Monthly Archives: April 2014

Mass-observation project

Mass-Observation was a United Kingdom social research organisation founded in 1937. Their work ended in the mid-1960s but was revived in 1981. The Archive is housed at the University of Sussex.

Mass-Observation aimed to record everyday life in Britain through a panel of untrained volunteer observers who either maintained diaries or replied to open-ended questionnaires (known as directives). They also paid investigators to anonymously record people’s conversation and behaviour at work, on the street and at various public occasions including public meetings and sporting and religious events.

Three young men, part of a small group of like-minded friends, are credited with establishing Mass Observation. The origins resulted from a strange coincidence.

Early in 1937, Harrisson’s one and only published poem appeared in the New Statesman on the same page as a letter from Madge and Jennings, in which they outlined their London-based project to encourage a national panel of volunteers to reply to regular questionnaires on a variety of matters. Interested by the similarity in aims to his own current anthropological study of the British, Harrisson contacted Madge and Jennings.

Within the space of a month, the two projects, related in their ideals, although different in the techniques they employed to gather information, joined together under the title of Mass Observation. Their aim, stated in a further letter to the New Statesman, was to create an “anthropology of ourselves” – a study of the everyday lives of ordinary people in Britain.

Harrisson and a team of observers continued their study of life and people in Bolton (the Worktown Project), while Madge remained in London to organise the writing of the volunteer panel.

In Bolton, a team of paid investigators went into a variety of public situations: meetings, religious occasions, sporting and leisure activities, in the street and at work, and recorded people’s behaviour and conversation in as much detail as possible. The material they produced is a varied documentary account of life in Britain.

The National Panel of Diarists was composed of people from all over Britain who either kept diaries or replied to regular open-ended questionnaires sent to them by the central team of Mass-Observers.

Although Jennings and then Madge moved on, Mass Observation continued to operate throughout the Second World War and into the early 1950s, producing a series of books about their work as well as thousands of reports. Gradually the emphasis shifted away from social issues towards consumer behaviour.

Further info here


#ethnography: Trends, Traverses and Traditions

Bez tytułu

Call for Papers – deadline extended to 1 May 2014
ESA midterm conference, Research Network on Qualitative Research (RN20)
#Ethnography, @Amsterdam #August_27-29_2014

Ethnography is often seen as one of the principal approaches in qualitative methodology in general. The ESA midterm conference for the Research Network on Qualitative research (RN20) will be on trends, traverses and traditions in Ethnography. The central question posed at this conference will be: How do current societal and technological trends influence ethnography when we are studying that same society? One could think of more concrete questions such as:

• Is ethnography changing due to social media, such as Twitter and Facebook? In what ways?
• What happens when we use mobile field recording devices, Skype and Youtubein our fieldwork? 
• What theoretical innovations have led to new approaches in ethnography? 
• How does the current economic crisis influence ethnographic practices for researchers? 
• What turn are we at now? 
• What other trends do we see in ethnography today?

In times of digital information overload, conferences are useful venues to discuss the trending topics within our field. Some of the questions posed above could be used to approach the vast array of ‘new’ trends in ethnography. Since one of the methodological virtues of ethnography is the possibility for adaptation to local and new situations, the question might rise whether these trends are actually methodologically new. Different specific sessions will be organised by leading specialists. Please see the website ( for the list of specific sessions.

We hope to organise an interesting conference in the heart of Amsterdam, combining classic presentations with a social program that consists of a Fieldwork Experiment: Mass – Observation in the Amsterdam Red light district, interactive lunch sessions and interesting keynotes by Susie Scott, Christian Heath, Peter Geschiere, Stefan Timmermansand Ruth Wodak. 

Authors are invited to submit their abstract either to a specific session or to the open sessions. Please submit each abstract to a single session only. 

Abstracts should not exceed 250 words. 

Abstracts can only be submitted at and no later than 1 May 2014.

Visual Dialogues in Postindustrial Societies: Transforming the Gaze




Who could attend this conferences! I find it very interesting for several reasons. First of all, because of my growing interest on social photography and visual sociology. Secondly, due to the theme of the conference, i.e. post-industrial societies, since it is connected with my dissertation on a post mining region. Bellow you can see a short description of the event and a preliminary program:

The International Visual Sociology Association 2014 Annual Conferencewill take place June 26-28, 2014 at Duquesne University (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania US).


