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The School has always been at the forefront of methodological development in the social sciences.

The Department of Methodology is a national centre of excellence in methodology and the teaching of methodology. The Department coordinates and provides a focus for methodological activities at LSE, in particular in the area of methodological research. Through the degree programmes run by the Department (MSc Applied Social Data Science, MSc Social Research Methods, MPhil/PhD Social Research Methods, and MPhil/PhD Demography (Social/ Formal)), and through provision of courses for postgraduate students from across the School, the aim is to make LSE the pre-eminent centre for methodological training in the social sciences.

The Department of Methodology operates a Visiting Fellows scheme, to enable academics, researchers and practitioners from other institutions to spend a period of time conducting research or to be involved in other activities which will benefit the Department.

Methodology faculty pursue research in a number of different disciplines; their work can be found in journals covering a variety of different domains of enquiry. The Department is also home to a number of funded research projects.

The Department of Methodology also welcomes research students from other universities to spend from one term up to one academic year at LSE as a Visiting Research Student in Social Research Methods.

Current projects

Co-producing knowledge during emergencies and pandemics: developing remote participatory visual methods using smartphonesSonja Marzi.

Dr Sonja Marzi received an ESRC grant to respond to the challenges of methodological co-production and participatory action research – which are almost always conducted in person face-to-face – that arise during emergencies by developing an innovative remote participatory visual method using smartphones. In collaboration with migrant women in Colombia, UK and Colombian based researchers and filmmakers, she will co-develop and test a novel and pioneering remote participatory visual method for co-production researchers by applying participatory filming remotely to investigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women’s gendered right to the city and new lived realities of urban life. The whole research process, from development to dissemination, will be conducted online.

The project is led by Sonja and hosted by LSE Latin American and Caribbean Centre in partnership with LSE Department of Methodology.

Developing Latent Hierarchical Network Models for Cross-Cultural Comparisons of Social and Economic Inequality:  Eleanor Power

This project will develop network models that fully exploit the various facets of the information typically contained in social network datasets. In doing this, the researchers depart from prevalent models in contemporary social network analysis that treat an observed network data set as representing the "true" network. Instead, they assume that the true network is "latent" and, therefore not empirically observed, and further frame the observed network data as an imperfect measurement of what they are modelling. In proposing this probabilistic framework, they will first account for the various individual-level biases that shape who people name (and who they do not). They will then extend their model to allow for nodes (here, people) to form into hierarchically nested groups (for example, households) and thus capture units at the different levels that are present in the system. Finally, they will expand this model to account for changes over time of both the individual units at different levels of the hierarchy and their relationships, thus capturing relevant time evolution.

The grant has been awarded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the project is grounded in the analytical needs of the "ENDOW project," a US National Science Foundation-funded project. The models that will be developed here will help them understand (and potentially then rectify) some of the drivers of social and economic inequality around the world.

COVID-19 and the benefits system: Kate Summers.

This research will seek to provide rapid large-scale evidence for policymakers on how the working-age social security system responds to and copes with COVID-19 in the next 18 months, including how support has been impacted by the need for social distancing. This will include an online survey of 8,000 new and existing benefit claimants, in-depth interviews with around 80 people who will share experiences over time, and case studies on support providers in Leeds, Newham, Salford and Thanet. This research has been awarded a grant of £618,000.

The grant has been awarded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of the COVID-19 response from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Kate is a co-investigator alongside colleagues from the University of LeedsUniversity of Salford and University of Kent.

ENDOW:  Eleanor Power

This project is a cross-cultural, comparative and longitudinal study of social and economic inequality, co-directed by Eleanor Power. Called by the acronym “ENDOW” (Economic Networks and the Dynamics Of Wealth (Inequality)) and funded by the US National Science Foundation, this project has enlisted anthropologists working in over thirty countries around the world to gather comparable social network data in over forty communities.

