Knowledge corner

Developments in Theory and Methods

About Us

This research group addresses the linked challenges of understanding the nature and scope of knowledge (epistemology), reliably collecting and analysing diverse data about the social world (research methods) and explaining the different kinds of patterns that result (theory). All of these areas tie into established traditions in the Department, from the work of Elias on The Civilising Process and figurational sociology to innovative empirical research on topics such as football hooliganism and migration. In this research cluster, we analyse various aspects of knowledge in relation to: Political communication and media debate, social memory, social movements, communication between children and medical professionals, informality, vulnerability, biobanks, racism, decision making, religion and crime. The group has had funding from the ESRC (including a node in the National Centre for Research Methods on Agent Based Modelling) and EU FP 7.

Research Themes

Our research into developments in theory and methods includes:

  • Specialised and innovative research methods (Agent Based Modelling, Conversation Analysis, New Approaches to Statistical Analysis, Social Network Analysis, Visual Methods).
  • Effective use of diverse data sources: Restudies and Secondary Analysis of Qualitative Data (including Field Notes), Quantitative Secondary Data Analysis, Data-sharing, Analysis of Paradata and Marginalia, Documentary Analysis, Analysis of Fiction, Audio soundscapes, Internet research, effective Research Designs and Research Questions, Difficult to Reach Groups, Integrating Qualitative and Quantitative Data through Agent Based Models.
  • Advancing theory in new areas (Sense-Making, Vulnerability, Human/Non-Human Boundary).
  • Distinctive Research Designs (Historical and Qualitative Comparative, Qualitative ABM, Cohort Studies.)
  • Implications of different epistemological and theoretical stances for the effective conduct of research (Ethnomethodology, figurational sociology, 'generative' social science, actor network theory, critical realism, incommensurability and interdisciplinarity, social evolution) including research ethics. (Not just what can we know but what are we allowed to know.)

Areas of PhD supervision

We welcome applications from prospective PhD students interested in topics that connect to any of the themes active in this cluster.


Our academics involved in this area of research include

Professor Bob Carter

My recent work has explored the relationship between language and social identity. This has incorporated some of my earlier interests in racism and ethnicity (Carter & Sealey (2004) The Limits of Language: Applied Linguistics as Social Science London: Continuum). Other areas of research interest that have developed from earlier work are the relationship between genomics, genealogies and contemporary notions of identity (see Ethnic and Racial Studies 30(4): 546-556) and the impact of current knowledge of human genetic variation on social categorisations of race and ethnicity. I published, with Steve Fenton, a critique of ethnicity thinking in sociology (Carter, B & Fenton S 2010 Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 40(1) 1-18) and have worked with Simon Dyson on the ethnicisation of sickle cell disease. For the last two years I have collaborated with Nickie Charles on projects investigating human-nonhuman animal relations. I have co-edited, and contributed to, Nature, Society and Environmental Crisis (Blackwell Wiley, 2010) and of Human and Other Animals: Critical Perspectives (Palgrave MacMillan, forthcoming). My current research explores notions of agency in contemporary debates about human-nonhuman relations.

Dr Edmund Chattoe-Brown

My interests in Knowledge arise from the linked challenges of applying a new method (Agent-Based Modelling) usefully to sociology and reliably improving our understanding of decision making in socially relevant contexts (where many of the simplifying assumptions in economics, for example, do not hold). Agent-Based Models allow us to expand the class of rigorous models we can develop (for example of social evolution) but also requires the development of robust methodology (for example in using qualitative data to build models rather than simply provide narratives). Existing approaches (like social networks and innovation diffusion) are also refreshed by the novel capabilities of Agent-Based Modelling. Finally, the study of decision-making (and the capabilities of Agent-Based Modelling) raise interesting issues about the feasibility of genuinely synthetic and interdisciplinary research, which I am starting to explore in the context of opinion change.

Dr Ipek Demir

My research focuses on the translation of knowledge and data-sharing. I undertake research which explores the relationship between translation, trust and knowledge. In particular, I investigate the theoretical and philosophical dimensions of border-making, conflict, and translation and interaction across the boundaries of knowledge communities. I also carry out empirical research in this area, studying the relationship between trust, the movement (translation) of knowledge, data sharing, knowledge exchange and interdisciplinarity.

