Events held by the Department of Methodology


Leading social scientists consider cutting-edge quantitative and qualitative methodologies, analyse the logic underpinning an array of approaches to empirical enquiry, and discuss the practicalities of carrying out research in a variety of different contexts.


Department Seminar Series

Department seminars take place during Michaelmas and Lent term time and will take place virtually in 2020/21. Our seminars are free and open to all.

You can register for these events in advance and the Zoom link for each seminar is also available via email. If you are interested in our future seminars, please subscribe to the Department Seminar mailing list. 

Find recordings of some of our Department of Methodology Seminar Series on YouTube.

The Department also holds 'Brown Bag' seminars. These are more informal talks where a new idea is discussed or collectively brainstormed.

2020/21 Department Seminars

1 October 2020 - Dr Sian Brooke
Brown Bag seminar - Fedoras, Virgins, and Hardware: Hackathons and the social dynamics of competitive creation

1 October 2020. 14:00 - 15:30.
Zoom link available via email.

8 October 2020 - Rachel Ellis, PhD
What do we mean by a "hard-to-reach" population?: Legitimacy versus precarity as barriers to access

Rachel Ellis, PhD 
(Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice, University of Maryland)

What do we mean by a "hard-to-reach" population?: Legitimacy versus precarity as barriers to access
8 October 2020. 14:00 - 15:30.

A myriad of articles and textbooks advise qualitative researchers on accessing “hard-to-reach” or “hidden” populations. In this presentation, I compare two studies that I conducted among justice-involved women in the U.S.: a yearlong ethnography inside a state women’s prison and an interview study with formerly incarcerated women. Although these two populations are interconnected – and both deemed “hard-to-reach” – the barriers to access differed. In the prison ethnography, “hard-to-reach” reflected an issue of institutional legitimacy, in which researchers must present themselves and their proposed study as legitimate and worthy to organizational gatekeepers. In the reentry interview study, “hard-to-reach” reflected an issue of structural precarity, in which researchers must navigate the everyday vulnerabilities of research participants’ social position to ensure inclusion and accessibility. Juxtaposing these two experiences, I propose greater nuance to the term “hard-to-reach,” such that researchers may proactively address potential institutional and structural barriers to access.

15 October - Ivan Deschenaux
Brown Bag seminar - What ethnography did and did not teach me about caste in Nepal: some reflections on participant observation and the study of social cognition.

15 October 2020. 14:00 - 15:30.
Zoom link available via email.

22 October 2020 - Vijayendra Rao
Citizen assemblies, inequality, and deliberation in rural India: An approach combining causal inference, qualitative analysis, and machine learning

Vijayendra Rao
(Development Research Group, The World Bank)

Citizen assemblies, inequality, and deliberation in rural India: An approach combining causal inference, qualitative analysis, and machine learning
22 October 2020. 14:00 - 15:30.
Watch a recording of this seminar here.

This talk will review two projects that analyze transcripts from a total of 400 village meetings (gram sabhas) in rural South India. 300 transcripts (collected in 2002-4) are analyzed using “hand-made” qualitative analysis in the context of a natural experiment, and 100 (collected in 2014) are analyzed using text-as-data methods with a combination of random assignment (of women leaders) and regression discontinuity (assigning the entry of women’s self-help groups).  The results show that despite high levels of caste and wealth inequality, citizens are active participants in village meetings, that there is a great deal of gender inequality in deliberation, and that reserving seats for women presidents sharply reduces gender inequality, as does the introduction of women’s self-help groups, but they crowd out more organic forms of deliberation.

29 October 2020 - Rishita Nandagiri
Brown Bag seminar - 'Acting in good faith'?: Abortion and reproductive governance in India

29 October 2020. 14:00 - 15:30.
Zoom link available via email.

12 November 2020 - Elizabeth Williamson
Factors associated with COVID-19 related mortality using the OpenSAFELY platform

Elizabeth Williamson
(Associate Professor of Biostatistical Methodology, Medical Statistics Department, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine)

Factors associated with COVID-19 related mortality using the OpenSAFELY platform
12 November 2020. 14:00 - 15:30.
Watch a recording of this seminar here.

This talk will present an overview of the recently developed OpenSAFELY platform, which brings together primary care data and data on COVID-19 outcomes, including test results, hospital admission and mortality. 

OpenSAFELY uses a new model for enhanced security and timely access to data: we don’t transport large volumes of potentially disclosive pseudonymised patient data outside of the secure environments managed by the electronic health record software company; instead, trusted analysts can run large scale computation across near real-time pseudonymised patient records inside the data centre of the electronic health records software company.

The talk will discuss the structure of the platform and then present the recently published results about factors associated with COVID-19 related mortality and current extensions underway to develop risk prediction models allowing for the changing burden of infection over time. It will touch on other questions that we have addressed using the platform, including effects of inhaled corticosteroids on COVID-19 outcomes.

19 November 2020 - Yan Wang
Brown Bag seminar - Too Cynical! How Stock Market in China Dismissed Anticorruption Signals.

19 November 2020. 14:00 - 15:30.
Zoom link available via email.

26 November 2020 - Dr Maddy Power and Dr Ruth Patrick
COVID Realities: A collaborative and participatory approach to understanding the experiences of low-income families during COVID-19

Dr Maddy Power and Dr Ruth Patrick
(University of York)

COVID Realities: A collaborative and participatory approach to understanding the experiences of low-income families during COVID-19
26 November 2020. 14:00 - 15:30.
Watch a recording of this seminar here.

In the early days after the outbreak of Coronavirus in the UK, there was much talk of us ‘all being in it together’, the idea that the virus did not discriminate and could affect us all. But a narrative of unity and a commonality of experience contrasts with experiences and risks of Coronavirus, and the subsequent economic shocks, which are profoundly unequal.

This talk will provide an overview of the COVID Realities project, a research collaboration between parents and carers, the Universities of York and Birmingham, and our third sector partner, the Child Poverty Action Group (funded by the Nuffield Foundation as part of their rapid-response to COVID-19). It will outline our collaborative approach to research during COVID-19, including a synthesis of existing and ongoing research into poverty in the UK (focusing on the impact of COVID-19); and the facilitation of conversations and resources for the research community on methodological and ethical challenges during a time of COVID-19.

