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  • 00:01


  • 00:11

    NICK EMMEL: Hi.My name is Nick Emmel.I'm a teacher and researcher in the School of Sociologyand Social Policy at the University of Leeds.In this case study, I'm going to talkabout an investigation of social exclusion and vulnerability.It's an account that arises out of research

  • 00:33

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: that I've been involved in since about1999, qualitative longitudinal research,principally, although not exclusivelyas I'll explain as I go along.And before I start talking about the researchitself and the case study, you mightwant to watch this case study with my tutorialwhere I discuss the zig-zag of realist methods.

  • 00:56

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: So what I want to do in this case study are two things.First of all, I want to provide a practical accountof that zig-zag between ideas and evidencethat happens in realist research.And the second thing I would like to dois to show how we move from fragile ideasto fallible models in a piece of realist research.

  • 01:20

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: The research I'm going to talk about, as I've mentioned,is a long-term piece of research that I'vebeen carrying out with colleagues here at LeedsUniversity, investigating aspects of social exclusionand vulnerability.An investigation. that I've been carrying outin a low-income social housing community in Leeds.

  • 01:43

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: To give you a feel for the natureof the research and the way in which it has developed,the early research was carried out, quite some timeago now, when New Labor was in power.And the language around rights and responsibilitiesthat was used by Labor was discussionsabout social exclusion.Individuals and groups who were not in employment, education,

  • 02:09

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: or training, who had a series of pathologies that made them moreexcluded, and were, therefore, amenableto some kind of treatment.And it was those kind of ideas about exclusionwhich were the fragile ideas with which westarted doing this particular piece of research.When we started the research, policy

  • 02:31

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: was talking about the ways in which particular individualsand groups were excluded from society because theyhad a series of deficits, a series of particular problems.They might be teenage pregnant, they might have been in prison,they might be heroin addicts, they might be single moms,

  • 02:51

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: they might be people who are long-term out of work.So our initial ideas about exclusionwere ideas about deficits, about pathology.And they informed the early research,that idea that we move from theories, ideas

  • 03:12

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: about a particular social processthat we're interested to investigate to the empirical.This research recruited hard to reach people.They were our sample in the research project.And Sheila was very typical of the sample that we recruited.Living alone with her eight children in social housing,

  • 03:34

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: reliant almost exclusively on welfare benefits.Our early research sought to understandSheila's experiences of living on the low income estate.It's hard to ask people how they feelabout being socially excluded.You have to work your way around those kind of questions,

  • 03:57

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: and think of ways in which you can get at the evidencethat you're interested in, to understand the experienceof social exclusion.And our questions focused particularlyon what made Sheila feel healthy and unhealthy about livingon the low income estates.And Sheila told many stories.She's a great storyteller.

  • 04:17

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: One of those stories that she told uswas particularly important in helping us to understandthe nature of exclusion.As I mentioned, Sheila had eight children.And she told us about how her water heater broke down.And she went up to the housing officethat was then on the estate.And told the housing offices that the water heater

  • 04:39

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: had broken down.Nothing ever happened.Nothing happened at all, she said.She kept going back to the housing office.The water heater's broken down, she kept saying.And nothing happened, nothing happened.Several months later, a doctor came to the houseto measure the children's blood level.Public health in Leeds was measuring blood lead levels

  • 05:02

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: in children at the time.And Sheila's family were part of the study.And Sheila said, in a sort of typical Yorkshirephraseology, said oh, bugger it.I'm going to tell this doctor about the water heater.Now, bugger it sort of means, I'll give it a chance,I'll give it a punt and see what happens

  • 05:23

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: if I manage to tell this doctor about the water heater.So she say to the doctor, she says, you know,my water heater's been broken down.And I've been backwards and forwards to the councilto try and get it mended.And they're doing nothing about it.And the doctor said, well, how long has it been broken down?She said, oh, about six months now.And the doctor turned around and said, well,

  • 05:43

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: how do you bathe the kids?And Sheila says, well, I've got an old twin tubwashing machine.I don't know if you've ever seen a twin tub washing machine.A twin tub washing machine, on one side,had a washer, on other side, a spinner.You see, you can take the agitator outof the twin tub washing machine, and it'sgot a heating element in.You could heat up the water in the twin tub washing machine,

  • 06:05

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: and bathe the kids in the twin tub.Sheila bathed the kids in the washing machine.She said to the doctor, she said, look,this is the situation.This is what I've been living with for the last six months.Can you ring the council, and tell them and askthem to mend my water heater?And the doctor got back to the office,

  • 06:26

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: rang the council, the next day, the maintenance peoplecame out from the council and mended the water heater.Well, Sheila said, that's not very nice, is it?We could take that story at face value.We could take it as an empirical account.It's rich, it's detailed.It's a story you want to tell about the conditions whichpeople live in low income households in England

  • 06:49

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: in the present time.What it also talks about are ideas.They're not ideas that Sheila talks about,they're ideas that social scientists bringto those kinds of stories.They talk about Sheila's powerlessness, her inabilityto be able to leave a change, even for the very smallestthings in her life.They also talk about the constrained powerfulness.

