Department seminar speaker

Past department seminars

Past Department Seminars

Recent seminars held in the Department of Methodology


Michaelmas term 2017

Access trouble: Ethnography and the study of power and violence
12 October 2017
Speaker: Ruben Anderson, Department of International Development, University of Oxford
In this paper, Ruben will discuss practical, ethical and analytical implications of conducting what may be termed ‘ethnographies of systems’, drawing on his research on European border security and on international intervention in conflict zones. The forte of ethnography, and more specifically participant-observation as practiced in his home discipline of anthropology, has usually been seen to be the study of communities or specific life-worlds over a long span of time – a preference carried over into much ‘multi-sited’ research today. However, what are the obstacles and opportunities of applying ethnographic approaches to the study of powerful systems and ‘systemic’ actors? Considering this, Ruben will focus in particular on how researchers may use obstacles – not least access problems – as a tool for reframing their object of study. Problems of access abound in fieldwork, and especially so when studying sensitive topics such as irregular migration, counterterrorism, humanitarianism and peacekeeping, all topics I have dealt with his my own research. As Ruben will discuss, a major initial hurdle for his work on the mapping and management of global ‘danger zones’ was lack of access to conflict-hit areas in northern Mali because of security risks. As he rethought his project via this obstacle, he used participant observation as a tool for ‘testing the waters’ – how far does it reach, and what does this limit tell us? In other words, while discussing the practical implications of fieldwork on powerful and secretive systems, the paper also explores more broadly the analytical purchase of methodological impasses.

Micro-simulation with socio-demographic data
5 October 2017
 Peter Davis, University of Auckland
Abstract: For those involved in applied social science and policy analysis, the potential outcomes (counterfactual) paradigm of causality has contributed a helpful conceptual framing for their work. In this presentation, Peter will first outline the problems faced by social scientists wishing to draw causally-plausible conclusions for policy analysis and advice. In so doing, he will draw on his review of the area in Data Inference in Observational Settings (Sage). Despite all the design and analytical features available to investigators, however, this approach still has its limitations, particularly in tackling "bigger picture" issues at the societal level. With climate change as a motivating example and an upcoming book as a detailed application, Peter will then suggest that simulation is one tool that has the potential to usefully tackle analytical questions that are not readily susceptible to traditional design solutions.

Lent term 2017

Research and policy change: the case of cycling in London

 Thursday 2nd March
Speaker:  Dr Rachel Aldred, Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, University of Westminster 
Abstract: Rachel will speak about how cycling policy in London was transformed following a sustained advocacy coalition that made its Mayor answerable for cycling deaths. After giving some context about the broader state of cycling and cycling policy across the UK, she will provide some insights on the change that took place in London, why it happened, and the role that research played within a coalition for change. This will include in particular a focus both on discourses of policy and advocacy, and the demographic inequalities in London cycling. Reflecting on the limits of this transformation and on current developments, she will conclude with suggestions for where London should go next, and what other parts of the UK can learn from London's story.

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"These things are dangerous": researching abortion in sub-Saharan Africa

Date: Thursday 2nd February
Time: 16:45 - 18:00
Speaker: Dr. Ernestina Coast, Department of Social Policy, LSE. 
Abstract: Unsafe abortion is a significant but preventable cause of maternal mortality and morbidity. In Africa, an estimated 13% of all pregnancies end in induced abortion, of which 97% are unsafe.  Unsafe induced abortion is more likely when procedures are clandestine and legal provision is restrictive.  Mixed methods analyses of the steps from the decision to terminate pregnancy to securing abortion care provide insight into care-seeking behaviour and influencing factors, including barriers and delays to accessing care, stigma and perceptions of risk. Safety and risk are complex and overlapping concepts that operate in multiple domains, including: emotional, social, clinical, physical and financial. How adolescents and women, and the people involved in their abortion decision-making, make sense of, understand, weigh up and strategise the relative risks (safety) is under-researched. Little is known about how women make decisions about safety and risk of different abortion methods in different legal settings.  Analysis of the pathways that individuals take to abortion-related care helps focus policy and programmatic attention on what is needed to increase accessibility to and quality of safe abortion services. 

