Methods Sessions

Following on from the successful series of online methods sessions July – December 2020, Methods North West will be offering another series of methodological sessions February – May 2021, once again delivered by experts in their fields. Please find details of upcoming sessions below:


11th February 2021, 2-3pm
Listening to older people living in care homes: reflections on communication strategies

Helen Hindle (University of Manchester)

This seminar will focus on Mind Maps and Talking Mats and how I used them to enhance communication when interviewing older people living in care homes. These strategies have wider application and there will be opportunity to discuss how communication strategies might be applied in your research.

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18th February 2021, 2-3pm
New forms of data for public safety

Reka Solymosi (University of Manchester)

Crowdsourcing and civic technologies offer new forms of data, facilitating insight into people’s experiences with public safety. These data sources allow us to follow people along their routine activities at unprecedented scales. Researchers can transform such insight into learning about experiences of place and crime. In this talk I will discuss my work on making use of such crowdsourced data to better understand topics of: fear of crime, disorder, sexual harassment, and police use of social media. I will introduce methods for data collection, and issues with data analysis. The aim is to illustrate the potential of using such approaches to better understand the situational factors associated with crime and fear of crime as experienced by people in their everyday lives, and encourage discussion of the strengths, limitations, and ethical and policy implementations of these emerging methodological approaches.

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25th February 2021, 2-3pm
Reflecting on asynchronous internet mediated focus groups for researching culturally sensitive issues

Claire Pierson (University of Liverpool) and Noirin MacNamara (TU Dublin)

This session will consider the use of Internet-mediated focus groups (FGs). We will outline their use in a study and consider the advantages and disadvantages of internet-mediated FGs and reflect on their use for researching culturally sensitive issues. Our study utilised text-based asynchronous internet-mediated FGs to explore attitudes to abortion, and abortion as a workplace issue. We will outline three key elements of text-based asynchronous online FGs as particularly helpful in researching culturally sensitive issues – safety, time and pace. The session is based on this methods paper.

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4th March 2021, 2-3pm
Studying space from a study space: A sociology of the atrium

Paul Jones (University of Liverpool)

What was intended as an empirical study of architects has ended up as a theoretical account of the spaces that they design; this shift explains the title, and will be reflected on in the discussion. Still, sociology has much to offer with respect to illuminating the place of architecture vis-a-vis contemporary accumulative strategies. The world over, the atrium is a familiar architectural feature of contemporary building types. Effectively a double-height or larger void internal to a building, atriums are bound up with the creation of surplus values of different kinds, and as such are architectural spaces ripe for sociological interrogation.

Based on the research I’ve done instead of that which I originally planned, I’ve come to see that atriums add momentum and meaning to acquisitive activity in three key ways: they entail the creation of tall architectural structures, allowing for the production of material and symbolic surplus value; atriums produce resonances of informality in institutional context, allowing for self-representation and the hosting of commercial activity in an ostensibly non-corporate setting; and they are key to the visually arresting internal spaces that allow for – and intensify – consumption and associated transactional activity. By way of this example, I want to examine and open discussions around methodological strategies for pursuing what we’re interested in despite restrictions on research.

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11th March 2021, 2-3pm
Making use of secondary data sources and engaging policy makers: an example using the Crime Survey of England and Wales

Carly Lightowlers (University of Liverpool)

In this session, we will discuss recent collaborative work undertaken by Carly Lightowlers at the University of Liverpool and Lucy Bryant at the Institute of Alcohol Studies to examine the socio-economic distribution of alcohol-related violence. This study made use of a longstanding and rigorous source of secondary data – the Crime Survey for England and Wales. Results – which find that finds alcohol-related domestic violence victimisation is up to 14 times as common in the lowest socioeconomic groups – have also captured the interest of parliament and feature in ongoing policy debate.

Using this research as a case study, this session will discuss the benefits of using secondary data for doing social research and for generating impact and engagement with policy makers. It will speak to both the benefits and limitations of using such data sources as well as the opportunities (and challenges) for engaging a policy audience in the findings. Familiarity with the Crime Survey for England and Wales or indeed quantitative methods is not required to attend/participate.

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18th March 2021, 2-3pm
Working with Twitter

Joseph Allen (University of Manchester)

Twitter has recently been a fantastic source of data. Never before has an individually been able to so trivially access historic opinions and watch them develop over time. In this talk I will cover scraping historic and live data from Twitter and running real-time sentiment analysis. Programming will be using Python.

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25th March 2021, 2-3pm
Critical Thinking

Yiovi Derpsch (University of Liverpool)

Do you know what ‘critical thinking’ really is and is not? Can you define it? Are you able to explain its importance within research and beyond? Critical thinking has been deemed the most important 21st century skill, sought-after not only in academia but also within the workplace and society. However, studies show that many students only marginally improve their critical thinking skills, complex reasoning and academic writing during their journeys through higher education. Moreover, employers often note that their workforce struggle to perform tasks that require reasoning, problem-solving and creativity, i.e., skills that are rooted in critical thinking.

