notes on qualitative methods

Okay, some notes on some methodological reading. I’m a novice in this area (as in so many others!) so I’ve started with some general reading – ‘Qualitative Research in Action’ edited by Tim May.

I read the chapters by Smith and Porter and they were both interesting and helpful but I can’t, for the life of me, recall (in concrete terms) what I’ve taken away from them.

The paper by Manning is helpful in that it explores the situated nature of rationality. That what appears to be a rational decision is shaped by the social environment that this decision takes place within. For the research project, it reminds me that an object handling is a moment in a physical and social environment which will shape what constitutes reasonable behaviour and choices. Manning outlines a 3-fold approach – surround, field and frame:

Surround = “the broadest political environment […] that which clearly cannot be controlled or altered by those who decide.”

Field = “an institutional structure or set of norms and procedures that shape careers, grant meanings to objects, and constrains dynamics.” The field may contain many frames.

Frame = that which “give rise to action and define the nature of the event or situation confronting the actor.” The frame answers the question, ‘What is going on here?’ in any given situation. (Manning, 2002, 80)

These 3 then help to shape what constitutes acceptable behaviour in a particular situation but they only work for people who are already actors within the surround, i.e. are part of the broader culture whose ideas shape what is or is not acceptable. This is, perhaps where Porter’s discussion (2002, 55) of the reality of social structures in the work of Durkheim and Weber comes into play –(citing Durkheim) social structures “have no existence save in and through individual consciousness” yet although they have no material reality (except in the buildings that embody them) they have real causal effects.

Anyway, we could use the idea of surround – field – frame to think about the way that the social/physical environment shapes the direction of associational thinking during object handling and how different settings work within this framework.

The paper by Heath & Hindmarsh is encouraging in that they use video recording to look at the social role of objects. More on this when I’ve read their book on the topic but, if we consider object handling to be a conversation where the object plays a larger than usual role then there is precedent for the sort of work we want to do. The question of the resolution of data remains, though.

The papers by Walkerdine et al., Coffey and Skeggs worry me the most. They, rightly, discuss the place of the researcher in the process of gathering and analysing qualitative data. It is problematic and clearly not easily resolved. I guess that I had hoped to step out of the process through the use of video recording but, unless the participants get into the flow of the session and forget the cameras, I am there vicariously even if I’m not there personally. Plus there is the question of subsequent interpretation. It’s so…messy. Again, the participants’ perceptions of what they are participating in and the role of the facilitators and researchers will shape their contribution to the session. It feels like a form of verbal dancing, move and response, with the hope that something ‘true’ (!!!) comes out of the pattern of the dance.

References

Coffey, A. (2002) ‘Ethnography and Self: Reflections and Representations’ in May, T. (ed.) (2002) Qualitative Research in Action, London: SAGE Publications, 313-331

Heath, C. & Hindmarsh, T. (2002) ‘Analysing Interaction: Video, Ethnography and Situated Conduct’ in May, T. (ed.) (2002) Qualitative Research in Action, London: SAGE Publications, 99-122

Manning, P.K. (2002) ‘Framing the Rational’ in May, T. (ed.) (2002) Qualitative Research in Action, London: SAGE Publications, 73-98

Porter, S. (2002) ‘Critical Realist Ethnography’ in May, T. (ed.) (2002) Qualitative Research in Action, London: SAGE Publications, 53-72

Skeggs, B. (2002) ‘Techniques for Telling the Reflexive Self’ in May, T. (ed.) (2002) Qualitative Research in Action, London: SAGE Publications, 349-375

Smith, D.E. (2002) ‘Institutional Ethnography’ in May, T. (ed.) (2002) Qualitative Research in Action, London: SAGE Publications, 17-52

Walkerdine, V., Lucey, H. & Melody, J. (2002) ‘Subjectivity and Qualitative Method’ in May, T. (ed.) (2002) Qualitative Research in Action, London: SAGE Publications, 179-196

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About Bruce Davenport

Museum educator and researcher.
This entry was posted in qualitative methods, research methodology. Bookmark the permalink.

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