Methodological Issues in Studying Elites

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<ul><li><p>Methodological Issues in Studying ElitesAuthor(s): Liisa Cormode and Alex HughesSource: Area, Vol. 28, No. 2 (Jun., 1996), pp. 281-283Published by: The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20003698 .Accessed: 12/06/2014 19:22</p><p>Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms &amp; Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p><p> .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.</p><p> .</p><p>The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) is collaborating with JSTOR todigitize, preserve and extend access to Area.</p><p>http://www.jstor.org </p><p>This content downloaded from 188.72.126.41 on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 19:22:44 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=rgshttp://www.jstor.org/stable/20003698?origin=JSTOR-pdfhttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsphttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>RGS-IBG Annual Conference 281 </p><p>month's temperature. Interestingly, the latter effect was more considerable, and was ascribed to a lagged effect associated with food processing. It was estimated that an additional 179,000 cases of food poisoning may arise by the year 2050. Sadly, Ian's paper was </p><p>misrepresented in The Guardian (6 January 1995, p. 7) under the headline: 'Food poisoning linked to farms'. </p><p>The paper by Joanna Briggs (Lancaster) and colleagues entitled ' Childhood respiratory morbidity and its relation to pollen exposure in the Wirral ' also attracted pressure coverage. Using a series of primary schools as study areas in differing socioeconomic and environmental locations, pollen data and a parent-completed questionnaire were collected and compared. </p><p>Although sleep disturbance and night cough significantly increased in the most deprived area, the evidence did not suggest that pollen levels and the incidence of childhood asthma were linked. Joanna concluded that the next logical step would be to investigate the prevalence of dust mites and the incidence of asthma. </p><p>The penultimate paper by Susan Elliot (MacMaster) described a preliminary ethnographic study conducted in Vancouver Island, Canada. Susan documented the plight of individuals afflicted by what can be loosely termed as ' environmental illnesses '. Despite the apparent lack of a bio-medical definition for the condition, those affected suffer reactions to a host of environmental pathogens including household chemicals, exhaust fumes and electric fields. From a series of in-depth interviews, Susan acknowledged that health care systems continue to rebuff the claims of sufferers, despite the enormous strain the condition places upon individual lifestyles. To conclude a thoroughly compelling paper, Susan suggested that in the absence of a medical solution to the condition, definitions of space, place and illness all play a </p><p>major part in coping with the illness. To conclude the submitted paper session, Robin Haynes (UEA) provoked a lively debate </p><p>with his paper on using ' Unemployment rate as an updatable health needs indicator for small areas '. The main thrust of the paper centred around a comparative study of the efficacy of unemployment rates compared to composite deprivation indices (Townsend, Carstairs and Jarman) for census wards in East Anglia. Three measures of unemployment were used-namely the male unemployment rate from the 1991 census, and an unemployment index calculated from dividing the unemployment level in April 1991 by both the OPCS </p><p>mid-year population figure and FHSA patient registers. The results showed a broad correlation between the three measures of unemployment and the composite deprivation indices. Robin suggested that updatable unemployment indicators were at least wholly suitable for calculating health needs during a census year, and are arguably superior in the intercensal period. </p><p>Both sessions at the Annual Conference were notable for high quality and excellent sessions. Thanks are due to the conveners, Kelvyn Jones (Portsmouth) and Anne Ellaway (MRC Medical Sociology Unit, University Glasgow) for ' Health and Deprivation in Cities ' and Sheena Asthana (Plymouth) for ' Submitted papers'. We look forward to successful and enjoyable future sessions of the newly named Health Geography Study Group. </p><p>Myles Gould and Lee Redpath University of Portsmouth </p><p>Methodological Issues in Studying Elites Studying elite groups or individuals is substantially different from' studying down '. Although many geographers interact with elites as part of their research, the methodological issues associated with studying elites had previously received little attention within the discipline. Important questions of access, positionality, power, ethics, politics and the interpretation and (re)presentation of data had remained largely unexplored. This pathbreaking international session, jointly sponsored by the Economic Geography. Political Geography, and Urban </p><p>Geography Study Groups, was organized to highlight the importance of these issues. It brought together researchers with a range of research experiences and methodologies to discuss their insights. </p><p>This content downloaded from 188.72.126.41 on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 19:22:44 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>282 RGS-IBG Annual Conference </p><p>The first module focused on issues of positionality. Pamela Shurmer-Smith (Portsmouth) began the session by discussing her experiences of participant observation at India's National Academy of Administration, which trains the Indian Administrative Service. She highlighted her experiences of obtaining access, and the ethical questions associated with the use of participant observation. Andrew Herod's (Georgia) presentation discussed his experiences of interviewing trade union officials in Czechslovakia, Cuba, and the United States in light of his positionality as a British person living in the US. He noted some of the practical challenges of access, interpretation and differing expectations on the part of interviewees. Andy suggested that treating interviews as an interactive text created as part of a dialogue means that the issue of whether being an ' insider ' or ' outsider ' produces better results is less important. Linda </p><p>McDowell (Cambridge) followed with a discussion of her experiences of interviewing merchant bankers in the City of London. She noted that in much academic writing the research process is given relatively little attention, and presented as being tidy and straightforward, although it is not. She stressed that researchers studying elites were supplicants. Effective self-preservation, creative approaches and persistence are extremely important. These presentations sparked a lively debate on the differences between studying elites and non-elites, gaining access to elite subjects, and the advantages and disadvantages of presenting oneself as an ' expert ' to interviewees and gatekeepers. </p><p>The second module addressed the methodological challenges of cross-cultural elite research. This is a particularly important issue for geographers, as globalization leads to </p><p>more and more transnational elite groups. Liisa Cormode (Manchester) discussed her experiences of interviewing Japanese expatriate and Canadian employees of Japanese affilitated companies in Canada. Her paper stressed the importance of her own multi-faceted positionality and that of the people she interviewed, in structuring every stage of the research process. Timothy Forsyth (LSE) reflected on his experiences of studying grass roots and non-governmental organisations in Thailand that were dominated by elite groups. </p><p>He noted the difficult ethical and practical issues involved in gaining and evaluating information from elite persons and the possibilities for local elites to exploit foreign researchers. Emmanuele Sabot (St.