The ENDOW project is aimed at investigating the economic consequences of social network structure, both for individuals and for the larger communities they comprise. This is a fundamentally comparative project, as we expect that the variation we observe in the structure of social networks will help to explain some of the cross-cultural variation in wealth inequality. The unique data gathered by the ENDOW team members will allow for fruitful investigations into the social and economic dynamics of these communities.

Migrant Women in Medellin and Their Right to the City: Sonja Marzi.

This research investigates urban challenges for marginalised women in relation to the use of urban space. By looking at how migrant women, especially mothers and heads of household, negotiate their ‘right to the city’ in urban areas in Colombia, the research aims at providing a greater understanding for their needs and aspirations within the city and for future urban development issues and processes. Find more information here.

From coercion to consent: Social identity, legitimacy and a process model of police procedural justice. Jon Jackson and Chris Pósch.

The concept of legitimacy lies at the heart of democratic policing— police must seek and maintain public support by acting impartially, using coercion proportionately and persuading the citizenry that they are an institution that is entitled to be obeyed. But there are multiple highly marginalised communities for whom perceptions of police illegitimacy, non-compliance, conflict, criminality and experiences of police coercion are the norm.

In this three-year project (that started in the late 2018) Jon Jackson and Chris Posch focus on fairness, legitimacy, identification between police and public, and normative compliance. They run a series of laboratory experiments utilising virtual reality simulations of police-citizen encounters to, among other things, systemically examine the role of social identity in perceptions of police fairness and legitimacy, and test causal effects of manipulating the procedural fairness or unfairness of the officer.

Police in schools: A national police youth engagement project. Jon Jackson and Chris Pósch.

Police officers have been involved in delivering personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) lessons in some of the schools and regions of England on topics such as drugs, or online safety education. But it is unknown what impact this has on the students’ knowledge and perception of the issues, the police, and the justice system in general.

This project is a clustered-block randomized controlled trial to estimate the causal effect of having a police officer giving a lesson on drugs and policing, compared to either a teacher delivering the same content, or there being no lesson at all. Jon and Chris also assess whether having an officer in the classroom talk about the harm of drugs and the realities of policing is an important moment of legal socialisation among young people, particularly because the officer is meeting them in their space to present sessions designed to engage and encourage discussion. To estimate the causal effect at both the individual and aggregate level, Jon and Chris use a clustered-block-randomized design and a three-wave panel with children from hundreds of schools across England. Their robust design permits multiple ways of analysing the data, to answer this question, including the assessment of matched school trios, multi-level modelling, spill over effects, and many others.

The Emergence of Inequality in Social Groups. Milena Tsvetkova

From small organisations to entire nations and society at large, socio economic inequality is one of the most significant problems facing the world today. Funded by the Volkswagen Foundationthis four-year project will approach the problem of inequality from a new perspective and with new computational social science methods. An interdisciplinary team of sociologists, computer scientists, and physicists will develop and conduct large-scale controlled experiments online. 

This method will allow the construction of “artificial societies” comprising dozens of individuals who interact over days or weeks. Manipulating the structure of these multiple parallel worlds will help identify the structural conditions that give rise to inequality and inform policy and managerial interventions that reduce it.

Community-led recovery after the Grenfell Tower fire. Flora Cornish.

How can a community produce positive change as part of its post-disaster recovery? And can university-community collaborations contribute to empowering locally-owned recovery stories? The Grenfell Tower fire, in June 2017, devastated a West London community. It is widely accepted that community groups and individuals took leadership of the response to help their neighbours in the first hours, days, and months of uncertainty as the state assessed matters, apologised, set up processes, progressively lost local legitimacy, preserved core functions and insulated itself from damage. The ramifications of that situation are still unfolding.

Using a model of community-engaged research, Flora is currently researching community authority relations in the aftermath of the disaster through a 2-year ethnography and interview study, and an experiment in ‘public social history’, working collaboratively to produce locally-authored stories of recovery. Grounded in respect for the community’s role in producing its own recovery, the project aims to contribute to understandings of community resilience for future disaster responders, and to academic understandings of mechanisms of social change and stasis. 

