Social Science blog

8 posts from October 2012

29 October 2012

Visual Urbanisms: Perspectives on Contemporary Research

Bradley L. Garrett, of the University of Oxford, writes about his experiences of using visual methods in social research. The visual material he has created raises questions for the Library with regards to the material we collect and in terms of how to work with researchers who use our existing photographic and moving image collections.

Visual research methods have a wide remit, including creation and analysis of maps, graphics, still and moving images. Photography and video in particular are becoming increasingly important tools, allowing researchers to capture events and tell powerful stories visually (and of course aurally, in the case of video, often overlooked). Media methods allow us to easily change the pace of time, undertake minute analysis of events and empower people to share their stories directly to audiences both in and beyond academia. However, these technologies, and people’s perceptions of them, are also changing rapidly as equipment is becoming less expensive, more powerful and ever pervasive. These changes are creating new opportunities, and difficulties, for researchers.

For my PhD, I conducted a four-year research project with urban explorers, groups of people working to document off-limits parts of the urban environment often hidden from public view. Many of these explorers were very skilled at capturing low-light photographs under stressful shooting conditions. By spending time with them, I also became a photographer, often documenting them documenting places (the hybrid role of the visual ethnographer). Eventually, we began shooting video footage of our collaborative explorations, producing Crack the Surface, a rather unorthodox ethnographic film (the other films which comprise the 10-part visual ethnography can be found here).

All of the films in that series, and indeed every one of the 14,000 photographs I took on that project, were distinctly urban and I have come to believe that video and photography are ideal methods for capturing ever-changing urban contexts. In 2010, I worked with Ellie Miles, Terri Moreau, Michael Anton, Amy Cutler and Alison Hess, researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London, to create London’s Olympic Waterscape, a film made to capture a slice of time around the Olympic stadium during its construction that was incredibly delicate. Many of the places in the film, shot only two years ago, are unrecognisable now, a testament to the power of audio/visual media in capturing change, an incontestable symptom of contemporary urban life. In the same year I also teamed up with Brian Rosa and Jonathan Prior to create Jute, a film about time, pace, waste and memory in urban life where we used sound and images to encourage a lingering attention. That film, published in Liminalities, and another of my films Urban Explorers: Quests for Myth, Mystery and Meaning, are now among the first video articles in academic publishing, a promising new format.

Though I’m proud of this body of work, using these technologies created new sets of difficulties that I had to contend with around issues of ethics, consent and ownership of recorded materials. As the novelty of ‘new’ media and online sharing platforms wears thin, people are naturally becoming more guarded about being recorded. Researchers using media have to consider carefully the ways recordings can be used and misused, especially in the context of work with people.

I feel the process of becoming a “visual geographer” has been far more than learning how to utilise a novel platform to share knowledge – these media were the language I always understood, a language that I think many people find concord with and a language that I think has a potential for wider reach than text. These issues, among many others, were discussed in the conference on visual urbanisms at the British Library on 8th October 2012.

Other useful links:

British Sociological Association Visual Sociology Study Group

Professor Gillian Rose’s Visual Methods Blog

International Association of Visual Urbanists

25 October 2012

High Street Gambling - A Spatial Analysis

This blog aims to highlight different types of research methods that can be used to examine and evaluate social issues and policy. In this guest post Ying Vi explains how she has used quantitative techniques through geographic information systems (GIS) and qualitative interviews to examine the local effects of government policy around the location of betting shops.

The proliferation of betting shops in some of London’s high streets has become a hot topic following the deregulation of the gambling industry through the Gambling Act 2005.  Regulations that once allowed local authorities to decide if new betting shops could open in their areas were removed. This marked the start of the UK government’s ‘free market’ deregulatory approach to gambling (Light, 2007, p632).  Since the deregulation there has been a steep growth in betting shops in some areas, with many anecdotal reports on how these betting shops have formed clusters and affected local businesses and communities.

