Geography and the New Empirics Workshop

This page will be updated regularly with readings and other information that provides background to the theme of ‘the new empirics’.


Alan Latham (UCL) introduces some of the issues raised by the ‘New Emirics’ in a brief powerpoint which opened the second day of the SCGRG event.

Generating and gathering data in face of excess (led by Owain Jones and Chris Bear)

Contemporary research practices are facing up to excess in a number of different ways. For some researchers the issue is the sheer volume of data that is now produced. New technologies, particularly the growth of the internet, and the desire for transparency and accountability, have multiplied the quantity of data available. Yet the notion of excess can also encompass the sensory, emotional, and affectual experiences of the non-representational and the more-than-rational that are negotiated during research and writing. How, then, do we deal with excess, how do we navigate it as both a quantity and quality of data? How is excess incorporated into our research, if at all? What are the implications of trying to keep up with ever-growing ‘bodies’ of information? Do we end up gathering and simplifying data, rather than generating it?

Advance readings for session: Law, J. (forthcoming), Making a mess with method. Discussion questions:

  1. How have you experienced ‘data excess’ in your own research? Where does the ‘excess’ come from?
  2. Have you developed any particular strategies to deal with this excess? What does data excess mean for practical data collecting and data analysis processes?
  3. Does the growth of digital technology contribute to data excess and/or is it the answer to it (in handling terms)?
  4. How closely does the issue of excess relate to John Law’s notion of mess?
  5. What would happen if research did not try to control, limit, boil down, summarize, represent but rather followed the unruly? Have you attempted to do this/How would you go about this? What practical, theoretical and ethical problems has it raised/might it raise?
  6. What are the implications of carrying out ‘messy’ social science when communicating research to wider audiences?
  7. What are the implications of ‘mess’ and ‘excess’ for the ways we draw boundaries around our research topics?

Experimentality, encounters and ethics (led by Jo Norcup and Amanda Rogers)

Ideas of experimentation and creativity have recently come to acquire great currency across geographical research. These notions push the boundaries of methodological practice, particularly through visual and performative methodologies introduced through a cross-section of different art forms. How do such encounters refigure our notion of the empirical through the type or form of data collected? How does our understanding of research practice, or research quality alter in this process? Often such practices also create unexpected changes in, or challenges to, the subjectivity of the researcher, forcing attention to new complexities of collaboration and engagement. How might the nature of ethics change as a result, and indeed, how are ethics understood or engaged with differently by different parties? What tensions does that create for us as researchers?

Collaborating and distributing expertise (led by Gail Davies and Emma Roe)

Collaborative research and writing are increasingly common across the academy, entailing working with or beyond the discipline with other academics; taking more seriously the role of non-human others during research; and engaging beyond the academy. With a growing attention to impact and knowledge transfer, it is increasingly important that we critically engage with different forms of collaboration, but what are the challenges of engaging others in our research both within and beyond the academy? For instance, what are research findings for an academic audience and for an industry or policy-orientated audience? Are they the same? What journey of translation between the two is required? Does this affect research practice or change our utilisation of theory – if so, how?

Questions for discussion:

  1. What might the role of the social science academic be in an arena in which there is already huge amounts of information/large no of actors already available/active?
  2. Are we involved in gathering together existing data, generating new data, identifying gaps and problems between existing forms of framing, and seeking new connections?
  3. Are there limits to evidence based policy, in the sense that the desire to have data for everything can be an argument for inaction?
  4. How do we research, frame research questions etc. more generally for an interdisciplinary audience and/or for an industry audience?
  5. What research findings do we communicate to the wider non-academic audience / other disciplinary audiences?
  6. What interests do we feel less inclined to share with non-academic audience?

Interpretation and the challenge of making sense (led by Elaine Ho and Russell Hitchings)

In the face of a growing volume of data, a proliferation of its forms, and the inclusion of a variety of stakeholders, making ‘sense’ of our research is an ever-more complex challenge. As researchers we often celebrate complexity, but such messiness also changes existing ways of thinking about, practicing and disseminating research. Does the changing nature of the empirical create shifts in the type of research outputs we now produce? How do we value such shifts? Does communicating research to different audiences affect or challenge our understandings of relevance? How might changes in the data we collect and the outputs we create pose challenges to the skill and practice of writing? What other forms might such writing take and how does it impact upon our interpretative processes?

Session facilitators: Gail Davies and Emma Roe

General Background Readings:

Adkins, L and Lury, C (2009) Introduction: What Is the Empirical? European Journal of Social Theory 12(1): 5-20 [also see the other papers that make up this special issue]

Davies, G. and Dwyer, C. (2007) ‘Qualitative methods: are you enchanted or are you alienated?’ Progress in Human Geography 31(2): 257–266.

Davies, G. and Dwyer, C. (2008) ‘Qualitative methods II: Minding the Gap’ Progress in Human Geography 32(3): 399-406.

Dwyer, C. and Davies, G. (2010) Qualitative methods III: animating archives, artful interventions and online environments Progress in Human Geography 34: 88-97

Law, J. (forthcoming) Making a mess with method

Savage, M and Burrows, R (2007) The Coming Crisis of Empirical Sociology Sociology 41(5): 885-899

Damming the ‘data deluge’ (Times Higher, 7th October 2010)

Domesday data scenario denied (Times Higher, 28th October 2010)
A report on a US/UK scheme that aims to give digital archivists the tools they need to keep up with technology and deal with the changing nature of how we generate data and the demands that places on traditional forms of archives and the technologies therein.

JISC briefing papers on Data Deluge

Related events:

Speed Data-ing: The Effects of the Rapid Rise of the Data Society (British Academy panel discussion, 1st December 2010)