THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Social Science blog

25 February 2014

My notes from a conference

Robert Davies, Engagement Support Officer for Social Sciences at the British Library, writes:

In January, I was pleased to attend the one day conference ‘Working with Paradata, Marginalia and Fieldnotes: The Centrality of By-Products of Social Research’ at the University of Leicester.

The conference was convened by the University of Leicester, the National Centre for Research Methods (Novella Group) and the Institute of Education. The aim of the day was to provide an opportunity ‘for dialogue across disciplines and research paradigms: across the social sciences and humanities, historical and contemporary data, primary and secondary resources, quantitative and qualitative approaches’.  The programme and range of speakers truly reflected this aim.

On arrival one of my fellow delegates asked me the question:

‘So which area of interest brings you here?’

To which I responded:

‘Well, I suppose, I come at this from two directions; as a former conservator of manuscripts and printed books I understand marginalia, as an Engagement Support Officer for Social Sciences I am fascinated by how we might re-use more recent ‘secondary data’ to help understand contemporary society, but I am not sure what Paradata means.'

So what do we mean by marginalia and paradata?  To quote Henrietta O’Connor:

‘…[they are] material collected as part of, supporting or in addition to the research process.  Annotations and augmentations revealed through the analysis of original documents.  By-products, non-standard ‘data’, ephemera, letters, pictures, notes.’

Speakers and delegates went on to consider methodologies for undertaking the analysis of marginalia and field-notes (such as the application of narrative analysis); the potential ethical implications of undertaking secondary analysis of ‘historic’ surveys and following up with the subjects of those surveys; how the analysis of marginalia and field-notes can cast a light on what we understand to be ‘acceptable’ research practices at any given point and how such perceptions shift over time. It included discussion of the latest technological developments which can, and are, being used to collect paradata during large telephone and on-line surveys to understand low response and drop-out rates and to make appropriate adjustments to the surveys as they progress; how individuals may feel that data is being collected by ‘stealth’; and the potential for, and difficulties of, including cognitive and behaviour coding in surveys.

The conference concluded with an examination of the marginalia and notes of the writer Vernon Lee (Violet Paget). It examined the importance of capturing marginalia during digitisation projects and the sustainability of data which is ‘born’ digital (regardless of whether the digital content is generated through digitisation projects of ‘historic’ material or via large national household surveys).

In the spirit of the conference, to gain alternative perspectives on the day I thoroughly recommend reading Llordllama’s Research Ramblings and viewing a storify by Dr Helen Kara of the tweets posted on the day.  I hope the bibliography below may be of some use (although it is a very small selection of the books and articles available on the subjects covered during the conference).

Bibliography

Andrews, M.; Squire, C.; Tamboukou (editors) Doing Narrative Research, Sage, 2008.  British Library shelfmark: YC.2012.a.10037

Crone, R.; Halsey, K.; Owens, W.R.; Towheed, S. (editors) The History of Reading.  vol. 1. International perspectives, c.1500-1990. vol. 2. Evidence from the British Isles, c.1750-1950. vol. 3. Methods, strategies, tactics. British Library shelfmarks:
Volume 1 - YC.2013.a.1041; Volume 2 - YC.2013.a.1042; Volume 3 - YC.2013.a.1043

Elliott, H.; Ryan, J.; Hollway, W.  Research encounters, reflexivity and supervision, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, Issue 5, Volume 15, pp 433-444. (2012)

Gillies, V.; Edwards, R. Working with archived classic family and community studies: illuminating past and present conventions around acceptable research practice.  International Journal of Social Research Methodology, Issue 4, Volume 15, pp 321-330. (2012)

Groves, R. M.; Heeringa, S. G. Responsive design for household surveys: tools for actively controlling survey errors and costs.  Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series A, Statistics in society. VOL 169; NUMBER 3, (2006),pp 439-457.

Kirgis, N.;  Lepkowski, JM. “Design and Management Strategies for Paradata Driven Responsive Design: Illustrations from the 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth,” in Improving Surveys with Paradata: Analytic Use of Process Data, Krueter, F. (editor). New York: J.W. Wiley & Sons, (2013).

O'Connor, H.; Goodwin, J. Revisiting Norbert Elias's sociology of community: learning from the Leicester re-studies. The Sociological review. VOL 60; NUMBER 3, 2012, pp 476-497.  Blackwell Publishing Ltd , 2012.

O'Connor, H.; Goodwin, J. Through the interviewer’s Lens: Representations of 1960s Households and Families in a Lost Sociological Study, Sociological Research Online, Volume 15, Issue 4, (2009).

Turner, Malgorzata New perspectives on interviewer-related error in surveys : application of survey paradata (2013), University of Southampton, Thesis available via the British Library Electronic Theses Online System (EThOS).

Other Resources

The Research Ethics Guidebook: A resource for social scientists Online 

Developing Generic Ethics Principles for Social Science: An Academy of Social Sciences Initiative on Research Ethics

UK Reading Experience Database 1450 -1945

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