Post-industrial societies require new forms of visual imagination and research. In this context visual researchers create new ways of capturing and interpreting our constantly transforming social life, and construct alternative epistemologies that dialogue with increasingly broader audiences and disciplines.


Further details here

Robert K. Merton, Versatile Sociologist and Father of the Focus Group


Published: February 24, 2003

Robert K. Merton, one of the most influential sociologists of the 20th century, whose coinage of terms like ”self-fulfilling prophecy” and ”role models” filtered from his academic pursuits into everyday language, died yesterday. He was 92 and lived in Manhattan.

Mr. Merton gained his pioneering reputation as a sociologist of science, exploring how scientists behave and what it is that motivates, rewards, and intimidates them. By laying out his ”ethos of science” in 1942, he replaced the entrenched stereotypical views that had long held scientists to be eccentric geniuses largely unbound by rules or norms. It was this body of work that contributed to Mr. Merton’s becoming the first sociologist to win a National Medal of Science in 1994.

But his explorations over 70-odd years extended across an extraordinary range of interests that included the workings of the mass media, the anatomy of racism, the social perspectives of ”insiders” vs. ”outsiders,” history, literature and etymology. Though carried out with the detachment he admired in Emile Durkheim, the French architect of modern sociology, Mr. Merton’s inquiries often bore important consequences in real life as well as in academics.

His studies on an integrated community helped shape Kenneth Clark’s historic brief in Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court case that led to the desegregation of public schools. His adoption of the focused interview to elicit the responses of groups to texts, radio programs and films led to the ”focus groups” that politicians, their handlers, marketers and hucksters now find indispensable. Long after he had helped devise the methodology, Mr. Merton deplored its abuse and misuse but added, ”I wish I’d get a royalty on it.”

He spent much of his professional life at Columbia University, where along with his collaborator of 35 years, Paul F. Lazarsfeld, who died in 1976, he developed the Bureau of Applied Social Research, where the early focus groups originated. The course of his career paralleled the growth and acceptance of sociology as a bona fide academic discipline. As late as 1939 there were fewer than a 1,000 sociologists in the United States, but soon after Mr. Merton was elected president of the American Sociological Association in 1957, the group had 4,500 members.

Mr. Merton was sometimes called ”Mr. Sociology,” and Jonathan R. Cole, a former student and the provost at Columbia, once said, ”If there were a Nobel Prize in sociology, there would be no question he would have gotten it.” (Mr. Merton’s son, Robert C. Merton, won a Nobel Prize in economics in 1997.)

Another of Mr. Merton’s contributions to sociology was his emphasis on what he termed ”theories of the middle range.” By these he meant undertakings that steered clear of grand speculative and abstract doctrines while also avoiding pedantic inquiries that were unlikely to yield significant results. What he preferred were initiatives that might yield findings of consequence and that open lines of further inquiry. In his own writings he favored the essay form, ”which provides scope for asides and correlatives,” he said, over the more common and streamlined scientific paper.

He was often came up with clearly phrased observations that combined originality with seeming simplicity. Eugene Garfield, an information scientist, wrote that much of Mr. Merton’s work was ”so transparently true that one can’t imagine why no one else has bothered to point it out.”

One early example of such illuminating insight appeared in a paper called ”Social Structure and Anomie” that he wrote as a graduate student at Harvard in 1936 and then kept revising over the next decade.

Mr. Merton had asked himself what it was that brought about anomie, a state in which, according to Mr. Durkheim, the breakdown of social standards threatened social cohesion. In a breakthrough that spawned many lines of inquiry, Mr. Merton suggested that anomie was likely to arise when society’s members were denied adequate means of achieving the very cultural goals that their society projected, like wealth, power, fame or enlightenment. Among the spinoffs of this work were Mr. Merton’s own writings on the ranges of deviant behavior and crime.

A tall, pipe-smoking scholar, Mr. Merton often used the trajectory of his life story, from slum to academic achievement, as material illustrating the workings of serendipity, chance and coincidence, which so long fascinated him.

