Ethnography reaches the parts of politics that other methods cannot reach. It captures the lived experience of politics; the everyday life of political elites and street level bureaucrats. It identifies what we fail to learn, and what we fail to understand, from other approaches. The Centre aims to rescue ethnography from its current void in political science and build the UK’s first centre for ethnographic research in politics and administration. It will be an interdisciplinary platform for colleagues nationally and internationally who are interested in ethnographic research in politics and administration. It will practice the ‘art of translation’ for multiple audiences.
Selen Ercan (University of Canberra), Carolyn Hendriks (ANU) and Soton’s own John Boswell were last week awarded the prize for Best Article in Policy & Politics in 2017. The blog post below highlights the key messages in the paper – but you can read the full version, open access for a limited time, here.
Deliberative democracy is one of the fastest growing fields of normative political theory and empirical research. Over the past 15 years, it has expanded in at least two directions. The first expansion occurred as a result of the ‘empirical turn’ in deliberative democracy. It has seen a growing number of empirical studies on deliberative sites both within and outside of the institutions of representative democracy. The second significant expansion occurred as a result of the ‘systemic turn’ in deliberative democracy which views public deliberation as a broader communicative activity, taking place within and beyond discrete forums. For the most part, these two ‘turns’ in deliberative democracy—the empirical turn and the systemic turn—have pulled in different directions. Empirically, deliberative democrats have been increasingly fascinated with the micro-dynamics of deliberative forums, while, theoretically, the push has been to expand understandings of public deliberation beyond the forum into the public sphere. In other words the conceptual expansion has not necessarily been accompanied by a methodological expansion. Many of the tools and techniques developed to examine deliberation in structured forums are not well-suited to understanding the complexities and dynamics of entire deliberative systems. Furthermore much of the empirical research on such forums have been grounded on what Mark Bevir and Nabil Ansari label a ‘modernist’ research tradition. Derived from the natural sciences, a modernist approach to Political Science sets out to make ‘value free’ observations of the social world, subject hypotheses to empirical testing, identify causal relationships between the dependent and independent variables and, ultimately, develop generalizable laws to explain past events, or predict future ones. The limitations of this research tradition has become particularly visible as notions of public deliberation have expanded from ‘a forum’ to a ‘deliberative system’.
In our recent article ‘Studying Public Deliberation after Systemic Turn: The Crucial Role for Interpretive Research’ we argue that understanding the complex world of deliberative systems requires empirical researchers to go beyond the modernist research paradigms, and look for alternative ways of defining and studying public deliberation. A conceptual expansion without methodological expansion may easily fail to capture the uniqueness of the new concept. Considering the unique characteristics of the notion of deliberative system that sets it apart from the prevailing understandings of deliberation, we argue that interpretive research methods are particularly well suited to study the deliberative systems in practice. Interpretive research methods provide an in-depth, close-up, context-specific understandings of a phenomenon or experience that is ‘in the dark’.
A central challenge for empirical studies of deliberative systems is to identify the various components of the system and its boundaries. By drawing on existing and emerging studies we show that interpretive research can help 1) to identify and portray deliberative sites, agents and discursive elements in a deliberative system, 2) study connections and transmissions across different sites, and 3) understand the broader political context of both small-scale deliberative forums, and entire deliberative systems. We acknowledge that this list of roles that interpretive research can play in the study of deliberative systems is not definitive but it represents some of the most significant contributions that interpretive methods can make to empirical studies of deliberative systems.
Selen A. Ercan, Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance
Carolyn M. Hendriks, Australian National University, Crawford School of Public Policy
John Boswell, University of Southampton, Politics and International Relations
Many students in political science, public policy and public administration who decide to undertake qualitative or interpretive research feel they are unqualified to do so. In particular they feel that interpretive approaches lack the type of specialised training that has become commonplace in quantitative political science.
