The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences has a lively postgraduate community and many of our PGR students are involved in Engaged Research. In this series of blog posts, postgraduates reflect on their how their work engages with publics, uses co-creation and creates impact. In this month’s blog post, Politics and International Relations PhD student Charis Gerosideris reflects on how he built public engagement into his research methodology.
At the very beginning of my PhD in Politics and International Relations, I realized that there is a gap in the academic discussion on environmental security. The existing debate is based on whether or not climate change is a security issue or whether or not security has any useful connection with climate change. Academics have also focused more on explaining the link between climate change and security in a context only for the developed and developing countries, ignoring the less developed and vulnerable countries during the global economic recession, such as Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, etc. These academic discussions also often exclude the wider public. In my research engagement is crucial. Public opinion is at the core of my examination of climate change and security connection.
In my doctoral thesis one of my main concerns was not to develop a narrow academic perception/theory, or to answer essential questions solely for security studies’ academics and exclude the wider public once again. Also, as I am from Greece, I knew that there was not any academic or public discussion on climate change as a security issue in the country, so I settled on Greece as my focus. From the outset, I tried to find an appropriate methodology to incorporate public engagement into my research. In order to deal with the expected (and unexpected!) problems during my fieldwork and to successfully include public perceptions in this research, I settled on Q Methodology. My research thesis is titled ‘perceptions of climate change as a security issue in the case of Greece an application of Q Methodology in security studies’. It aims to begin a discussion on climate change and security with people from a wider audience, who have interrelated economic, social and political interests, rather than those only concerned with environmental issues as a consequence of the global economic crisis.
Q Methodology and Security Studies
Q Methodology holds the characteristics of a ‘unique and innovative methodology of analysing systematically the human subjectivity’[i]. The term subjectivity in the Q lexicon means the ways in which a person communicates his or her point(s) of view. In other words, subjectivity represents the person’s individual points and exclusive behaviour, such as opinions, attitudes, perceptions, etc. Q methodology requires the research to follow six simple steps: identification of an issue, identification of relevant group of participants, selection of participants, structured interviews, selection of statements, Q-sorts and statistical analysis. It aims to collect opinions or perceptions and then verbally interpret these statically oriented data.
Q Methodology has been invented to be used in psychology, but it has been applied in many different disciplines, including political science, communication science even health and behavioural sciences. In security studies though, there is no other methodology which promises a more sophisticated analysis of human subjectivity ‘in a structured and statistically interpretable form’[ii].
Moreover, this research method is a very successful attitudinal methodology for bridging the gap between quantitative and qualitative applications in social discourses, as it creates patterns of perspectives of certain groups of individuals and utilizes the factor analysis as a statistical technique for allocating the range of these groups’ discourses. This characteristic does not exist in the other available research methodologies in the security field. Discourse simply means ‘the way of seeing and talking about something’[iii] and this methodology has a remarkable way of collating and correlating perspectives with the view of excerpting hidden discourses from the data which has been collected by particular groups of people. This is something that is missing from the entire security field and my research project tries to create an intelligible methodological pattern for any security study to overcome this complexity.
Public Engagement and Q Methodology
Q Methodology provides ad hoc support for public engagement. Any application of Q Methodology requires people’s point of views, so it is quite easy for a research project to secure through this research method the connection between a specific topic with the individual opinions of people. My research has focused on the stakeholders’ perceptions of climate change and security in Greece with the view to establishing the viewpoints of four different groups of people (policy-makers, non-governmental organisations NGOs, energy-industry leaders, the public).
The main aim of the research is to explore the perceptions of these four stakeholder groups and analyse the differences between these and academic opinions, highlighting the oppositions and the similarities not only for theory purposes but even for policy and practical reasons. This project has tried to develop a pattern of applying Q in security studies aiming to engage public actors and policy-makers who are not taking part in at least the crucial and vital discussion on climate change as a security issue. This public engagement is capable of re-examining the problematic connection between security and climate change in a country in which there is not any open discussion on the issue of climate change in general. Q Methodology, not only in my research thesis, ensures that public engagement is not just a research process of including the people; it also guarantees that these established perceptions of people will have policy relevance. This is quite advantageous for all research studies which explore difficulties of engaging with the public.
Ask the People!
In my point of view and according to my research experience, the major problem of most research in the social sciences is that it does not refer to the majority of people or sometimes does not represent the public’s or social opinion. Security studies excludes any other actor from the field and completely represents the opinions of the academics, which is in most cases unrealistic and elitist. Any research which seeks to answer major societal questions has to engage with the public. The only way to include the public or those who hold their vested interest is by asking these people!
_______________________________________________________________________________________________[i] McKeown, B., and Thomas, D., (1988), Q-Methodology, Sage Publications Ltd, London, UK
[ii] Barry, J., and Proops, J., (2000), Citizenship, Sustainability and Environmental Research: Q Methodology and Local Exchange Trading Systems. Edward Elgar Publishing Limited, Cheltenham, UK
[iii] Pierce, R., (2008), Research Methods in Politics: A Practical Guide. Sage Publications Ltd, London, UK