Key Research: Methods in Practice

Drawing on three of our own projects, we briefly provide examples of some of these innovations in qualitative research in practice.

Using Visual-Spatial Methods in Focus Groups to Understand Youth Experience of Regulated Public Spaces

Debra, in collaboration with Rachel Manning, has used a variety of visual- spatial methods to explore the ways young people understand and negotiate various forms of spatial restriction in their everyday use of place (see Gray & Manning, 2014). They recruited participants from areas in the South of England with a high level of spatial regulation, because they were close to sites that had been subject to an anti-social behaviour (ASB) dispersal zone in the preceding two years or had been identified by the police as an ASB

Hotspot’. The multi-method project included interviews with 20 police officers and police community support officers about their policing of young people, a qualitative survey of young people in schools and focus groups with 89 young people aged 11-16 years. The focus groups were conducted with already-existing friendship groups. We asked participants to collectively construct spatial maps of the places in their local area that were important to them; these maps then formed the basis of the focus group discussions. Data were analysed discursively, using Dixon and Durrheim’s (2004) reworking of the concept of place identity. Using (visual) mapping methods grounded the analysis in important ways—allowing participants’ constructions of places, identity and belonging to be concretely located within specific contexts and spatial practices. Moreover, it facilitated discussion based around participants’ own concerns—discussion focused on the spaces and places that were important to them and why. Overall, this produced some counter-intuitive find- ings—for instance, about the ways young people construct the regulation of their own and others’ behaviour as appropriate. It also highlighted the complexity of young people’s experiences in, and negotiation of, public spaces. Indeed, our findings highlighted a variety of challenging and often contradictory issues regarding young people’s use of public space in the context of restrictive forms of institutional practice, including the problematic nature of childhood, participants’ own positioning on its boundaries with adulthood and how this was embedded in competing notions of appropriate space use and socio-spatial relationships.

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