National Centre for Research Methods



Seminar 1: Combining social research methods, data and analyses.
Department of Sociology, School of Human Sciences, University of Surrey
Oak Suite - Top Floor of Oak House Complex
Wednesday 22nd February 2006

There are a range of issues concerned with understanding and facilitating data and analytical synthesis between different modes of qualitative data, as well as between qualitative and quantitative data. Strategies for working across and between different kinds of qualitative data and analyses are increasingly required, as the repertoire of qualitative strategies continues to expand. This seminar / workshop aims to provide opportunities for participants to share current practice of methodological combination / integration, and to consider the research capacity building implications of doing so. This seminar is jointly organised with the Department of Sociology, University of Surrey.

This day seminar will explore four main themes around combining methods and methodologies in qualitative research through presentations, discussions and practical workshops/exemplars.

Aims of the seminar:

To critically explore what is meant by 'combining' social research methods - reflecting on the various stages in the research project when qualitative researchers deal with the task of combining/mixing and integrating data, analysis, methods and methodologies; considering how we can distinguish between these various practices.

To assess the purpose of combining methods and methodologies -understanding the ways in which combination can be justified in social scientific inquiry, and exploring some of the problems of accommodating of multiple methodological practices, empirical materials and perspectives

To identify the limitations and barriers to combining qualitative approaches and methods -considering the ways in which combining methods requires us to work across different disciplines, between and within competing and overlapping perspectives and paradigms, and have skills in a wide range of techniques of data collection and analysis.

To set the agenda for further research capacity building in relation to methodological combination -identifying areas for training, dialogue, discussion and enhanced understanding


Welcome and Introduction (Chris Taylor)

Three presentations, followed by questions/discussions from the floor.

Richard Dennis (UCL , Department of Geography)

This talk will reflect on my own practice as a historical geographer researching on cities and modernity. I will review current research methodology in the field of cultural-historical geography before concentrating on my own particular interest in considering the dialectic between modernization and modern experience as a focus for studying almost any urban society (whether 'modern', 'pre-modern' or 'post-modern'), necessitating the integration of quantitative and qualitative methods. For the purposes of this seminar I will emphasise the latter, including textual and visual sources and methods, focused on contemporary commentaries on modernization and the interpretation of individual experiences of modernity. I pay particular attention to the selection of case studies for qualitative research in the context of more ubiquitous quantitative sources; to the use of record linkage to build up the equivalent of questionnaires of or interviews with people in the past; and to the connections between qualitative and quantifiable sources. In essence, I am interested in assembling historical materials which are practical equivalents of present-day primary sources and therefore amenable to equivalent forms of analysis. I will illustrate these issues drawing on examples from my own research on bridges, transport systems and housing as spaces of modernity in late 19th- and early 20th- century cities.

Click here to download Richard's presentation (do not cite without author's permission)

Sarah Irwin (Leeds, School of Sociology & Social Policy)
Combining Data, Enhancing Explanation

In this paper I will explore the value of bringing together data from different sources for enhancing our conceptual understanding of complex social processes. I will take research into values and subjectivities as a general theme. Using specific examples of empirical research I will explore conceptual issues involved in combining data, reflect on the scope for 'scaling up' from qualitative research, and consider how combining diverse data sets can help expand our capacity for social explanation.

Click here to download Sarah's presentation (do not site without author's permission)

Karen Henwood (from February 2006, Cardiff School of Social Sciences)
On the value of methodological combining: taking stock and moving forward through reflective practice

In my presentation I will advocate the spread of shared, reflective practice, as a means of clarifying the future development of mixed methods work. I will address a number of key distinctions that have been proposed to generate methodological advance in such work, and exemplify these through discussion of my own and others' research practices in the arena of psychosocial studies. Although these distinctions have been, for the most part, strategically and practically useful, I will ask whether, at times, they might be over-used. I will suggest that combinatorial methodology should not be presented as a panacea for research problems, but as a set of practices the value of which will be contingent upon the goals and settings of particular studies.

Karen's presentation will be available here soon.

