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  • 00:00

    [MUSIC PLAYING]Rachel Thomson and Julie McLeod Thank you verymuch for talking to me today.

  • 00:22

    What I wanted to ask you is how would I go about researchingsocial change?Well, social science, as a discipline,is very concerned with social change and theorizingsocial change.But in terms of actually researching it,we don't necessarily have great methods for it.In fact, the discipline history has to be more well developedfor that.

  • 00:45

    In the quantitative tradition, the best way, really,to search social change is being foundin the panel studies, the longitude and the panelstudies, which have been a really important, almostnatural experiment, really, of watching people, cohortsof people over time and see what happens to themthe way I've related to historical and biographicalchange.

  • 01:07

    In the qualitative tradition, there are a number of threads,really, of researching social change, which themselvescome from different bits of sociology,cultural studies, and history.And one way that we can think about themis by considering them in terms of methods whichare about memory and remembering, methods whichare about really the unfolding of time,and working in the present tense,and methods which were about ideas of inheritance and changein the future.

  • 01:40

    And these different approaches canbe done on different scales.So the biggest scale, of course, is the historical scale.We're talking about social change.The smallest scale might be the unfoldingof the day of a lesson in a school.So we can think about social changein terms of processes of many different methods.

  • 02:01

    I think the other dimension of itis also the relationship between the biographicaland the broader sort of cultural sweep.And some of the methods that are useful for thatare ones which try and make the bridge between the experienceof changing counter-biographicallyand the way in which that might be a recordto understand larger social processes,and larger movements and social change.

  • 02:23

    So some of the methods that are useful for thatinclude oral and live history, where the individual storyis told as a way to understandingthat person biographically and generational [INAUDIBLE],but also as a window onto understandingall the social processes.Equally, memory work, where memories are used as a prompt,as a trigger into opening up reflection on the past.

  • 02:51

    But also, in both methods, there areways of understanding the past, but also a windowonto present concerns.And in both, it's that movement between the largersocial and the biographical, it's an issue.Yeah.Can you tell me more about memory work?How would I do it?What specifically does it involve?

  • 03:12

    Well, there's two versions of memory work,one with a hyphen, memory-work, and one without a hyphen.The one without the hyphen's much more open.And really, you can use memory in all sorts of ways.But there's a specific technique called memory-workwhich was used initially by Frigga Haug and colleaguesin the early '80s, and was developedby a whole range of academics, includingJune Crawford and Kippax in Australia in the '90s.

  • 03:40

    And we looked in detail at how that works.The basic process of memory work is coming upwith a trigger word.It could be anything.It could be child.It could be mother.It could be home.It could be bacon-- any word.And using that trigger, you write a memoryin detail, but not in the first person.

  • 04:02

    So you don't say I. You say he or she.And then these texts become the basis for analysis.So if we're going to get together,all having produced some memories in the same trigger.And then they analyze those memorieswithout going into autobiography,but to try and attempt to understandfrom these texts what we can know about the time and placethat they relate to.

  • 04:25

    So for instance, childhood has been useda lot in childhood research.But also, what it can tell us about the sorts of investmentsthat adults have in a particularly struggled periodin their childhoods.Where does that come from?Does that come from a kind of psychotherapy kindof trajectory?Well, its roots are really in the consciousness phrasingmethods of feminism in the '80s, and the '70s and '80s.

  • 04:47

    That's where it began.But there are a number of threads,and it's been employed in different ways.So for instance, in Annette Kuhn's memory work.But she works primarily with film, photographs on her own,not with a group.It's influenced very much by psychoanalysisand within cultural studies traditions.So there isn't one memory work, but thereare a number of disciplines for whom memoryis a very important resource.

  • 05:16

    So when you think of oral history and life history too,we can locate the origins of those sorts of methodsin social movements such as feminism or movementswhich are trying to listen to what people say,gain insight into people's experiences,trying to tell another story, a counter storyto the official historical record.

  • 05:37

    So oral histories-- again, there'sno single way of doing it.But one of the key features of itis an extended interview with someone.Sometimes the emphasis is more on understandingthe particularity of that experienceto try and delve deeper.It has sometimes in its elements, a sort of memory workprocess.

  • 05:59

    Other emphases are when the focusis much more on the experience someone might have had growingup through the war or to try and tapinto the experience of a particular era.One important aspect of oral historyis its potential to shed light on political issuesin the present.

