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The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game is a new research method that can be used to compare societies across space and time.  It is, as far as we know, the first significant quantitative innovation for collecting information about societies and social groups since the social survey.  Unusually, it combines quantitative measures with the collection of qualitative data.  The method is quasi-experimental but is inspired by sociological questions and methods rather than the more traditional experimental concerns of randomisation, control groups and intervention. A video (approx 13 mins) explaining the main features of the Imitation Game method is available here.

We are using the method to measure and compare the extent to which groups within different societies are fluent in the linguistic repertoire of other groups – that is the extent to which they have interactional expertise.  The theory of interactional expertise is developed in Rethinking Expertise (Collins and Evans, 2007).  Where a group is fluent in the `sociolect’ of another, it suggests a degree of social mixing or a special need to become fluent.  The Imitation Game can measure and compare the extent to which certain groups have learned to become fluent in the cultural repertoires of others; it can compare one society with another and has the potential to monitor the changes over time within one society.  To the extent that linguistic and cultural integration is related to tolerance or power relations, the method can measure them and the way they change.

This research is currently funded by a €2.26M European Research Council Advanced Research Grant (269463 IMGAME) awarded to Professor Harry Collins. The grant runs from 2011 to 2016 and the list of cooperating Universities now includes University of Palermo, University of Granada, Warsaw School of Social Sciences and Humanities – Faculty in Wroclaw, Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Erasmus University in Rotterdam, Helsinki University, NTNU in Trondheim, and the University of Cape Town.

If successful, the method could provide a resource for comparative and longitudinal research on the same scale as the Eurobarometer or Eurostat survey series. Unlike surveys, however, the new method focuses on cultural understanding, rather than legislative and political attitudes.  It is the only method we know that can quantify cultural understanding.  We also argue that that the measurements produced by the method will be less confounded by social change than survey methods.

Further information about the IMGAME project is available from the ALL @ SEE website