What is facet methodology?

NCRM news
Vanessa May, Jennifer Mason, Rob Meckin and Petra Nordqvist, The University of Manchester
Gemstone facetsGemstone facets

Facet methodology is a creative approach to researching that aims to create insights into our social world. It is an approach developed by a team of colleagues at the Morgan Centre for Research into Everyday Lives at The University of Manchester and launched by Jennifer Mason in her 2011 paper Facet Methodology: The Case for an Inventive Research Orientation.

There are two key things to understand about facet methodology. First, it is not a set of procedures but an approach or an orientation. It is in other words a methodology rather than a method. The second thing to keep in mind is that facet methodology does not necessarily entail mixing methods – in other words, facet methodology is not just another term for mixed methods research.

The term facet methodology emerges from the central metaphor used to describe this orientation, namely that of the facets of a gemstone. In facet methodology, the gemstone is the phenomenon under study, the thing that we are interested in. And like the facets of the gemstone that reflect and refract light in different ways, we can think of facet methodology as adopting different theoretical and methodological lenses or facets to shed light on the phenomenon that we are studying. Facets are chosen in a strategic manner such that they can shed light on telling aspects of this phenomenon.

The defining characteristic of facet methodology is that it is an inventive research orientation that shapes the whole research process. In other words, facet methodology cannot be reduced to the methods we use in research. Instead, it is an orientation that guides how we think of the phenomenon that we are interested in, the concepts we use to make sense of it, how we empirically study it and how we make sense of our data. Throughout this process, Mason urges researchers to remain open and inquisitive so as not to close off any avenues of investigation from the outset. Adopting such a playful research orientation can mean that we make use of a range of theoretical approaches and techniques of data collection and analysis – and indeed, Mason encourages researchers to experiment with epistemologies. This same playfulness and inquisitiveness can also shape how we write about our research, for example by trying to find alternative, more creative ways of conveying our findings.

NCRM’s one-day course A Practical Introduction to Facet Methodology is aimed at researchers at various career stages, from PhD students onwards. The morning sessions in this workshop will introduce some of the key elements of facet methodology and offer examples of how the approach has been used in research in the Morgan Centre. In the afternoon, participants will get a chance to work in small groups to consider whether and how a facet methodology approach might be useful in their own projects.

Register for A Practical Introduction to Facet Methodology