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Prof Malcolm Williams
- Over the past fifteen years I have been involved in a number of research projects, all of which have been primarily focussed on method and methodology. These have included developing methods for counting rare and elusive populations, the analysis of longitudinal census data in the areas of household change, migration and living alone. However, through much of this period there have been two themes I have consistently pursued (and continue to do so).
Teaching and Learning in Quantitative Methods
- It is now a well established fact that there is a deficit of skills and expertise in quantitative methods and analysis, in the UK. Most importantly that we are not training enough graduates with these skills. Since the early part of the last decade I have been involved in a number of projects (often with Geoff Payne of Newcastle University), firstly to identify the nature of the quantitative ‘deficit’ and more recently to work on solutions to tackle the issues. Indeed our work over the years, in this area, was recognised by the award of the 2012 British Sociological Association Prize for Teaching and Learning. Here, at Cardiff, with Drs Sin Yi Cheung and Luke Sloan, I am working on two ESRC funded projects. The first of these projects is Researcher Development Initiative to draw together pedagogic expertise in teaching quantitative methods, from various countries, and to present this at a series of workshops aimed at those becoming teachers of quantitative methods for the first time. The second project, takes a ‘quasi experimental’ approach to embedding quantitative methods in substantive sociology modules. This project is being conducted jointly with Plymouth University. It compares the prior and post module experience and attitudes of students taking a module taught using and manipulating real data, with those students who only took dedicated modules in quantitative methods.
- This project is much more theoretical, though often draws on empirical data. It has encompassed a number of methodological concerns in social research, including representation in survey research, models, probability and objectivity. Though partially influenced by Roy Bhaskar’s Critical Realism, the core argument contra Bhaskar, is that the ontological condition of the social world is that it is probabilistic, contingent (though not stochastic). Thus, there is no ‘natural necessity’, yet the social world does posses relative intransigence. In various publications I have developed these philosophical ideas into methodological arguments for a version of realism that makes full use of the methodological toolkit, that embraces models and quantification. In recent years (and specifically in the book with Gayle Letherby and John Scott) I have developed a realist argument for objectivity that is both situated, but grounded in the partial intransigence of ‘social objects’.