Becker reminds us that we can only “see” using the ideas that inform our thinking. Since our training as researchers shapes the kinds of ideas we can think with, it is useful to think about how our perceptions are shaped by our individual fields of studies and ways that research is usually done. Becker (1998, p. 18) writes:
… in a strong sense, there aren’t any “facts” independent of the ideas we use to describe them….Recognizing the conceptual shaping of our perceptions, it is still true that not everything our concepts would, in principle, let us see actually turns up in what we look at.
Although PhD students have much greater freedom to explore alternative ways of doing their dissertation research and presenting what they have learned, I suspect the academy is still pretty conservative overall. This conservatism no doubt has a number of sources, including the comfort level of faculty, the bureaucracy of creating dissertations, and even the views students bring to the dissertation enterprise. Students can be the source of inspiration though and there have been a couple notable examples, of late.
First is Dani Spinosa’s (pursuing a doctorate in English at York University) blog [generic pronoun] creates, a site for blogging by herself and others that will become her dissertation. “It explores the ways that the dissertation can become a site of activism and community as well as a place for research and academic scholarship.” The blog come dissertation begins with the post in the image, and is followed by longer posts on postanarchism, poststructuralism, and postmodernism. Her research focuses on 11 poets and seeks to explore political philosophies of post-anarchism as a literary theory of engaging with texts. She posts once a week and the entries and comments are read by her supervisor and committee. Her initial intent was for the blog to be the dissertation (the blog posts are sorted by categories one might associate with more traditional writing, like footnotes and appendices), but the University required a written document for the defense. “Chairs and the head of the graduate department said a blog is not a dissertation. The print version is halfway between what the department wanted and what I was willing to give.” (See more at: https://chroniclevitae.com/news/361-the-amazing-adventures-of-the-comic-book-dissertator#sthash.I5OQiUOn.dpuf)
Another example is Nick Sousanis’ (pursuing a doctorate in interdisciplinary studies at Teachers College) comic-book format dissertation. Unflattening: A Visual-Verbal Inquiry Into Learning in Many Dimensions is what it says it is, an investigation of the interconnectedness of the visual and the textual and that interconnectedness’ relationship to learning, and Sousanis blogs about his progress here. To explore the relationship between perception and visual strategies, he depicts his dog navigating a forest at night using a range of senses to perceive.
And recently, Clemson University doctoral student A.D. Carson produced a rap album for his dissertation.
The album, “Owning My Masters: The Rhetorics of Rhymes and Revolutions” uses hip-hop to explore such ideas as identity, justice, economics, citizenship and language.
Writing in hip hop Carson isn’t being gimmicky but rather communicating in a way that is natural and embodied for him and complements the content of his work.
I’m trying to examine how an authentically identifiable black voice might be used or accepted as authentic, or ignored, or could answer academic questions and be considered rightly academic. So I have to present a voice rather than writing about a voice.
These are examples of what might be a trend, a move away from traditional book and article formats as the only representations of knowledge, but the change comes at a glacial not a volcanic pace. The next several decades may expand and complicate the notion of representation, but in all this one hopes the focus on form, while integral, does not diminish a focus on quality (whatever that may end up meaning).
There are a number of journals that focus exclusively on narrative analysis/inquiry and so you might want to browse the tables of contents of various issues. There are many more journals (qualitative research focused and topical) that publish narrative analyses, but these will give you a quick entry into the methodology.
- Narrative and Conflict: Explorations in Theory and Practice
- Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics: A Journal of Qualitative Research
- Narrative Inquiry
- Narrative Works: Issues, Investigations & Interventions
Here also is a short list of published narrative analysis studies… these are not necessarily exemplary, but they are in different fields, use different kinds of data, and different kinds of analysis. Look at a few (not necessarily for a close reading) to get a better sense of what narrative inquiry looks like.
A SAMPLE OF NARRATIVE STUDIES
Bareiss, W. (2015). Adolescent Daughters and Ritual Abjection: Narrative Analysis of Self-Injury in Four US Films. Journal of Medical Humanities.
Boje, D.M. (1991). The Storytelling Organization: A Study of Story Performance in an Office-supply Firm. Administrative Science Quarterly 36:106-126.
Brewer, T. J. & deMarrais, K. (2015). Teacher for America counter-narratives: Alumni speak up and speak out. Peter Lang.
Connelly, F. M., & Clandinin, D. J. (1999). Shaping a professional identity: Stories of educational practice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Dean, R.G. (1995). Stories of AIDS: The Use of Narrative as an Approach to Understanding in an AIDS Support Group. Clinical Social Work Journal 23(3), 287-304.
Elliott, H., Squire, C., & O’Connell, R. (2017). Narratives of normativity and permissible transgression: Mothers’ blogs about mothering, family and food in resource-constrained times. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 18(1).
Frank, A. K. (2016). What is the story with sustainability? A narrative analysis of diverse and contested understandings. Journal of Environmental Studies and Science, 1 – 14.
Hamilton, H. (2008). Narrative as Snapshot: Glimpses into the Past in Alzheimer’s Discourse. Narrative Inquiry 18(1), 53-82.