It will describe our approach to participatory research with parents and carers who are living on a low income and explain how we strive to value varied forms of expertise within the project, drawing upon this at every stage. It will discuss the COVID Realities website, through which participants can document their experiences via online diaries, responding to a pre-recorded audio-visual ‘big question of the week’ and participating in monthly online 'big ideas' groups. Finally, it will consider some of the methodological challenges we have faced so far and outline our plans going forward.

10 December 2020 - Dr Neelanjan Sircar
Border-Free ELF: Using Individualized Spatial Data to Measure Ethnic Segregation

Dr Neelanjan Sircar
(Assistant Professor, Ashoka University and Senior Visiting Fellow, Centre for Policy Research)

Border-Free ELF: Using Individualized Spatial Data to Measure Ethnic Segregation
10 December 2020. 14:00 - 15:30.
Watch a recording of this seminar here.

One of core problems in the spatial social sciences is the measurement of racial or ethnic segregation and fractionalization. Traditional measures, like dissimilarity (D) or Herfindahl-Hirschman (HHI) indices, are highly sensitive to the borders of the geography being used (e.g., county, neighborhood, census tract). To alleviate these concerns, we develop a mathematical framework to measure segregation using ethnolinguistic fractionalization (ELF) indices that can be calculated purely from spatial or social distances between individuals or households without the artificiality of geographic borders — what we call border-free ELF.

We apply our insights to a dataset comprised of 4380 geocoded households in the National Capital Region (Delhi metropolitan area) in India. We make three key claims. First, the use of geographic borders can significantly overstate the amount of segregation. Second, unlike traditional measures, border-free ELF can detect individual “perceptions” of spatial similarity and dissimilarity and plausibly be used to analyze the correlates of different perceptions. Finally, border-free ELF can be deployed with survey data to provide an individualized picture of the relationship between racial/ethnic fractionalization and public goods provision.

21 January 2021 - Dr Matthew Bui
What is “urban data justice”?: Defining, conceptualizing, and exploring data use, re-use, and refusal for racial justice

Dr Matthew Bui
(Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow, The NYU Alliance for Public Interest Technology)

What is “urban data justice”?: Defining, conceptualizing, and exploring data use, re-use, and refusal for racial justice
21 January 2021. 14:00 - 15:30.
Register for this seminar here.

This talk explores the relationship between marginalized communities of color and data, foregrounding questions about power, inequality, and justice within the aspiring “smart” city of Los Angeles. First, I will briefly touch on a study that proposes a typology of community-based engagements with data for racial justice: namely, data use, re-use, refusal, and production. Building on this work and considering the politics of data re-use and refusal to keep powerful actors accountable, I will discuss in detail a second study, which leverages an original Yelp dataset to construct and deconstruct a novel indicator of urban displacement, using coffee shops as a flashpoint for urban change. This work theorizes and conceptualizes “urban data justice” as a community-engaged vision and praxis while also articulating and exploring a more politically engaged, grounded, and mixed-method approach to “data-driven” research and policy. In all, I ask: how do we tell stories with—and about—data? Who benefits from these dominant narratives about data? How can we subvert unequal power relations within—and of—data within an age of datafication?

28 January 2021 - Martin Lukac
Brown Bag Seminar - Unpacking segmentation of online labour markets through a network of skills

28 January 2021. 14:00 - 15:30.
Zoom link available via email.

4 February 2021 - Dr Nicole Curato
Designing deliberation: Three ethnographic challenges

Dr Nicole Curato
(Associate Professor, University of Canberra)

Designing deliberation: Three ethnographic challenges
4 February 2021. 14:00 - 15:30.

There have been increasing calls to implement deliberative democratic processes or minipublics to deepen citizen participation in policymaking. Advocates argue that these forums’ design features of (1) inclusion via random selection, (2) open-minded deliberation, and (3) consequential recommendations are critical in revitalising democracy today.

This presentation critically interrogates these processes’ core design features based on autoethnographic fieldwork on deliberative forums in conflict zones in the Philippines. It poses three ethnographic challenges on the ethics and politics of implementing these design features in contexts defined by fear, emotional trauma, and micropolitics of everyday life. By posing these challenges, this presentation aims to pluralise what it means to conduct ‘good’ deliberation based on normative theory grounded on ethnography.

Nicole Curato is an Associate Professor at the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance at the University of Canberra. She is the author of Democracy in a Time of Misery: From Spectacular Tragedy to Deliberative Action (2019, Oxford University Press) and co-editor of the Journal of Deliberative Democracy. 

11 February 2021 - Dr Kate Weisshaar
An Imperfect Match? Gender and Racial Discrimination in Hiring Across Skill Matching

Dr Kate Weisshaar
(Assistant Professor, Sociology Department at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill and faculty fellow at the Carolina Population Center)

An Imperfect Match? Gender and Racial Discrimination in Hiring Across Skill Matching
11 February 2021. 14:00 - 15:30.
Watch a recording of this seminar here.

This talk considers how gender and racial discrimination in hiring screening decisions is related to applicants’ match or mismatch on skills required for the job. In the talk, I will present findings from an ongoing collaboration with Koji Chavez and Tania Cabello-Hutt. Theoretically, this project works toward extending and integrating hiring matching theories with discrimination theories. We differentiate between competing theoretical predictions as to whether gender and racial discrimination in hiring is responsive or resistant to applicants’ levels of skill match for the position. To test these predictions, I present results from two original experimental studies. The first, a survey experiment, assesses whether respondents’ levels of stereotyping against Black and women applicants depend on whether fictitious job applicants’ skills match or do not match the job’s requirements. The second empirical study draws from an audit correspondence study of employers. In this study, we examine how employer bias varies across levels of applicants’ skill matching as well as the types of skills the applicants match or mismatch on. Overall, we find that increased skill matching is associated with decreased hiring discrimination, but that there is some variation in these effects across different types of skills. The talk concludes by suggesting methodological implications for future research in terms of identifying and interpreting skills, as well as research more generally on hiring discrimination.

18 February 2021 - Dr Deen Freelon
Citation inequities in the social sciences: The case of Communication studies

Dr Deen Freelon
(Associate Professor, UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media)

Citation inequities in the social sciences: The case of Communication studies
18 February 2021. 14:00 - 15:30.
Watch a recording of this seminar here.