My research used GIS to carry out spatial analysis around the growth of these clusters. The findings from my spatial analysis support the combined model of Heikkila’s (2000) and Gehrig’s (1996) agglomeration theories; which suggest that clustering of similar businesses will snowball in terms of growth until ‘congestion’ is met.  The results found that new betting shops preferred to open where there were high concentrations of betting shops within a 400m radius (a distance people are willing to walk before taking alternative transport). This finding is further supported by my results which show that in 2009 17.64% of new betting shops opened up in clusters that contained one or more betting shop set up after the deregulation of the betting industry (2007).  This figure rises to 22.04% for 2010 and 48.96% for 2011.

An example of such a cluster can be found around General Gordon Square in Woolwich, South East London. Woolwich town centre has a thriving high street made up of high street chains and home to Greenwich Council’s headquarters.  The town centre has received a large amount of regeneration with the town square (General Gordon Square) being redesigned.  Since the deregulation there has been a steady growth of betting shops around General Gordon Square.   In the photos below we can see Paddy Power, Coral and Betfred lining one side of the square.  




Woolwich Gordon Square - Photo courtesy of Ying Vi 


 Woolwich Gordon Square - Photo courtesy of Ying Vi 

Map of Woolwich Betting Shop Cluster - Created by Ying Vi. © Crown Copyright 2012. An Ordnance Survey/EDINA supplied service.

In the above map the red dots indicate the location of betting shops. The blue dot indicates the site of Ladbrooks which is closed due to a fire.The building outline which is slightly more pink than the others: the whole basement and first floor of this former bank has been taken over by two betting shops, this means a whole side of the square is now occupied by betting shops.

The findings of my research are stark and indicate that if left unchecked these clusters could keep growing and potentially change the nature of some of our high streets. However, the community interviews provide anecdotal evidence that supports Heikkila’s (2000) ‘congestion’ element of the combined model. This states that clustering will be haltered by a congestion effect – here in the form of lack of vacant buildings or local resistance.  The deregulatory approach by the government to the gambling industry, however, does not support local authorities and communities if they wish to resist the changing nature of the high street, due to the opening of new betting shops in their areas.

Putting the theories and the number crunching aside, only when speaking to the local communities does the real impact of the deregulation become apparent.  With no powers to stop new betting shops opening up in their areas, local authorities and communities are left feeling helpless as the betting shops take over local pubs and banks.From my interviews one thing is clear; many members of the community want the government to return some powers to the local authorities in order to stem the growth of the betting shop clusters that have formed.  

Recently The House of Commons, Culture, Media and Sport select Committee held an enquiry into the Gambling Act 2005 in July 2011.  On the 23 July 2012 it published it’s report “The Gambling Act 2005: A bet worth taking?". The report mentioned three possible causes of the clustering of betting shops on the high street.  The first being the planning class betting shops are in makes it difficult for local authorities to reject any applications locally.  At the moment betting shops are in the same category as banks, pubs and retail and any change in use is automatic. Making betting shops sui generis (a class of their own), would allow local authorities powers to decide and control betting shops opening. (House of Commons, Culture, Media & Sport Committee, July 2012, p21).The second possible cause mentioned was the removal of the demand criterion, and the third cause being the limitation of B2 (slot) machines permitted in each betting premise. 

Of the three causes and possible solutions, the report makes one final recommendation as a solution to the clustering problem on the high street.  It states that clustering of betting shops is a local issue and suggests local authorities should be given powers to allow betting shops more than the current limit of B2 machines per premises if they believe that will assist them in dealing with the issue of clustering (House of Commons, Culture, Media & Sport Committee, July 2012, p71).  Instead of recommending the need for tighter controls the committee has chosen to recommend further relaxation of current legislation. 

Bibliography and related resources:

Dispatches, August 2012. Britain’s High Street Gamble, Channel 4, [online].