Hoecker, R. (2014). Visual narrative and trauma recovery. Narrative Inquiry, 24(2), 259-280.
Langellier, K. (2001). ‘You’re Marked’: Breast Cancer, Tattoo and the Narrative Performance of Identity. In Narrative and Identity: Studies in Autobiography, Self, and Culture, edited by J. Brockmeier and D. Carbaugh. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Minde, J. (2015). Exploring the Nature of Narrative Analysis in Maps: the Case Study of the Georgia-South Ossetia Conflict. Narrative and Conflict: Explorations in Theory and Practice, 2(1), 19-33.
Mumby, D.K. 1993. Narrative and Social Control: Critical Perspectives. Newbury Park: Sage.
Ochs, E., R. Smith, and C. Taylor. (1989). Dinner Narratives as Detective Stories. Cultural Dynamics 2:238-257.
Page, R., Harper, R. & Frobenius, M. (2013). From small stories to networked narrative: The evolution of personal narratives in Facebook status updates. Narrative Inquiry, 23(1), 192-213).
Riessman, C.K. (2000). Stigma and Everyday Resistance Practices: Childless Women in South India. Gender & Society 14(1):111-135.
Sparkes, A. (1996). The fatal flaw: A narrative of the fragile body-self. Qualitative Inquiry, 2(4), 463-494.
Winkel, G. (2014). When the pendulum doesn’t find its center: Environmental narratives, strategies, and forest policy change in the US Pacific Northwest. Global Environmental Change, 27, 84-95.
If you think you will do interpretive or critical research it will be helpful to see what this kind of research looks like. Reading other studies is a window into the research process as well as the ways researchers represent knowledge from their studies. While many genres of research trade in the peer reviewed journal article, to get the most pedagogical benefit from reading qualitative research look more to book and monograph length works. First, good studies are complex and so it just takes more than 25 ms pages to communicate the findings. Second, increasingly interpretive and critical researchers include a confessional methodological tale in an appendix, a rich source of learning from others.
This is not really a part of the literature review for your study (although it could be) and to avoid conflating reading studies related to your research topic with learning
about research methodology and methods, I require my students and encourage others to read book length works that are not in your area of expertise. You might learn something about which you know little, but more importantly can focus on the research process more easily.
So what do I recommend as teachable/learnable texts, remembering that you are not looking for a perfect study but rather a really well done study that has flaws and features that permit you to see how the research process plays out in real research life.
The books I have most often used in my research classes are:
God’s Choice by Alan Peshkin
Dude You’re a Fag by A. J. Pascoe
Ain’t No Makin’ It by Jay MacLeod
Working Class Without Work by Lois Weiss
Home Advantage by Annette Lareau
But, it’s good to go back to what I consider classic texts:
Boys in White by Blanche Geer, Everett C Hughes, Anselm Strauss, Howard Becker
Street Corner Society by William Foote Whyte
The Man in the Principal’s Office by Harry Wolcott
Deep Play: Notes on a Balinese Cockfight by Clifford Geertz (this is more a monograph, but too good not to list)
Learning to Labour by Paul Willis
Living and Dying in Murray Manor by Jaber F. Gubrium
Contradictions of Control by Linda McNeil
Life in Schools by Peter McLaren
The Polish Peasant in Europe and America by Florian Znaniecki and W. I. Thomas
Asylums by Erving Goffman
And, I can’t resist adding what has to be the most controversial piece of research in quite some time…
On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City by Alice Goffman
As qualitative researchers there are different ways to think about how our research is indepth, seriously engaged with a research question and research participants. Two possibilities are immersing ourselves in a context (anthropological) or engaging with a context over a long time period (sociological) in order to deeply understand some social phenomenon.
Ethnography or ethnographic approaches are a methodology that draws us into a cultural context through participant observation over a sufficiently long enough period of time to formulate deep understandings of human experience. Living with, speaking with, and seeing from the inside out is the key to this indepth approach which is based on field work, participant observation, and interviewing. Other than the strategy of living within a cultural context, is the sociological strategy of longitudinal studies that continue engagement with research participants over a long period of time, sometimes referred to as a qualitative longitudinal study (QLS) which is based on indepth interviews with the same cohort of participants.
The same research question has been answered using both strategies. Two classic ethnographic studies that ask what happens to working class kids in schools are Paul Willis’ Learning to Labor and Jay MacLeod’s Ain’t No Makin’ It. Willis’ study looks at how British working class kids experience school so that class structures are perpetuated and MacLeod’s study looks at what happens to two groups of kids who differ by race but not class and their experiences of educational aspiration and schooling. MacLeod’s study is classic ethnography with a twist: twice after the initial research he went back to the Boston inner city neighbourhood to check in with his research participants and new editions of the book include appendices updating us about where the boys/men are at each point in time. MacLeod’s study might now be seen as a hybrid of the two approaches.
The Long Shadow is a good example of how understanding the same phenomenon, in this case framed as the transition of urban disadvantaged youth into adulthood, might be fostered by a long sustained relationship with research participants, i.e., knowing them for a longer time rather than intimately for a shorter time. What started out as a study to look at transitioning from home to grade one turned into a 25 yr longitudinal study of 800 low income inner city Baltimore kids.
