly, was now able to underpin his rants with sociological theory and deeper understandings of ideology, power and British society in the 1980s.

These course books were so excellent that we didn’t throw them away. Rather I even referred to them when I was doing my Sociology degree and MA years later. When my dad died in 2005 and we had a big tidy up, we eventually did get rid of the course books, but I kept this one as well as the core text that goes with it.

D102 coursebooks

D102 coursebooks

The passing of Stuart Hall is sad in itself, but for me, it is tangled up with the sadness of my father’s death. I see our handwritten notes side by side in the OU text and I feel a connection between the three of us through these course books. I am now doing a PhD in sociology about lifelong learning and higher education. This OU text really symbolises to me the importance of education for working class and unemployed people and their children.

I thank Stuart Hall for helping us to understand more about the society in which we live through his magnificent gift of writing, speaking and teaching.

 

hall

(c) 2014 Annika Coughlin

It is a commonly held belief that sociologists ‘don’t do stats’. Hence why the ESRC and the Nuffield Foundation have launched Q-Step which is a programme to promote better quantitative social science training in the UK. I deliberately chose to do advanced statistics as part of my PhD. I felt that there is this whole way of discovering things about the world that I only have a tiny bit of knowledge about and as a researcher I want to know about every type of methodology there is so that I can best be prepared to answer a specific research question in the most suitable way.

To supplement my class based learning, I have been doing an online course all about multiple regression. It is a very nicely written and quite fun to do. Module one covers the foundations, so frequencies, barcharts and what not (I finally understand Standard Deviation!). The second module is multiple regression. Although I haven’t quite finished module one yet as I am really trying to learn thoroughly rather than quickly, what I have learnt about multiple regression from my statistics class is that it is pure magic – you can actually predict the future from the multiple regression model. I could not believe my eyes!

The biggest statistical magician of them all, in my view, is Prof Hans Rosling, a Swedish medical doctor and statistician. Last night on BBC2 there was a lecture by him on population growth. What makes his lectures so interesting is of course the incredible graphics and humor, but I would say more importantly it is the way he brings the statistics to life with real examples. Perhaps because he was a medical doctor he is always aware of the people behind the numbers. He banished a lot of myths we have about population growth, poor people in the global south, and reassured us that the world isn’t as bad as we think it is by looking at how much healthier the world has become. Of course there are still one billion people in extreme poverty but that poverty can actually be abolished in a very short time period – if we want to.

Statistics can be very powerful in tackling inequalities and dispelling stereotypes and prejudices and I think are essential part of a sociologist’s toolkit.

Just like that

Just like that

 

(c) 2014 Annika Coughlin

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