This session will help you understand better what critical thinking is, its importance in research and personal life, and distinguish what tools are needed to develop the basic skill set and become a better critical thinker. You will also learn about the basis of argumentation. By the end of this session, you will be better able to:

  • Explain what critical thinking is and it is not
  • Describe its components
  • Understand the importance of argumentation
  • Apply the basic argument structure to your reading & writing

Register here


15th April 2021, 2-3pm
Reflection on data collection via telephone/videoconferencing with older people

Julie Longson (Keele University)

Face to face interviews was the planned method of data collection for exploring childhood experiences of World War Two.  Covid-19 prevented this and participants were offered the option of telephone or Zoom interviews but (lack of) access to technology proved to be an additional barrier.  A third option – providing written accounts was added.  This talk explores how the challenges of data collection during a pandemic were addressed.

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22nd April 2021, 2-3pm
DIY Desert Island Discs: a toolkit for exploring musical memories and emotions

Alexandra Lamont (Keele University)

Covid-19 has propelled many researchers to adapt methods and consider new ways of gathering data in a pandemic. In this talk I illustrate an example of a recent project I am leading on people’s favourite music choices. I will talk about how something originally planned as a small-scale ‘interest’ project turned into something of immense value to many of its participants almost overnight, to illustrate how serendipity can be developed into strategy and impactful research can still be done under restricted conditions.

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29th April 2021, 2-3pm
Data Pre-processing

Anran Zhao (University of Manchester)

Data pre-processing is a data mining technique that involves transforming raw data into an understandable format. With the increasing amount of data available for research and analysis, real-world data is often incomplete or inconsistent and thus not ready to be used directly. Multiple spreadsheets, missing values, typos, numbers shown as text, unnecessary columns… Data without adequate preparation will deliver poor or misleading findings. This is exemplified by the pithy data scientist phrase ‘GIGO’, which stands for ‘Garbage In Garbage Out’. This talk introduces data pre-processing and its workflow, including steps on data integration, data cleaning, data reduction and data transformation, as well as some of the issues people should be aware of in this process.

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6th May 2021, 2-3pm
4 C’s of Passing: Creating a New Framework to Fit your Research
Billie-Gina Thomason (University of Liverpool)

This session will begin by sharing with you the case of a gender passing individual named William Seymour. William was a biological woman who lived and presented as a man in all aspects of their life. It will then explore the conceptual framework of the 4 C’s of Passing that I created to explore the life of William and other gender passing individuals like him. It will conclude by offering a working example of using this framework and consider how we can be creative in our research and use what is around us to develop new framework’s and alter older ones to fit our own research.

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13th May 2021, 2-3pm
Observational sketching as method

Sue Heath (University of Manchester)

Abstract Pending.

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20th May 2021, 2-3pm
Online Interviews / Delphi / social media approaches for recruitment

Noureen Shivji (Keele University)

Abstract Pending.

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27th May 2021, 2-3pm
Making autoethnography

Clare Holdsworth (Keele University)

Many researchers have turned to autoethnography as a result of covid-19 lockdowns. Faced with impossibility of face-to-face research, autoethnography provides one solution to carrying on with research off line. Autoethnography is not just a method for lockdowns, it is an accepted methodology in the social science repertoire, though one that can be treated with suspicion.

I have adapted autoethnography to write about my sewing practice, including how this has changed during lockdown. The potential of researcher as maker has been developed in a number of autoethnographic studies. My use of autoethnography incorporates this commitment to understand the process of making but, at the same time, I also use making as a method for interpretating relationships with others. My approach to an autoethnography of making is therefore to try to capture the diversity of practices and emotions that are experienced through the seemingly mundane task of sewing.

In this session I introduce the different methods I have used to observe myself and how these have developed a relational interpretation of materiality and making. I also discuss the ethics of autoethnography and issues that potential researchers need to think about when adopting this method.

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10th June 2021, 2-3pm
Introducing Corpus Approaches to Social Science

Luke Collins (Lancaster University)

This session will introduce the basic principles of corpus linguistics: a set of computational approaches to studying language in large datasets. Corpus linguistics supports researchers in uncovering patterns in language on the basis of quantitative measures and is informed by linguistic theory. This helps us to gather evidence on how language is used according to various contexts and in pursuit of different communicative goals, making it a highly flexible tool for research across the social sciences. This seminar will cover the fundamental concepts and introduce the tools used in corpus linguistics, demonstrating how attendees can benefit from existing resources as well as how they might go about using corpus linguistics to analyse their own data.

Register here

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