Dr Kate Gibson

Faculty of Medical Sciences

Please describe your current research interests and projects. 

The current research I'm involved in at the moment is a big mixed methods project evaluating a complex social prescribing health intervention. Social prescribing is essentially when the GP refers a patient to a link worker who then links you into other activities in the voluntary community sector (VCS) and other organisations. I'm working on an ethnography with service users of the intervention to explore their experience of the intervention and how the intervention embeds itself in their social worlds. Part of that is also exploring how class features in the local context in which they all live. I conducted an initial semi-structured interview. Some of those participants are then taking part in the ethnography where I sort of follow them about! With other participants it's been a bit more ‘light touch’ so I've just been telephoning them and popping in every so often. Some participants have also taken part in the photo elicitation interview which has been particularly helpful for those participants who speak English as a second language. 

I've also interviewed some family members to kind of understand how the health intervention is embedded into the household and then I'll be doing final exit interviews with all participants after COVID. I was due to have been doing them right now but fieldwork has been postponed. 

Why did you choose this field? 

Well, I've always been quite interested in class. My PhD was about middle-class food practices. That interest, I suppose I was influenced by my personal experience as well. I've always worked in restaurants and things like that, and I've kind of seen the way that food is used as a marker for distinction. 

Also I suppose being a mother and feeling the pressures around you to feed your kids particular foods like organic rice cakes and things like that, and the fact that most research really concentrates on people who eat the wrong foods. I got to redress that imbalance a little bit. 

How did you get into research? 

Oh gosh, well, it was when I finished my undergrad in 1998. I lived in Australia and met a professor there who wanted a research assistant to basically go to the library and search through old newspapers for mentions of English literature between 1880 and 1930. So I just was paid by the hour and I picked up a bit of other work after that. I then took a break from research and came back to do a PhD in 2014. My PhD was about how the middle class is engage with food through the household, exploring how food is used as a tool for kind of to express and perform identity. 

I interviewed people over 2 waves of interviews for the PhD. The first interview was a sort of quite static semi-structured interview where I asked about life histories and also ask them to plot relationships where food played a role. And then I left my participants with a disposable camera and returned a few months later with the photos developed, and then they talked me through those photos. But in that second interview I also kind of explored with them some of the places in the home where food was sort of dealt with: kitchen cupboard rummages, freezer rummages things like that. I also asked them to narrate their life history via the kitchen cupboards in the second interview, how did the food contents compareto when they grew up and things like that. 

What are the main methods you use and why? 

Well my PhD was kind of ethnographically-inspired and then I came into this current role, which was more of an ethnography. My Masters research was not ethnographic at all, it was just straight interviews. So it's kind of been a progression. But as I've progressed through the methods, it just becomes so apparent to me the ways in which knowledge is co-constructed, the importance of reflecting on the nature of how that knowledge is produced, and the ways in which it's not just about what people say in an interview, but there's so much unsaid. Ethnography is a good way to understand more of that unsaid nature. 

Which research methods excite you? 

Just the active methods really; being out and about with people through active ethnographies, they excite me! 

Are there any methods you’d like to explore further or attend training in? 

Maybe more mobile methods. I went to a conference recently and listened to lots of talks about mobile methods and I’m drawing on that in this ethnography to a degree, walking with people and stuff, but I think that’s really something that would be useful to explore a bit more. 

Walking with people or sitting next to them on a bus, maybe working somewhere, I find that it really helps balance the power between dynamics. Conversation flows a little bit easier when you're sitting next to someone or walking alongside them. One of our participants has an allotment, so I've gone with him and he's got me digging and stuff. And just while we've dug alongside each other, he's then been able to talk to me about, for example, type 2 diabetes, or his fear about getting his “leg chopped off.” When I interviewed him, his interview was very short. He wasn't able to sort of expand and articulate with me kind of firing questions at him, regardless of how I tried to sort of, you know, be a bit chatty and friendly. Just being alongside someone and working together really helps with those sensitive conversations. So I suppose that's more participatory, as well as active. 

And who inspires you methodologically? 

Bourdieu, because he really helps you to critically reflect on knowledge production. How is it produced? Whose knowledge counts? That's a really important point around whose knowledge has value. Because ultimately, it’s the researcher’s. Your knowledge about somebody else’s knowledge seems to take value over theirs, which I want to challenge. 

What, about methods, did you wish your younger self had known? 

I suppose, reflexivity, just the ability to reflect. Yeah, which sort of comes with age as well as maybe better methods and theoretical training!