The project has begun as a knowledge-exchange project, marshalling materials with which to build accounts of the process of recovery from different points of view, collaborating with community members on their own stories of recovery, as a foundation for developing academic versions. The project also enables knowledge exchange with emergency management professionals and policy makers in the interest of improving the environment for community-led disaster response and recovery. It is funded by a grant from LSE Knowledge Exchange and Impact.

Writing Urban Places: New Narratives of the European City. Alasdair Jones.

Part of EU Cost Action, this project is concerned with the investigation and implementation of a process for developing human understanding of communities, their society, and their situatedness, through narrative methods. Funded by the EU Framework Programme Horizon 2020.

Recent publications

Jones, A. (2020) ‘Public realm ethnography: (Non-)participation, co-presence and the challenge of situated multiplicity,’ Urban Studies,

Pósch, K. (2020) ‘Prying Open the Black Box of Causality: A Causal Mediation Analysis Test of Procedural Justice Policing’. Journal of Quantitative Criminology.

Jackson, J. and Bradford, B. (2019). ‘Blurring the Distinction between Empirical and Normative Legitimacy? A Methodological Commentary on “Police Legitimacy and Citizen Cooperation in China”’, Asian Journal of Criminology, 14, 4, 265-289,

Jackson, J. and Posch, K. (2019). ‘New Directions for Research into Fairness and Legal Authority: A Focus on Causal Mechanisms‘, in E Allan Lind (ed.) Social Psychology and Justice (Frontiers of Social Psychology Series). New York: Routledge.

Sturgis, P., Brunton-Smith, I. and Jackson, J. (2019). ‘Regression-based Response Probing for Assessing the Validity of Survey Questions’, in Beatty, P., Willis, G. and Padilla, J-L (eds.) Advances in Questionnaire Design, Development, Evaluation and Testing. Wiley, pp. 571-591.

Pósch, K. (2019). Testing Complex Social Theories With Causal Mediation Analysis and G-Computation: Toward a Better Way to Do Causal Structural Equation ModelingSociological Methods & Research.

Steele, F., Clarke, P., and Kuha, J. (2019). 'Modeling within-household associations in household panel studies'. Annals of Applied Statistics, 13, 367-392.

Benoit, K., Munger, K., and Spirling, A. (2019). 'Meausuring and Explaining Political Sophistication Through Textual Complexity'American Journal of Political Science, 63(2), 491-508.

Knott, E. (2019). 'Perpetually "partly free": lessons from post-soviet hybrid regimes on backsliding in Central and Eastern Europe, East European Politics,' in Cianetti, Dawson & Hanley (eds.) Rethinking 'Democratic Backsliding' in Central and Eastern Europe. Routledge, London.

Knott, E. (2019). 'Beyond the Field: Ethics after Fieldwork in Politically Dynamic Contexts'Perspectives on Politics,17(1), 140-153. 

Fagan, Adam and Sircar, Indraneel. 2020. Transformation all the way down? European Union integration and the professional socialization of municipal health officials in Serbia. Journal of Common Market Studies, 58(3): 688-705. doi: 10.1111/jcms.12952

Slootmaeckers, Koen and Sircar, Indraneel. 2018. Marrying European and domestic politics? Investigating the European dimension of the 2013 Croatian Marriage Referendum using a value-based Euroscepticism framework. Europe-Asia Studies, 70(3): 321-344. doi: 10.1080/09668136.2018.1457136

Alejandro, A, (2018) 'Western Dominance in International Relations? The Internationalisation of IR in Brazil and India'. Abingdon, UK and New York : Routledge, 2018.

Bakk, Z. and Kuha, J. (2018). Two-step estimation of models between latent classes and external variablesPsychometrika, 83, 871-892.

