KUV - Learning to Use the KUV Approach

Once the first prototype version of KNQ2 was nearing completion – towards the middle of 2015 – it was time to recruit PhD students who would work with it in their research projects. In fact the software was not the only thing that needed to be ready: there was also the ‘liveware’ – ourselves. Naturally the priority was to provide the PhD students with training that they needed; but, in one respect or other, the combination of theories and methods that we have been trying to deploy has required all of us, including the older members of the team, to acquire new knowledge and skills.

Scene from the Freyburg wine festival. 2015

As part of the training, senior team members offered two courses in kinship theory. In winter semester 2015/16, Günther Schlee organised together with Martine Guichard and Alexander Pashos a block seminar 'Anthropology of kinship' at the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. The presentations in the course gave an overview about classical kinship concepts, theories and terminologies. Current research topics regarding classical and new kinship questions, and evolutionary perspectives had been presented and discussed. This was followed in winter semester 2016/17 by a course, given by Patrick Heady, on the use of  mathematical network ideas in kinship theory and research. The PhD students, and Martine Guichard, also  attended statistics courses – and a one-day workshop on sampling methods and the ethical issues involved in obtaining informed consent.

Just as important, however, was learning to apply this knowledge – and handle the KNQ2 software – in the field. Technical skills – editing and using KNQ2 – are part of this. But even more important is the whole experience of engaging imaginatively with a new social reality, formulating relevant research hypotheses, thinking about how they could be tested statistically, designing the required KNQ2 questions, conducting the interviews, and finally analysing and reporting the results. As all of these were new experiences for PhD students whose training, up to that time, had been in qualitative methods, we thought it unwise simply to send them off to their field sites and hope for the best. Our solution was for them to conduct two small research projects, under real fieldwork conditions, near their academic home bases in Halle and Zürich – before attempting to apply the same methods in their own research sites.

The first of these projects was a study of family businesses in the wine industry, focusing on the respective roles of kinship and other ties. This began with a visit to the Freyburg wine festival in September 2015. Patrick Heady and the PhD students Louise Bechtold, Verena La Mela and Zarina Mukanova used the occasion to learn something about the wine trade in the Saale-Unstrut valley, just to the south of Halle. During the next few weeks the students developed their research questions, and programmed them into the KNQ2 software. Over the winter they individually went back to the Saale-Unstrut valley to conduct three interviews each with local winegrowers. They were able to download the data and start the analysis at the end of January 2016.

On the slopes of the Surselva valley.

The second small research project took place at the beginning of June 2016 during a 10-day scientific retreat in the Surselva valley, in a Romanschspeaking part of Switzerland. The participants in the retreat were the KUV students La Mela, Mukanova and Pieta, and senior team members Schlee, Pashos and Heady – together with Peter Finke, our Zürich cooperation partner from the Centre for Anthropological Studies of Central Asia (CASCA). Daily workshops were held on the practical usage of the KNQ2 software, and on classical kinship research questions. The students presented their PhD projects, and applied the KNQ2 software to produce preliminary versions of the questionnaires that they would use for interviewing in their own field sites.

Interviewing in the Surselva valley

The joint research project – which we carried out in Surselva itself – consisted of a small survey on language  use in this effectively bilingual (Romansch and Germanspeaking) area. In the project questionnaire – which was designed by the group as a whole – informants were asked about their various social networks, including those involving kinship, neighbourhood, work and leisure; and they were also asked about the language they use in each context.

These preliminary research projects provided valuable experience of the different phases of the research process – and the KNQ2 software itself was given a useful quality test. We are grateful for the generous help we received from local people in both places.

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