What are community studies
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What are community studies?. 5 th Research Methods Festival St Catherine’s College, Oxford 4 July 2012 Graham Crow, Deputy Director ESRC National Centre for Research Methods. Outline of presentation. The community studies tradition of research Definitions

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What are community studies?

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What are community studies

What are community studies?

5th Research Methods Festival

St Catherine’s College, Oxford 4 July 2012

Graham Crow, Deputy Director

ESRC National Centre for Research Methods


Outline of presentation

Outline of presentation

  • The community studies tradition of research

  • Definitions

  • Methodological issues in community studies

  • Some exemplars

  • The evolution of community studies

  • Conclusions


The community studies tradition of research

The community studies tradition of research

  • Community studies as a long-established, recognised body of work

  • Focus on ordinary people’s everyday lives

  • Classic studies include influential best-sellers e.g. M Young and P Willmott Family and Kinship in East London (1957) which sold over half a million copies

  • Impact on audiences within and beyond academia


The community studies tradition of research1

The community studies tradition of research

  • Tradition often traced back to Robert and Helen Lynd’s 1929 Middletown: A Study in Contemporary American Culture.

  • Portrait of a typical town with sections on six areas: Getting a living; Making a home; Training the young; Using leisure; Engaging in religious practices; Engaging in community practices

  • Re-studied by the Lynds in Middletown in Transition: A Study in Cultural Conflicts (1937)


Overviews of the evolving tradition of research

Overviews of the evolving tradition of research

  • A Vidich et al Reflections on Community Studies (1964)

  • R Frankenberg Communities In Britain (1969)

  • C Bell & H Newby Community Studies (1971)

  • R Wild Australian Community Studies and Beyond (1981)

  • G Crow & G Allan Community Life (1994)

  • T Blackshaw Key Concepts in Community Studies (2010)

  • M Savage Identities and Social Change in Britain since 1940 (2010) ch 6


Definitions

Definitions

  • ‘Community’ notoriously difficult to define

  • ‘The popularity of the word has not made its meaning any clearer’ (P Willmott 1989, p.2)

  • People with something in common – but what is that thing? Shared territory, interest, or attachment, or some combination of these? Mining communities as an ideal type

  • Further problem of the word ‘community’ being used positively, as a self-evidently good thing

  • ‘Community is a valued and valuable achievement’ (R Plant et al 1980, p.206)


Definitions1

Definitions

  • Community studies as research projects that seek to capture and portray ordinary people’s everyday lives, showing how their various parts fit together

  • As critical social science, community studies do not pre-judge the presence or absence of romanticised visions of community e.g. J Rex and R Moore’s Race, Community and Conflict (1967); K Dempsey, ‘Smalltown’ as ‘one big happy family’ (1990)

  • Community may be, but is not necessarily, greater than the sum of its individual parts


Methodological issues in community studies

Methodological issues in community studies

  • If understanding a community requires studying its economy, domestic life, education and training, leisure, religion, and politics, and how they all fit together, this is a methodological challenge in several respects

  • The sheer scale of the enterprise – this can take years to complete e.g. J Foster’s Docklands took 10 years; S Keller’s research over 30 years

  • Gaining access – ‘In my early days in the village I would often climb a hill and look sadly down upon the rows of houses on the housing estate and wonder what went on inside them’ (R Frankenberg 1969, p.16). Researcher as outsider


Methodological issues in community studies1

Methodological issues in community studies

  • Even when access is gained, various aspects of community life may continue to be hidden – Geoff Payne (1996) asked why community studies are so full of nice people

  • Information may be more readily available from some community members

  • There are risks for researchers involved in revealing the less attractive sides of community life where these upset community members’ self-perceptions


Methodological issues in community studies2

Methodological issues in community studies

  • Further criticism of community studies as descriptive or based on analytical frameworks that are not challenging

  • ‘the endless “community studies” of the sociologists often read like badly written novels’ (Mills 1959, p.368)

  • Just because some previously un-researched community exists, it doesn’t follow that there is necessarily any value in studying it


Some exemplars

Some exemplars

  • A Rees, Life in a Welsh Countryside used the local expression ‘woven together like a pig’s entrails’ (1951, p.74) to convey how households were understood to be linked by kinship (and why researchers in the field need to be careful about what they say to community members about other community members)