Robert King Merton was born Meyer R. Schkolnick on July 4, 1910, in South Philadelphia; he carried that name for the first 14 years of his life. He was the son of immigrants from Eastern Europe and lived in an apartment above his father’s milk, butter and egg store until the building burned down. As a teenager performing magic tricks at birthday parties, he adopted Robert Merlin as a stage name, but when a friend convinced him that his choice of the ancient wizard’s name was hackneyed, he modified it, adopting Merton with the concurrence of his Americanizing mother after he won a scholarship to Temple University.

In a lecture to the American Council of Learned Societies in 1994, Mr. Merton said that thanks to the libraries, schools, orchestras to which he had access, and even to the youth gang he had joined, his early years had prepared him well for what he called a life of learning. ”My fellow sociologists will have noticed,” he said, ”how that seemingly deprived South Philadelphia slum was providing a youngster with every sort of capital — social capital, cultural capital, human capital, and above all, what we may call public capital — that is, with every sort of capital except the personally financial.” It is not difficult to see connections between such views and Mr. Merton’s insights into the causes of anomie.

In a 1961 New Yorker magazine profile by Morton Hunt, Mr. Merton was described as displaying ”a surprising catholicity of interests and a talent for good conversation, impaired only slightly by the fact that he is alarmingly well informed about everything from baseball to Kant and is unhesitatingly ready to tell anybody about any or all of it.”

Indeed, what is Mr. Merton’s most widely known book, ”On the Shoulders of Giants,” went far beyond the confines of sociology. Referred to by Mr. Merton as his ”prodigal brainchild,” it reveals the depth of his curiosity, the breadth of his prodigious research and the extraordinary patience that also characterize his academic writing. The effort began in 1942, when, in an essay called ”A Note on Science and Democracy,” Mr. Merton referred to a remark by Isaac Newton: ”If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” He added a footnote pointing out that ”Newton’s aphorism is a standardized phrase which has found repeated expression from at least the 12th century.”

But Mr. Merton did not stop there. Intermittently during the next 23 years he tracked the aphorism back in time, following blind alleys as well as fruitful avenues and finally finished the book in 1965, writing in a discursive style that the author attributed to his early reading and subsequent rereadings of Laurence Sterne’s ”Tristram Shandy.” Denis Donoghue, the critic and literary scholar, wrote of the book admiringly as ”an eccentric and yet concentric work of art, a work sufficiently flexible to allow a digression every 10 pages or so.” He admitted, ”I wish I had written ‘On the Shoulders of Giants.’ ”

More recently, over the last three and a half decades, Mr. Merton had been gathering information about the idea and workings of serendipity, and thinking about it in the same spirit in which he had written the earlier book, which he liked to call by its acronym, OTSOG. As he had done with all his investigations, he collated and pondered data he had entered on index cards. Most days he started work at 4:30 a.m., with some of his 15 cats keeping him company. During the last years of his life, as he fought and overcame six different cancers, his Italian publisher, Il Mulino, prevailed on him to allow them to issue his writings on serendipity as a book. And four days before his death, his wife, the sociologist Harriet Zuckerman, received word that Princeton University Press had approved publication of the English version under the title, ”The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity.”

In addition to Ms. Zuckerman and his son, Mr. Merton is survived by two daughters, Stephanie Tombrello of Pasadena, Calif., and Vanessa Merton of Hastings-on-Hudson; nine grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

Photo: Robert Merton coined sociological terms that became household words. (Michael Shavel, 1995)

Article retrieved from here

Public Data Google, another useful secondary data source for cross-national comparisons

Nowy obraz (24)


I have recently posted several interesting sources of secondary data for cross-national research. Each one with one or another strength. For instance, I found Trading Economics very useful to compare nations all over the world and by mean innumerable economic indicators. Another source, the Eurostat´s Regional Statistics Illustrate, although the data are limited to Europe, it stands for the possibility to represent data into more diverse formats, such as maps, distribution plot or scatter plot, among others. It also counts with information disaggregated by European regions.

In this post I want to present another source that, having some of the above utilities,  I find more appropriate to compare specific countries. It is Google Public Data. The available indicators are also broad and from different sources, such as World Bank, World Economic Forum or Eurostat. But the advantage I see here is that Google facilitates the labor to compare not all countries together but just the ones interesting for one´s research. For instance, when one just wants to compare the evolution of abortions in such countries as Spain, Portugal and Poland, like in the above chart. It also owns a variety of forms to represent data at the top-right corner. The information can´t be represented by regions, though.