Questions and discussion (Chair: Chris Taylor)


Workshop themes/leaders.

1. Narrative methods in qualitative and quantitative research
Jane Elliott, London Institute of Education

This workshop will focus on information collected as part of the National Child Development Study (NCDS), a longitudinal research study that has followed over 17,000 individuals from their birth in 1958, through childhood and into adult life. In the workshop participants will have the chance to develop a group analysis of a small sample of qualitative essays about 'Life at age 25' written by members of the NCDS when they were eleven years old in 1969. The workshop will provide an introduction to the concepts of narrative and narrative identity and will then explore a number of different narratives represented by and within the essays
1) the narrative or 'storied' elements within the essays themselves
2) the place of the essays within the broader narrative of each individual's life
3) the contribution that can be made to a research narrative about social change and the life course by combining qualitative and quantitative analysis of data from the NCDS

The workshop will also provide some practical insights about different ways of analysing and coding qualitative material both for addressing qualitative research questions and for combining with analysis of quantitative data.

Click here to download Jane's presentation (do not cite without author's permission)

2. Integrating across data sets at the point of analysis (Jo Moran-Ellis, Sociology Department, Surrey)

In this session we will explore the integration of multiple qualitative data sets at the point of analysis. Firstly arguing that integration itself is an idea that needs to be thought through, we will then draw on an approach to analytic integration, which we have termed 'following a thread', that we developed in our own work using multiple methods to explore vulnerability in people's everyday lives. Specifically in this session we will show how we picked up on an emergent theme concerning a relationship between vulnerability and homes and houses in one part of the qualitative interview data set and followed it through as an analytic thread into the rest of that data set and across into the visual data which we had generated in the project with the same set of respondents. By following this thread we were able to trace its manifestation amongst different sub-sets of respondents and in different epistemological contexts. From this we created a 'data repertoire' which was substantively rich and from which we were able to derive understandings of vulnerability which were sensitised to multiple contexts. We suggest that this approach of 'following a thread' is one way of integrating data sets at the point of analysis in a way which has both conceptual and pragmatic advantages.

Click here to download Jo's presentation (do not cite without authors' permission)

3. Combining visual and textual
Monika Buscher, Lancaster, Sociology Department
Seeing and intervening

Video is increasingly recognised as a powerful documentary tool for the social sciences, but it is also an important resource for interventions, including the design of new technologies, which - in turn - can aid sociological (and other forms of) understanding practice. In the context of interdisciplinary research and technology design projects, my colleagues and I use video as an ethnographic instrument, but also for interventions, for example collaborative analysis, 'Fieldstorms' and 'Future Laboratories'. Using video as part of joint 'hands-on' research and development endeavours like this provides opportunities for social scientists, practitioners and designers. As an ethnomethodologist working with landscape architects, artists, healthcare professionals, emergency teams, computer scientists and interaction designers, I study the ways in which people actively produce socio-technical order. I am particularly interested in the emergence of future epistemic and perceptual practices that arise in interaction with new technologies. Through my involvement in interdisciplinary technology research and development, I am able to carry out empirical studies of such transformations and change. In this paper I will discuss and demonstrate how video features in our research

Click here to read the paper on which Monika's presentation was based

Liesbeth de Block, London Institute of Education
Using video production as a research tool with children

Media consumption, play, talk and production, have long played a central role in children's social lives and in their negotiations of migration and settling. The increasing communicative possibilities offered by new technologies are changing children's social relations, particularly in relation to migration and experiences of the local and the global. New technologies are also offering and demanding new research approaches. I will be discussing two aspects of using video production as a research tool with children: as a means of gathering data and as data in itself. The issue here is how we combine and analyse the different textual and visual data that we gather from such an approach. I will be showing and discussing data gathered as part of an EU funded research project looking at the ways in which video and internet communication can be used by refugee children to share their experiences of living in Europe.

Reflecting on the day and a discussion focused on training and research capacity building needs.


ESRC National Centre for Research Methods
ESRC - Economic & Social Research Council