Calls for equity across categories of race, gender, and national identity are nothing new in politics or the academy. Yet the social sciences continue to marginalize both research on and by members of such identity categories. To quantify these inequities, I analyze citation patterns from ten prominent journals in the field of Communication between 2000 and 2019.

The data come from Web of Knowledge, and the analysis focuses on each author’s identity and professional characteristics, including race, gender, country of employment, and discipline. As this research is currently in progress, the talk will focus on the methods used to collect and preprocess the data. Also, a preliminary descriptive analysis of gender disparities in Communication citation practices will be presented. This research offers both a model methodology and an empirical baseline for measuring inequities in citation practices across disciplines.

4 March 2021 - Dr Aliya Rao
Brown Bag Seminar - The Problem with Rapport: Methodological transparency in qualitative research

4 March 2021 14:00 - 15:30.
Zoom link available via email.

11 March 2021 - Dr Jason Coronel
Using eye movements to predict large-scale voting decisions in direct democracy elections

Dr Jason Coronel
(Assistant Professor, School of Communication, Ohio State University)

Using eye movements to predict large-scale voting decisions in direct democracy elections
11 March. 14:00 - 15:30.
Watch a recording of this seminar here.

Over 100 countries allow people to vote directly on policies in direct democracy elections. Politicians are often responsible for writing ballot language, and voters frequently encounter ballot measures that are difficult to understand. We examine whether eye movements from a small group of individuals can predict the consequences of ballot language on large-scale voting decisions.

Across two preregistered studies (n = 120 registered voters and n = 120 registered voters), we monitored laboratory participants’ eye movements as they read real ballot measures. We found that eye movement responses associated with difficulties in language comprehension predicted aggregate voting decisions to abstain and vote against ballot measures in U.S. elections (total number of votes cast = 137,661,232). These findings expose the concerns of direct democracy elections as politicians and interest groups may inadvertently or deliberately influence election outcomes by crafting difficult-to-understand ballot language. However, our study also lays the groundwork for how these concerns can be addressed through eye movement monitoring. Since eye movements provide a continuous measure of reading performance, they can potentially reveal whether the challenges in understanding ballot language occur at the level of specific words, sentences, or the entire text. Eye movements may be able to assist researchers and policymakers in crafting ballot language that is comprehensible to a larger group of voters.

18 March 2021 - Jacinto Cuvi
Brown Bag Seminar - Work and Politics at the Margins of the law

18 March 2021. 14:00 - 15:30.
Zoom link available via email.

25 March 2021 - Sandra Susan Smith
Mobilizing Social Capital for Pretrial Release

Professor Sandra Susan Smith
(Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice, Harvard Kennedy School)

Mobilizing Social Capital for Pretrial Release
25 March. 14:00 - 15:30.
Watch a recording of this seminar here.

Spending more than one day in pretrial detention can significantly and negatively shape individuals’ short- and long-term outcomes. Pretrial detention places detainees at risk of serious physical harm, negatively affects case disposition, increases the likelihood of future penal system involvement, and reduces individuals’ access to a broad range of opportunities. To date, however, we know relatively little about the resources that individuals deploy to navigate the pretrial process so as to avoid some of its more negative effects. In this study we draw from 191 in-depth interviews with participants in San Francisco’s Pretrial Diversion Project to examine whether, when, among whom, and for what purposes people draw on their social networks to get out of jail, especially during the all-important first few days of detention when the collateral consequences of detention are arguably set in motion. Preliminary analysis reveals that pretrial detainees rely heavily on family members, especially mothers, to mitigate the material, social, and emotional consequences of pretrial detention, as well as for help securing release. Fellow inmates also prove to be an extraordinary resource, acting as sources of social and emotional support more often than romantic partners, friends, or jail officials. Patterns of social capital mobilization, however, vary by detainees' age, gender, race, and arrest history. These findings provide important contributions to the growing literature on the front end of criminal case processing, which has yet to systematically consider the extent to which and how social networks and social capital shape the pretrial experience and related outcomes.



Lent Term 2019/20

Deliberating Inequality: using focus groups to study the social formation of beliefs about economic inequality
Speaker: Dr Kate Summers, Fellow in Qualitative Methodology and Associate of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE), London School of Economics.
Date: 23 January 2020
Abstract: Existing evidence suggests that people dramatically underestimate levels of economic inequality while overestimating the extent of social mobility. A growing body of work has used experimental methods to investigate how providing factual information about inequality affects people’s concerns about inequality and support for redistributive policies. 

However, existing research has been preoccupied with documenting people’s descriptive understanding of economic inequality; we know much less about people’s beliefs about what causes income and wealth inequalities. Existing (experimental) studies also treat individual participants as the unit of analysis, implicitly assuming that beliefs are formed and expressed individually.

I will present the design rationale and preliminary insights from ongoing research aiming to address these shortcomings. I will demonstrate how we are using a focus group approach that allows us to study the discursive

Bad Neighbours: The Health and Well-Being Effects of Social Noise
Speaker: Prof Diana Weinhold, Associate Professor in Development Economics, Department of International Development, London School of Economics.
Date: 6 February 2020
Abstract: Heuristic reports suggest residential neighbour noise is ubiquitous and a major source of stress to those affected.  However there is little good evidence on the scope and severity of the problem as myriad methodological hurdles impede analysis.  Lacking “hard” evidence of harm, neighbour noise – if controlled at all - tends to fall under nuisance, rather than environmental health, regulations.  We analyze the health effects of residential noise annoyance using a longitudinal survey of over 5000 adults in the Netherlands between 2008 and 2013 that includes a broad variety of socio-economic, demographic, and health information.  Exploring to what degree a non-experimental, observational study like this one can address selection bias issues, we additionally collect data on home moving and a psychometric measure of sensitivity to stress.

Overall we find surprisingly strong effects of residential noise annoyance on both measures of subjective well-being as well as a variety of health outcomes, including cardio-vascular symptoms, auto-immune conditions associated with joint and bone disease, headache, and fatigue. Finally, we discuss the role of compelling yet suggestive evidence in social research and policy making.