Kuha, J., Katsikatsou, M., and Moustaki, I. (2018). Latent variable modelling with non-ignorable item nonresponse: Multigroup response propensity models for cross-national analysisJournal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series A, 181, 1169-1192.

Benoit, K., Watanabe, K., Wang, H., Nulty, P., Obeng, A., Müller, S.,  and Matsuo, A. (2018). 'quanteda: An R package for thew quantitative analysis of textual data'Journal of Open Source Software, 3(30), 774.

Sturgis, P., Kuha, J. Baker, N., Callegaro, M., Fisher, S., Green, J., Jennings, W., Lauderdale, B., and Smith, P. (2018). An assessment of the causes of the errors in the 2015 UK General Election opinion pollsJournal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series A, 181, 757-781.

Kuha, J., Butt, S., Katsikatsou, M., and Skinner, C. J. (2018). The effect of probing “Don't Know” responses on measurement quality and nonresponse in surveysJournal of the American Statistical Association, 113, 26-40.

Jones, A, (2018) ‘“Something more, something better, something else, is needed”: a renewed “fête” on London’s South Bank,” in Leary-Ohwin, Michael and McCarthy, John (eds.) The Routledge Handbook of Henri Lefebvre, the City and Urban Society. Routledge, London.

Knott, E, (2018) "Strategy, identity or legitimacy? Analysing engagement with dual citizenship from the bottom-up" (Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies)

E. Power (2018) Collective Ritual and Social Support Networks in Rural South India. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 285 (1879), 20180023.

R. Bliege Bird, E. Ready, and E. Power (2018) The Social Significance of Subtle Signals. Nature Human Behaviour. 2(2), 1-6.

E. Ready and E. Power (2018) Why Wage Earners Hunt: Food Sharing, Social Structure, and Influence in an Arctic Mixed Economy. Current Anthropology. 59(1), 74–97.

A. Mullen, Lincoln, K. Benoit, O. Keyes, D. Selivanov, and J. Arnold. 'Fast, Consistent Tokenization of Natural Language Text'Journal of Open Source Software, 3(23), 655.

Is the left-right scale a valid measure of ideology? Individual-level variation in associations with "left" and "right" and left-right self-placement

Barberá, Pablo, Bauer, Paul C., Ackermann, Kathrin and Venetz, Aaron (2017) Is the left-right scale a valid measure of ideology? Individual-level variation in associations with "left" and "right" and left-right self-placement. Political Behavior, 39 (3). pp. 553-583. ISSN 0190-9320

Predicting the Brexit vote by tracking and classifying public opinion using Twitter data

Amador Diaz Lopez, Julio Cesar, Collignon-Delmar, Sofia, Benoit, Kenneth and Matsuo, Akitaka (2017) Predicting the Brexit vote by tracking and classifying public opinion using Twitter data. Statistics, Politics and Policy, 8 (1). ISSN 2194-6299

Text analysis in R

Welbers, Kasper, Van Atteveldt, Wouter and Benoit, Kenneth (2017) Text analysis in R. Communication Methods and Measures, 11 (4). pp. 245-265. ISSN 1931-2458

Public views on gene editing and its uses

Gaskell, George, Bard, Imre ORCID: 0000-0001-6395-0335 , Allansdottir, Agnes, da Cunha, Rui Vieira, Eduard, Peter, Hampel, Juergen, Hildt, Elisabeth, Hofmaier, Christian, Kronberger, Nicole, Laursen, Sheena, Meijknecht, Anna, Nordal, Salvör, Quintanilha, Alexandre, Revuelta, Gema, Saladié, Núria, Sándor, Judit, Santos, Júlio Borlido, Seyringer, Simone, Singh, Ilina, Somsen, Han, Toonders, Winnie, Torgersen, Helge, Torre, Vincent, Varju, Márton and Zwart, Hub (2017) Public views on gene editing and its uses. Nature Biotechnology, 35 (11). pp. 1021-1023. ISSN 1087-0156