Professor John Goodwin

I have expertise in qualitative secondary analysis, restudies, biographical methods and the use of unconventional data sources in sociological research. Together with Jason Hughes I have developed a 'figurational analysis' of epistolary forms arguing that letters and correspondence offer a unique insight into the history of British sociology. Reflecting these methodological interests I have recently edited/co-edited three major works for SAGE – Biographical Methods (4 Volumes), Secondary Analysis (4 Volumes) and, with Jason Hughes, Documentary and Archival Research (4 Volumes). I am currently co-editing Contemporary Approaches to Ethnographic Research (4 Volumes) for SAGE with Jason Hughes and Kahryn Hughes (Leeds University) and a volume on Paradata, Marginalia and Fieldnotes with Henrietta O’Connor, Ros Edwards and Ann Phoenix. I am an expert of the social research methodology of Pearl Jephcott. I am Vice President (conferences) of the International Sociological Association Research Committee on Research Methodology (RC33) and I am the lead organiser for the RC33 conference to be held in Leicester in 2016. I am currently a member of the UK ESRC Capability Committee.

Professor Jason Hughes

I have a core interest in sociological theory and research methods. I’ve recently published a number of works relating to innovations in social research methods, including manuscripts on visual research methods; internet research methods; documentary and archival research; and a forthcoming volume on ethnography (all with Sage publications). My core interest in sociological theory stems principally from an early engagement with the work of Norbert Elias – a scholar whose sociological approach I was exposed to as an undergraduate student at Leicester. In a recent manuscript I, together with Emeritus Professor Eric Dunning, explored in depth Elias’s contribution to contemporary debates in sociological theory, with comparisons to scholars such as Michel Foucault, Anthony Giddens and Pierre Bourdieu. This undertaking encouraged me to develop a more general engagement with different approaches to sociological practice – the problem of how theory and research are interwoven; how research problems and questions are developed; and how different sociologists engage with and accommodate processes, relationships and non-humans in their accounts of the world. More generally, I’m interested in the development of relational sociology – this encompasses the work of scholars such as Latour and actor network theory, critical realists, and the new materialists such as Barad and the field of agential realism. I’ve recently extended this theoretical interest to the ascendancy of Digital Wearable Technologies using this case to explore questions about how technology is constitutive of the social world and, in relation to questions of method, how new technologies might enable a rethinking of research methodologies and approaches.

Professor Ian Hutchby

My research in this area is concerned with the development and application of the method known as conversation analysis. This is a form of sociology that uses recordings of social behaviour in naturally-occurring settings to investigate in close detail the processes of interaction, primarily focussing upon talk. There are numerous areas in which I have so far worked. One involves the negotiation of competing versions of reality, for example in arguments and persuasive accounts. I have been interested mainly in public or institutional dialogue settings, such as talk radio shows and small claims courts. More recent work has been investigating new aggressive trends in political news interviewing. Another strand of research considers how people make sense of one another, and of the interfaces of machines, in situations that are mediated by technologies such as phones, computers and social media. My work in this area considers the interaction between the affordances of technologies and the norms of social interaction. Links exist here with theories of technology, cognitive theory and artificial intelligence.

Professor Barbara Misztal

I am interested in sociological theory, esp. social theories of remembering, sociological theories of trust, informality and vulnerability. I am also involved in sociological theorising, in particular on questions of creativity, courage, and sense–making practice. The focus on the importance of sense-making practices, which is my main research interests at the moment, aims to enhance sociological understanding of the spectrum of normality by illustrating it with a help of literature. The reliance on works of fictions to enrich sociological imagination – is my distinctive take on method as well as on sociological theorising.

Dr Patrick White

I have a long-standing interest in research methods and research design.I have written one of the first texts on developing research questions and I am currently writing a second edition. I have also published an article on the neglect of research questions in methods teaching and have been invited to contribute a chapter on the topic for a new Sage collection on research methods in educational research. I have published on the problems with inferential statistics and I am currently writing a text book, called Sensible Statistics, that covers statistical analysis without the use of these problematic techniques. I use large-scale secondary data sets extensively in my research and I am currently involved in the evaluation of randomised controlled trials.


Selected publications for this research cluster:

Carter, B. (2014) ‘Realism and Social Research’, in Mrozowicki, A. and Turk, J. (eds.) Realist Biographical Methods (Leuven: Leuven University Press).

Carter, B. (2013) ‘Agency and the Non-human’, in Mrozowicki, A. (ed.) Social Agency (Wroclaw: Nomos).

Carter, B. and Charles, N. (2013) ‘Animals, Agency and Resistance’, Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 14, pp. 321-340.

Carter, B. and Dyson, S. (2015) 'Actor Network Theory, Agency and Racism: The Case of Sickle Cell Trait and US Athletics', Social Theory and Health, 13, pp. 62-77.

Carter, B. and Sealey, A. (2015) ‘Realist Social Theory and Multilingualism in Europe’, European Journal of Applied Linguistics, 3, pp. 1–19.

Chattoe-Brown, E. (2014) ‘Using Agent Based Modelling to Integrate Data on Attitude Change’, Sociological Research Online, 19, <>.