  • 07:10

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: How she manages on certain occasionsand in certain situations to be able to makeslight changes to her life.So she adopts, she uses the doctor thatcomes to her house, the researcher,to contact the council to get that water heater mended.So an important part of our understanding

  • 07:31

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: of what exclusion and vulnerability isis about the abilities, the entitlementsand the empowerments that people haveto be able to make changes in their lives.The methods we adopted early in the researchwere there to learn about people'slived experiences, the richness, the detail,

  • 07:53

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: the nuance of account that they hadto tell about their particular livesand their lived experiences.And those methods allowed us to be able to gain insightinto Sheila.Well, they also allowed us to be able to dothat retroductive work of bringing powers, liabilities,

  • 08:15

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: mechanisms to bear to understand the nature of that story.With that understanding, we can zig backto doing more empirical work.And the next story that I want to talk aboutarises directly out of having talkedto Sheila and the interpretation that happens there.And this piece of research with Bobis with somebody who is, in many ways, a philosopher himself.

  • 08:40

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: Another person living on the low income estate,but somebody who sits back and triesto understand the nature of his life and tries in some waysto abstract it from his lived experience.It's not exclusively the preserve of social scientiststo be able to bring biography into some kind of relationshipwith history.

  • 09:01

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: People do that themselves.And Bob talks about the ways in which he is apportionedcertain opportunities in his lifethrough his lived experience of living on this low incomeestate.Bob brings a very graphic accountto bear in an interview carried out

  • 09:22

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: with him, which again starts off talkingabout those rich experiences.But the interviewer's able to moveon, within the context of the interview,bringing ideas into relation with evidenceto say, well, what does that mean, Bob?How do you understand it?And Bob talks about his experiencesbeing dealt a hand of cards.And he talks about how that hand of cards

  • 09:43

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: is a very weak hand of cards, but you have, in some way,got to play that hand of cards in the game of lifein such a way that you can get the most out of it.So while Sheila's story has told us somethingand given us insights into, and elaborated

  • 10:03

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: our ideas, our theories, about empowerment and the naturepowerlessness and the nature of constrained powerfulness,Bob's story, his discussion about howhe's dealt that deck of cards, provides an insightinto ideas around entitlements.That bundle of assets that people

  • 10:24

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: are able to use in particular sorts of ways,in particular sorts of contexts and particular conditionsto be able to bring about change or, indeed,for life to remain the same in low income communities.Well, this is elaborating a very much richer, more nuanced

  • 10:45

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: account of vulnerability through bringing these empirical casestudies into relationship with ideas.There's another interesting thing to say,I think about a realist interview.Not only does it get detailed accounts, depth, and nuances,as I talked about in the context of Sheila's interview, what

  • 11:07

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: also happens is that, through setting upthe interview in a particular sort of way,we're able to test and refine ideas.Quite often in qualitative researches,we talk about a learner-teacher relationship.And that the teacher relationshipis assumed to be one in which the participant in the research

  • 11:29

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: is the teacher, and the researcher is the person who islearning from the participant.What's happening in a piece of realist researchactually turns that idea on its head.So the interview with Bob was not only gettingat this rich detail and account, but it's alsobringing the detail of what we had learned from Sheila,

  • 11:51

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: the understanding of the nature of powerlessnessand constrained powerfulness to bear in the kinds of questionsthat we asked of Bob.So the researcher is teaching Bob the extentand the kinds of theories that we want to test.It's unsurprising then, that Bob's response to that,

  • 12:12

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: through identifying, at a level of abstraction,a set of ideas that allows him to beable to describe his experiences in living in this low incomecommunity.So the third story arises out of a later research project,a project that was part of Timescapes,

  • 12:34

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: the Economic and Social Research Council'squalitative longitudinal initiative.The research was called Intergenerational Exchange.It investigated the ways in whichgrandparents in low income communitiescare for their grandchildren.AndOne aspect of that research, thatqualitative longitudinal research,

  • 12:54

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: was that we problematized time.So thinking no longer about time just merely as regulated,as chronological, but also as theoretical.The third story is a story about Ruth,a 37-year-old grandmother, and the wayin which she talks about the relationship she

  • 13:17

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: has with service providers, and particularlywith the teenage pregnancy unit and with social workersand with health visitors.And how, in the process of the interaction with these serviceproviders in her home with her 14-year-old daughterand granddaughter, not only is her 14-year-old daughter

  • 13:38

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: treated as an adult, but she herselfrecognizes her daughter to still be a 14-year-old child.And she points out, she's quite incapable of going to the postoffice to claim her child benefits,nevermind look after her child.But there's another part of what happens in Ruth's story, which

  • 13:59

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: brings the temporal to bear.And that is the way in which she describesthe attitude of people towards herwhen she's walking around the estate with her grandchild.People come up to her and say, I didn't know you were pregnant,Ruth.I didn't know you were having a baby.And Ruth has to turn around, and say, I'm not,

  • 14:21

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: this is my grandchild.And on the one hand, she's very proudthat she's got a grandchild.On the other, she's deeply embarrassedthat, at the age of 37, she is pushing her grandchildaround the estate.The norms at play on the estate aresuch that this is regarded as abnormal.