Michaelmas term 2016

1 December 2016

‘We are at war, but we don’t know where the front is’: Researching everyday patriotism as politicized identity in Russia

Speaker: Dr. Paul Goode, Senior lecturer in Russian Politics, Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies, University of Bath. 
Abstract: There is a distinct preference in the study of “everyday” ethnicity and nationalism for ethnographic methods and indirect observation, though this preference depends upon the perceived neutrality of the observer and the presumed naturalness of one’s observations. For scholars examining sensitive identities in authoritarian regimes, however, neither condition is likely to be present. Hence, outside observers may never be considered neutral and, at worst, contact with them may be toxic for respondents in security-conscious regimes. Rather than attempting to conceal one’s identity, however, opportunities may arise for utilizing one’s outsider status to better understand everyday identities in ways that may not be available to participant observation. This paper draws on the author’s experience as an American Fulbright Scholar conducting in-depth interviews, group discussions, and focus groups on patriotism in provincial Russia in 2014-2015. It argues that one may fruitfully leverage outsider status (or more specifically, respondents’ awareness of the researcher’s outsider status) in interviews to identify the range of practices comprising social identities, especially in terms of respondents’ attempts to reconcile official narratives with personal experiences and evaluations. In turn, the social salience and dynamics related to those practices may be verified with locally-moderated, quasi-experimental focus groups.


17 November 2016

Managing open-ended style

 Prof. Vaughn Tan, Assistant Professor at the School of Management, UCL
Abstract: Professor Tan presented a qualitative, ethnographic field study of five internationally renowned teams working in high-end cutting-edge cuisine. He introduced the concept of open-ended style, then documented and theorized about organizational knowledge management practices appropriate for this type of style. The consistency of a style makes an organization’s products familiar to consumers: Style can be a source of durable differentiation. However, an organization’s style must also be open-ended for it to be able to create innovative products that are nonetheless familiar to consumers. The inherent tension between novelty and familiarity makes open-ended style difficult to codify and transfer internally: Open-endedness can make style a management challenge and operational liability. In this paper, Professor Tan described how uncodified knowledge about open-ended style was more effectively transferred between team members using three practices:

1) Group evaluations of prototypes
2) concrete exemplar-based feedback, and
3) outcome-focused feedback.

Based on these practices, he proposes a process mechanism—transfer through testing and update of successively more accurate approximations—for managing knowledge about open-ended style in organizations. He concludes by discussing the value of open-ended style as a strategic concept in creative industries, and how this study extends our understanding of the effect of feedback practices on organizational knowledge. 


27 October 2016

Some Methodological Components of a Longitudinal Survey of Sexuality [NSHAP]

Speaker: Colm O'Muircheartaigh, Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago and co-founder of the Methodology Institute at LSE.
Abstract:  The National Social Life and Health in Aging Project [NSHAP] is a longitudinal study of older Americans, currently covering those born between 1920 and 1965; the survey measures social networks, physical and mental health, and sexual activity for a probability sample from this population. The seminar described the overall design of the survey and discuss some methodological innovations. Two field experiments – one on conducting interviews with both partners in a relationship, the other looking at field strategies to gathering sensitive information through Leave-Behind Questionnaires – was also described. A novel way of using predictive analytics to forecast eventual response rates was also presented. 

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Summer term 2016

Assessing the Effectiveness of Human Rights Rhetoric: An empirical test of Spiral Model     

 Dr Slava Mikhaylov, Department of Political Science, UCL    
Date: 28 April 2016
Abstract: Estimating state preferences is central to the study of world politics. This paper introduces new data and approaches to measuring state preferences using quantitative text analysis. We argue that the General Debate of the United Nations, in which member states present their perspectives on major issues in annual statements, provides invaluable information on countries’ preferences. Compared to other forms of state behavior (e.g. voting on UN resolutions), states face few external constraints delivering these speeches – making them better placed to distinguish the effects of countries’ preferences from characteristics of the international system. Applying text analytic techniques to speeches between 1970–2014, we illustrate how speeches can be used to derive countries’ positions on policy dimensions, and provide empirical applications of these measures. The new approach will be of interest to scholars of international relations and comparative politics studying the determinants and effects of state preferences on state behavior.   