  • 06:26

    In our book, Researching Social Change,in the chapter on oral and life history,we take the example of oral history as a form of testimony,and we discuss the experience of aboriginal people in Australiaproviding testimonies or experiencesto a commission investigating what'scalled the Stolen Generation.From the 1930s through to the 1970s,many aboriginal children could be forcibly removedfrom their homes and put with white familiesor in orphanages.

  • 06:56

    And part of the inquiry was to get the experiencesand the effects of this interventionon the lives of aboriginal people.So therefore, oral history becomes a very, very importantway of recording that history and puttingon the official record the perspectives of peoplewho traditionally have been silenced.

  • 07:17

    Why couldn't you use other methods to do that?Why would you choose oral history to do that?That's a very good question, and oneof the advantages of oral historyfor this group of people was that so much had been writtenabout them by other people that there was a reluctance for themto be researched by others, to have,for example, traditionally white researchersor white anthropologists come in and tell their story.

  • 07:44

    So the telling of their story had a political dimensionto it, as well as a very deliberate wayof getting their words.So it was a way of trying to catcha change, the experience of the change, biographical change,the experience and cultural change,the experience of the impact on aboriginal communitiesthrough the vivid and direct voice of the people whowere most affected by that.

  • 08:09

    So it's true.It could be complimented by other types of sources,but oral and life history give an immediacyto the experience of change.How would you distinguish between oral history and lifehistory?Do you want to say something?Well, I don't think there are hard and fast distinctions.More than anything else, it's probably disciplinary.

  • 08:30

    Some people with the historical trainingwould think and describe themselvesin a tradition of oral history.Life history is more sociological tradition,and they are very different kinds of setsof ethics and practices.So interestingly, within live history,there's perhaps still, in keeping with sociology,concerns around confidentiality, concernsabout whether you can archive this material,or the oral history tradition.

  • 09:02

    People have always seen it as a testimony.Do it in their own names.And the material is created to be archived.Yes.So there's a sense in which it's not necessarilyeven created to be analyzed.It's created for the record.Yes.But in practice, sometimes they might lookvery similar to each other.Yes.I think that's right.And often, some of the benefit of the oral historyis seen as a record, a descriptive accountof something rather than necessarily producinga lot of interest in closed textual analysisof the hidden meanings, of the latent meanings of what's said,but merely a lot of attention to the [INAUDIBLE] story.

  • 09:39

    But in the last several decades, therehas been, in both oral and life history,interest in the relationship between the interviewerand the interviewee.So that then becomes an important partof that research method.It's not simply a matter of the researchergoing in and getting the story, but the dynamicbetween the participant and the researcher,which also is part of the story.

  • 10:06

    So if I was your PhD student, and Iwanted to use these methods myself,what would be your do's and don't's, in terms of advicefor me going out and using these methods?Well, the methods themselves always have batteries,take the quota.We've all undertaken the most extraordinary interviewsand found that they have been recorded,so I would say probably more.

  • 10:32

    The most important thing is being technically right.And then interestingly, in the oral history tradition,a huge amount of emphasis is put on that, including--the norm is to where if I was recording somebody, to listen,to being attending to quality the whole time with the viewthat this is a record, an important record,and the quality is really important.

  • 10:55

    So yes.That's number one.Of course, the key really is accessing in your groupand who they are, getting that right,finding people whose stories are important,whose stories need to be told, and being very clear with themon what grounds you're doing this,and being clear with yourself, actually, probablyis always the most important thing,and then you can communicate that to others.

  • 11:21

    I would say an important part of the methodis to think that the interview is not-- the oral historyand research method is not simply the doingof that interview, and that the important thing isto allow time immediately after the interviewto write your initial field notes as it were.So you've got that record, but that's notall that is happening.

  • 11:43

    So it's making time to write down your impressions,to then compare them, if you can,to transcribe the interview yourselfor to listen to it with a digital recorder, to listen,and to immerse yourself in that interview,and go back to those initial notes.Often, those initial reactions you have will have the germsof subsequent analysis, and I really cannot emphasize enoughto allow that reflective time immediately afterthe interview.