  • An early example of social network analysis


Some exemplars1

Some exemplars


Some exemplars2

Some exemplars

  • R E Pahl Divisions of Labour (1984), on ‘work’

  • Methods summarised (p.vii) as ‘ethnography, historical demography and quantitative survey analysis’

  • historical documentary research

  • survey data on households and on employers

  • interviews, including oral histories

  • ethnographic observations

  • visual methods


Some exemplars3

Some exemplars


Some exemplars4

Some exemplars

  • Karen O’Reilly The British on the Costa del Sol (2000)

  • Ethnography of a mobile community, framing interview data and observations and historical material in an analytical framework highlighting ethnicity and community

  • New angles on community and place, on the insider/outsider distinction, and on community and time


Some exemplars5

Some exemplars

  • Eric Lassiter et al, The Other Side of Middletown (2004) on Muncie’s African-American population as a neglected side of this much-studied community used as a basis for generalizing about middle America

  • Researchers’ focus changes, along with methodological practices

  • Collaborative ethnography

  • Visual methods


Some exemplars6

Some exemplars


The evolution of community studies

The evolution of community studies

  • Re-studies are one way in which the community studies tradition continues to evolve

  • Re-studies are not replications, but offer insights into social change e.g. Nickie Charles et al Families in Transition (2008); Lois Bryson & Ian Winter Social Change, Suburban Lives (1999); Geoff Dench et al The New East End (2006)

  • Re-studies may be by the same researchers or different teams, and have been after varying periods of time have elapsed


Conclusions

Conclusions

  • Community studies a distinctive tradition of research

  • Evolution due to methodological and theoretical developments

  • Interesting issues related to interdisciplinarity; archiving; the philosophy of the case study and generalization; mixed methods; the relationship between researchers and the people being researched; and the purpose of research


References

References

  • Bell, C and Newby, H (1971) Community Studies London: George Allen & Unwin

  • Blackshaw, T (2010) Key Concepts in Community Studies London: Sage

  • Bryson, L and Winter, I (1999) Social Change, Suburban Lives St Leonards: Allen and Unwin

  • Charles, N et al (2008) Families in Transition Bristol: Policy Press

  • Charles, N and Crow, G (2012, forthcoming) special issue of Sociological Review on community re-studies

  • Crow, G and Allan, G (1994) Community Life Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf

  • Crow, G and Mah, A. (2012) ‘Conceptualisations and meanings of “community” http://www.community-methods.soton.ac.uk/


References1

References

  • Dempsey, K (1990) Smalltown Melbourne: Oxford University Press

  • Dench, G et al (2006) The New East End London: Profile Books

  • Foster, J (1999) Docklands London: UCL Press

  • Frankenberg, R (1969) Communities In Britain Harmondsworth: Penguin

  • Lassiter, E. et al (2004) The Other Side of Middletown: Exploring Muncie’s African American Community. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press

  • Lynd, R and Lynd, H (1929) Middletown London: Constable

  • Lynd, R and Lynd, H (1937) Middletown in Transition New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company

  • Mills, C(1959) The Power Elite London: Oxford University Press


References2

References

  • O’Reilly, K (2000) The British on the Costa del Sol London: Routledge

  • Pahl, R E (1984) Divisions of Labour Oxford: Blackwell

  • Payne, G (1996) ‘Imagining the community: some reflections on the community study as a method’, in E Stina Lyon and J Busfield (eds) Methodological Imaginations. Basingstoke: Macmillan, pp.17-33

  • Plant, R et al (1980) Political Philosophy and Social Welfare London: Routledge and Kegan Paul

  • Rees, A (1951) Life in a Welsh Countryside Cardiff: University of Wales Press

  • Rex, J and Moore, R (1967) Race, Community and Conflict London: Oxford University Press


References3

References

  • Savage, M (2010) Identities and Social Change in Britain since 1940 Oxford: Oxford University Press

  • Scheper-Hughes, N. (2001) Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland. Berkeley: University of California Press

  • Vidich, A et al, eds, (1964) Reflections on Community Studies New York: Harper and Row

  • Wild, R (1981) Australian Community Studies and Beyond Sydney: George Allen and Unwin

  • Willmott, P (1989) Community Initiatives London: PSI

  • Young, M and Willmott, P (1957) Family and Kinship in East London London: Routledge and Kegan Paul


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