A Mixed-Methods Natural Experiment on Residential Change and Recidivism: The silver lining of Hurricane Katrina           

Speaker: David Kirk, Nuffield College, Oxford              
Date: 26 May 2016
Abstract: Over 600,000 prisoners are released from U.S. prisons each year, and roughly one-half of these individuals are back in prison within just three years. If the path to desistance from crime largely requires separating from past situations and establishing a new set of structured daily activities, then returning to one’s old neighbourhood environment and routines may drastically limit an ex-prisoner’s already dismal chances of desisting from crime. Yet estimating the causal impact of place of residence on the likelihood of recidivism is complicated by the issue of selection bias—the possibility that some unmeasured characteristic of prisoners influences both where they live and their criminal behavior. This study uses the forced residential migration caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as a natural experiment for estimating the effect of residential change on criminal recidivism. Property damage from the hurricane induced some ex-prisoners to move to new neighbourhoods who otherwise would have moved back to their former neighbourhoods. Findings will be presented from estimation of the effect of residential change on the eight-year recidivism rate, along with qualitative evidence on the mechanisms explaining the relationship between residential change and criminal desistance. 


Lent term 2016

The Scottish Community Engagement Trial: Perils and pitfalls in experimental studies of policing

Ben Bradford, Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford
Venue: COL 8.13
Date: Thursday 24 March 2016
Abstract: Aiming to replicate a previous Australian study, the Queensland Community Engagement Trial, the Scottish Community Engagement Trial (ScotCET) was an RCT that tested whether the introduction of improved mechanisms for communicating procedural justice during routine encounters between police and public can influence public trust and enhance police legitimacy. This paper draws on the findings of the trial itself and follow up work with the police officers who implemented it to explore the process and pitfalls of conducting – and replicating – RCTs in criminology. Results demonstrate the difficulty in translating experimental interventions across national boundaries; challenge the notion that public perceptions may be improved through a simple, additive approach to the delivery of procedural justice; and underline the organizational and cultural barriers to this kind of research in policing contexts.


Formal Bayesian Process Tracing: Guidelines, Opportunities and Caveats

Speaker: Tasha Fairfield, International Development, LSE
Venue: LRB 4.02
Date: Thursday 10 March 2016
Abstract: We apply insights from Bayesian analysis in the physical sciences to advance methodological literature on process tracing. Bayesian probability theory provides the uniquely consistent extension of deductive logic to situations where information is limited and uncertainty reigns. Whereas Bayesian statistical techniques have been successfully elaborated for quantitative research, applying Bayesian probability to qualitative research has not been definitively addressed. We provide best-practice guidelines for formal (quantified) Bayesian analysis, illustrated with the first systematic application to a case-study example. We envision important roles for formalization in pinpointing the locus of contention when scholars disagree on inferences, and in training intuition to follow Bayesian probability more systematically. However, quantifying qualitative data entails a substantial dose of arbitrariness that limits the value of applying Bayes’ theorem to aggregate inferences. Formal analysis may also prove intractable beyond illustrative examples. Nevertheless, Bayesian probability is invaluable for elucidating methodological foundations and best practices for process tracing. 


Documents, Power and Rule Ambiguity

 Sukriti Issar, Department of Sociology, Sciences Po 
Venue: LRB 4.02
Date: Thursday 3 March 2016
Abstract: Bureaucratic documents have long been defined as the key material artifact of modern bureaucracy. Yet we know little about what bureaucrats actually do with such documents or how  the bureaucratic power of documents is enacted. This talk explores the state’s documentary practices, and compares the form  with the file.  Drawing on field research in archives and bureaus, the file is defined as a manuscript-source, collating internal bureaucratic correspondence and diverse documents about the hard cases of rule application and governance. In contrast to prevailing conceptions of documentary power as standardization, rationalization, and routinization, I argue that files represent moments of ambiguous and tenuous power. Using illustrative examples from urban policy, the civil disobedience movement, and interviews with bureaucrats in India, I explore how files as a data source provide a unique insight into power, bureaucracy, and rule following. The talk concludes with recommendations for the use of bureaucratic files as an archival source for studying the state. 