Research for social change: A scholar-activist perspective
Speaker: Prof Carin Runciman, Associate Professor at the Centre for Social Change, University of Johannesburg.
Date: 20 February 2020
Abstract: Globally, the working class finds itself under attack through the advance of neoliberalism. In South Africa, black working class communities have, since the end of apartheid, continued to resist the structural inequalities created by neoliberalism, apartheid and colonialism. This paper provide a reflexive account on how my research with, on and for community organisations and social movements has attempted to play a wider role in forging progressive social change. The paper reflects on two interventions I have made into public and policy debates in South Africa. The first concerns the portrayal of black working class communities engaged in community protests for basic needs, such as housing, water and electricity. It is estimated that at least two such protests have occurred a day in South Africa since 2005. This has led to state responses that have sought to characterise protesters as part of an ungrateful and undeserving poor to outright state violence. The second considers the role of research in a campaign against amendments to the Labour Relation Act (LRA) in order to protect the right to strike in South Africa. The paper will reflect upon my experience of being a scholar-activist and what this means for research practice, design and methods. Critically, this paper will reflect upon the structural power I am afforded as a white, cis-gendered, middle class female academic to speak for and on behalf of those I research with and on, the implications this has for research and movement building

It's slippery at the top: churn and anxiety amongst elite families
Speaker: Dr Luna Glucksberg, Research Fellow, International Inequalities Institute, London School of Economics
Date: 12 March 2020
Abstract: This paper takes as a starting point the apparent paradox in the behaviour of elite families who strive to accumulate more and more wealth, fearing to lose their position at the top and slip down the inequality curve. To unpack this contradiction the paper explores the fundamental problem that all elite families face, or rather are told they face, by their advisers: the issue of ‘generational algebra’.

Michaelmas Term 2019/20

How the Financial Times uses data visualisation to find and tell stories
John Burn-Murdoch, Senior Data Visualisation journalist, Financial Times
3 October 2019
Over recent years data visualisation has become integral to the Financial Times’ journalism, playing key roles in everything from rapid-fire analysis of elections, to deeply-reported stories on socio-economic inequality, to interactive explorations of the challenge of tackling climate change. At the heart of this move is a firm belief that visual communication can be a powerful way of conveying a message. This talk will demonstrate what new studies on visual perception and communication tell us about how people read charts, and how the Financial Times uses these findings to hone its visual journalism. The talk will also demonstrate how data visualisation is not only useful as the final step of delivering a message, but can also be a valuable tool for discovering stories in the first place.

When form leads to function: social network closure, social identity threat, and performance among women entrepreneurs
Dr Raina Brands, Assistant Professor in Organisational Behaviour, London Business School
Date: 17 October 2019
Abstract: We examine how the structure of entrepreneurs’ social networks differentially shapes women’s and men’s outcomes. We contend that the degree of closure in female entrepreneurs’ social networks affects how concerned they feel about being judged through the lens of negative gender stereotypes (i.e., their experience of social identity threat), which in turn affects their entrepreneurial success. 

Using data from a survey of entrepreneurs in Study 1, we observe that women (but not men) entrepreneurs who report more closure in their social networks experience less social identity threat and, as a result, are more likely to have incorporated their ventures. Study 2 confirms that the trust that is inherent in closed social networks accounts for our effects. Using an experimental design, we find that individuals who are assigned to a closed (versus sparse) network experience more interpersonal trust, which reduces social identity threat for women (but not men). 

Our findings suggest that a closed social network may inoculate women against the risk of being derailed by negative stereotypes in the venture creation process. We conclude by discussing the theoretical and practical implications of our findings.

The effects of class and the privilege of politicians on self-percieved status: A survey order experiment
Joe Greenwood, LSE Fellow, Department of Government, London School of Economics
Date: 31 October 2019
Abstract: This research seeks to answer the following questions: how does a political class that is seen as highly privileged influence self-perceived status amongst the public and vice versa?

To do so it exploits a question order experiment that was included in one of the surveys fielded for Joe's PhD research. That experiment asked all respondents about their self-perceived status relative to society and their personal acquaintances, with one third being asked those questions first, one third being asked them after self-reporting their class, and one third after self-reporting their class and then indicating how privileged they think politicians are.

The prevailing view amongst respondents is that politicians are highly privileged relative to themselves and society at large, and the survey experiment will allow identification of the effect of that view on self-perceived status as well as the effect of self-perceived status on perceptions of the privilege of politicians. Crucially, if consideration of the privilege of the political class has implications for how the electorate see their own status then it provides another powerful reason to call for the diversity, and visible diversity, of political representatives.

Intersectionality and Peace Processes in Post-Accord Colombia
Dr Elena Stavrevska, Centre for Women, Peace and Security, London School of Economics
Date: 21 November 2019
Abstract: Over the years scholars have problematised the notions of justice and peace and the critical importance of addressing structural injustices in creating sustainable peace. This has included gendered injustice that feminist peace scholars have often highlighted. Yet, we continue to lack a comprehensive understanding of the intersectional aspects of sustainable and just peace.

This talk provides a framework for an intersectional analysis of peace processes by combining insights from Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory on structural intersectionality and Nancy Fraser’s tripartite social justice model. Using that framework to analyse the Colombia Peace Accord of 2016, the talk highlights the gendered, classed, and racialised ways in which indigenous women in Colombia have been affected by it and questions the possibility of reconceptualising transitional justice and peacebuilding efforts in a manner that takes into account intersectional discontents.

Dimensions of statehood: A conceptual approach
Dr Randi Solhjell, Senior Research Fellow, Norwegian Police University College and the Center for Research on Extremism, University of Oslo
Date: 5 December 2019
Abstract: Many scholars have attempted to understand the “state” in sub-Saharan Africa, often leading to conceptualizing of what the state is not, rather than what it is. As a response, a growing body of critical literature have engaged in a deeper immersion into constituent parts of the state. In light of these contributions and based on long-term fieldwork in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), my approach is to show that statehood is not given, but rather consists of multiple realities of state-society interaction to be empirical investigated. I argue that statehood can be seen as constituting (at least) of three different dimensions, namely space, distinction and ideology. By this, I mean that statehood are sites (space) that entails contestations (distinction) and narratives (ideologies).  These dimensions are seen in relation to each other and together can enable scholars to engage with a “thick” understanding of statehood. Moreover, these dimensions are layers of abstraction, both concrete and abstract, on the mundane social processes that produce and reproduce statehood in Africa and beyond. Dimensions of statehood mean to address the relations between performing and enacting the state in how they attribute meanings to statehood expressed through the lens of public goods.


