With the Winter School in Methods & Techniques in full session, hosts Bamberg School of Social Sciences (BAGSS) spoke to one of the academic convenors, Benoît Rihoux, about what makes the Winter School special, why Bamberg is the perfect host and what he personally aims to achieve through this annual event.
BAGSS What is special about the ECPR Winter School in Methods and Techniques?
Benoît There are several important aspects, which are shared both by the Winter School and the Summer School, as really this is an integrated Methods School, all year round.
First of all, it is designed to be all-encompassing. Many varieties of research are presented – qualitative, comparative, quantitative methods, etc. In most method schools around the world, there is often an emphasis on a given ‘family’ of methods (typically: more qualitative, or more quantitative methods) because this is seen as the ‘best’ way to do research.
However, there are multiple views of methods in social sciences. Our view is: ‘Let’s be rigorous in our methods, whichever one we choose.’ So that is what we aim to do.
Secondly, the Winter School is non-profit. We aim to break even financially of course but the mission is really to make methods training as accessible as possible to the maximum number of people. This is especially important for self-funded students, mainly from Eastern or Southern Europe where funding for additional training and mobility is not necessarily available.
Thirdly, the Winter School is a place where people develop career skills. Not only the attendees but also the instructors. We strive to find a wide diversity of instructors from different backgrounds. This means we don’t only invite ‘big names’. Often we invite young, very motivated instructors, post-docs or such. They might not yet be as established but they really burn for their respective courses and projects. We want to target colleagues that are committed to the mission of teaching rigorous methodology to a demanding and motivated public.
BAGSS What makes Bamberg in general and Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg and Graduate School specifically a suitable host?
Benoît From a technical standpoint, it is practical that we can concentrate all the activities in one single building. People are in the same facility, spend their breaks together and can exchange what they’ve learned in their courses; they can also socialise, create links in general, which is very important for network- and career-building. So it is large enough but still, everything is in one building.
From a content perspective, there is a local critical mass of people who teach and are specialised in various methods. At BAGSS, and around BAGSS, there are many professors and students who work rigorously with numerous methods. This is of course also cheaper because they do not require travel costs and this again helps our mission to keep the enrolment fee as low as possible as to make the Winter School accessible to all.
Bamberg as a city is great because it is relatively small and cosy. I personally think this is a great advantage. After the course sessions, during the social events, you spontaneously bump into people in the city centre and that is just nice. Of course it’s not Berlin, or Paris, or London, etc. but people don’t scatter when the daily academic activities are over, which is great for socializing and networking.
BAGSS What are you personally hoping to achieve this Winter School?
Benoît I definitely have long-term goals. In two keywords I would say: social contact and innovation.
Social contact in the sense that we are building a community here. It’s not only about professional networking, personally I have developed real friendships. It’s a platform where you can sit together at dinner or over a coffee or beer and discuss all kinds of topics, academic or non-academic.
Innovation in the sense that the Winter School is not about replicating knowledge but to help develop methodological innovations and to push the participants to think about what methods are about. It sounds ambitious but I am proud of the fact that we are expanding frontiers.