CASS in the 2017 ESRC Festival of Social Science

The ESRC Festival of Social Science is an annual celebration of social science research – comprised of a huge array of public events of all kinds, and designed to promote awareness of UK social science research across the board. This year, it runs from 4th to 11th November.

As the team at ESRC says,

“You may be surprised at just how relevant the Festival’s events are to society today. Social science research makes a difference. Discover how it shapes public policy and contributes to making the economy more competitive, as well as giving people a better understanding of 21st century society. From big ideas to the most detailed observations, social science affects us all everyday – at work, in school, when raising children, within our communities, and even at the national level.”

As an ESRC Centre, CASS has been involved in the Festival since our work began in 2013. We have organised events of different types in different years – for instance, in the first year of the Centre, our contribution to the Festival was a series of talks in schools in the North West of English to introduce the kind of social science analysis in which we specialise to students in sixth-form. It was great to be able to reach out to an audience that we rarely have a chance to communicate with about our work.

In subsequent years, we organised events under our “Valuing language” banner – aimed at using examples of our work to present to a public audience the benefits across the social sciences that arise in research that understands the value of language for all kinds of social investigations. Our first “Valuing language” event was in London; the following year we held another event in Manchester.

This year our contribution to the Festival of Social Science is a new “Valuing language” presentation. This event focuses in particular on two strands of research that have been under way in CASS for the past two years or so, looking at the intersection of language with the critical issue of health and healthcare. We are also returning to London for the event, entitled “Valuing language: Effective communication in healthcare provision”. The event – at 6.30 pm on Thursday 9th November – is particularly aimed at healthcare practitioners and those training to enter healthcare services – but of course, it is open to anyone with an interest in this work!

The evening will include two presentations, one on each of these strands of work. First will be a presentation of research into patient comments on healthcare services collected through the NHS Choices website. Patient feedback has often been analysed by looking straightforwardly at the numeric ratings given in feedback. However, the textual responses supplied alongside these ratings are a far richer source of data – albeit so extensive they can be non-straightforward to analyse! But this is, of course, where corpus-based linguistic methods come in. A CASS project, led by Paul Baker, has applied these methods to investigate patients place on interpersonal skills and effective, compassionate communication. Two members of the team working on this project, myself and Craig Evans, will give an overview of how we have gone about analysing this unique and fascinating source of data.

In the second half of the event, CASS Director Elena Semino will present her work looking at patients’ reporting of pain. A common way for healthcare practitioners to assess the level of pain that patients are experiencing is to use questionnaires that present descriptor  words – such as “pricking/boring/drilling/stabbing”. The descriptor word that a patient chooses is assumed to reflect the level of their pain. Elena’s research suggests, however, that patients’ choice of descriptor may in many cases instead be a result of how strongly associated with the word “pain” the descriptor word is. Again, this is a problem that corpus-based language analysis is an ideal way to address. Elena will explain the findings of her investigation and also consider the implications these findings have for how descriptor-word questionnaires should be used in assessing patients’ pain.

We’re all looking forward to participating once again in the ESRC Festival and we hope to see you there!

Find out more (and sign up for the event) via http://cass.lancs.ac.uk/festival17.