Why we cheat: Experimental Evidence on Tax Compliance

 Ray Duch, Nuffield College, University of Oxford
Venue: LRB 4.02
Date: Thursday 25 February 2016
Abstract: Successful redistributive taxation requires that the rich actually pay their taxes. National survey data indicate that the rich typically have much lower tax morale. Is it the case that simply acquiring wealth results in an antipathy towards taxation? This essay suggests a somewhat more nuanced view: individuals who demonstrate high levels of ability or effort, who typically are rich, are much less likely than others to comply with taxation. A causal mechanism contributing to tax cheating appears to be ability as opposed to wealth per se. There is overwhelming evidence that subjects who perform better on the real effort tasks cheat more – simply performing better, in our experiments, results in greedier behaviour. Experimental treatments were implemented in order to explore alternative causal mechanism. Clearly the price of compliance to redistributive taxation also matters – as the cost of compliance rises we see an increase in cheating. But the higher levels of cheating by able versus less able types persists in high and low tax regimes. There is no experimental evidence that when earnings are associated with luck or status that this correlation between performance or ability and cheating moderates. And finally efforts to make the experimental treatment regimes much more redistributive had little effect on the intrinsic motivations of those with high ability – the correlation between ability and cheating was similar to the baseline treatments.  Intrinsic motivation for complying with taxation is very asymmetric. Those who exhibit high ability, and hence are more likely to be rich, realise much less intrinsic benefits from complying with taxation than is the case for those with lower ability who are more likely to be poor.


The organisation of human smuggling: An application of social network analysis

 Paolo Campana, Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge
Venue: 32L LG.03
Date: Wednesday 3 February 2016
Abstract: This paper is an empirical in-depth study of the structure and activities of a human smuggling ring operating between the Horn of Africa, Libya, Italy and Northern Europe. The ring was involved in the tragic journey that ended with the 2013 Lampedusa shipwreck, in which 366 migrants lost their lives. More generally, the actors under investigation took part in the smuggling of at least 4,670 migrants across the Mediterranean over a period of seven months. This paper relies on a number of novel data sets that were manually coded from court files and analysed using social network analysis techniques. It reconstructs the structure of the smugglers’ network and investigates the determinants of coordination among the actors involved. Finally, the paper complements the quantitative evidence with a discussion of the (qualitative) content of phone wiretaps. 


Michaelmas term 2015

"When you were here before the place looked like... Beirut. It's much worse now". Myths and absences in an interrupted urban ethnography.

Dr. Andrew Wallace, Academic Fellow in Urban Sociology, School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds
Venue: LRB 4.02
Date: Thursday 10 December 2015
Abstract: There have been recent calls to use qualitative and ethnographic methods to illuminate ‘local’ experiences of urban restructuring and gentrification and to re-assert subaltern voices and value (e.g. McKenzie, 2015; Paton, 2015; Slater, 2006). This paper considers some of the empirical challenges inherent in such a project. In 2002-3, Andrew conducted empirical research in inner-Salford. His research sought to understand how a working class community promised investment and ‘regeneration’ was responding to governmental readings of its ‘potential’, its ‘capacity’ and its future. He conducted a period of ethnographic and qualitative research which tried to understand the way in which this process was interpreted by a range of actors, particularly residents. The timing and goal of his research meant he was involved in a continual process of declaration and negotiation as a pre-existing social-political-structural landscape of mistrust, disinvestment and abandonment swirled around my enquiries and field responses. Andrew's own research operationalized him as a contested presence embodying a complex meld of threat, ally and participant in the ‘remaking’ of this fragile community. He returned to the area in 2014 to see what had become of the community and the visions of renewal that beset it. Falling short of ‘longitudinal’ but striving for continuity, he was shocked discover how little had changed and to find himself once again positioned as no mere observer.


What is the role of individual accountability in patient safety? Insights from an ethnographic study of hospitals in diverse settings

Speaker: Dr. Emmilie Aveling, Visiting Scientist (2015-2017), Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Research Fellow, Department of Health Sciences, University of Leicester
 KSW 1.04
 Thursday 3 December 2015
Abstract: In healthcare, demands for individuals, organisations and policy-makers to be accountable have become a standard trope in response to concerns about the quality and safety of care that patients receive (Francis 2013). But converting aspirations for accountability into concrete form is far from straightforward. One particularly fraught area of debate is how to distribute responsibility between organizational systems and individual professionals. The early phase of the patient safety movement was dominated by the view that error was not the result of individual failing, but rather a ‘systems’ problem – thus the focus should be on re-engineering systems rather than blaming individuals (Leape, et al., 2000). More recently, this so-called “systems” approach has been argued to result in an unwarranted, misguided and risky attribution of all responsibility for safety to systems (Wachter & Pronovost, 2009). A “just culture” rather than a no-blame approach is now increasingly advocated (Wachter, 2013). Yet current prescriptions for the making of judgements to support a just culture draw upon only a limited evidence-base (empirical and theoretical) and tend to be prescriptive and mechanistic. This talk presents findings from ethnographic case studies of hospitals in the UK and Africa to offer an empirically informed, normatively oriented account of the role – and limits – of personal and professional accountability in assuring the quality and safety of healthcare.