Gehrig, T., 1996. Competing markets, European Economic Review Vol. 42(1998) pp277-310.

Geofutures, July 2012. Analysing Britain’s Book Makers for Dispatches, [online]. 

Heikkila (2000) Economics of Planning. Center for Urban Policy Research. Chapters 3 and 4

House of Commons, Culture, Media & Sport Committee, July 2012. The Gambling Act 2005: A bet worth taking?, [online]

Light, R., 2007. The Gambling Act 2005: Regulatory containment and market control, The Modern Law Review Limited 2007, 70(4) pp626-653.

Ying Vi has worked in regional spatial planning in London and has just completed an MSC in Spatial Planning at UCL, she can be contacted by email: [email protected].



20 October 2012

‘Identifiers’: Creating a network of researchers and research objects

An aim of The British Library is to help researchers to navigate the vast scholarly record and discover resources that are relevant to them. We engage in projects with the international research community to develop initiatives and resources to improve this process. In recent years a lot of work has been done in the area of ‘identifiers’ looking at research objects (books, journals, datasets etc.) and of people (authors, researchers, contributors, data creators etc.)

The Library is a key member and UK registration agent of the DataCite initiative which allows persistent digital object identifiers (DOIs) to be assigned to datasets and other research objects. We have worked with the UK Data Service to assign DataCite DOIs to the major economic and social surveys and datasets, and their whole data catalogue now has persistent identifiers attached to it. The ESRC have produced a handy guide for social scientists in using these DOIs in research papers. 

The Library is also involved in creating unique identifiers for researchers as part of initiatives such as ISNI, The Names Project and ORCID. These projects are aimed at eliminating ambiguity between researchers’ names and assigning a single unique identifier to an author or researcher for their whole career. If you are a researcher, author or contributor you can now register your own ORCID ID and start linking your publications to your profile through tools that have been developed with the ORCID launch partners.

This week in Belin saw the launch of ORCID and the kick off meeting for an EC financed project called ODIN: ORCID and DataCite Interoperability Network. This project involves the BL Social Sciences team working with its partners at CERN, ORCID, DataCite, Dryad, arXiv and Australian National Data Service with the aim of linking up these researcher identifiers and digital object identifiers.  The Social Science team have taken up the challenge of producing a proof of concept model linking authors and research objects in the UK social science sphere and will be looking at the use and citation of British Birth Cohort Studies and their outputs to create a model network. These studies are ideal to use in our proof of concept as there is a high rate of re-use of the data and, as the first study was created in 1946, there is a very long history of citation and data curation with many people fulfilling different roles in regards to the data. We will be contrasting our proof of concept with one that CERN are creating around citations and attribution in high energy physics and we will come together later in the project and identify commanalities across the disciplines. 


Documents and Birthday cards from the National Survey for Health and Development (NSHD) which is now 66 years old

Linking researchers with thier outputs and citations has huge potential to improve research resource discovery and also attribute credit to data creators, contributors, researchers as well as authors where it may have been overlooked previously. In theory you should be able to track the impact a data creator has by following the linked citations from their dataset(s) into other research objects such as journals, working papers, derived data, secondary data.....and maybe all the way into policy and legislation. This could be an important development for researchers and service providers who increasingly have to demonstrate the impact of their work to funders. It will also hopefully have the effect of researchers being more willing to make their research data available openly as the credit and citations will be visible and trackable.

To produce this proof of concept we will be working with and taking advice from the ODIN consortium partners and many others including: The Centre for Longitudinal Studies, CLOSER, UK Data Service, ISNI, The Names Project, Crossref, the GESIS data centre in Germany, users of the birth cohort studies and many others. This is a 2 year project so there will be more updates about this work on this blog as it progresses.

We are currently recruiting for a software developer to create the conceptual models and practical tools for the project, so if you have development skills and are interested in this project, then please apply on our recruitment site!