The PSA’s Interpretive Political Science Specialist Group, in conjunction with the National Centre for Research Methods, seeks to redress this gap. Our inaugural methods course, held at the University of Southampton, 9 – 11 May 2018, will:
- Situate the interpretive approach in relation to other ways of doing political science research by reference to the philosophical, epistemological, and methodological assumptions on which these approaches are based;
- Provide the theoretical and analytical tools students need to design and conduct their research project;
- Outline the toolkit of methods used by interpretive scholars to collect data, including ethnographic and interview-based methods;
- Provide a series of standards that will both ensure results are reliable and maximise the impact of findings; and
- Offer guidance on the norms and principles used to analyse data in an interpretive project.
Led by Southampton’s Prof. R.A.W Rhodes, the course is primarily aimed at PhD students and early career scholars of political science, public policy and public administration. It will be very hands-on, and is set up as a dialogue between the theory and practice of interpretive research. Most fundamentally, the course is organized around the participant’s own research. It does not provide a mere toolbox of analytical instruments to be applied, but will introduce participants to, and let them practice with, the approach, enhancing their skills in research design, data collection and data analysis in the process.
Information on registration, costs, bursaries and registration can be found here: bit.ly/NCRMPoliticalScience
Last week the University of Southampton hosted around 200 experts on Latin American Studies from all over the world who gathered at the 2018 Society of Latin American Studies’ Annual Conference to reflect on the history and current state of Latin American Studies in the UK and around the world.
A team of ten students from Social Sciences and Humanities were part of the organising team, based at PAIR, and efficiently run this two-day event at the Winchester campus. For most of these students, it was their first experience on a professional academic event of this size and prestige. They enthusiastically combined work experience with attendance to panels and networking with the experts in their favourite topics.
Full information about the conference programme, keynote lecture, closing plenary and more pictures can be found at http://generic.wordpress.soton.ac.uk/slas2018/.
The Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Institute presents the Best Student Paper Award to the “author/authors of a student essay that is outstanding for its theoretical and empirical contributions.” The winner receives $500 USD and is invited to present the paper at the annual V-Dem Conference, with travel and accommodation generously provided.
The 2017 award was won by Alexander Blums, a student in the department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Southampton. The theme for the competition call was “Causes and Effects of Democratization.” Blums won with his paper entitled, “Electoral Democracy and Corruption: A Cross-National Study,” based on his dissertation research at the University of Southampton. The paper was subsequently published as an official Working Paper in the V-Dem Working Paper Series.
We asked Alexander to tell us about how this played out:
I decided to do my dissertation on cross-national predictors of corruption because I thought it was an interesting subject and my dissertation supervisor Raimondas Ibenskas is an expert in comparative politics. My main thesis was that controlling for other variables, the quality of electoral democracy explains corruption in the long and short-term. For data on democracy, I chose to utilise the V-Dem dataset. After submitting my dissertation, Raimondas (my now former supervisor) noticed that V-Dem was running a student paper competition. I made some minor modifications to better fit the requirements of the competition and a few months later received the good news about the prize. My paper was published in the ‘Users Working Paper’ series, I was given a cash prize and invited to take part in an annual conference on Democracy in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Congratulations to Alexander Blums for this much-deserved award. The Department of Politics and International Relations is very proud!
Politics students and lecturers recently got together for a rollicking pub quiz in the Nuffield Theatre cafe on campus. It was really a lot of fun, as you can see below. Many thanks to all the students who came out, and to Chris Armstrong and David Owen for writing the questions and hosting the quiz. This was our first time doing this but, given how well it went over, we’ll very likely do it again sometime! If you couldn’t make it, keep your eyes peeled for the next time we put on something like this.
The Migration@Southampton Research Network, coordinated by Dr. Ana Margheritis since 2014, now has an online presence. This is an interdisciplinary group formed by colleagues and postgraduate students from the Faculty of Social, Human and Mathematical Sciences and the Faculty of Humanities.