Lent Term 2019

When scientists take a stand on contentious issues
Speaker: Dr Achim Edelmann, Visiting Fellow, Department of Methodology, LSE
Date: 21 March 2019
Abstract: What drives scientists’ public support for contentious policy issues? We examined associations between peer exposure and academic specialization on public declarations about research involving potentially pandemic pathogens. Although we found significant peer associations for everyone, they are strongest among the opposition. Conversely, specializing in fields directly related to gain-of-function research predicts support better than specializing in fields related to epidemic risks predicts opposition. These findings suggest that different social processes, rooted in differing social networks and expertise, underlie support or opposition. Identifying the sources of policy support might help parties better understand the different, but legitimate, foundations of each other’s positions, providing additional information to inform decision making and thereby help to maintain science’s role as an objective arbiter for policy.

Re-examining how utility and weighting functions get their shapes: a quasi-adversarial collaboration providing a new interpretation
Speaker: Dr Fabio Tufano, Associate Professor of Economics, University of Nottingham
Date: 7 March 2019
Abstract: Stewart, Reimers and Harris (2015, SRH hereafter) demonstrated that shapes of utility and probability weighting functions could be manipulated by adjusting the distributions of outcomes and probabilities on offer, as predicted by the theory of Decision by Sampling. So marked were these effects that, at face value, they profoundly challenge standard interpretations of preference theoretic models where such functions are supposed to reflect stable properties of individual risk preferences. Motivated by this challenge, we report an extensive replication exercise based on a series of experiments conducted as a quasi-adversarial collaboration across different labs and involving researchers from both economics and psychology. We replicate the SRH effect across multiple experiments involving changes in many design features; importantly, however, we find that the effect is also present in designs modified so that Decision by Sampling predicts no effect. While those results depend on model-based inferences, an alternative analysis using a model free comparison approach finds no evidence of patterns akin to the SRH effect. On the basis of simulation exercises, we demonstrate that the SRH effect may be a consequence of misspecification biases arising in parameter recovery exercises that fit imperfectly specified choice models to experimental data. Overall, our analysis casts the SRH effect in an entirely new light.

Using Visual, Creative and Participant-led Methods to Make Sense of Place
Speaker: Ryan Woolrych, Associate Professor in Health and Well-being in The Urban Institute (TUI), Heriot-Watt University
Date: 14 February 2019
Abstract: In recent years there has been growing interest in so called visual and creative methods particularly in capturing and understanding aspects of place and community. In capturing experiential understandings of place (physical, social and psychological aspects of the environment) there are potential limitations to the over-reliance on traditional  qualitative methodological techniques conducted in isolation, such as surveys, face to face interviews and focus groups. More creative, participant-led methods such as photovoice, 'walk-along' interviews and community mapping offer the potential to capture the social, relational and collective aspects of place, offering the opportunity for participants to both show and share their experiences of living in a communityIn so doing, such methods have been described as empowering, collaborative and enjoyable for both researcher and participant, providing an opportunity to challenge the top-down ways in which we design, implement and interpret the research we do. Yet there have been few opportunities to reflect on such methods in order to understand both their potential and the challenges they bring. This seminar presents findings from existing funded research with the ESRC to reflect upon the application of walk-along interviews, photo diaries and community mapping (undertaken simultaneously) to capture the experiences of older adults ageing in 18 neighbourhoods across 6 cities in the UK and Brazil. The paper examines the relative advantages and disadvantages of these various methods to capture sense of place amongst older adults living in the community, identifying practical, methodological and conceptual considerations. The seminar seeks to answer three specific questions: What is the potential of alternative and creative methods for enhancing our understanding of place and environment? What are the potential strengths, weaknesses and pitfalls of utilising such methods in the research we do? What potential ethical questions and dilemmas do the application of these methods raise?

Do financial numbers speak for themselves? An ethnography of key accounting numbers in company-capital market interaction
Speaker: Per Åhblom, Assistant Professor, Department of Accounting, LSE
Date: 31 January 2019
Abstract: One tenet in traditional accounting and finance thought is that financial numbers should ‘speak for themselves’ in their function of providing an account of an organisational reality to external parties. This tenet is in line with prevailing theories of capital market efficiency, which link the provision of financial information to the fundamental analysis of corporate value, and thus to the basic functioning of capital markets as mechanisms for resource allocation. This seminar presents findings from a study that challenges this taken for granted assumption in much extant theories and research in the domain of accounting and finance. In order to tackle the issue, the study took a qualitative approach to a characteristically quantitative subject and traced key accounting numbers published by large listed companies as the numbers transitioned from the organisational sphere of preparation to the capital market sphere of consumption where they ultimately became widely distributed and influential representations of financial performance among investors, financial analysts and corporate managers alike. Three large listed companies from different industries (technology, industrial engineering, and financial services) were enlisted as a collective case study during 18 months. Direct observations of work to prepare financial reports, public presentations of financial numbers with ensuing question-and-answer sessions for financial analysts, as well as private face-to-face meetings with large institutional investors, among other situations were made. Complemented by interviews with key actors and document analysis the study traces the process by which five key accounting metrics came to take on specific meanings in terms of financial performance for the involved companies and capital market actors, conceptualised through the lens of symbolic interactionism (Erving Goffman). A main finding is that financial numbers do indeed not ‘speak for themselves’ in capital markets but are laboriously made to take on specific meanings through a collectively negotiated process of repeated interaction.

Clear motive, uncertain terrain: Lessons from research on the politics of accountability in post-earthquake Nepal
Speaker: Nimesh Dhungana, LSE
Date: 17 January 2019
Abstract: As disasters and their responses have become increasingly complex and political in nature, demands for theoretical and methodological innovation in disaster research have grown.This talk draws on the researcher’s experiences of conducting PhD research on the politics of accountability in the wake of the 2015 Nepal Earthquake. It shows how the research originated and evolved under the uncertain context of the Nepal earthquake response, and the ‘calls for accountability’ it triggered. In addition to discussing some of the main findings from the research that draws on a mix of interview and ethnographic data, the talk highlights three major elements of conducting research under the uncertain and contested post-disaster context: intuition, improvisation and reflexivity.The talk also raises some points for discussion, regarding the practical and ethical dilemmas associated with disaster research in general and disaster ethnography in particular.

