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!