The day I stopped facebooking (somehow)

Nowy obraz (23)

It is me browsing Facebook

I have been living in Poland for four years. Most of my friends and family live in Spain. Here I have met a few good friends, but nothing that let me say that my social life is active. My personal situation over the last years, becoming father and developing my PhD didn´t allow me building a strong social network. Although that’s not a serious problem for me now to be honest. My polish skills didn´t help very much neither, although as immigrant I tend to hang out with foreigners who speak English, Spanish or Portuguese. It doesn’t mean that I reject learning Polish at all, I can´t wait to be fluent (I will hopefully address this issue in future posts) Well, I also think that the poverty of my social life may be also due to social and cultural factors, such as the lack of acquaintanceship I perceive in my neighborhood and the faculty I work. In other occasion I would like to talk in detailed about the place I live. A residential area partially rose after communist time but with still some Khrushchyovka, the typical block of Communist-era flats.

All in all, the truth is that Facebook has become the only way I have to keep my social life afloat. Keep in touch with my polish acquaintances or have a virtual talk with some good friends from Galicia. I should also say that Facebook is the way I use to get some sociology or work related information. Especially from institutions or contacts that are not in Twitter, the other social media that I like more and more. Hence, Facebook is somehow an important element of my everyday life. So, what´s matter? Why twitter yes and Facebook not? It is not a problem of addiction. I do not waste many hours gossiping or playing silly game. In other words, I am not prone to procrastination, or at least this is not my main problem as to Facebook. The problem is as simple as it sounds; the people I follow in twitter have nothing or almost nothing to do with my personal life, while Facebook, despite the above usages, is still a kind of virtual Gemeinschaft. There I have this people that in one or another way have played an important role in my personal life: cousins, kinder garden mates, primary school mates and most of them are from my hometown. They are the sort of people that one appreciates for sharing a common past. The problem here is that they can provoke a kind of “emotional kidnapping”. Let me put you an illustrating example. I was recently tagged in a photo where my grandma and all my cousins appeared many years ago. This is, at least for a Southern European culture guy, something really touching. It takes you back to those marvelous days, something that I really enjoy. The problem is when does it happen?. Christmas, vacations or simply free time maybe an excellent moment, but not one Tuesday at 9:00 AM. I can’t see a picture of my loved and passed away grand-mother and subsequently keep writing on my thesis or preparing lectures. Well, I can, but not at the top concentration level I want. The problems is even worse if you take into account not just the potentially emotional-kidnapping of some updates, but the fact that certain people wake such feelings as nostalgia or saudade just watching their photo.

Hence, this is my dilemma. I can´t delete my account because it is the only way I have to be in touch with some people, but they can at the same time seriously disturb my everyday concentration. I know that Facebook offers some tools to adjust the feeds but it is very difficult to get away from certain stuff. Contacts activity sometimes pop-up in the right side column, so once you see something potentially emotional you just click on it because the temptation is too high. Not even mention how unavoidable is being tagged by others. What would you do? I came to the conclusion that the only way to resolve this dilemma is avoiding browsing Facebook at the very morning. It wasn’t a problem as far as no emotional messages were there but just work related or rather irrelevant messages. But I can´t take my chances. I now try to caught up on news and sociology related stuff using twitter or online newspapers. Sometimes, I still find myself mindlessly browsing Facebook, but I deliberately stop myself and go into other tasks.

On the other hand, I try to check my Facebook at the end of the day or every two days. The ideal would be just during the weekend, but some people use it as a kind of mailbox, so I need to check it quite often, unless I find another solution.

I should also say that after a week of having made this decision I have certainly experienced the so called productive procrastination or structured procrastination, i.e. the desire to avoid one task can be a creative stimulus towards another. Actually, I think I’ve made in the thesis more than usual, as well as in this blog.

What about you? Do you have this or similar dilemmas? How do you cope with it?

