Pioneers of Social Research

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"Featuring life story interviews with significant researchers"

The Pioneers of Social Research resource is a rich, dynamic and expanding resource for the social sciences.

It includes in-depth life-story interviews with pioneers of British social research - many of whom are eminent scholars in the areas of community studies, anthropology survey and qualitative research – undertaken by Professor Paul Thompson as part of British Academy and Leverhulme funded projects from 2009-2018. The resource provides a short biography, links to full interviews, interview summaries, thematic extracts and a selective playlist on YouTube, and to any archived research data (Collections) they created. Each interview covers the researcher's family and social background and key influences with detailed accounts of major projects.

To use the resource, use the Browse Pioneers tab to choose a Pioneer or browse using the left hand facets. Original interviews with the Pioneers are available to download as a collection, Pioneers of Social Research, 1996-2012, through the UK Data Service.

Using the interviews

The resource can be used to support historical research on the development of research methods in key social science disciplines, and is a rich resource for teaching. Interviews can not only be viewed as individual biographical accounts, to understand the influences, fieldwork methods, feelings and experiences of a major and admired earlier researcher, but we can also trace, through their notably acute social observation, how researchers' lives were shaped by family and society. We can see how their own experience, for example of social class or the extended family, generated their key research concerns.

Coming to better understand an earlier generation of researchers can be an inspiration to younger researchers, offering models and encouragement to help them develop new ideas from their own social observations and experiences.

We can also track significant themes which run across whole sets of interviews, and which are still very much relevant today. Examples include: gender and kinship; the pleasures of research, or how ideas develop; research design; fieldwork methods; ethics; and methods of analysis. By tracing these themes we can tap into some of the long experience of earlier social researchers on issues which still concern us today.

Teaching with Pioneers

We have developed a range of teaching worksheets that can help focus teaching in on selected themes: women and social research, poverty and inequality in the UK, community studies, pioneering research methods and reusing archived data. Each worksheet contains links to selected interview extracts, followed by questions relating to the extract and the theme that it addresses.

Students could be directed to the introductory worksheet and then use a thematic worksheet per exercise. As students may want to listen to the audio extracts which accompany the text, they may want to bring headphones if working in the classroom.

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