Sensory cities: researching the senses in urban life

Speaker: Dr Monica Degen, Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Communications, Department of Social Sciences, Media and Communications, Brunel University London
 LRB 4.02
 Thursday 19 November 2015
Abstract: The senses play a crucial role in mediating and structuring urban experience (Simmel 1971, 1997; Landry 2012; Degen 2008; Howes 2005). A range of studies have illustrated how historically the physical spatial order, social relations and public imaginary of places are intricately linked by underlying sensory regimes (Sennett 1994, Corbin 1986). With the rise of the ‘experience economy’ research around the politics and economy of the urban sensorium is increasingly relevant as the ‘atmosphere’ cities evoke and portray through cultural events, their public life and architecture are central elements to urban branding and urban planning strategies (Lonsway 2009; Degen 2008). So how can we research the senses then? Drawing on a range of projects from cities such as Barcelona, Qatar, Milton Keynes and Bedford, Monica will offer some reflections on how both ‘traditional’ and more ‘experimental’ methods can be made ‘sensory friendly’ to capture the often fleeting, immanent interactions between the social and material. They further allow us a more nuanced understanding of the ‘atmospheric’ transformation of streets, their design and social life (Bohme; Degen et al 2015). Monica will argue that an innumerable amount of sensations underpin everyday urban public life, and increasingly the urban economy and that these sensory predispositions shape and are shaped by power relations which need to be uncovered.

See (AHRC funded research network)

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Using mixed methods to explore ethnic differences in child pedestrian injury rates in London

 Dr Rebecca Steinbach, Lecturer, Department of Social and Environmental Health Research, London School of Hygiene and Medicine
Venue: LRB 4.02
 Thursday 12 November 2015
Abstract: There are well known links between area disadvantage and child pedestrian injury risk which indicate that more disadvantaged children face higher injury risks than their affluent counterparts. Recently, research has increasingly become concerned with ethnic inequalities in injury risk and some puzzling findings have been identified in London. ‘Black’ children in London have injury rates that are 50% higher than ‘White’ children, while ‘Asian’ children have lower pedestrian injury rates than any other ethnic group. Given that ‘Black’ children in London tend to live in more disadvantaged areas, it seems plausible that associations between ‘Black’ ethnicity and area disadvantage can explain why ‘Black’ children face higher injury risks. However, explorations have revealed that while living in a more affluent area protects ‘White’ and ‘Asian’ children from injury risk in London, this is not true for ‘Black’ children who face high risks across the city. This talk outlines a series of quantitative and qualitative investigations to try to explain these patterns.

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Moving between the street and the archive: archival ethnography and the study of anti-gentrification campaigns

 Dr Sue Pell, Assistant Professor of Communications, School of Communications, Arts & Social Sciences, Richmond, The American International University in London
Venue: LRB 4.02
Date: Thursday 22 October 2015
Abstract: Activist archives which collect the documents of anti-gentrification campaigns occupy a critical position in which to study contemporary urban politics. They are interesting not only for their record of contested urban redevelopment projects, but also because the practice of archiving has itself become a strategy used within anti-gentrification struggles. Drawing on cases studies from Vancouver (Canada) and London (UK), this talk outlines uses of activist archives in the study of anti-gentrification campaigns. It describes discursive and ethnographic approaches that enable archives to be considered simultaneously as source material for history production and as spaces of practice. Woven through the discussion of the two case studies is an exploration of the politics of knowledge production. It draws attention to how knowledge production is configured in gentrification struggles, in archives, and in research itself.

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Right on the night, again (more or less) - the 2015 UK general election exit poll

Speaker: Dr Jouni Kuha, Associate Professor of Statistics and Research Methodology, Department of Methodology and Department of Statistics, LSE
Venue: LRB 4.02
Date: Thursday 8 October 2015
Abstract: An exit poll of the 2015 General Election jointly commissioned and published by the BBC, ITV News and Sky and broadcast at 10pm on election day produced a forecast that surprised most viewers, broadcasters and politicians. The forecast was very different from predictions based on all pre-election polls, and much closer to the final result of the election. In this talk, Professor Kuha will describe and evaluate the methodology behind the 2015 exercise, the challenges that it had to overcome in implementing that methodology, and the analytic decisions and choices that underpinned the final forecast.