Three Q&A for LSE100 Lecturer Series
What does your research focus on?
If I was to define my research interest broadly, I would say that I care about the “human” side of politics. My current main research project is called “Inside the Mind of a voter” . It predominantly focuses on what goes through people’s minds when they are in the polling booth ready to cast their vote, and more generally on electoral psychology, that is the role of personality, emotions, and memory on citizens’ vote. The project also looks at electoral ergonomics, which is the way in which every small details in the way the vote is organised (for instance the type of ballot paper which is used, the way polling stations are designed, or simply whether people vote using a paper ballot, an electronic voting machine, or vote from home on the internet) affects the way people vote and how satisfied they are with the democratic system. I am having great fun with the project because it has enabled us to pioneer some highly innovative methods (for instance an experiment where we partnered with professional film makers to film the shadow of voters when they are in the polling booth, or a series of election diaries that voters keep during the campaign) and explore a lot of new questions. I also enjoy the fact that it has important impact. For instance, our findings have led us to advise a government on how to make it easier for illiterate and disabled citizens to vote.
How have the findings and methods of other disciplines influenced your own thinking and research?
I’m not sure if it is a paradox or not, but I am equally attached to disciplinary identity and to interdisciplinarity! The very nature of my research topics – elections, identities, public opinion – means that I always end up working with colleagues from a vast array of disciplines: psychologists, philosophers, sociologists, discourse analysts, anthropologists, lawyers, historians, and even physicists and medical specialists! I love it as it is important to have people challenging what our individual traditions tend to take for granted. I am also very broad minded methodologically. When I was a PhD student in the US, I learnt econometrics from mathematicians and economists and psychometrics from psychologists. They often hated each other and one another’s methods but it mostly allowed me to realise that different methods were good at doing different things! While I am mostly a quantitativist by training, I also progressively learnt to love qualitative methods as well, realising that it often adds a different form of depth to our research and that it can be just as rigorous and demanding as quantitative research. Nearly all my research projects always include at least 3 or 4 different quantitative and qualitative methods (surveys, experiments, interviews, etc) that I superimpose. My large electoral psychology project uses a dozen different methods, many of which are adapted from other disciplines.
What piece of advice would you give students at LSE?
Learn to be intellectually honest I guess. This is an everyday task for any of us and it is not always pleasant. It means that you doubt all the time, that you always try to figure out what might be wrong with your argument, method, or findings before someone else does, and that you realise that answers are never simple and that as long as you deal with human beings, there is never a “perfect” way to do research. Instead, you need to make a lot of choices and arbitrate between different ways of doing things, and while there is no “right” choice (there may well be some wrong ones!) it is crucial to understand what are the risks and limitations associated with the choices that you make. Ultimately, by the time you understand that a good question is even more important than a good answer, you are definitely on the right track!