Category Archives: journal

Challenging terrain

In reading some of the pages leading up to and including the conclusion of Hall et al I was drawn to the references to field, practice, discourse and their interrelation (which I suppose in itself reproduces the subject of the collaborative writing). So far I have been considering a field of practice as a distinctive and self-contained entity (see that I have automatically linked field to practice which in itself supports the more sophisticated approach of the paper), whereas the authors suggest that as well as being constructed through theory and work (either a research field such as ethnography or a subject field such as media studies), concepts of language, subjectivity and discourse might be considered fields. They go on to take this further in considering fields of effects and relations. What I draw from this is that rather than mapping a field one might be mapping a range of inter-connected fields relating to research approaches, the subject, discourse and language each with their own relations and effects.

Hall, S. et al. (1980) Culture, Media and Language: working papers in cultural studies. London, Unwin Hyman.

Creative visual methods. Emperor’s new paradigm?

Professor David Gauntlett has devised new creative research approaches building on traditional methods to, as he sees it, address more deep-seated themes. These include the use of Lego bricks to create models, drawing and video. Professor David Buckingham suggests that Gauntlett is making assumptions and failing to acknowledge limitations in applying these methods, interestingly nothing is said by Gauntlett or Buckingham about the advantage that kinaesthetic and visual methods may have for individual participants with a range of information processing preferences.

This model-making is said to afford ‘incubation space’ for participants to develop a ‘holistic responses’ that would not be generated directly. Gauntlett claims that Buckingham suggests these approaches ‘allow researchers ‘to “dig” more deeply…’ (Buckingham in Gauntlett, p.644, 2009), ‘partly as a result of the visual dimension’ but in this he is perhaps simplistically misrepresenting Gauntlett, who would argue that it is the participants themselves and their selection of bricks and their subsequent combination who would find ‘meanings would soon emerge when the building began’. He goes on to suggest that ‘metaphors would often appear by ‘accident’ in this way’, but Buckingham would also argue that much of the participants own analysis is often descriptive rather than providing insights. Buckingham also fails to adequately critique the suggestion that ‘reflective time’ is a fundamental and catalysing part of the research design, which Gauntlett claims ‘can lead to more nuanced and authentic research data’. By making parallels with focus groups and drawing in video-making, Buckingham broadens the discussion rather than assembling an alternative line of reasoning. He does make an important point about neutrality, however, in that Gauntlett fails to evaluate the extent to which the construction of models helps participants construct more or less authentic or ‘neutral’ meanings, more ‘directly and honestly’ than other methods. Preferring instead, as he sees it, to assume an idealistic stance of innate individual creativity and ‘externalised manifestation of selfhood’ without addressing the social in the construction of identity (Buckingham, p.645, 2009).  Perhaps it could also be said that the social contexts within which visual constructs are made, include the expert (researcher) and lay (participant) ‘insights and meanings’ (Prosser, 2008).

This debate is useful in testing the rigour of my approaches to developing visual methods for my own research. Particularly to adequately consider the effects social contexts may have as well as the visual artefacts to be used, as Collier and Collier suggest, to elicit participants’ responses. Buckingham’s critique also suggests that any approach that presumes to identify intangible concepts such as habitus or other intrinsic and ‘true’ responses, indirectly through the use of visual images or other artefacts, should also consider the social context, both of the participant/practice/field and the participant/researcher.

Buckingham, D. (2009) ‘Creative’ visual methods in visual research: possibilities, problems and proposals, Culture, Media and Society, 31(633): pp.644-647.

Collier, J. & Collier, M. (1986). Visual anthropology: Photography as a research method (Rev. and expanded ed.). Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Gauntlett, D. (2007) Creative Explorations: new approaches to identities and audiences. London, Routledge. pp.182-187.

Prosser, J. (1998). Image-based research: a sourcebook for qualitative researchers. London; Bristol, PA: Falmer Press.

Stepping back

Eight months in and time for residential. Also time to take a step or two back to outline the bigger picture. At the moment I am immersed in many unfamiliar concepts and ways of thinking which through practice are becoming clearer (and often fuzzier). I am still in the phase where I am admiring the trees.

Three questions to reflect upon:

An attempt to visually map the field of the research is included below. In making the map it occurs to me that it needs to be cylindrical, or better, spherical to reflect connections a little more clearly.

Visualising the research landscape

Visualising the research landscape

Sun filtering through an avenue of trees

Can’t see the wood for the trees – but what beautiful trees


Making the most of the cards you are dealt

Commonly found in the school yard for decades, the Panini sticker album has been a perennial World Cup favourite. Apparently nine participants can work together to fill the album most efficiently with minimal duplicates (the same number of cards are produced for each player – though in every album there seem to be valuable and rare stickers). To while away the years between tournaments you could always rely on an ever-expanding range of Top Trumps cards. Custom cars were a favourite of mine and my heart sank when dealt the souped-up mini that just didn’t cut the mustard compared to an American muscle car.

Many years later a colleague of mine, Kacy Mackreth an early career researcher, suggested a Top Trumps style of card to facilitate some research looking into children’s health. This was the first time I had worked on a research project and I was able to devise some simple cards which were piloted, refined and then used with a board to create a sort of game (a selection are shown below). Within a year or so I moved on to work on a major project evaluating programmes run by Premier League football clubs intended to engage hard to reach men.

My current research is looking at interdisciplinary working which combines STE(A)M, creative and digital skills/teams. Looking back at collaborating with colleagues in a range of unfamiliar disciplines and epistemological stances, reminds me how dynamic and productive the environment at the Carnegie Research Institute was, brought together by Professor Jim McKenna who provided a supportive, inclusive framework for those new to research and those like me who were finding their way by trading useful skills.


