Tuesday, 27 October 2015

More IPA - still no idea why I'm keen

I've read a little more about the 'nitty gritty' of IPA, as well as some more background on its history and theory. Daunting, but still I haven't come across a reason why I shouldn't pursue this path. My main concern, I suppose, is that a lot of the literature relates to its use in psychology/health psychology rather than in education. If you search, there is a range of material out these using it in education, albeit relatively recent. I've not got a real idea on the quality of the material either.

Incidentally, while I'm making some notes about assignment 1 (and potential dissertation thoughts), I've come across some reference to Tinto's student retention/departure models, which merit further investigation. (Also, Austin's theory on student involvement - not looked into this at all at the moment). These could be of use, depending on what my research finds. I need to keep them in mind. However, I'm not sure, if I use IPA, whether I should be 'free' of theories until after I have done my first lot of analysis - I may potentially organise my questions to support the theories I'm considering aligning my thoughts to.

Anyway, enough navel-gazing. My most recent reading (usual caveats apply - I'll need to paraphrase before use):

Larkin, M., Watts, S., & Clifton, E. (2006). Giving voice and making sense in Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 102-120.


IPA involves the phenomenological requirement to understand and give voice to the concerns of participants. The interpretative requirement to contextualise and 'make sense' of the claims and concerns. The paper looks to explore the relationship between the phenomenological and interpretative aspects of IPA. It covers the epistemological range of IPAs interpretative focus and its relationship to the more descriptive features of phenomenological analysis. Drawing upon concepts from Heideggerian phenomenology the paper situates its conclusions within a contextualist position.

Introduction: IPA

There is a belief that IPA is 'simply descriptive'. However, it is only seen as this as it is a flexible, accessible and applicable tool. This is not to say that it is without vigour. To be done correctly the novice researcher must be aware that its inherent flexibility may make other,  more prescriptive, methods 'safer'. The authors believe that IPA is a powerful method when carried out correctly.

The idea that IPA is 'simple' may stem from Conrad's use of the words "insider's perspective" and is invariably used to describe others' work with IPA. To be able to gain an "insider's perspective" requires thought. Some IPA research, particularly in health psychology, has avoided interpretation of data and the formation of concepts. This oversimplification can make IPA seem superficial.

IPA research is ideographic - it focuses on the individual. That is not to say that findings from IPA studies cannot be applied more widely, but that this wider application is not very generalizable (??? - my own thoughts - need to clarify and then support!)

IPA studies, methodologically, produce an intensive and detailed analysis of a relatively small number of participants. A range of methods can be used to gather data, including semi-structured interviews. Findings are reported thematically. The process is flexible and similar to other qualitative methods.

There is a phenomenological emphasis on the lived experience of the participants. The IPA researcher must seek to understand the world of the participant and to describe it. However, our experience of the participant's world can only ever be partial - the account is constructed by both participant and researcher. Nevertheless, the researcher's aim is to reproduce a view as close as possible to that of the participant. The second stage (double hermeneutics) is to perform an interpretative analysis. Here, the researcher takes into account the wider social, cultural and theoretical context when revisiting the description. The interpretation "aims to provide a critical and conceptual commentary upon the participants' personal 'sense-making' activities'" (p. 104). The researchers can consider 'what it means for the participant to have made these claims and expressed themselves within this situation. within this, the researcher may draw upon existing theoretical constructs'. So here, I've answered my question about whether/when to draw on existing theory such as Tinto, Bourdieu (if they are relevant!).

The paper expands on the phenomenological and interpretative aspects of IPA. The background is drawn from Heidegger and hermeneutics. There follows a discussion on the role of IPA in qualitative psychology.

Husserl, Heidegger and phenomenology as the study of persons-in-context

I'm going to have to review other papers on Husserl vs Heidegger, as I don't really understand this. Husserl made human consciousness central to his analyses. He also believed in the role of bracketing.
Heidegger was concerned that a person is always a 'person-in-context': "We are a fundamental part of a meaningful world and the meaningful world is a fundamental part of us". We can only be understood as a function of our involvement within the world and the world can only be understood as a function of our interactions with it.

Heidegger rejects Cartesian dualism of separate subject and object. He develops the concept of 'Dasein' ('there being'/'being there') - by nature we are 'there', i.e. somewhere, always located within a specific context.