“Borderlands: The Edges of Europe”, a visual analysis

New Picture (36)

“Borderlands: The Edges of Europe” is a collection of analogue photographs representing the people and places along the borders of the European Union, developed with the purpose of creating an archive of images narrating life at the edges of Europe.

Since 2011 Leonardi has undertaken extensive walks along the land borders of the European Union. Proceeding slowly on foot and following methodically the boundaries traced on maps, she has built up a distinctive experience of the European frontier that includes unplanned encounters with its inhabitants.

This series focuses on the connection between people and territory and the significance of trans-national and transcultural identities, exploring the relevance of European identity and its relationship with concepts of home and belonging, memory and territory and how these have been shaped by events.

This project concentrates on land borders, and the concept of geographical Europe is juxtaposed to that of political Europe/European Union. For example, it does not include the borders of Switzerland, which is not EU however does not have restrictions towards EU citizens.

Source and further info:

European regional Statistics Illustrated

Today I stumbled across this sophisticate Eurostat tool that allow map social and economic data by European regions. It is similar to the one I commented in an earlier post, also from Eurostat. But what I like most here is the possibility to visualize data in a variety of charts such as distribution plot, scatter plot, bar chart or data table. Well, I also love the animated maps that show the data evolution. They are superb, aren´t they? Visit here the site

Outstanding website with 300.000 economic indicators for 196 countries

Nowy obraz (22)

I found something very interesting when looking for secondary dat on Poland GDP growth rate. It is an outstanding tool to compare economic indicators by countries. They offer, among other things, the exportation of data into excel as well as represent it in maps.

Further details here

PhD workshop on social ontology

Some time ago I published a post on ontology in order to explain why it is important for any research project. There I emphasized the difference between adopting a objectivist and subjectivist ontological position. The former focuses on the formal structure of the organization under study, usually via quantitative methods, while the latter do it on the informal structure (i.e. one assumes the condition of social actors of the organizational member). Hence qualitative methods are usually more connected.
This is actually a dilemma that I have dealt with in my PhD project. As I mentioned in the past, the topic of my dissertation was the social impact of a large scale mining industry in a rural area. The research question was What social changes in the community around are associated with such development? Adopting a subjectivist approach I would have taken into priority the discourse of social actors involved, i.e. neighbors, politicians, associations representatives etc. The point here would be studying how social actors have experienced the phenomena under study. On the contrary, under a objectivist approach, I would have avoid this and focus on statistics in order to analyze, for instance, evolution of employment or social disruption indicators such as divorce or suicide rate. The point here is to come up with objective indicators of the social change. The truth is that I did a kind of combination of both, since I consider that both could enrich the research process. Social actors perception provided me with good insights that later on would give way to hypothesis to be tested via qualitative methods. But the truth is that it took me a while to distinguish between both perspectives, as well as realized which one better fit for my research.
This dilemma came to my mind this morning when reading this interesting announcement about a workshop on ontology. I would just like to paste here the content and provide you with a further details link.

Ontology can often prove a contested and confusing issue within social research. Everyone has on ontology, explicit or otherwise, but the process of drawing this out and thinking through its implications for research can often be a confusing part of the PhD process. This participatory workshop explores the practical significance of ontological questions for social research, inviting participants to reflect on their own research projects in a collaborative and supportive context. It aims to help participants negotiate the sometimes abstruse matter of social ontology, linking theory to practice in the context of their own research projects. The main focus throughout the day will be on how ontological questions are encountered in social research, the questions posed by such encounters and how engaging explicitly with social ontology can often help resolve such issues.

All participants will offer a brief (5 minute) presentation of their research project and the ontological questions which have been or are expected to be encountered within it. Those still early in the PhD process are welcome to substitute this for a discussion of their research interests and potential project. We’d like to ask all participants to reflect in advance on their own social ontology and how it pertains to their project. Uncertainty here is not a problem, in fact it will be a useful contribution to discussions on the day!

We also invite two more substantial presentations (10 mins) for the first afternoon session, reflecting on your engagement with ontological questions in your own project in order to help begin a practical engagement which encompasses the entire group. If you would be interested in leading the discussion in this way then please make this known when registering.

To register please contact with a brief description of your research and your interest in social ontology (500 words or less). The event is free but places are limited. Travel bursaries are available, please ask for more details.

The Centre for Social Ontology