Investigative Methods: An Editorial Introduction

Mair, Michael and Meckin, Robert and Elliot, Mark (2022) Investigative Methods: An Editorial Introduction. Other. National Centre for Research Methods.

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In our role as editors, in this introduction we draw on and extend the work of the historian Carlo Ginzburg (esp. 1980, 1989, 2013) to set out what we see as some of the main characteristics of investigative methods as a distinctive if heterogeneous field of research practices in their own right and explore their relevance in, to and for the social sciences. With reference to the ten contributions that make up the collection, we identify five such characteristics. As we perceive them, investigative methods have:

1. particularity, specificity or concreteness of focus;
2. the objects of investigation which provide that focus are typically unavailable to direct observation meaning investigations must take at least part of their lead from ‘trace’ data as a critical source of evidence that can be repurposed to access and reconstruct them indirectly;
3. that trace data acquires significance not on its own but by being linked to other data in bespoke evidentiary chains, catenaries or assemblages worked up as part of the investigation in question;
4. where the investigative targets are particularly complex, the process of data gathering, assessment and analysis is typically distributed and collaborative, something which demands its own methods; and
5. the ultimate aim is not just to know or understand the objects of investigation better, important as that is, but to intervene, whether by challenging an existing account or by opening up space for action on the issues the investigation has identified (something which itself can take many forms in relation to the contemporary politics of evidence).

Based on this ideal-typical rendering of these practices, we argue the kinds of investigative methods detailed in our ten contributions can offer powerful contributions to contemporary research repertoires in the social sciences by offering a distinctive approach to knowledge making, increasingly through creative work with digital data and technologies that puts them to previously unanticipated ends.

Item Type: Working Paper (Other)
Subjects: 1. Frameworks for Research and Research Designs > 1.21 Digital Social Research
Depositing User: NCRM users
Date Deposited: 03 Mar 2022 15:30
Last Modified: 10 Aug 2022 14:11
DOI: 10.5258/NCRM/NCRM.00004543

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