19 October 2012

Marmalade United

So what is the connection between Seville and Dundee? Heard of James Keiler? If you’ve just answered ‘marmalade’, well done! Form a team, and apply to BBC TV’s 'Only Connect'.

And in that exotic connection (the export of bitter Seville oranges to Scotland for boiling with sugar and water) may lie the origin of association football in Andalusia - indeed perhaps in the whole of Spain.

This has come to light in a rediscovered report in the Dundee Courier, dated 17 March 1890, now digitised and available through the British Newspaper Archive website (see Note below).

On 25 January 1890, a group of ex-pat British traders based in Seville decided to get together for regular football practice. After a few 5-a-side training games, they invited some friends from Huelva over for a proper match, played under FA rules. Seville won 2-0.

The Dundee Courier report is entitled ‘First Football Match in Spain’. While this may or may not have been the case (how could we know?), the revelation is in the following sentence:

After a deal of talk and a limited consumption of small beer, the Club de Football de Sevilla was duly formed and officebearers elected.

And that’s what getting Spanish football fans, especially los aficionados de Sevilla, excited. The explicit mention of a constitution means that FC Sevilla was founded in 1890, rather than 1905 as previously thought: evidence that makes Sevilla the oldest football club in Spain (Real Madrid was founded in 1902, for example). The research, undertaken by the history department of FC Sevilla, was quickly picked up by Spanish blogs (such as La Palagana Mecanica) and on Twitter, which is where we saw it.

You can read about this story in detail, and see the original newspaper article, on the official blog of the British Newspaper Archive.

So here's an example of what you can discover from online digitised material, provided that it’s fully searchable and you know what you are looking for.

Colin Wight


The British Newspaper Archive is a partnership between the British Library and brightsolid online publishing to digitise up to 40 million newspaper pages from the British Library's vast collection over the next 10 years.

Read more on the BNA blog

17 October 2012

Social Science at The British Library

This week the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) published an introduction to social science resources at the British Library. This website contains information about our collections, academic case studies and guides from our curators. It was compiled by our ESRC placement, historian and social science convert, Tom Hulme; he writes about his experience at the Library in this guest blog:

As part of an ESRC scholarship programme I was given the chance to spend six months in the British Library, putting together a web-based resource on materials in the Social Science collections. Shamefully, before undertaking this internship, I was quite unfamiliar with the range and depth of its holdings - my use of the Library's services was limited to inter-library loan of books and its vast online newspaper archives. Within weeks of taking up the job it became clear that these aspects of the Library were the tip of a colossal iceberg.

At first the task was quite daunting: millions of items, covering a range of social science disciplines, in a variety of different formats. While I use some social science informed methods in my research I am, above all, a historian. Knowing where to begin in this enormous field was an intimidating prospect. Quickly, and fortunately, the task became more manageable after meeting the expert curators working in the department. All had experience with collecting, cataloguing, and using the collections - some with decades of knowledge. If the primary significance of the British Library is the documents and resources it has both onsite and online, its secondary value is the expertise of the people who work there. From reading room staff to curators, the extent of familiarity with such a gargantuan amount of stuff is astounding. With their guidance I fumbled my way towards the most important and sometimes regrettably underused resources. 

Mention the British Library to most researchers and they are usually aware of its remit in collecting a copy of every book published in Britain. This sole attribute makes it vitally important to researchers. Yet dig a bit deeper and you can find a whole host of items not caught by the traditional net of legal deposit. Ephemera especially, being both transient and difficult to conserve, garnered my attention as an underused yet incredibly interesting resource. The extent of oral histories also surprised me, covering topics and periods from not just Britain but further afield as well. It was a joy to dip in and out of greatly different collections, and to try and grasp at a way that such materials could be used alongside each other.

