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An invited talk at the 2018 Surrey Sociology Conference, Barnett Hill, Surrey, November 2018.
Although there is much evidence that context is crucial to much human cognition and social behaviour, it remains a difficult area to research. In much social science research it is either by-passed or ignored. In some qualitative research context is almost deified with any level of generalisation across contexts being left to the reader. At the other extreme, some qualitative research restricts itself to patterns that are generally detectable - that is the patterns that are left when one aggregates over many different contexts. Context is often used as a 'dustbin concept' to which otherwise unexplained variation is attributed.
This talk looks at some of the ways social context might be actively represented, understood and researched. Firstly the ideas of cognitive then social context are distinguished. Then some possible approaches to researching this are discussed, including: agent-based simulation, a context-sensitive analysis of narrative data and machine learning.