  • 12:14

    OK.We're coming close to the end of the time we have.But I wondered whether you have anything elsethat you would like to say about how we research social changeor whether you're happy with what we've said now.Well, I think it'd be good to maybe say a little bit, evenvery quickly about the other part, still the sort of timeregisters that you can work in, because we'vetalked about memory and working with the past.

  • 12:38

    But also in our book, Research And Social Change,we also talk about the idea of working in the present tenseand capturing the present tense as it happens and unfolds.And for instance, the methods like qualitative longitudeand research, where you re-interview people,or you might use observations.You keep going back over time, lookingat how things change, how people change,how people contradict themselves.

  • 13:02

    It's very interesting, making sense of that,but also methods like ethnography,where you the duration is your time in the field.You're immersed in a situation that is changing and unfolding.And those methods-- the particular quality of datathat they give rise to, the extent to whichthe researcher is absolutely implicated in that data.

  • 13:25

    You can't have an external search.The research is part of that, and it has a particular flavorand taste, the kind of research that's done in that mode.But we also talk about methods of researchwhich are more future oriented, eventhough they involve going back.So one example of that is revisiting studies,so where researchers-- it may be the same researcherat the beginning of their career,at the end of their career.

  • 13:50

    They go back to a study that they did before,and they may contact the same search subjects.They might go back to the same institutionand find out both how they've changed,how the place has changed, and howthe framework for understanding has changed over time.So that's a very interesting example.

  • 14:11

    And then-- sorry.I just have to say with that, and alsowith the example, the method of qualitative longitudeand research, for some people beginning a doctoral study,it may seem a difficult method, because theymight presume a long period of time is needed.And the important thing with revisiting studiesand with qualitative, longitudinal studies,is that you set up that you plot to observations or interviewsat different stages.

  • 14:40

    It doesn't necessarily have to be over a long period of time.It's how you frame the question and the returnto the interview that's important.So you can do a study which has a longitudinal methodand a longitude of dimension in a relatively short periodamount of time.And increasingly, PhD students are using longitudinal method.So would that be to say, secondary dataor archival work, as well?

  • 15:03

    No.They're original research.So for example, you might want to look at something--three points in a process.The process might be a schooling process.Yep.It might be an identity change process.It might be before and after the birth of a child.It's a very good method for lookingat change and transition.

  • 15:25

    The transition points and standard, critical moments.So the shift from the end of secondary schoolto university or working life.You might be able to do that over an 18 month period.If you can do that over a three month period, it's rich,but if you identify that points that you're lookingat as change, change points, that'sthe challenge of the method.

  • 15:54

    But there are some ways of researching social change whichyou can do right here and now.For example, one of the methods, perhaps the last onewe talk about is intergenerational research,where you could capture historical changeby looking at the here and now atmembers of different generations.So this can be done, quite obviously, in families.

  • 16:14

    For example, I've been involved in a study wherewe looked at three generations of mothers.So new mothers, when they just had babies, their motherand their grandmother.And you're looking at them all in the same moment.So they're all reacting to the birth of one child,but reacting in relation to their own experiences, whichmay have been in the '50s.

  • 16:35

    It might have been in the '80s.And that's a way of capturing in a particular moment in timeboth change, but also how the past is always present,particularly in the politics of the present.So some of the politics of motherhoodnow are shaped by the memories of those who did it in the '50sand felt there was plenty of time, and none of these gadgetsto make it all complicated.

  • 16:60

    So there's lots of ways of getting at change,because change is part of everyday life.And in a sense, you can always find a routine.And what we've tried to do is showsome of the rich qualitative traditions,that people can draw on to access that.[MUSIC PLAYING]

Video Info

Publisher: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Publication Year: 2011

Video Type:Interview

Methods: Oral history interviews, Life history interviews, Longitudinal research

Keywords: biographies; consciousness raising; generational change; immersion; life histories; memory; oral history; political issues; psychoanalysis; social science; technological literacy; testimony; time factors; transition ... Show More

Segment Info

Segment Num.: 1

Persons Discussed:

Events Discussed:



Professors Julie McLeod and Rachel Thomson discuss different approaches to researching social change. They emphasize the importance of scale and memory work to expand biographical experience to a broader cultural level.

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How do I research social change?

Professors Julie McLeod and Rachel Thomson discuss different approaches to researching social change. They emphasize the importance of scale and memory work to expand biographical experience to a broader cultural level.

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