PhD student, University of Bath
I attended the GW4 Document Analysis training day in Cardiff. I was really pleased to be able to be part of the day as I certainly agreed with the premise that, although research is increasingly being conducted using documents as data, there isn’t a lot of clarity around potential analysis techniques, nor the epistemological assumptions behind different methods.
I’m a 1 + 3 PhD student studying Health and Wellbeing at the University of Bath. I’m working within the Tobacco Control Research Group, investigating corporate influence on science.
As Aimee Grant outlined in her presentation, tobacco control research is a site of much documentary analysis work. This is because of legal action in the US in the ‘90s which meant that millions of internal tobacco documents were made publicly available. The documents research that this led to has brought insights into the ways in which the tobacco industry has attempted to influence science, affect public discourse, and ultimately, influence policymaking decisions. My research is now looking at corporate influence on science and the use of science in policymaking more broadly, across different sectors (such as alcohol, fast food, and industries contributing to pollution and climate change). Documents will play an important role in my PhD, so this GW4 workshop was very relevant to the work I’ll be doing.
Throughout the day I particularly welcomed discussion on the need to have greater specificity between analysis techniques, as I had found through previous reading that this could be a sticky issue. Of course there is often overlap between methods, but working out how they are distinct helps to pinpoint what exactly you want to do with your data, and how.
The idea of ‘slow scholarship’ in science, which George Jennings introduced, is something which feels very topical. With researchers increasingly encouraged to think in ‘real time’ (through Twitter, etc.) and keep up with the speed of policymaking, it was good to hear George remind us all that science is a ‘marathon not a sprint’. Finding more time for reflection on our own perspectives and research findings remains important. This may be easier said than done in a busy world, however!
As an interdisciplinary student working in a field where both realist and constructionist forms of research exist alongside each other, it was interesting to hear about Jonathan Scourfield’s oscillation between paradigms throughout his career. It seems that academics often have less linear career paths than it may first appear, so it’s great that people are happy to talk about that and shed some light on how they came to be working both on their particular subject areas and through particular paradigmatic lenses.
Emilie Whitaker led us through a critical analysis workshop where we began to analyse a political speech, dissecting it to find underlying ideologies and rhetoric. I found Emilie’s lecture really helpful to understand that in this type of research, analysis techniques are not necessarily tied to particular epistemologies. For example, critical analysis of documents could be led by Marxist or feminist thought where the focus is on issues of hegemony. The same documents could be interpreted in any number of other ways, including through a Foucauldian lens where the focus may be more concerned with knowledge as power and how status is given to science, for example.
Days like this are great as you get to talk to other PhD students about their research, discuss your own, and learn from experienced academics. I’m sure there would be lots of interest in more documentary analysis training. I’m looking forward to hearing more about the Documents Research Network, and have been spreading the word.
Thank you to Maria, Fryni, Aimee, George, Emilie, and Jonathan for a great day!
PhD student, University of Exeter
The Methodological approaches to document analysis in Social Sciences workshop at the University of Cardiff was a watershed in my development as a professional doctorate studying at the University of Exeter and working at the University of Bath.
There was something about the workshop, and perhaps about my maturity as a doctoral student (I started in 2013, completed the pre-thesis stage in 2015 and am now working on the thesis), that meant I felt able to participate, and even contribute, at an event like this for the first time.
So, what of document analysis and its relationship to my research?
My supervisor suggested documentary analysis to supplement a predominantly autoethnographic study situated in my professional area, the teaching of English for academic purposes. Publicly-sourced documents, largely from the Internet, have three advantages for me: they play to the critical approach I aspire to, they enjoy the potential to circumvent some of the ethical issues inherent in my topic, and they offer the potential to both corroborate the evidence of my context and broaden its application.
Dr Emilie Whitaker’s presentation on The critical turn: an introduction to the work of documents in political framing was what had attracted me to the workshop. I was not disappointed. It was both stimulating and inspirational to see critical research in action in a new context. Emilie’s practical session in the afternoon, analysing a David Cameron speech, and the discussion about how our insights could be presented academically gave me just the push I needed to start actually writing that part of my thesis.
Ultimately, the presentations and the conversations helped me to realise that document analysis is an emerging methodology and that there are different ways to approach it. In this regard, I particularly liked Emilie’s English Language/English Literature analogy: the potential validity of a “literary” approach appeals to me in the context of my research.
That said, Dr Aimee Grant’s Why documents are amazing and how they can be used in social research did provide a useful starting point methodologically. I was pleased I chose to go to Aimee’s session in the afternoon about infant formula marketing material to see this in practice, which again led to a helpful discussion about how such insights could be presented academically.
Given that my research makes use of website material, Dr George Jennings’s presentation on Taking a slow look at “messy” documents: reflections from a decade of martial arts research was also very relevant. Looking at documents from a wider perspective that simply text is something I will be doing in my research.
Finally, although not an academic point, another thing I took away from the day was its organisation. Thanks to Maria Pournara and Fryni Kostara for putting together a perfectly-paced day. I intend to make use of the pacing in my 2018 teacher induction week. Too bad 2017’s had already been fixed!