Studying Marine Social Science with Mixed Methods

Studying Marine Social Science with Mixed Methods

Marine social science studies multifaceted relationships between people and oceans, marine and coastal environments. But it is not yet well integrated into ocean science and policy. This blogpost asks how we can use mixed methods to study the way marine social scientists make their research visible.

The Case of Marine Social Science

The health of oceans and marine environments – key to both the climate and the global economy - is receiving growing societal attention. Science and policy related to ocean and marine health are, for example, promoted by the United Nation’s Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030). Better understanding the impact of human practices on oceans, marine environments and coasts is key to protecting and sustainably using them. This provides momentum for the marine social sciences – a collection of interdisciplinary research which explores the multifaceted relationships between people and oceans, marine and coastal environments. However, marine social scientists argue that even though the importance of their field is increasingly recognised, marine social sciences are not yet well integrated into marine and ocean research and policy:

“…in recent times recognition of the importance of marine social science research, data, evidence and expertise has undergone an upward trajectory. Despite this [… the] effective and meaningful inclusion of marine social science into research and practice has remained a challenge. Here we approach this global challenge as an opportunity to bring the community together […] recognising the role of multiple approaches and diverse methods […] galvanising the research and practice community across marine social sciences and beyond. Furthermore, by bringing together this increasingly active community, we can identify mechanisms of change and pathways to enable inclusion of marine social sciences within global ocean policy.”

As the quote suggests, marine social scientists are actively working on creating relations with each other, as well as scientists from diverse disciplines and practitioners to better integrate the marine social sciences into ocean science and policy.

This blogpost documents our ongoing mixed methods research which combines science and technology studies (STS) and quantitative science studies (QSS) in the FluidKnowledge project. It conceptually reflects on how we combine STS and QSS to explore the way marine social scientists build relationships with scientists, policy makers and practitioners, in their attempt to better integrate marine social science into ocean research and policy.

Capturing Relations with STS and QSS

Building on STS, we approach science as a set of relational practices that scientists perform on a daily basis. For example, they develop research agendas in collaboration with fellow scientists and practitioners, in light of funding opportunities and (disciplinary) epistemic norms and values, mediated by the data infrastructures and methods they use. Focusing on such relations can help explore how the marine social sciences engage and are engaged by diverse actors, including fellow researchers (from diverse disciplines) and practitioners.

Quantitative science studies - including scientometrics and altmetrics - can help trace the relations of marine social science publications and marine social science related digital traces (e.g. project websites, social media accounts) to scientific literature and societal discussions, for example, using network analysis. We plan to benefit from quantitative science studies methods’ affordance to depict diverse relations. For example, we may map online discussions of marine social science through social media traces and weblinks, marine social science literature’s position on the science landscape and study changes in marine social science key topics using term maps.

However, compared to STS’ focus on multimodal relational practices that unfold on diverse time scales, quantitative network analysis may ‘flatten’ relations. In other words, they may obscure the multiple temporalities, values, materialities and subjectivities that relations entail. These, however, are essential to understanding marine social scientists’ relationship building efforts – the challenges they face and the values they hold dear, that inform the development of their research agendas. To elicit experiences of such relationship building, we plan to discuss data visualisations with marine social scientists. As we discuss below, we plan participatory engagement by creating a first version of data analyses and visualisations that provide partial perspectives on marine social sciences and speak to their diverse relationalities. These visualisations – which we might alter in dialogue with experts - also help us extend our knowledge about marine social science which helps explore opportunities afforded by mixed methods science studies.

Multiple Entry Points: Partial Mappings of Marine Social Science

Marine social sciences explore diverse human practices in relation to the oceans, seas and coasts, drawing on diverse disciplines, including anthropology, economics, geography, law, political science and sociology. Recently, marine social scientists developed attempts to coordinate these diverse epistemic communities to set a global marine social science research agenda. Similarly, it is challenging to scientometrically delineate marine social science. Relevant papers are published across diverse journals, including (but limited to) the Maritime Studies, Marine Policy, Progress in Human Geography, Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, and journals associated with fisheries and coastal research. Keywords that could help capture ‘all’ marine social science papers but differentiate them from the ‘rest of’ ocean science or social science are challenging to identify.

To reflect the scatteredness and diversity of marine social science, as well as the partiality of scientometric and altmetric mappings, we do not try to map the ‘entirety’ of marine social science. We feel that depicting marine social science on one map – whilst strengthening the perception of the field’s unity – would obscure the work it takes to coordinate the diverse epistemic communities that comprise it, and their diverse and evolving relations to ocean science and ocean policy. Rather, we chose diverse entry points to the scientometric, altmetric and webometric traces marine social scientists leave. For example, we may study published literature and digital traces associated with specific disciplines that comprise marine social sciences, marine social science papers published in specialised journals or papers and digital traces associated with a specific research agenda.

Next steps

Next, in a mixed methods study design which combines methods and insights from QSS and STS, we plan to create multiple data visualisations and discuss them with marine social scientists. For example, to explore a specific disciplinary subset of marine social science, we may map marine social science research which builds on interpretative social scientific research tradition, such as anthropology and human geography. We may also map changes in the topics and connections of papers published in a key marine social science journal: the journal Maritime Studies. Finally, we may study the connections of papers which study a key ocean policy relevant topic: blue growth and its limits.

For each partial delineation, we plan to create a set of data visualisations that depict marine social science’s internal connections (using, for example, term maps), as well as its relations to ocean research (using, for example, maps of science) and online discussions (using social media and webometric traces). We hope that discussing the diverse relations partial mappings of marine social sciences depict with experts will help elicit narratives about the way they negotiate values and research agendas with diverse actors and how research (e)valuation impacts their work.


This project is funded by the European Research Council under the Call: ERC-2018-STG, Grant Number: 805550 and Acronym: FluidKnowledge.

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