Mackreth, K. and Berry, R. (2011) The childhood activity market: A consumer orientation approach to understanding physical activity behaviours. Carnegie Seed Grant. Leeds, Leeds Metropolitan University.

The subject through the objective

My father was an instrument maker for Vickers Instruments working with lenses, designing parts and training apprentices. There was always a range of lenses around the house and the kitchen was turned into a darkroom on winter nights to make prints using a home-made enlarger. I grew up with optics and have always been drawn to the visual. Now as I deepen my engagement with Bourdieu I am making links to that past. Another name for a lens is an objective (usually made up of several elements to minimise aberration/distortion in a camera lens) which is used to focus on a subject. This seems important.

Bourdieu’s concepts and writing (or more accurately Nice’s translations of his writings) do not come easily to me (I suspect this is not unusual) and I have been spending a few days coming back to one paragraph intruducing chapter nine in The Logic of Practice entitled The Objectivity of the Subjective. In this paragraph, Bourdieu (1990, pp.135), is explaining the two representations that should be considered when researching a social reality. Firstly, the material properties that ‘can be counted and measured like any other thing in the material world’ and secondly, symbolic properties which ‘are nothing other than material properties when perceived and appreciated in their mutual relationships, that is, as distinctive properties’. He seems, therefore, to draw together objective (realist) and subjective (phenomenological) approaches to explore a ‘two-fold reality’, a reality within which the two aspects are inextricably linked. Separately he suggests that his conceptual framework focuses more on each of these dualities:

“If habitus brings into focus the subjective end of the equation, field focuses on the objective” (1998, pp.15).

What I am beginning to draw from this is a rationale for adopting a subjective approach to visual research as it seems it would be impossible to design an objective/scientific technique and the subjective use of objectives (lenses) to construct interpretations is consistent with Bourdieu’s thinking. In choosing the objective (both in the purpose of making the image and the lens to be used in its construction) the researcher’s engagement with the subject reflects the researcher’s habitus and constructs symbolic properties of both agents or social realities simultaneously.

Tom Fowler mico-blogging at an industry presentation

Bourdieu, P. (1998) Practical reason: On the theory of action. Cambridge, Polity Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1990) The Logic of Practice. Cambridge, Polity Press.

Quantitative educational research

When considering qualitative and/or quantitative methods I find that I may reflect the prevalent view reflected in the education research literature that encourages interpretivist approaches. This may be partly based in my introduction to new (to me at any rate) ideas of insider/outsider research, subjectivity, constructions and reconstructions,  suggested as acknowledging limitations in the positivist paradigms of scientific experimentation (my erstwhile lack of any affinity with any subject that required the wearing of a lab coat may also be important). When reading Bryman (2006) and Gorard, Rushforth and Taylor (2004) I am not particular disposed to alter my views.

As a Professor of Organisational and Social Research in the School of Management at Leicester, Bryman has authored a range of papers on the subject of quantitative/qualitative research, often with a leadership or organisational focus. His linking of ‘evaluation research’ and ‘applied research’ (pp.98) further underlines his focus. He identifies a lack of rationale (or at least a mismatch with practice), ‘lack of attention to research question’ (pp.110) and other inconsistencies, notwithstanding the part serendipity might play, as being prevalent limitations of disorganised mixed methods. Throughout he is concerned that a pre-planned approach is important with careful delineation of the boundaries of qualitative and quantitative instruments, methods, analysis and above all justification are in place a priori rather than more emergent approaches. In concluding he nails his colours to the mast with an open plea refuting the assumption that qualitative research lacks the potential for gaining insights.

Gorard, Rushforth and Taylor looked at the evidence to support more quantitative methods in their 2004 paper. Gorard is now Professor of Education and Well-being at Durham and has focused on evaluation, often advising Government committees on policy. Rushforth is exploring the quality and effectiveness of private tuition and Taylor is in the Education Policy Analysis Research Group at Cardiff. In their paper many participants bemoan the lack of qualitative research without being specific and where quantitative research has been undertaken, for example in ‘implementing central Government analysis’ (pp.382) the lack of experienced researchers has been a problem.  ‘The issue of causality, being able to test propositions’ (pp.379) cuts across quantitative and qualitative methods but suggests a deterministic driver to see what works and measure success. At the same time it is suggested that researchers may reject such a ‘methodological identity’ (pp.383). Which takes me back to the start.

Bryman, A. (2006) Integrating quantitative and qualitative research: how is it done? Qualitative Research, 6 (1) pp.97-113.
Gorard, S., Rushforth, K. and Taylor, C. (2004) Is there a shortage of quantitative work in education research? Oxford Review of Education, 30 (3) pp.371-395.

‘ebookinaday’ and meeting practitioners

Student teams meeting the 'ebookinaday' challenge

Student teams meeting the ‘ebookinaday’ challenge

The SolentPR course welcomed Stephen Waddington (President Elect of the CIPR and Digital and Social Media Director at Ketchum) to take on the challenge of developing an ebook on peer-to-peer PR in a day. 45 students worked in teams on chapters covering contemporary themes in PR, very often the topic was both evaluated and applied in generating the content e.g. Crowdsourcing. Stephen wrote about the event on his blog, Two-way Street.

Students meet practitioners at the Meet the Professional event

Students meet practitioners at the Meet the Professionals event

Later the same day, the students joined practitioners in a Meet the Professionals event arranged with Wessex CIPR. The ‘speed-dating’ style event allows students to practice their elevator pitches and make contact with people they may have already linked with through social media. It is one of the ways the profession reaches out to emerging talent.