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It’s astounding… time is fleeting… our workshop has come and gone!

by on October 31, 2016

Last week Katherine and I hosted a workshop on digital methods and household (energy) sustainability. Our aim was to create a space in which people from different disciplinary traditions could explore concepts such as digital/online/virtual methods, discuss how they had used them in their own work, and how they would like to use them in the future. We were delighted to welcome folk from across the UK, Sweden and the Netherlands to our lovely St Andrews.

The two day event was highly participatory, all participants presented briefly on their own research and interests in online/digital/virtual methods and we identified methods or tools that were mentioned that they’d like to hear more about so that we could run some demos later in the workshop.  Joe Crawford, a research fellow working with Katherine and I, was the discussant for the presentation sessions, encouraging us to critically reflect on the false dichotomy between theory and method and to be mindful of the theoretical context our methods or tools arise from and contribute to. This was an issue we returned to throughout the workshop.

We were excited to be able to show off our beautiful town so we scheduled in a walk to the Old Course, along the Scores, past the Castle to the Cathedral, and back down North Street into town. It was great to have Katherine leading this. As a graduate of the University, and having lived in the town for some 8 years, she provided an insightful commentary on local and university traditions to our walk.

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We spent a further two hours hearing about the Device Analyser in the context of time use and energy demand of mobile devices by Kelly and had a demo about using twitter and trend analysis in relation to green movements by Shane and Kristen. Tjerk also did an excellent job of introducing us to many freely available and accessible tools for data gathering, analysis and visualisation. Please get in touch if you would like some tips/links for these!

Through a variety of mapping exercises we identified a number of topics we would like to explore further:

  • Homes as leaky containers
  • Poverty and device use norms
  • Where data goes and who data are used by
  • Systems of provision on which digimethods rest
  • The extent to which there are minimum energy needs and how that changes for different households or practices (and how we research this)
  • The relationship between pen and paper and online diaries

Importantly, and throughout discussions we kept coming back to a belief that digimethods, though incredibly useful given how ubiquitous the internet is, are best used as an addition to ‘conventional’ qualitative methods rather than instead of, and that they require careful consideration to maintain the quality of approach we would expect of traditional social science methods.

We left the meeting with a commitment to continue our discussions through the development of short papers (in the range of 2,000-3,000 words) with a view to using these as a means through which we might encourage broader debate and discussion in this area. We look forward to presenting what we’ve written early next year!!

Abstracts of upcoming papers:

Louise Reid and Tjerk Timan: ‘Mapping the terrain of digital/online/visual method concepts’

In this project we want to explore the way in which the concepts of ‘virtual methods’, ‘digital methods’ and ‘online methods’ have developed over time and map their evolution. In some fields, these concepts are regarded as complementary whilst in others they are viewed as distinctive. Hence, we would like to identify the boundaries of these concepts and explore the extent to which each concept is related to distinctive and specific instruments/tools/methods. We will do this through the use of tools such as Ngram viewer and Open Calais to firstly detect changes in the mentions of these concepts in books and academic articles, then look at the relationship between these concepts and the instruments/tools/methods.

Katherine Ellsworth-Krebs, Matilda Marshall, Mike Hazas: ‘Online methods for exploring sustainable practices’

Social sciences are increasingly utilising accounts online to capture aspects of everyday life, as a means of understanding possible trajectories of practice.  However, online methods have been largely overlooked in research on the home and sustainability. In this post, we define online methods to be those which involve accounts transmitted via the Internet.  Examples include blog posts, forums, Amazon product reviews, as well as any app that captures qualitative data and feeds it back to a researcher.  We will first collect uses of online methods within the fields of digital sociology, digital humanities, and human-computer interaction; limiting the search to papers that involve the home and sustainability.  Thereby, identifying synergies and gaps across these domains, to highlight where online methods may be going and how they might better contribute to studies of sustainable practices.

Shane Drennan and Kirsten Meyer: ‘Using trend analysis to track the green movement’

In this paper we identify differences in vernacular between movement makers and movement participants involved in revolutionary events versus evolutionary change movements. We analyze the rhetoric and temporally corresponding actions surrounding the July 2016 Turkish coup and the green movement in Norway to ascertain whether there is a difference in the imperative lexicon surrounding these two very different, but similarly impassioned movements. Analyzing movement makers rhetoric temporally around these events can provide insight as to how certain emotionally loaded words might be used in an attempt to trigger action from movement participants. This research does not attempt to correlate frame processes or identity work to action. Rather, this study explores what modes of language movements use in an attempt to affect change that C. C. W. Taylor would describe as a ‘goal directed behavior.’ This paper crosspollinates the framing and frame resonance approach from social movement theory with the Circumplex Model of Affect to extract key language used to nudge or drive individuals to act. Using these sociology and psychology theories as a framework for our research, we use digital information scraping and discourse analysis methods to identify whether movement makers and movements in general use different imperatives and emotive language surrounding revolutionary events versus evolutionary processes.

Helen Stockton, Kelly Widdicks, Jamie-Leigh Ruse: ‘Energy needs?’

In current discourse, the ability or inability to meet energy need is often defined by the presence or absence of fuel poverty; this doesn’t account for how all energy practices, social norms and expectations in everyday life contribute to energy need. So what are energy needs of practices, how are these shaped by social norms, and how do they vary by consumer groups e.g. vulnerability, income or life stage? Aims of a project concerning this area of investigation could examine everyday practices and energy needs through multiple methods, combining both digital and non-digital ways of data collection and analysis. Methods would be designed based on the characteristics of different consumer groups, but should include quantitative logging of energy appliances for practices, digital forum scraping and qualitative methods.

This investigation of different consumer groups, their practices and the norms which drive them, would provide the evidence required to: 1) meet the policy objectives for fuel poverty and multiple energy needs of vulnerable consumers, and 2) provide insights for the design of energy saving technology interventions for different consumer groups. Our work for the next few months will concern a preliminary literature review and scope potential methods around this project idea.


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