RESEARCH TALK ▼
KEEP AN OPEN MIND AND THINK STRATEGICALLY
AN INTERVIEW WITH SAMO KROPIVNIK | by Katrin Bernsdorff
Name: Samo Kropivnik
Field: Political Science, Methdology, Marketing Communications
Occupation: Associate Professor, Chair of Marketing Communications and Public Relations, University of Ljubljana
Research Interests: Communication-, Political Science Research Methodology, Political Participation, Social Stratification
Does your being from Eastern Europe influence your work?
S.K. Not really. Slovenia has never been too attached to the Eastern bloc. Yes, it was part of Yugoslavia but we have always been considered as the most northern part with some exceptions, meaning that the educational system in our country has been different than in other parts of Yugoslavia. Borders were always open, never closed. So it was common to exchange with our Austrian and Italian colleagues. I myself went to study in England three times without any problems, just financial problems. But we were really used to exchanging with other institutions. Our faculty, the Faculty of Social Science, was in fact formed as a political school of the Communist party. But after a few years of existence there was a break, an unpleasant break. The school became the center of opposition. There is a long tradition of fighting against the governing ideology. Which was also different in Slovenia because it was always accepted that you think differently. As long as the leading ideology wins in the end, it is good to have thinkers - the ideology cannot exist without any opposition. And that opposition was, in a way, cherished and a lot of good ideas were adopted through the development of the system. That is probably why Slovenia was the first to leave the Yugoslavia agreement and always felt more European - always a little bit closer in economy and education to the Western world and, culturally, to the Eastern and Southern parts. More Mediterranean than Eastern, I would say.
The reason I chose International Relations as a topic of study many many years ago is because, in this programme, it was possible to study Western political systems and political participation. It was a programme developed to compare different political systems. We went abroad to study how political systems work in different countries and we were able to compare them with ours. Debates were on an academic level. We were talking about political parties, political organizations, organized political interest, etc. It was an interesting period to see how the system was transformed into something new.
Was there a point where you said you can barely keep up with all this change? It takes some time to research everything and the world is changing so fast now, is it even possible to keep track?
S.K. No probably not. Yes, the world is changing faster and faster and it is more and more complicated to research anything. That is why more exploratory methods, qualitative methods, are in use again even though they were discovered years ago. It is difficult to study the world through established models. You have to keep an open mind to different possibilities, you have to be pragmatic. You have to explore first and explain later. I feel that it is not as much explaining but more about exploring because we don't even know what the characteristics of today are, since we are already living in yesterday before we fully learn about today.
So you think methodology is a good framework to tackle this?
S.K. Methodology is important because even in our fast-changing world where soft methods are winning, at the moment, some logic has to be respected, there are frameworks. It is not that everything somebody sees, hears and feels is a fact. It cannot be treated as evidence in scientific research. There is still structure there, there is still logic, but it is more open and methodology is still holding these procedures in a certain framework that can be called scientific.
As a researcher, even as a teacher, do you build yourself a framework of personal values and ethics that guide your way of teaching and your work as a researcher? And if so, how do you manage to stay true to it?
S.K. Definitely. But it comes in different forms in different situations, it does not have a name. Let's say I know what I want to do, what I don't want to do. I have never joined any political party because, for part of my career, I studied political parties. In the years during the first elections, I published my first book on the history of elections in Slovenia. Why history? Because in the 1990s, 1992, those were not the first elections in our history. There were elections in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and even before that in the Austria-Hungarian Empire and I studied that in my MA work. And then later in my PhD. I have studied political parties from the very beginning, in a way, I know them inside out. I have studied their manifestos but I never came close to any political party. I have friends from different political parties but one of my ethical principles is that no, I don't have a party. I believe I must not be attached to one if I want to study them. That's what I feel one has to avoid. In the context of marketing and communications, we have very clear notion of marketing. It is an exchange of promises and goods from which each part has to benefit. I have never conducted any part of research and I have never taught my students how to sell things. It is not about selling. That is what we say every day. It is about exchange. And from that exchange everyone benefits, the development of society evolves, the values of society are respected - its culture, individuals, health, sustainability. Everything. It is not about selling. That is how we teach marketing.
Do you have any advice for our doctoral students on the verge of entering into the academic world?
S.K. Keep an open mind. If you start your career in one field, it doesn't mean you will stay there forever. It is productive to move around a bit from field to field. I know it's more difficult because it's difficult to publish in different fields - that I am aware of. Learn from others, try to do new things, that's what science is about and, most importantly, have fun doing that. Because if you feel that it is something that is frustrating you at every step, it is not productive, not for you as a person and not for academia. So you have to find something that you like to do. It's not that difficult. Then you have to keep an open mind and explore different possibilities at each step.
What drew you to your current field of research of social sciences and especially methodology?