As part of my role I also approached academics and researchers who had utilised social science at the British Library, keen to share their positive experiences. Initially this was somewhat difficult; the British Library is not always cited in footnotes, or explicitly mentioned in oral presentations. After closer investigation however, and exploitation of the Library's eager network of academic friends, I found an impressive body of widely different case studies. Most exciting to me, as a historian, was the ways in which historical materials had been analysed through the lens of social science to inform contemporary research agendas. Early modern pamphlets on intoxication gave context to contemporary debates on alcohol consumption, for example, while cookbooks were closely-read to examine social and ethnic identity. From geographers to political scientists, or sociologists and historians, there seemed to not be a discipline untouched by British Library resources.

When the internship came to an end I was sad to leave. While local archives are, and will remain, the backbone of my research, the information I discovered while working at the Library has added flesh and depth to my work.  To be surrounded by centuries of collections, presented and used in both traditional and novel ways, going to work was never a chore. I hope that this web-resource will convey some of my positive experiences, and encourage researchers to undertake new and exciting research projects using the material and human knowledge of Social Science at the British Library.

Tom Hulme is currently completing his PhD: "Civic Culture and Citizenship: the nature of urban governance in interwar Manchester and Chicago" at the University of Leicester.

15 October 2012

What Do Practitioners Need to Know About Research?

The British Library is here as a resource for anyone interested in research and in social science this includes groups of 'practitioners' who have a practical day job outside of academia, but are have a need to carry out research for various reasons. We have some dedicated resources created for practitioners, such as the Social Welfare Portal and are always looking for new ways to serve these communities. We hope to hear from practitoners in different fields on this blog and find out more about the research methods and resources they are using or would like to use. Dr Helen Kara is a friend and collaborator of the Social Science team and has recently written Research and Evaluation for Busy Practitioners (Policy Press, 2012). In this guest post Helen talks about some of the issues facing practitioners.

Practitioners in the front line of public services include a wide range of roles: nurses, advice workers, probation officers, midwives, teachers, museum staff, prison officers, counsellors, social workers, and so on.  You might not think practitioners from these different groups have much in common, but there is one topic that spans the disciplines: practitioners need to do research related to their work.

This research falls into two categories: work-based research and continuous professional development (CPD) research.  Work-based research includes such tasks as service evaluations, needs assessments, audits and feasibility studies.  The need for practitioners to undertake work-based research is increasing steadily, as a result of both the demand for evidence-informed practice and the impact of budget cuts on the ability to outsource this work. CPD research has also increased as a result of the pressure on the public service workforce to become more highly qualified, often through postgraduate courses with a research element.

So practitioners not only need to know how to do their job, they also need to know how to do research.  Yet there is very little training or support for most practitioners when it comes to research methods.  Practitioners I work with, when faced with the need to conduct research, often respond, ‘We’ll do a questionnaire.’ But research involves more than just data collection, and questionnaires are not always the best way to collect data.

Research is a complex activity, yet it’s not particularly difficult, taken one stage at a time with enough thinking and planning at the outset. The first step is always to define the research questions, then work out what the best tools are to find answers to those questions.  Perhaps data doesn’t need to be collected directly; Governments and other bodies already collect a vast amount of data, most of which is available online. It’s also important to work out, at an early stage, how to prepare and analyse data; write it up, and present the findings. 

It is also essential to plan when to do each part of the research. A common problem faced by practitioners is fitting their research around a full-time job, family responsibilities, and other commitments. For these practitioners, it can feel very difficult to carve out the time needed to think through and plan; they are often impatient to start and finish actual tasks.  However, time invested at the start will save time and frustration later by helping to prevent mistakes and avoid blind alleys.  Planning can feel especially problematic for novice researchers, as it means learning about the research process – but, again, any time invested in this will pay dividends in due course. Like any other project, research is easier to conduct and manage if it’s thought through and planned out before the work begins. My book will provide a framework and some insights into how to manage this process.