Their expertise addresses migration-related challenges through world-leading academic research, teaching, advocacy and mutual exchanges with academic and non-academic communities within the university and beyond. Network members have been working on programme development, joint publications, event organization, grant writing and other activities.
Find out more about this exciting initiative and related news at: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/migration
This semester, the Faculty of Social, Human and Mathematical Sciences awarded Dr. Ana Margheritis a Strategic Research Development Fund Award to support her project on Brazil’s Foreign Policy. As a result, this week she is organizing and chairing a workshop at King’s College London. The event gathers distinguished specialists from the UK, Portugal, Germany, and Brazil, and aims at consolidating the academic collaboration of the group through publications and further research.
Members of the group have been collaborating informally for over a year. They last met at the international conference of the Latin American Studies Association, where Dr. Margheritis organised and chaired a very successful panel on the subject. Their combined expertise will now be directed towards the following issues which have become even more relevant lately in the light of the ongoing economic downturn and politico-institutional crisis in Brazil:
- What are the main issues, actors, and dynamics of Brazil’s foreign policy agenda today?
- What factors explain the setbacks in Brazil’s determination to play a prominent global role?
- What policy and theoretical implications do recent changes pose to the country’s strategies and our analytical frameworks?
As Brazil has attempted to rise in global affairs, its foreign policy agenda and policymaking process has become more diversified and complex, thus questioning traditional analytical assumptions. Moreover, contradicting high expectations at home and abroad, modest economic growth, political crises, and social unrest have recently cast doubts on such international projection and, more broadly, on Brazil’s presumed leadership capacity. The current presidential impeachment process further exacerbates political uncertainty and questions these ambitions.
The research team’s main goal is to understand to what extent, and how, these issues and performance record require an adaptation of policymaking mechanisms and strategies and, consequently, of traditional analytical frameworks.
In recognition of her contributions to the Institute of Latin American Studies at School of Advanced Study, University of London, Dr. Ana Margheritis was last month formally invited to be Associate Fellow. The affiliation aims at consolidating a strong personal and inter-institutional link through further collaborations, including events and publications among others.
At the university, we try whenever possible to create opportunities for our students to engage in real-world research, working with organisations in the public, private and voluntary section. Many of our students take up these opportunities during their . Recently two of our students Rory McGurk and William Pereira were invited to the annual conference and presented with a certificate in appreciation for their work for the institute.
In Rory’s words:
We were asked by the Consultation Institute to conduct some research into some prominent public consultation cases, and suggest ways in which they could have been improved. We were given the case of the King’s Lynn Incinerator – a controversial plan for an incinerator which involved numerous overlapping consultations in Norfolk. These were our findings:
The Kings Lynn incinerator proposal consultation was legitimate in relation to the Aarhus convention, namely the right to participate in decision making. However, each of these consultations suffered systematic flaws, the most overarching of which was an attempt to manipulate public opinion. This was seen in the omission of certain questions from the Cory Wheelabrator telephone survey in 2011, and the county council’s dismissal of a 92.68% residence opposition. It was therefore overtly plain to see that consultation in this instance was a participatory mechanism utilised only for the intention of legitimising a preconceived county-imposed waste management strategy that favoured an incinerator.
In recognition of the work we produced, the Consultation Institute invited us to their annual conference at the Emirates stadium. This proved to be a fascinating and extremely useful day, allowing us to listen to some high end speakers, such as Michael Portillo and Anthony King. We were also given the opportunity to network with individuals at the Consultation Institute and explain our research to them. We were also given an award for our contribution to the work produced by the Consultation Institute. Overall, the research was helpful in expanding our political knowledge and analytical skills, and the conference was a very interesting and helpful day. We would like to send our thanks to Rhion Jones and Elizabeth Gammell for allowing us to conduct the research and for allowing us to join them at their conference. Also, to Matt Ryan for setting up the research with the Consultation Institute and for joining us on our adventure down to their headquarters in Biggleswade.