-Etienne) outlined her experiences of interviewing local government officials in Glasgow, Motherwell and her hometown of St.-Etienne in France. She noted how open and helpful the Scottish officials she interviewed were, in contrast to those in St.-Etienne. To her surprise a visiting American scholar researching the same topic </p><p>was given documents and information she had previously been denied as a local researcher. She attributed this to the different structures of French and Scottish local government, the courtesy and interest paid to foreigners, and a perception that local researchers were a potential threat. These papers were followed by a very stimulating discussion on the benefits of collaborative work with foreign researchers as a means of accessing information, to what extent one should present one's positionality to potential interviewees, and on academic research as itself being an elite activity. </p><p>The third module brought together researchers with experience of studying local elites in the UK. Michael Woods (Bristol) began by revisiting classical elite theory and proposing a critical definition of elites. He stressed the need to incorporate ' space ' into elite theory by considering the geographies of elite membership and their meeting places, the territorial limits to their power, and the use of place-based discourses in the reproduction of elite structures. Allan Cochrane (OU) reflected on his extensive experience of studying local elites. His paper gave a thought-provoking analysis of the relationship between the researcher and the researched, and how dimensions of power may not be identifiable or explorable through interviewing. Martin Jones and Kevin Ward's (Manchester) paper discussed their experiences of interviewing British local government elites. They argued that the concept of positionality needed to be expanded to incorporate the importance of political timing and contingency. These questions were further explored in the question period that followed. </p><p>The fourth module focused on methodological issues in studying corporate elites. Bronwyn Parry (Cambridge) discussed her experiences of interviewing people involved in 'bio-prospecting'. Among several issues she highlighted the degree of interconnectedness </p><p>This content downloaded from 188.72.126.41 on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 19:22:44 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>RGS-IBG Annual Conference 283 </p><p>among different actors, and the methodological challenges this created for her. Carol Ekinsmyth (Portsmouth) and Alan Hallsworth's (Staffordshire) paper stressed the import ance of understanding issues of power. Alan argued from his earlier experience of working in a business school that geographers' recognition and acknowledgement of power issues is an important asset in studying corporate elites. These papers were followed by a broad-ranging discussion which included an analysis of the best methods for contacting and corresponding with elite groups, and whether it is possible for elite research to be emancipatory. </p><p>This session was an important step forward in identifying and discussing the methodo logical issues involved in elite research, issues which had previously received little attention </p><p>within geography. Each of the four modules encompassed a range of exciting and innovative papers, and sparked lively discussion. We anticipate publishing the papers from this session and related sessions at AAG as an edited collection that will make an important contribution to geographical methodology. </p><p>Liisa Cormode University of Manchester </p><p>Alex Hughes University of Aberdeen </p><p>Young Research Workers in Historical Geography Fighting a rearguard action against the after-effects of Friday night's excessive consumption of the delights of Sauchiehall Street, this highly enjoyable and stimulating two-module session took place on the final morning. Despite the best endeavours of an over-zealous security guard, a number of people attended this opportunity organised by the Historical Geography Research </p><p>Group, for six PhD students to present short papers on any aspect of historical geography. The absence of any temporal or geographical limitations produced a wide variety of subject matter. Jon Nix (RHBNC) opened the first module with a carefully considered paper on the inscription of lace onto the Nottingham townscape, formulating a distinct urban identity as the ' Queen City '. He focused on the mediation of this image not only within the relatively </p><p>discrete space of the Lace Market but also in wider public displays of city identity such as promotional literature from earlier this century. Pursuing this theme of the construction of historic representations and their situation in space, Catherine Bruce (Cheltenham and Gloucester) offered an attractively illustrated and well-argued seminar on the role of regional identity in the construction of a wider national consciousness. This paper explored the adoption of the inconography of the Cotswolds as an expression of ' real England '. Five of the papers were quite closely linked, both spatially and chronologically, therefore Rhys Jones's (Aberystwyth) paper on ' Early State Development in Wales ' proved to be a welcome divergence. Jones asserted how increasingly, territory was used to define a Medieval Welsh state within space and that this was promulgated by a number of native rulers. It was his inevitable conclusion, therefore, that Wales had initiated a drive towards state-hood significantly before the Norman invasion. </p><p>Following the half-time interval, a substantially larger number of people had shaken off their hangovers sufficiently to reach the dizzy heights of the second floor of the Livingstone </p><p>Tower, where the session was held. The equally successful second session began with Jason Roberts (Loughborough) speaking on the need to re-conceptualise notions of late-nineteenth century agrarian depression to enable the development of a wider debate on agriculture, patriotism and 'racial suicide' at the time of a critical re-definition of Englishness. He examined how a depression-induced exodus of labourers from the soil cultivated the fear of a ' withering race ' that posed a threat to the security of the nation for some observers immersed </p><p>within a Condition of Rural England discourse. Denis Linehan (Nottingham) provided a culturally informed and discursively sensitive analysis on the inter-war drive to modernise space and the stimulation of regional economic elites to identify their locale as progressive. </p><p>The cultural theme continued as finally, Teresa Ploszajska (RHBNC) investigated how </p><p>This content downloaded from 188.72.126.41 on Thu, 12 J...</p></li></ul>