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Department of Methods in the Social Sciences

Social Sciences have developed a variety of entry points to study social phenomena. Established in 2007, the Department of Methods in the Social Sciences reflects this diversity of methodological approaches, ranging from using methods as tools to test specific research questions to pointing out their close entanglement and interrelation with theory building. Our aim is to develop into an international centre of excellence by supporting theoretical and methodological conversations across disciplines and epistemological backgrounds within the faculty and beyond. Bringing scholars of different disciplinary backgrounds together in one department paves the way for innovative theoretical thinking as well as the improvement of applied methods. This feeds back into our own research agendas within the fields of Communication Science, Political Science and Social Anthropology. Finally, the specific organisational structure allows students to become aware of the variety of ways to think about and work with methods in the Social Sciences. To date the department has three methodological pillars each of which contributes to the joint agenda while also pursuing substantive research activities:

Ethnography

Ethnography is not a uniform method, but consists of a bundle of various methodological techniques. As a relational mode of research, ethnographic practice is usually characterised by context sensitivity, and reflexivity as well as flexibility. As such ethnographers respond and adapt to research situations, which makes ethnography a mode of inquiry most suited to grasp unpredictable outcomes, as well as complex emerging social formations. Within the Department the substantive research most closely connected to this methodological approach concentrates on two main fields of interest: care, kinship and local states; and globalisation and identity.

Survey Research and Multivariate Statistics

Surveys are widely used research tools to gather empirical data points to answer a broad range of social science research questions. To map empirical phenomena accurately, researchers need to invest in the continuous development of survey design (e.g. sampling and question wording). To analyse these empirical data points researchers apply a wide range of multivariate statistics. The challenge is to apply the best suited statistical model based on the research interest and the data structure. Researchers in the Department following in particular this methodological approach engage in two substantive research areas: public opinion and electoral behaviour; and party politics and democratic representation.

Text Analysis

Extracting meaning from documents, varying from traditional texts to moving images or social networks, and condensing this information into analysable data is at the core of text/content analysis. With the increasing availability of digitally stored documents, computer-assisted methods of text analysis are advancing. Also, a clear trend towards multimodal representations is observed, in which texts, images, video and graphics merge into single documents. In this Department, we advance techniques to extract data from such sources with traditional and computer-assisted means of text/ content analysis. Moreover, we further develop models linking such data to other social science data, with a substantial focus on political communication phenomena.

Activities

Our departmental activities aim to strengthen methodological excellence within the faculty and to encourage theoretical debates. The primary types of activities are research, training and services provisions:

Research and Reflection on Methods


We organize an interdisciplinary seminar series in co-operation with other Departments to enhance communication and discussion among the various disciplines of the Faculty.


We invite internationally renowned experts in social science research methods as Paul-Lazarsfeld-Guest Professors.


We organise methods workshops held by internationally renowned external lecturers.


We plan an annual series of methodological laboratories for young scholars.


We maintain a platform for survey research, methods and empirical analysis, providing data and methods expertise to all departments of the Faculty.
Education/Teaching


We teach a number of specialised methods courses at the MA and PhD level.


We organize the ECPR-Winter School in Methods and Techniques, providing a unique opportunity for high quality methods training in both qualitative and quantitative social science methods to our students and early stage researchers.


We provide a stipend for PhD-students for the summer school of the Consortium on Qualitative Research Methods (Syracuse University) in collaboration with the Graduate Centre.

 

 

Services Provisions
 
We engage in several faculty committees to share our expertise on theoretical thinking and the improvement of methods training.


We provide methodological expertise in selected research platforms and for curriculum development both in the Faculty of Social Sciences and in other Faculties of the University of Vienna.


We set up and participate in various informal working groups at the Faculty and beyond and contribute with our theoretical and methodological expertise.

 

 

 

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