Teaching resource: Pioneers

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"Featuring life story interviews with significant researchers"

The Pioneers of Social Research resource is a rich, dynamic and expanding resource for the social sciences.

It includes in-depth life-story interviews with 34 pioneers of British social research, including eminent scholars such as Peter Townsend and Ann Oakley. The resource also provides selected thematic extracts from the interviews and links to research data. Each interview - conducted by oral historian Paul Thompson - covers the researcher's family and social background and key influences with detailed accounts of major projects.

This resource enables faceted browsing of the extracts by subject, theme, researcher and methodological approach. In addition audio versions of the extracts bring the pioneers' stories to life. This makes it ideal for teaching as it engages students in an interactive learning experience.

Many of the original interviews with the Pioneers are available to download as a collection, Pioneers of Qualitative Research, 1996-2012, through the UK Data Service.

The browsing interface is powered by Simile Exhibit, an open source application using semantic web technology, with support from the ESRC Ensemble Project.

How can the interviews be used?

Firstly we can look at them as individual biographical accounts, to understand the influences, fieldwork methods, feelings and experiences of a major and admired earlier researcher.

We can trace, through their notably acute social observation, how researchers' lives were shaped by family and society. We can see how their own experience, for example of social class or the extended family, generated their key research concerns.

Coming to better understand an earlier generation of researchers can be an inspiration to younger researchers, offering models and encouragement to help them develop new ideas from their own social observations and experiences.

We can also track significant themes which run across whole sets of interviews, and which are still very much relevant today. Examples include: gender and kinship; the pleasures of research, or how ideas develop; research design; fieldwork methods; ethics; and methods of analysis.

By tracing these themes we can tap into some of the long experience of earlier social researchers on issues which still concern us today.

Teaching with Pioneers

We have developed a range of worksheets which will help focus teaching in on selected themes: women and social research, poverty and inequality in the UK, community studies, pioneering research methods and reusing archived data.We recommend that you direct students to the introductory worksheet plus one additional worksheet per exercise.

Each worksheet contains links to selected extracts, followed by questions relating to the extract and the theme that it addresses. As students may want to listen to the audio extracts which accompany the text, they may want to bring headphones if working in a class.

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