Meet Dr Marnie Howlett, DPIR's Departmental Lecturer in Politics (Qualitative Methods)

To celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science we asked DPIR's new Departmental Lecturer in Politics (Qualitative Methods), Dr Marnie Howlett, some questions about her research, what inspired her passion for qualitative methods, and what she hopes for the future generation of women political scientists.

You joined us in Michaelmas term 2021, so a belated welcome to the Department Marnie! Can you tell us a little bit about your teaching work this year?

This term, I am convening Qualitative Methods in Political Science (it is the first course that I have designed, so I am really excited about it!). In Michaelmas Term, I taught on the Research Design in Comparative Political Science course and the Comparative Government core course. I will also be teaching the Ethnography course in Trinity Term. 

It sounds busy! How does your teaching work intersect with your research?

I have a real interest in research methodology, particularly research ethics and visual and spatial methods in political science, so there is a lot of crossover. I have recently published a blog with Dr William Allen about why visuals matter in politics, particularly now, and I will be hosting two roundtables with him and the Migration and Mobility Network (MNN) on the same theme in the next two weeks. Beyond this, I am currently finalising a co-edited book project about conducting fieldwork within the former Soviet Union, as well as several projects relating to the ethics of conducting digital and remote fieldwork and the use of mapping as a method for political science research.

My research centres on the intersection of cartography, nationalism, and geopolitics within the former Soviet Union, particularly Ukraine--so there's a lot for me to read and keep up with at the moment. Given the relevance of my research in light of the recent events in Eastern Europe, I published a piece on LSE EUROPP blog: The Russia-Ukraine crisis reminds us that the absence of war is not always peace. I am also working on a book monograph, Imagined Borderlands, which explores the intersection and overlap of imagined and territorial cartographies for contemporary politics.

It sounds like you're really pushing the boundaries of mapping methods in political science. What inspired your interest in innovative methodological and analytical approaches?

It all stems from the realisation during my postgraduate studies that I did not have the tools to answer the questions I sought to answer. I therefore began auditing courses and attended training at a IQMR Summer School at Syracuse University and ECPR Winter School at the Bamberg Graduate School of Social Sciences to further my knowledge around different approaches to research.

While I specialise in qualitative methods, I triangulate diverse methods in my own research as I believe the strengths of the different methods can overcome their individual deficiencies. I am fascinated by the opportunities provided by qualitative research to explore the complex topics I am interested in, like identity, as well as to directly engage with the people and societies we as political scientists discuss and write about.

Today is International Day of Women and Girls in Science - have any women scholars inspired your journey into political science?

I am the scholar I am today because of countless role models and mentors. While politics has often been perceived as a male-dominated field, numerous women and men have inspired and supported me in the pursuit of my own research and teaching interests, particularly of methods.

While there are several individuals who have supported me, Professor Tomila Lankina,  Dr Olga Onuch, and Dr Eleanor Knott have been constant sources of encouragement, intellectual guidance, and support for my research interest in Eastern European politics. Dr Nicole Wegner also inspired me with her own study of nationalism, and likewise, Professor Loleen Berdahl has played a significant role in fostering my passion for teaching research methods.

My intellectual inquisition and 'fire' to both study and teach qualitative methods is also very much informed by the works of Lee Ann Fujii and Dvora Yanow. 

I seek to do the same with my own students as I have seen first-hand how women's involvement in political science, and politics more generally, can inspire the next generation of scholarship.

Could you share any pieces of writing that really changed the way you thought about your discipline?

My absolute favourite piece is Lee Ann Fujii’s “Five Stories of Accidental Ethnography: Turning Unplanned Moments in the Field into Data.” Benedict Anderson’s book, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, has also been incredibly influential for me in changing the way I approach the discipline, as has Anne Applebaum’s Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe.

And, finally, what are you reading now - do you have any recommendations for us? 

I have been reading an assortment of books lately, mostly unrelated to my research. I read Michael Easter's The Comfort Crisis over the Christmas holidays and am currently reading both Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention and Irvin Yalom's Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy. I can indeed recommend all three!