Introducing the new Centre for Political Ethnography

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.

The Centre for Political Ethnography

Catching Methods Up to Concepts: Using Interpretive Methods to Study Public Deliberation

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

Interpretive Political Science Research Methods Course

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

Latin American Studies Around the World: Southampton Hosted the 2018 SLAS Conference

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.

SLAS_Team_IMG_20180322_111434.jpg

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/.

 

Politics Student Alex Blums Wins Prestigious V-Dem Competition for Best Student Paper

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 and IR Pub Quiz

Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 11.17.08 AM

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.

 

Migration@Southampton Research Network

DipticBy Dr. Ana Margheritis, Reader in International Relations at University of Southampton (Twitter, Academia.edu). You can find more posts by Ana here.


 

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