Michaelmas Term 2018

Coding your own video game for use in research
Speaker: Brett Heasman, UCL
Date: 6 December 2018
Abstract: In this talk Brett will discuss an exploratory study he conducted as part of his PhD, where he programmed from scratch his own video game for use in psychological research. The video game, Dyad 3D, deceived participants into thinking they were playing with another person online, when in truth they were playing with an intelligent virtual agent (IVA), with participants randomly assigned to different conditions based on the partial information they received about the IVA. This design enabled the diagnostic status of the IVA to be manipulated to explore the effects of disclosing a diagnosis of autism (in comparison to a no-disclosure condition and a dyslexia-disclosure condition) and to compare people’s self-reported helping behaviour with their actual helping behaviour. This approach aimed to address an anomaly in existing literature about the effects of disclosing a diagnosis of autism: academic research indicates a broad positive bias associated with diagnostic disclosure, however reports from autistic people highlight extensive negative discrimination associated with diagnostic disclosure.

Exposure to opposing views on social media can increase political polarization
Speaker: Chris Bail, Associate Professor of Sociology and Public Policy and the director of the Polarization Lab at Duke University.
Date: 28 November 2018
Abstract: There is mounting concern that social media sites contribute to political polarization by creating “echo chambers” that insulate people from opposing views about current events. We surveyed a large sample of Democrats and Republicans who visit Twitter at least three times each week about a range of social policy issues. One week later, we randomly assigned respondents to a treatment condition in which they were offered financial incentives to follow a Twitter bot for 1 month that exposed them to messages from those with opposing political ideologies (e.g., elected officials, opinion leaders, media organizations, and nonprofit groups). Respondents were resurveyed at the end of the month to measure the effect of this treatment, and at regular intervals throughout the study period to monitor treatment compliance. We find that Republicans who followed a liberal Twitter bot became substantially more conservative posttreatment. Democrats exhibited slight increases in liberal attitudes after following a conservative Twitter bot, although these effects are not statistically significant. Notwithstanding important limitations of our study, these findings have significant implications for the interdisciplinary literature on political polarization and the emerging field of computational social science.

Conducting Fieldwork in Difficult Settings: From Research Design to Publication
Speaker: Dr Anastasia Shesterinina, Lecturer in Politics/International Politics, University of Sheffield
Date: 22 November 2018
Abstract: This seminar will focus on field research with human participants in war and post-war settings. Drawing on long-term, immersive fieldwork on Abkhaz mobilization in the Georgian-Abkhaz war of 1992-1993, we will discuss: 1. issues of research design before fieldwork, 2. challenges of access, conducting interviews and participant observation on difficult topics of violent conflict and changes to research questions, methods and theoretical framework in the course of research and 3. data analysis and dissemination out of the field. Particular attention will be paid to ethical dilemmas across the lifespan of research, researcher's reflexivity and protection of interlocutors – a key issue in light of recent transparency debates in political science. We will conclude with potential avenues for innovation in field-based research on political violence and war.

Content analysis in health psychology research: principles, pitfalls, and progress.
Speaker: Dr Lewis Elliott, Associate Research Fellow, University of Exeter
Date: 1 November 2018
Abstract: Content analysis is a vital research method for health psychologists. Materials used in behavioural interventions, as well as reports of interventions themselves, can be coded for the types and frequencies of psychological change processes that are purported to have occurred. Results of such content analyses also often inform the development of new interventions. In this talk, Lewis will give examples from his own work of this two-stage process, commenting on the methodological stages involved in the development of a quantitative content analysis of recreational walking brochures, and how this was used to inform an experiment comparing the effectiveness of an archetypal brochure with a new “enhanced” brochure. The talk will conclude by critiquing overarching taxonomic structures which are used for content analytic studies in health psychology, and provide comments on the future of the method in this discipline, including efforts to assimilate text mining and machine learning methods.

Towards a theory and methodology to quantify knowledge.
Speaker: Dr Daniele Fanelli, Fellow in Quantitative Methods, LSE
Date: 18 October 2018
Abstract: How much knowledge is attained by a research field? How rapidly is a discipline making progress? What is the expected reproducibility of a result? How much knowledge is lost from scientific bias and misconduct? What characterizes a “soft” science? What demarcates a pseudoscience? This talk will suggest that these and other meta-scientific questions may be answered by means of a simple function, which quantifies knowledge as a system-specific property defined by a few information variables. Philosophical, statistical and physical arguments will be given to support the validity of this approach. Applications of the resulting methodology will be illustrated with practical examples, including: measuring the half-life of astronomical predictions, understanding gender differences in personality, forecasting reproducibility in psychology, tracking progress in animal reproductive skew theory, and measuring the net knowledge yield of Astrology.

Can the tabloid media create Eurosceptic attitudes? A quasi-experiment on media influence in England.
Speaker: Dr Florian Foos, Lecturer in Politics, KCL
Date: 4 October 2018
Abstract: Are changes in citizens’ attitudes towards EU-integration endogenous to campaigns by tabloid media outlets? The question to what extent public opinion is a consequence, rather than a cause of media reports is difficult to answer because citizens self-select into media consumption. We use a unique quasi-experiment in the United Kingdom – the widespread boycott of the most important right-wing tabloid newspaper, the Sun, in Merseyside county as a direct consequence of the Sun’s reporting on the 1989 Hillsborough soccer disaster – to identify the effects of reading the Sun on attitudes towards leaving the EU. Using a difference-in-differences design based on British Social Attitudes data spanning the years from 1983 to 1996, we show that this specific event caused a sharp drop in Sun readership in Merseyside. We also show that attitudes towards the EU got significantly more positive in Merseyside during the boycott, compared to attitudes of respondents in other English regions. We estimate that this effect amounts to around 11 percentage-points. The results of this paper have important implications for our understanding of media effects, and suggest that the tabloid media played a role in influencing attitudes towards leaving the EU.