These three studies are exemplars for researchers and implicitly offer lessons and advice on how to conduct indepth qualitative research in these two different ways.
- what changes between T1 and T2 and Tn?
- when does change occur?
- are there epiphanies, tipping points, revelations?
- what is missing over time? what is consistent over time?
- what are the contextual factors related to change or stasis?
Photo essays have been around for a long time ~ they are a series of photos, sometimes with captions, descriptive and/or explanatory text. Usually photo essays illustrate something that is more immediately knowable through an image, often by evoking an emotional response, but often also by showing. A photo essay structures a collection of images either in a specific order to illustrate the progression of events, emotions, and concepts OR thematically to illustrate concepts. Photojournalists and photographers create photo essays and intuitively portray lived experiences; social scientists create photo essays and explicitly explore and represent lived experiences. One isn’t better than the other, and they are often indistinguishable.Some photo essays are only images, such as Walker Evans and James Agee’s classic work Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.
Photographers, like Lauren Greenfield, uses images to illustrate our own culture, especially youth culture in America. In Fast Forward, she captures the contrast between kids growing up in Los Angeles living lives of affluence and poverty, all in a sped up world.
Some photo essays use constructed images to tell a story, as in Hungry Planet: What the World Eats, an essay illustrating how globalization, migration and rising affluence are affecting the diets of communities around the globe by focusing on 30 families in 24 countries. Each chapter of the book features a portrait of a family, photographed alongside a week’s worth of groceries. There are many images of families food shopping, cooking and eating, but the primary images are staged ~ the family in the background, and the food they eat in the foreground. Text describes the details or the week’s food, including the cost of the food.
Photo essays can also be collaborations, multiple photographers/researchers working together. High school students in LA used photography to explore immigration in their communities.
Sophisticated uses of media allow for combinations of photographs, texts, and infographics (including interactive formats), a less static form of photo essay. An excellent example of this is Segregation Now, which looks at resegregation of schools in the U.S. south, Tuscaloosa specifically.
TV Tropes is a rich wiki repository of resources described as tricks of the trade for writing fiction, but as social scientists we borrow as needed in trying to understand and explain the social world. The emphasis is on tropes, which are described as:
Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members’ minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés. The word clichéd means “stereotyped and trite.” In other words, dull and uninteresting. We are not looking for dull and uninteresting entries. We are here to recognize tropes and play with them, not to make fun of them… Since a lot of art, especially the popular arts, do their best to reflect life, tropes are likely to show up everywhere.
Narrative analysis can be facilitated by looking at the tropes at the centre of the stories we are investigating, and in the section on narrative devices one can investigate a range of possibilities. Tropes are named (such as “always need what you gave up,” “dead end job,” “dramatic irony,” “fighting for survival,” “human shield,” “I just want to be normal,” “shapeshifting,” “with due respect”), a short explanation is provided and links to many examples are given.
Other sections focus on characters, plot, setting and so on.
The wiki is a rich resource, every changing, including such gems as the Periodic Table of Storytelling.
The Philographics: Big Ideas in Simple Shapes is a novel, delightful representation of core ideas in philosophy, many of which underpin the research enterprise. For some folks, the images may capture what otherwise takes volumes to explain.
A great list of resources, and a big thanks to Qual 360 for including this blog!
Following up on my previous post on the Frontiers of Psychology decision to retract a published paper that investigated conspiratorial ideation by analyzing blog posts, the most recent statement by the Frontiers group re-writes its reasons for the retraction:
Frontiers came to the conclusion that it could not continue to carry the paper, which does not sufficiently protect the rights of the studied subjects. Specifically, the article categorizes the behaviour of identifiable individuals within the context of psychopathological characteristics.
And, they continue: “we also must uphold the rights and privacy of the subjects included in a study or paper.”
A troubling feature of this revised retraction is that is contradicts the first, which asserts there were no ethical issues with the research, but now there are. This does not speak well for the journal, its editors and the umbrella Frontiers group. (See here for commentary about the media coverage of the journal.)
But the heart of the matter is whether the identity of bloggers who made comments openly and publicly should be protected? The short answer is, no. The key here is that bloggers’ personal comments are public and so once made, bloggers give up their rights to privacy. And indeed, in the discourse one presumes these bloggers do not wish to be anonymous, but to own their viewpoints. Blog comments are not responses to a researcher’s queries offered in the frame of most social science research, which does offer protection of privacy through confidentiality and anonymity. The blog comments are therefore a legitimate source of found data that support a range of analyses, including in this case what they might reveal about conspiratorial ideation.
I would note though that this matter is not straightforward and harvesting of social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs) is still new territory for social scientists. There are essentially two positions:
- what is archived on the internet is public, and no consent is required from those who created the data
- what is archived is public, but the content creators imagined they were writing in private and so consent is required
(See here, for one discussion of both sides, here for a discussion of the blogosphere as a source of data, here for a commentary on qualitative research blogs. And here for a legal opinion on the matter.)