Book cover

Dr Helen Kara
has been an independent social researcher and writer since 1999, and is also Associate Research Fellow at the Third Sector Research Centre, Birmingham University. Her background is in social care and the third sector, and she works with third sector organisations and social care and health partnerships. She is the author of Research and Evaluation for Busy Practitioners (Policy Press, 2012). Helen is Managing Director of We Research It.

The Launch of Research and Evaluation for Busy Practitioners is being hosted at The British Library on Thursday 18 October

If you are a practitioner and would like to share information about your research with others please contact [email protected]

12 October 2012


Welcome to the British Library Social Science Research Blog. In this space we hope to highlight and discuss resources, research methods, events and projects that the Social Science team are involved in. We will publish posts from our curatorial team and guest posts from academics, researchers and practitioners from the many and varied social science disciplines.

Jude England, Head of Social Science, gives a short video introduction to our team and what we do

We would like to hear from our readers and the research community as a whole, so please feel free to comment on, share and discuss our posts.

01 October 2012

More thoughts about the future

Simone Bacchini writes:

With London 2012 well and truly over, it’s time to think about what to do next. The topic was addressed by my colleague Gill, last week. So forgive me if I return to it. I’m not talking about Sochi 2014 or Rio 2016. I’m not even talking of actual sport; no sweaty bodies speeding along tracks or pulling punches in front of screaming crowds. It’s people sitting at desks that I have in mid, a bit like me, now.

When we began working on the Sport and Society website, we didn’t really know how exactly it would develop. What we did know was that we hoped it would be a useful resource for people interested in looking at sport – in particular the Olympics and Paralympics – ‘through the lens of the social sciences.’

Over the past few months, we’ve added material to the website: articles written expressly for it and pieces which had already appeared elsewhere and that we were kindly allowed to use. By hosting events like the successful “Sourcing Sport” one-day conference and attending conferences hosted by other institutions, we were able to make contact with researchers based in countries as diverse as Argentina, Canada, China, and Turkey. Some of them resulted in original research now freely available on the website. This might sound a bit like we’re blowing our own trumpet (and maybe we are. But only a bit!), but that’s what we aimed to do: to facilitate research.

I don’t know if – like the organisers of London 2012 – we’ll be able to have ‘inspired a generation’ (albeit of researchers). But what we hope we’ll have achieved is to have pointed out – to some maybe for the first time – how wide the scope for researching sport is.

The sociology of sport is a subfield of sociology now in its full maturity. Journals like the Sociology of Sport Journal and the International Review for the Sociology of Sport – to name only two – regularly publish innovative research on various aspects of the social side of physical activity. Publishers like Palgrave Macmillan and Routledge – and again, I’m naming just two – have been publishing monographs and edited volumes on topics that range from the discourses of Olympism to the soon-to-be-published Routledge Handbook of London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Cyberspace has been a hub of activity too. As well as the marvellous Sport and Society website (yes, now we are blowing our own trumpet!) to the resource-rich Winning endeavours, plus countless others, the internet has been instrumental in creating and maintaining research communities.

So where to now? Well, at some point in the future the Sport and Society website will have to wrap up and be archived. It will become part and parcel of the London 2012 legacy. But there is still time. Time to be inspired to explore new research avenues or revisit old ones. There is plenty of primary material: from newspaper reports to Government documents; from oral history recordings to TV footage.

Here at the British Library we aim to continue to assist all those who have ideas they want to explore. So, as well as to your local pool or running track, the next most important journey you might make now is to one of our reading rooms. We are here to help.




Sociology of Sport Journal. Champaign, Ill: Human Kinetics Publishers.

Document Supply shelfmark: 8319.696830.


International Review for the Sociology of Sport. London: Sage.

London Reference Collection shelfmark: ZA.9.a.188 (last 12 months available in Social Sciences Reading Room, open access: SPIS Journals Display).


Chatziefstathiou, D. and Henry, I. P. (eds.). Discourses of Olympism: From the Sorbonne 1894 to London 2012. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

London Reference Collection: SPIS 796.4801 CHA 12 (open access).