Summer term 2018

Trumping Hate on Twitter? Online Hate Speech and White Nationalist Rhetoric in the 2016 US Election Campaign and its Aftermath. 
Speaker: Joshua A. Tucker, Professor of Politics (New York University)
Date: 17th May 2018
Abstract: To what extent did online hate speech and white nationalist rhetoric on Twitter increase over the course of Donald Trump's 2016 campaign and following his election? The prevailing narrative suggests that Trump's political rise---and his unexpected victory---lent legitimacy to and popularized bigoted rhetoric that was once relegated to the dark corners of the Internet. However, analysis from NYU's Social Media and Political Participation (SMaPP) lab of over 750 million tweets related to the election, in addition to almost 400 million tweets from a random sample of American Twitter users, provides little systematic evidence of increased hate speech on Twitter over this time. Using both machine-learning-augmented dictionary-based methods and a novel classification approach leveraging data from alt-right subreddits, the authors observe no persistent increase in hate speech or white nationalist language either over the course of the campaign or in the aftermath of Trump's election. While key campaign events and policy announcements produced brief spikes in hateful language, these effects quickly dissipated. Overall, and with notable caveats, the authors find---at least on Twitter---little empirical support for the proposition that the Trump phenomenon has mainstreamed online hate.

Lent term 2018

Documenting atrocities: Using new technologies to uncover crimes against humanity in Myanmar’s Rakhine State
Laura Haigh, Amnesty International
Date: 1st March 2018
Abstract: Since 25 August 2017, Myanmar’s security forces have engaged in an unlawful and disproportionate campaign of violence against the Rohingya community in the northern part of Rakhine State. The campaign came after a Rohingya armed group – the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked around 30 security posts in the region, killing 12 state officials. To date, more than 680,000 women, men and children have led to Bangladesh, where they have recounted appalling abuses by the security forces: killings, rape, arrest and disappearance and the widespread burning of Rohingya homes and villages. The Myanmar authorities, however, have largely dismissed or denied these accounts as “fake news”, accusing the Rohingya of burning their own homes and maintaining that security forces have not killed innocent civilians. Tightened restrictions on access to northern Rakhine State – regarded as an information black hole even before the latest violence – have made uncovering the truth even more difficult. For organizations like Amnesty International, documenting human rights violations in this context is difficult, but not impossible. However, it requires adopting new research methods which build on and expand beyond traditional interview-based approaches favoured by human rights organizations to integrate new tools and technologies. As this talk will demonstrate, widespread violations often happen in plain sight, visible through satellite imagery, environmental sensory data, and in photographs and videos. Using remote sensing, digital data verification and other new tools to document abuses in northern Rakhine State, Amnesty International has not only been able to corroborate victim testimonies, we have been able to establish with a high degree of accuracy the timeframe for attacks in different locations, assess the scale of the attack and destruction of Rohingya homes, and identify patterns of burning which point clearly to Myanmar’s security forces as the perpetrators. When combined with traditional human rights research methods, the conclusion becomes clear: the Myanmar security forces have committed crimes against humanity against the Rohingya in Rakhine State.

A Movement of Fragments: An ethnographic analysis of Indonesian Salafi Islam
Chris Chaplin, Department of Methodology, LSE
Date: 8th February 2018
Abstract: The spread of Salafi Islam across Indonesia has accelerated apace ever since its introduction into the archipelagic nation during the mid-1980s. Propagating a ‘literalist’ interpretation of Islam that is closely affiliated to scholars and Islamic institutions in the Arabian Peninsula, Salafi activists place strong emphasis on the need to separate themselves from society by dividing the world into those who follow ‘true’ Islam and those who do not. This is not without controversy, as such religious boundary making has led Salafis to implement strict gender segregation, set up their own enclaves, and differentiate themselves through dress and practice from more established Islamic traditions within Indonesia. Yet, such boundary implementation is rarely clear-cut, but instead rife with disagreement, negotiation and tension. Drawing from his ethnographic experience with urban Salafi activists in Yogyakarta as well as the broader idea of ‘working epistemics’ (Voyer and Tondman 2017), Chris will examine how the inter-subjective encounters that are the core of fieldwork shed light onto the ways Islamic tenets are challenged, implemented and refined on a daily basis. Investigating how activists propagate the movement, conduct themselves in private as well as engage with their local surroundings, Chris argues that the implementation of socio-religious boundaries remain open to contextual considerations and negotiation. They are based as much, if not more, on horizontal relationships between activists as they are on any belief in a universal Salafi truth. This has significant implications as to how we must understand Salafism. Instead of being a coherent movement promoting a ‘timeless’ religious truth, Salafism is a multi-layered movement of disparate networks, prone to rupture, disagreement and contextual adaptation.

Beyond academia: communicating research to broader audiences
Speaker: Stephen Khan, Editor of The Conversation, UK
Date: 1st February 2018
Abstract: In a time of massive flows of data and information, making new academic research relevant and useful has become a more tangled task. It is no longer a matter of only publishing and disseminating findings in the "top" journal or academic conference. It is also a matter of finding alternative "avenues" or streams of information that intersect with the individuals and communities who have a word in the phenomenon or problem in question. Reaching these audiences is critical to secure that the rigorous work done by researchers meets with the political and social mechanisms that enable knowledge to transform reality.
Identifying and navigating these alternative streams of information pose new challenges to the modern researcher. To discuss and address some of them, the Research and Methods Society at LSE has invited Stephen Khan –editor of The Conversation in the UK– to share their experience on communicating academic research through online journalism. The talk will focus on how to reach non-specialized audiences, as well as on the difficulties of rebuilding the public's trust in research. Stephen Khan is The Conversation’s Editor in the UK. He was a news editor at The Guardian and previously Deputy Foreign Editor of The Independent, Scotland Editor of The Observer and also worked for The Sunday Herald in Scotland.