The primacy of social support

Power, Eleanor A. (2017) The primacy of social support. Religion, Brain and Behavior, 7 (3). pp. 255-258. ISSN 2153-599X

Discerning devotion: testing the signaling theory of religion

Power, Eleanor A. (2017) Discerning devotion: testing the signaling theory of religion. Evolution and Human Behavior, 38 (1). pp. 82-91. ISSN 1090-5138

Community detection, link prediction, and layer interdependence in multilayer networks

De Bacco, Caterina, Power, Eleanor A., Larremore, Daniel B. and Moore, Cristopher (2017) Community detection, link prediction, and layer interdependence in multilayer networks. Physical Review E, 95 (4). ISSN 2470-0045

Praxis and doxa: what a focus on ritual can offer evolutionary explanations of religion

Power, Eleanor A. (2017) Praxis and doxa: what a focus on ritual can offer evolutionary explanations of religion. Religion, Brain and Behavior. ISSN 2153-599X

Activist citizenship in south east Europe

Fagan, Adam and Sircar, Indraneel (2017) Activist citizenship in south east Europe. Europe-Asia Studies, 69 (9). pp. 1337-1345. ISSN 0966-8136

Historicising involvement: The visibility of user groups in the modernisation of the Chilean Mental Health System.

Montenegro, Cristian and Cornish, Flora (2017) Historicising involvement: The visibility of user groups in the modernisation of the Chilean Mental Health System. Critical Public Health. ISSN 0958-1596

Police legitimacy among immigrants in Europe: institutional frames and group position

Bradford, Ben and Jackson, Jonathan (2017) Police legitimacy among immigrants in Europe: institutional frames and group position. European Journal of Criminology, 15 (5). pp. 567-588. ISSN 1477-3708

Does incarceration reduce voting? Evidence about the political consequences of spending time in prison

Gerber, Alan S., Huber, Gregory A., Meredith, Marc, Biggers, Daniel R. and Hendry, David J. (2017) Does incarceration reduce voting? Evidence about the political consequences of spending time in prison. Journal of Politics, 79 (4). pp. 1130-1146. ISSN 0022-3816


Recently completed projects

  • EUENGAGE: Bridging the gap between public opinion and European leadership: Engaging a dialogue on the future path of EuropeFunded by the Horizon 2020 Grant.

  • This R package for managing and analysing textual data is developed by Kenneth Benoit and other contributors. Its initial development was supported by the European Research Council grant ERC-2011-StG 283794-QUANTESS. The quanteda package is a user-friendly software application framework that enables efficient, powerful natural language processing and quantitative text analysis.

  • Moving forward: Bringing about change in interrogation practice. Jonathan Jackson. This project looks at interrogation practices in both criminal justice and human intelligence gathering contexts, and how how it could be changed. Funded by the FBI.  

  • Communicating chronic pain: Interdisciplinary methods for non-textual data.The research adapts interdisciplinary methods from the arts, humanities and social sciences to examine how chronic pain, as a non-verbal experience, can be communicated through non-textual data, and how it circulates socially. Funded as an ESRC NCRM Methodological Innovation project. 

  • Fiducia: New European Crimes and Trust-based Policy. Funded by the European Commission 7th Framework Programme.  

  • Item Nonresponse and Measurement Error in Cross-National Surveys. The complexity of cross-national surveys raises methodological challenges which need to be met in order to make the best use of the data. Two of these are problems of data quality: measurement error where the answers by survey respondents are in some way erroneous; and nonresponse where some questions are not answered at all. The goal of this project is to develop and evaluate research methods for these problems Funded as an ESRC NCRM Methodological Innovation project.

  • LCAT: Latent Variable Modelling of Categorical Data: Tools of Analysis for Cross-national Surveys. Funded by the UK's Economic and Social Research Council.