Chattoe-Brown, E. (2012) ‘Combining Ethnography and Game Theory Using Simulation: A Critique and Development of ‘Can Norms Account for Strategic Interaction?’ by S. Gezelius’, Sociology, 46, pp. 339-353.

Chattoe-Brown, E. and Edmonds, B. (2013) ‘Modelling Evolutionary Mechanisms in Social Systems’, in Edmonds, B. and Meyer, R. (eds.) Simulating Social Complexity, Understanding Complex Systems Series (Berlin: Springer-Verlag).

Demir, I. (2011) ‘Lost in Translation? Try Second Language Learning: Understanding Movements of Ideas and Practices across Time and Space’, Journal of Historical Sociology, 24, pp. 9-26.

Demir, I. and Murtagh, M. (2013) ‘Data Sharing across Biobanks: Epistemic Values, Data Mutability and Data Incommensurability’, New Genetics and Society, 32, pp. 350-365.

Edwards, R., Goodwin, J., O’Connor, H. and Phoenix, A. (2016) Working with Paradata, Marginalia and Fieldnotes: The Centrality of By-Products of Social Research (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar).

Goodwin, J. (2012) Secondary Analysis, Volumes 1-4 (London: Sage).

Goodwin, J. (2012) Biographical Methods, Volumes 1-4 (London: Sage).

Goodwin, J. and O'Connor, H. (2015) Norbert Elias’s Lost Research: Revisiting the Young Worker Project (Farnham: Ashgate).

Hughes, J. (ed.) (2012) Visual Methods, Volumes 1-4 (London: Sage).

Hughes, J. (ed.) (2012) Internet Research Methods, Volumes 1-4 (London: Sage).

Hughes, J. and Goodwin, J. (eds) (2014) Documentary and Archival Research, Volumes 1-4 (London: Sage).

Hutchby, I., O’Reilly, M. and Parker, N. (2012) ‘Ethics in praxis: Negotiating the role and functions of a Video Camera in Family Therapy’, Discourse Studies, 14, pp. 675-690.

Monforte, P. (2014) Europeanizing Contention: The Protest against ‘Fortress Europe’ in France and Germany (Oxford: Berghahn).

Monforte, P. (2014) ‘The Cognitive Dimension of Social Movements’ Europeanization Processes: The Case of the Protest against ‘Fortress Europe’’, Perspectives on European Politics and Society, 15, pp. 120-137.

Monforte, P. and Dufour, P. (2013) ‘Understanding Collective Actions of Undocumented Migrants in a Comparative Perspective: Protest as an Act of Emancipation’, European Political Science Review, 5, pp. 83-104.

Monforte, P. and Dufour, P. (2011) ‘Mobilizing in Borderline Citizenship Regimes: A Comparative Analysis of Undocumented Migrants’ Collective Actions’, Politics and Society, 39, pp. 202-232.

Murtagh, M., Demir, I., Harris, J. and Burton, P. (2011) ‘Realizing the Promise of Population Biobanks: A New Model for Translation’, Human Genetics, 130, pp. 333-345.

Murtagh, M., Demir, I., Jenkings, K., Wallace, S., Murtagh, B., Boniol, M., Bota, M., LaFlamme, P., Boffetta, P., Ferretti, V. and Burton, P. (2012) ‘Securing the Data Economy: Translating Privacy and Enacting Security in the Development of DataSHIELD’, Public Health Genomics, 15, pp. 243-253.

Misztal, B. (2012) ‘The Idea of Dignity: Its Modern Significance’, European Journal of Sociology, 16, pp. 101-121.

Misztal, B. (2011) The Challenges of Vulnerability: In Search of Strategies for a Less Vulnerable Social Life (Palgrave Macmillan).

Misztal, B. (2011) ‘Trust: Acceptance of, Precaution against and Cause of Vulnerability’, Comparative Sociology, 10, pp. 358-379.

O’Connor, H. and Goodwin, J. (2013) ‘The Ethical Dilemmas of Restudies in Researching Youth’, YOUNG: Nordic Journal of Youth Research, 21, pp. 289–307.

O'Connor, H. and Goodwin, J. (2012) ‘Revisiting Norbert Elias’s Sociology of Community: Learning from the Leicester Restudies’, The Sociological Review, 60, pp. 476-497.

White, P. (2014) ‘Against Inferential Statistics: A Response to Gorard’, The Psychology of Education Review, 38, pp. 24-28.

White, P. (2013) ‘Who’s Afraid of Research Questions? The Neglect of Research Questions in the Methods Literature and a Call for Question-led Methods Teaching’, International Journal of Research and Method in Education, 36, pp. 213-227.

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