Estimating regression models with latent variables: One, three, or two steps?
Speaker: Jouni Kuha, Department of Methodology/Department of Statistics, LSE
Date: 25th January 2018
Abstract: We consider statistical models which combine measurement models for latent variables with regression models (“structural models”) where the latent variables are explanatory or response variables. Such models can be estimated in a number of different ways. One-step estimation estimates all parts of the model at the same time. This has the disadvantage that changes in the specification of the structural model also change the estimated measurement model and thus in effect change the definition of the latent variables. Stepwise methods avoid this problem by separating the estimation of the measurement and structural models. In three-step estimation, the first step is to  estimate the measurement model alone, the second to use this model to assign values for the latent variables, and the third to use these assigned values to estimate the structural model. We propose instead a two-step approach which carries only the estimated parameters forward from the first step and thus avoids the ultimately unnecessary step of assigning values for the latent variables. We present applied examples to illustrate the methods, and simulation studies to demonstrate the behaviour of the estimators. 

Beyond the Field: Ethics after Fieldwork in Politically Dynamic Contexts
Dr Eleanor Knott, Department of Methodology, LSE
11 January 2018
Abstract: As researchers, when do our ethical obligations end? How should our ethical obligations respond to dynamic and unstable political contexts? Political scientists frequently work in dynamic political situations which can pose new ethical questions beyond those existing at the point of fieldwork. Yet, research ethics are often conceived in terms of a static, if not hermetically sealed, field that remains frozen in time at the point we conduct fieldwork and collect data. In this talk, Eleanor will draw on her field research in Crimea, as a field which changed rapidly and unpredictably after I concluded field research in 2013 given that in 2014, with Russia’s annexation of the peninsula, the lives of the participants I had worked with altered, most likely forever. I will argue, first, that we need to consider more systematically how a dynamic field intersects with ethical obligations. Second, I will argue that new, and unexpected, ethical questions can emerge after exiting the field, including responsibilities to research participants, dissemination, and publication, and returning to the field, which should be a part of how we conceive of ethical obligations

Michaelmas term 2017

Does online activism affect legislative behaviour?
Speaker: Jack Blumenau, UCL
Date: 30 November 2017
Abstract: Are legislators responsive to the issue priorities of their constituents? Voters in the UK are able to sign government e-petitions which provide information regarding the salience of different issues across constituencies. E-petitions constitute an explicit mechanism to try to gauge public interest but we know little about their effects on the parliamentary behaviour of MPs. In this paper, I provide quantitative evidence of the effectiveness of the UK government e-petition system. I examine whether varying levels of support for different e-petitions in a given constituency affect an MP's propensity to participate in parliamentary debates relating to those petitions, and their propensity to speak in favour of the proposals contained in the petitions. The results suggest that while local support for an e-petition can affect an MP's behaviour in parliament, these effects are conditional. MPs are more likely to turn up to debate a petition, and speak in favour of it in the debate, when the petition is not strongly linked to the main dimension of partisan competition. When the petition addresses a pre-exiting and politically-salient issue, signature rates have no effect on MP behaviour. Finally, these effects are stronger for MPs in electorally competitive constituencies, and weaker for MPs who hold government positions.

Beyond the transitional justice paradigm: researching wartime violence and post-war justice in Bosnia and Herzegovina 
Speaker: Daniela Lai, LSE
Date: 16 November 2017
Abstract: Whether socioeconomic justice belongs within the transitional justice framework is still a matter of contention among scholars. One of the major hurdles to be overcome is our limited understanding of how conflict-affected communities experience socioeconomic violence and injustice, and how socioeconomic issues become part of post-war justice processes. Addressing these questions poses significant methodological challenges due to the predominant focus of the literature on physical, direct violence and legalistic approaches to transitional justice, and to the prevalence of research conducted in places where physical violence was particularly severe. In this project, Daniela used in-depth interviews to reconstruct the participants’ experiences of socioeconomic violence and injustice, and show how these experiences informed understandings of justice and post-war justice claims. The research relied on a within-case comparison of two smaller cities, with the aim of redressing invalid part-to-whole inferences about the Bosnian case that are often based on the study of few, over-researched sites. Working in these cities also highlighted the importance of contextual knowledge and language skills in qualitative research, and prompted ethical questions on the role of researchers in post-war countries.

Who benefits from expediting drug approvals? An evaluation of the US FDA Accelerated Approval pathway
Date: 9 November 2017
Abstract: The US Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Accelerated Approval pathway allows drugs treating serious illnesses to be approved on the basis of surrogate endpoints reasonably likely to predict patient benefit. Approximately 10% of drugs approved by the FDA are in the Accelerated Approval pathway. Once a drug receives Accelerated Approval, the FDA legally requires the pharmaceutical sponsor to complete one or more confirmatory trials to demonstrate clinical efficacy on the basis of established clinical outcomes such as overall survival. In this seminar, I will present the findings of our research describing the characteristics and findings of pre-approval and post-approval studies of drugs granted FDA Accelerated Approval between 2009 and 2013. We found that approximately half of required confirmatory studies were completed during the first 3 years on the market. Although many drugs recently granted Accelerated Approval have their efficacy “confirmed” in these post-approval trials, completed trials often evaluate disease progression rather than clinical outcomes. Remarkably, clinical trials conducted before and after Accelerated Approval have similar design features, including reliance on surrogate endpoints

Access trouble: Ethnography and the study of power and violence
Speaker: Ruben Anderson, Department of International Development, University of Oxford
Date: 12 October 2017
Abstract: 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
 Peter Davis, University of Auckland
Date: 5 October 2017
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.

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Lent term 2017

Research and policy change: the case of cycling in London
Speaker:  Dr Rachel Aldred, Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, University of Westminster 
Date:  Thursday 2nd March
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
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

‘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. 
Date: 1 December 2016
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.

Managing open-ended style
Speaker: Prof. Vaughn Tan, Assistant Professor at the School of Management, UCL
Date: 17 November 2016
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. 

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.
Date: 27 October 2016
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
Speaker: 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
Speaker: Ben Bradford, Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford
Date: 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
Date: 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
Speaker: Sukriti Issar, Department of Sociology, Sciences Po 
Date: 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
Date: 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
Speaker: Paolo Campana, Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge
Date: 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.
Speaker: Dr. Andrew Wallace, Academic Fellow in Urban Sociology, School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds
Date: 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
Date: 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
Date: 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
Date: 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
Date: 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
: Dr Jouni Kuha, Associate Professor of Statistics and Research Methodology, Department of Methodology and Department of Statistics, LSE
Date: 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.