  • Legal norms and crime control: A comparative cross-national analysis. This is a comparative, cross-national study into attitudes towards legal authorities, compliance with the law, cooperation with legal authorities, and the policing of minority and majority groups. Funded by ESRC.

  • QUANTESS: Quantitative Analysis of Textual Data for Social Sciences (ERC-2011-StG 283794-QUANTESS). This project has funded Quanteda: an R package for the quantitative analyis of textual data. Funded by the European Research Council.

  • STEPE : Sensitive Technologies and European Public Ethics. Funded by the European Commission 7th Framework Programme.

  • Trust in Justice: Rotating Module in Round 5 of the European Social Survey. Funded by the European Commission and other bodies.


Nimesh pic

Doing PhD research in time of (COVID19) crisis: reflections from my PhD journey

Nimesh Dhungana, LSE Fellow, Department of Methodology. 

The COVID19 crisis fits the definition of what disaster anthropologist Anthony Oliver-Smith has long called ‘totalising event’ that is profoundly shaping the academic sector. Among other changes, it has compelled many researchers to change, postpone, or even cancel their planned research, prompting helpful efforts at exploring innovative ways of doing research in crisis context.

What is becoming increasingly evident is that current and prospective PhD students are amongst the most affected by and, in many instances, silently bearing the brunt of the ongoing uncertainty. I have heard of few prospective PhD students who had to cancel their PhD aspirations. Others are forced to postpone or adapt their research design to suit the changed field context. Still, others are considering changing the topic altogether, to examine pressing socio-political puzzles triggered by the pandemic. The urge to change can itself be a major source of anxiety that can interfere with our future research undertaking. On the other hand, although the present crisis is unprecedented, changing the course of PhD research in response to a crisis is hardly uncommon.

Take, for example, my PhD experience. I came to LSE’s Department of Methodology in January 2015, to conduct PhD research on the topic of health governance in Nepal. On April 25, 2015, merely three months into my PhD programme, a major earthquake struck Nepal. As a native of Nepal, I was deeply distracted by the humanitarian crisis triggered by the earthquake. At the same time, the political contestation in the wake of the crisis sparked my intellectual curiosity on the topic of politics of disasters. Despite facing an initial dilemma, I changed my PhD topic from health governance to disaster governance and managed to complete my PhD research on time.

As we deal with the ongoing crisis, and as Nepal marks the fifth anniversary of the earthquake. In this blog I reflect on some of the methodological ‘lessons’ from my PhD research. This, by no means, is an exhaustive list of lessons, but meant to supplement ongoing efforts to support PhD students, who may be impacted by or considering changing the direction of their research.

Scanning before switching

It is not surprising that an all-encompassing nature of a large-scale crisis can force or tempt us to reorient our research focus. This is common even among experienced researchers. As a prospective or current PhD student, the decision to divert the original research interest should follow careful assessment of the overall crisis context. It is important to avoid being an ‘opportunistic researcher’, with little regard to the ethical and practical demands of the crisis. Given the time-bound nature of PhD research, taking stock of the situation in relation to one’s own intellectual preparation is of vital importance. There are many useful published works on methodological dimensions of crisis and relevant research that may be worth reviewing, to set the foundation for an intellectually and practically viable research design in crisis context.

In my case, before deciding to change my PhD focus, I spent the first few weeks after the crisis keeping track of relevant news articles from Nepal. I compiled key policy and programmatic responses from the government and international aid community, and remotely brainstormed emerging ideas with friends and colleagues in Nepal and beyond. I also kept rough notes, which I could bring to bear in my subsequent analysis. A critical consideration is not to deviate too much from our original research interest. Doing so may mean being inundated by the task of rewriting the literature review or finding a proper framing, for example. Having shifted my research direction from health governance to disaster governance, I managed to the keep original focus on ‘governance’ intact, which significantly reduced the burden of additional background work.  