  • 14:43

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: And what this brings into play are discussions and thoughtsabout the way in which time is made and remade,the way in which it is socially producedin certain sorts of ways, and the way in which wecan understand time as potentially having an impactupon people's vulnerability.

  • 15:06

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: So what happens in the process of eachof the telling of these stories and in our recording of them--all of them are interviews-- although realism usesa lot of interviewing work in its methods,it's not exclusively about interviews.So these data are recorded, they're transcribed,

  • 15:27

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: they're brought back to the team.And what is interesting about the way in which ideasare tested and refined is how important the research teambecomes in the analysis and explanation that happens outof a particular piece of research.So for instance, in Ruth's story,

  • 15:48

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: bringing that particular piece of researchback to the research team requiredus to have long and detailed discussions amongst ourselvesabout how we understood time, how Ruth understood time, whatwas the appropriateness of regulated chronological time

  • 16:09

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: in understanding the nature and experience of grandparentingin a low income community, how time was constructedin certain sorts of ways, how it was produced, how it wasreinforced, how norms were brought about and so on and soforth.This happens through, often quite heated discussions.The building, the developing of models

  • 16:31

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: which try to bring ideas into relation with evidenceto produce a better explanation.And I want to finish this case studyby talking about the fallible modeland just making some observationsabout the fallible model.The model itself I call the Toblerone modelafter that famous Swiss chocolate confectionery

  • 16:54

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: that you can always buy in duty-free shops at airports.And the reason why I've chosen that particular shapeis because it's four dimensional.In what I've talked about here, I'vetalked about the nature of service provision,the nature of deficit, and the way

  • 17:15

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: in which exclusion and vulnerability aredefined in policy.I've talked about empowerment.Sheila's story about powerlessness and constrainedpowerfulness.I've talked about the way that Bob discussesthe entitlement, that bundle of assetsthat are available to him in certain sorts of waysto be able to bring about change or indeed

  • 17:35

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: to maintain his current condition,living in the low income community.I've talked about time.These dimensions interact and changeand relate to each other in particular sorts of ways.There is a track, a space through which vulnerability

  • 17:56

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: moves and changes shape, as entitlement, empowerment,and the ability to be able to access services that listen,that don't listen, that respond to need,that don't respond to need, that reactto need as deficit and so on, in some way marshalled, leveredor people fail to access those particular services to address

  • 18:21

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: their exclusion and vulnerability.So that's the fallible model.It's a fallible model which othershave called a reusable conceptual framework.It's a model that can be taken from one piece of researchto the next piece of research.So in my own research, I continue to refine and develop

  • 18:42

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: that particular model.The axes have been described and redescribedin a series of papers over time.That model has also been used by other researchersin other pieces of research, who have brought itto their particular empirical accounts,and refined and developed it in their particular research.And that is the process of realist research happening

  • 19:06

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: in social researching.So there's that zigzag process going on,from ideas to evidence back to ideas.Although, necessarily, I lose control of the modelthat I developed.Others take it on, and refine it and develop it in ways Icouldn't.

  • 19:33

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: In this case study, I've sought to convey an understandingof how I've used realist qualitative methodsto investigate vulnerability.What I hope you've understood from this case studyis the way in which a piece of realist researchmoves from fragile ideas, theoriesthat arise from a whole range of different opportunities

  • 19:56

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: to investigate the way in which particular mechanisms acton particular regularities to bringabout change in particular sorts of contexts.That I've been able to articulatea series of the middle range, ideas that are there weare then able to bring into relationwith empirical examples, Sheila's, Bob's, Ruth's,

  • 20:20

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: examples of their experiences, their lived experiencesof vulnerability.But at each time that happens, that we are notworking with the same idea, but we're refining, we're judging,we're developing particular ideas.And they are the engine, they are the motor.

  • 20:41

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: The methods and the cases are in the serviceof those particular ideas.We move from fragile ideas to fallible model.And that fallible model is a stepping off pointfor the next opportunity to investigate and do researchon the social processes that we'reinterested to investigate.

  • 21:01

    NICK EMMEL [continued]: [MUSIC PLAYING]


Dr. Nick Emmel discusses his longitudinal research into vulnerable populations, particularly low-income individuals living in a housing estate. He explains that he applies realist methods by blending interviews with modeling and analysis to create and refine theories about the everyday life of vulnerable populations.

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Researching Social Exclusion & Vulnerability Using Realist Methods

Dr. Nick Emmel discusses his longitudinal research into vulnerable populations, particularly low-income individuals living in a housing estate. He explains that he applies realist methods by blending interviews with modeling and analysis to create and refine theories about the everyday life of vulnerable populations.

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