Ontological and epistemological bases for investigating the person-in-context

It is not possible to remove ourselves, our thoughts, our meaning systems, from the world 2to find out an objective truth". However, this is not to say that we  live within a relativistic kedgeree of thought. "What is real is not dependent upon us, but questions about the nature of their reality can only occur because we ask the question". "Things" cannot be revealed unless they are brought meaningfully into the context of human life. Any discoveries we make are just a function of the relationship between researcher and subject. The 'reality' which emerges from the work depends upon how it is constructed by the researcher.

To gain answers of value, we need to reflexively consider the most appropriate questions to ask. A key concept of IPA is using 'sensitivity and responsiveness' to provide useful outcomes. Sensitivity and responsiveness are key to the phenomenological context of this method/stance. This allows the participant to show themselves as themselves and reveal any subject matter on their own terms.

The paper discusses the "empathetic" treatment of the subject, but consider this against the paper on hermeneutic listening - an inappropriate word?

IPA and persons-in-context

IPA is interested in how a particular person experiences and understands the idea of interest. Our interest is in their perception of the subject rather than the subject itself. This is a really important idea to remember. This is what makes it such an interesting method/stance. We know that we can't get to the truth, so we seek a truth, as seen by the participant. We need to consider their truth in light of historical/social etc contexts - the interpretative part of IPA. "An account can be used to reveal something about a person, but only that person's current positioning in relation to the world of objects which have come to constitute the subject in their experience, culture and locale". The analyst must therefore focus on the person-in-context (a particular person in a particular context) and that person's relatedness to the 'phenomena at hand' is the topic we are interested in. "That is, we are interested in how they understand and make sense of their experiences in terms of their relatedness to, and their engagement with, those phenomena."

An account produced by a participant can be used thematically to reveal something real about the object we are studying. "In choosing IPA for a research project, we commit ourselves to exploring, describing, interpreting, and situating the means by which our participants make sense of their experiences" (p. 110). This is contextualism (Madill et al., 2000).

Giving voice: The 'phenomenological goal' demonstrated

Heideggerian phenomenology requires us to identify, describe and understand the 'objects of concern' in the participant's world and the 'experiential claims' made by the participant. These are the key feature of the first order, descriptive, coding in IPA. The authors give an example - Nigel. They study him in order to capture something "of what is important" to him in this context and with this topic at hand. The key element for Nigel is money - it permeates his words.

Making sense - the 'interpretative repertoire' revisited

IPA wants to go further than description; not least because it is hard to identify where description ends and interpretation begins. IPA goes beyond description as it focuses on sense-making activities and our 'involvement in the world'. Interpreting what it means for the participant to have such concerns, within their specific context.

Hermeneutics does not subscribe to a correspondence theory of truth. It assumes that any interpretation involving a hermeneutic circle in which the interpreter's perspective and understanding initially shape their interpretation, but that interpretation, as it reacts with the phenomena of interest, is open to revision and elaboration as the perspective and understanding of the interpreter, including their biases and blind spots, are revealed and evaluated.

P. 114: IPA has been developed to allow the researcher to produce a theoretical framework based upon, but capable of exceeding, the participant's own terminology and conceptualisations. The approach seeks to generate an 'insider's perspective' but no single theoretical assumption about how that perspective may be interpreted.

A range of analytical strategies can be used during interpretation. Anything used needs: carefully formulated research questions and subsequent analysis; a willingness to reflect on the process of data collection and analysis; a contextualised account.


IPA has developed as a set of core ideas (idiographic, phenomenological, interpretative analysis, with first person accounts as data, etc.). Some areas are flexible, e.g. epistemology procedure. It combines rich description of a phenomenological 'core' (aiming to capture something of the 'person-in-context'), with more speculative development of an interpretative account - the meaning of the claims and concerns.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Thinking about approaches to my research

I'm not quite sure why, but I seem to be thinking about using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) for my research for assignment 1. Not knowing why, I suspect, is not an appropriate reason I can provide to the module tutor to justify its choice.

I also have thoughts of Bourdieu whizzing around my brain, on a separate note. I'm going to investigate the ideas of cultural capital and habitus  and see if they coincide with my thoughts on assignment 1.

Anyway, back to IPA. The following paper I found to be quite useful in providing a quick overview of the approach. Nothing within it suggests that it's not an appropriate approach. I need to get hold of Smith's book on the subject and do some more reading. This paper discusses IPA in general and then its relevance to healthcare. It seems mostly used within psychology, but I cannot see why it can't be used within an educational setting.

Pringle, J., Drummond, J., McLafferty, E., & Hendry, C. (2011). Interpretative phenomenological analysis: A discussion and critique. Nurse Researcher, 18(3), 20-24.

This paper looks at the role of IPA within healthcare. Its roots are in psychology, so are there issues in using it  more generally?