S.K. I'm not sure if there was a specific point but if so then it was quite early in my career, when I decided that I'm really interested in methods, first quantitative methods and later on more qualitative methods. I think it was then the first year of my study at the Faculty of Social Sciences when we started with lectures on statistics. My high school education was more on the mathematical specialization side and finally there was something more related to mathematics. I was interested in social sciences which is why I went to study international relations at the time. But inside this field of study there was statistics that I found quite easy. I know most students find it complicated. The instructors noticed my interest and my ability and, already in my second year, recommended that I go to Essex to attend the ECPR summer school in research methods. So I had an ability at the very early point of my studies to learn methods from the best. I returned to Essex twice during my four year studies at the faculty and after I graduated in International Relations I started working for the Department of Informatics, well social sciences/informatics, and I assisted in teaching multivariate methods.
You are alsov very active in marketing communications. You have a very broad spectrum.
S.K. Yes, I started as a teaching assistant for multivariate methods, then I started to teach social science informatics in the same department. My next subject was methodology of political sciences in the Department of Political Science. So I have been moving between departments within the Faculty of Social Sciences. And the third and current one is the Department for Marketing Communications and Public Relations.
How do these moves come about? Do you follow a special interest or do you say you want to explore a certain theme using your background in methodology?
S.K. My moves were simultaneous with changes in my orientation towards methodology. First, it was just about methods, multivariate methods. Social science informatics was something I was asked to teach because of the situation at the faculty - the professor that taught this subject had died unexpectedly and I was the closest one that could step in. So I taught this for about 3 years. Then younger people stepped in and I moved towards political science methodology. I was interested in this combination of theory and methods; to find and use methodology that is suitable for solving certain problems. But as studies developed in different directions – I still teach methodology at the Department of Political Science – more opportunities arose to use new, emerging mixed methods. This was most prominent at the Department of Communication, especially in marketing research. Marketing research is a very open field where you can - I don't want to say experiment - but where you try to catch up with the latest discoveries and trends in methodology. And that is where I feel more at home.
How do you find a balance between teaching and your multiple research projects?
S.K. Most of my life I have been teaching. Research is only a small part of my career. But regarding research, I have worked with very different teams of people. Not just inside social sciences, although I have probably already worked for every research center at the faculty. I have worked with the Humanities faculty, with the Faculty of Arts, with anthropologists, the Faculty of Medicine…at the moment I am working with national specialists at preventing contagious diseases. We are developing a plan to launch certain communication actions to increase the level of vaccination with children. So very different themes. I have never covered a certain field for longer than, say, four years. That is the typical time period for a project.
If you decide to go into teaching, do you have to take certain career steps to get the opportunity to teach in multiple areas as you do? Is there even a career in teaching anymore?
S.K. Ah yes, it is becoming more and more difficult because most universities are becoming research universities, research is seen to be more important than teaching. But still we are all aware that teaching is at the core of what we do. You cannot have a good university or a good department without a good pedagogy. And it's not just about teaching, I am also actually involved in changing the way subjects are taught at our university, in changing programmes and so on. Fifteen years ago, I was in the faculty management team that initiated the Bologna process. I was vice dean for six years, meaning I was still part of the team when we finished with developing teaching in the context of the Bologna reform. Now, for eight years, I have been chair of the university senate accreditation committee for the first and joint MA levels. So it's not just about teaching but one has to study different ways of introducing new methods, new approaches, new contexts of teaching and evaluate teaching processes.
Do you have a vision?
S.K. We are already working differently with different generations. More and more we depend on e-teaching. But I would still like to keep contact with students. I don't believe it's possible to transform everything into computer mediated communication. There is a part where recorded lessons can come in handy. But definitely not in the evaluation part, definitely not at the end of the teaching process. All my courses are project oriented. Students are working on real life projects in marketing communications and public relations and on parts of research projects in political science. So there is a lot about being in touch with students, there is a lot about students asking questions, answering questions, providing help on different subjects and that cannot be done from a distance.
How do you choose your issues for your research?
S.K. It's a mixture of demand and offer. I don't think there is anything I would not work on. But of course, things that are new attract my interest more than established tracks of research. Now for some years I have been working on coding political manifestos. Not at the core, but how to use the data that has been produced over 30 or 40 years. It started as an applied project but we extended it on our own. Me and my colleague are still looking for new ways to explore, induce the pieces of data and what kind of pieces of information we can add to the databases to find new tracks of research (For more information see the following publications at ScienceDirect https://doi.org/10.1016/j.postcomstud.2015.01.002 and Sage Journals). But this is, at the moment, or for the last four years, not financed. It is something I have found a real interest in.
As a scientist, whether in research or in teaching, do you have a way to measure the impact of your work? And if so, how?
S.K. Not really. Of course we measure feedback from students, we have official evaluation forms, like you have. That's one way how I get feedback and I am satisfied, or not with some (laugh). Because my subjects are project oriented and in the end, students present their projects and they're in touch with the people who practice from companies, that's probably the moment when you can see what you have done in a year.
// Interview: Katrin Bernsdorff / Editing: Theresa Schmitz
Image Credits: © Bamberg Graduate School of Social Sciences