Thinking beyond ‘doing no harm’

To ‘do no harm’ to research participants is of foremost importance in any social research. This is further heightened in the context of crisis that is characterised by widespread anxiety and even suffering. Indeed, as a major health crisis, protecting oneself and one’s research participants against the potential health risk from COVID19 should be our overriding concern. Beyond the risk avoidance approach, our attention should also go into the well-being and rights of our research participants. Crisis often prompts people to share their feelings and experiences. But, often, we tend to overlook the fact that crisis-affected people have the ‘right to forget’. They may choose not to talk. Such right and agency of research participants should be respected, as we determine our sample and sampling strategy. Another critical consideration is that if our research involves government officials, policymakers, NGO workers, the data collection process should avoid interfering with their potentially new and pressing responsibilities of handling the crisis.

Related to above, if an ethnographic fieldwork is considered, it is important to know that ‘accessing field’ is far from straightforward even within a familiar context. In the current crisis, fieldwork is proving further complicated due to ongoing lockdowns, coupled with international travel restrictions that are not only unpredictable but likely to last longer. Dealing with ‘gatekeepers’ may demand high levels of patience and creativity. COVID19, after all, is a large-scale crisis, or what disaster sociologist Allen Barton has long termed ‘collective stress’ situation, demanding heightened level of sensitivity and empathy in doing fieldwork.

Flexibility and improvisation

Crisis is known to spark interesting social scientific questions. But having an intellectual question doesn’t mean it is readily researchable, particularly amidst the constrained and unexpected environment of crisis. Instead, doing research in crisis context demands distinct social scientific expertise involving constant flexibility and improvisation. Such improvisation needs to happen at different stages of PhD research: literature review, data collection/fieldwork, analysis and reporting.

Despite having managed to keep my PhD topic within the familiar realm of ‘governance’, I was subsequently overwhelmed by the vast landscape of disaster and humanitarian literature, about which I had little to no background knowledge. I struggled to find focus and clarity. This is not to mean the focus must be set at the outset. But it demands continual flexibility and improvisation in order to find a proper framing. Even though I conducted my research in the familiar context of Nepal where I am originally from, my fieldwork was full of surprises. Because of the fluid and uncertain nature of the field, recruiting interviewees proved dauting. I had to change my planned case study because of lack of cooperation from the ‘gatekeepers’.  

The difficulty in recruiting people also mean being extra creative about our choice of data sources and data collection methods, moving beyond interviews or surveys, for example, to consider using textual data such as policies, reports etc. The process and extent of improvisation also depends on the timing of PhD research. Because I was in the early stage of my PhD research when the earthquake struck, I was able to change my topic and exercise flexibility in fieldwork. In the latter stage of PhD research, such improvisation may be unrealistic, resulting in unnecessary anxiety and negatively impacting our PhD journey.

Importantly, the process of improvisation in PhD research is more than an individual undertaking, as Cerwonka and Malki have shown. It is a product of sustained supervisor-supervisee intellectual exchange, built on the foundation of trust, empathy and mutual understanding. I was lucky to have a supportive supervisor, who was on board from the time I considered a change in topic, providing strong intellectual and pastoral support throughout my research. The value of cultivating stronger supervisor-supervisee working relationships, while also seeking support from existing social networks cannot be overstated, to cope with the unpredictable demands of doing research in crisis context.


Doing social research means striking a right balance between ‘should-do-ability’ (intellectual puzzle) ‘do-ability’ (practical preparation), and ‘want-to-do-ability’ (personal motivation), as Marshall and Rossman argue. COVID19 crisis has forced (and enticed) many PhD researchers to change their original research focus. An immediate impulse to change the topic is best avoided, or at least, seriously reconsidered to avoid future disappointments. But if you are personally driven, timing of the PhD research is in your favour, and most crucially, you have a ‘big picture’ intellectual puzzle that COVID19 has ignited, then changing the course of your PhD research may be a worthwhile journey.