Within IPA the role of the analyst is greater than within Husserl's phenomenology. The key difference between IPA and phenomenology is acknowledging the active role of the researcher in the analysis, making it, therefore, potentially less descriptive.

IPA is used for researching the individual and involves a two-stage interpretation. The researcher interprets the participant's attempts at sense-making - this is known as a 'double hermeneutic'.

There has been some confusion over phenomenological approaches to description and interpretation. IPA does not follow the critical interpretative framework of Koch. Smith et al. highlight the role of IPA as an in-depth analysis of individuals. This is one of the potential negatives of IPA - it is subjective and non-generalizable. However, we need to consider different definitions of validity. Useful insights of more a more general nature can evolve from IPA work. The depth of dialogue can contextualise the research to wider theory. There is a likelihood of "theoretical transferability" rather than empirical generalizability.

IPA uses smaller samples with the privilege on  the individual, allowing a deeper analysis. There's extensive use of direct quotes to anchor the findings.

IPA is bound within its theoretical roots, which provides both depth and purpose. The reader can assess transferability based on the richness and transparency of the data. However, we need to clarify and acknowledge the limitations that homogeneity of sample may cause, as this can limit transferability.

A wide range of data collection can be used with IPA but it is important to acknowledge and discuss any strengths and weaknesses of the chosen method. I would be most interested in using semi-structured interviews.

IPA is an adaptable account. Whilst there are guidelines, these are open to adaptation. It is not prescriptive. IPA stresses interpretation rather than description, capturing examples of both convergence and divergence rather than just on commonalities.

IPA is an evolving method, with changes occurring over time. It is suggested that now one should bracket previous interviews, to do justice to the individuality of each participant. I find this a little difficult, If we do not bracket our own frames of reference for IPA why should we need to bracket previous interviews? Need to look at the theory of this a bit more.

Researcher experience is part of the interpretative analysis. Maybe consider in relation to Kimball and Garrison's work on hermeneutics.

There is no set way of analysis but manual coding enables an intimacy with the data which may not be achieved if using software.

The authors go on to discuss validity, which has been covered by Smith et al. The interpretation is subjective but external audits allow credibility. There is no single truth but the approach should provide a legitimate account. Triangulation of methods can be used to provide validity.

The authors discuss the use of IPA within healthcare. It is grounded in psychology. Therefore I need to consider its applicability to other disciplines.

Weekend 1 aditional reading: Hermeneutic Listening

This paper related to the session we had on interviewing. This is an interesting concept. Rather than laying aside our prejudices when we talk to an 'other', we acknowledge those prejudices (positive and negative), and work towards a common understanding. We do not need to change others' minds but find areas of common ground.

The notes I scribbled on the text whilst in the session were:
- We bring prejudices with us when we listen to others.
- We need to consider what someone is saying. In an interview, this happens in the moment - we need to listen carefully in order to respond in an appropriate way.

Kimball, S. & Garrison, J. (1996). Hermeneutic listening: An approach to understanding in multicultural situations. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 15, 151-159.

The article starts with a quotation by Gadamer, who was key in the development of hermeneutics. The quotation concerns conversation being a means of understanding. Conversation encourages consideration of others' viewpoints and also highlights new ways of interpreting our own positions. This is helical - consideration of others leads to greater understanding of ourselves, which leads to improved consideration of others, etc.....

The authors home in on multicultural conversations - for multiculturalism to work, there must be respect for others' experiences (and their interpretation of the experiences), and to create new understanding.

The authors warn against both 'passive listening', which can lead to the listener being 'assimilated' by a dominant culture, and also against 'empathetic listening'. The authors prefer a concept of listening as 'the art of interpretation'. Hermeneutics can be used to interpret the 'text' of a conversation to achieve understanding between individuals.

Within hermeneutics, meaning is developed within a particular context, amongst particular participants - the role of hermeneutics is to produce new understanding in both conversants. It is important to understand what a person says rather than understanding the person.

From empathy to ontological hermeneutics

There is, as mentioned, a difference between empathetic listening and hermeneutics. Empathetic listeners acknowledge prejudices and their role in understanding, but claim to be able to put them to one side in order to understand another person as they 'really are'. However, this claim is, according to hermeneutic listeners, very limiting. There is the assumption that prejudice is "bad", but Gadamer shows us that this assumption is incorrect. There has only been this negative connotation to the word since the Enlightenment. Prejudices are just 'pre-judgements' which allow us to get through everyday life.

One must recognise that we are "conditioned by historical circumstances" - we are the product of our experiences, values etc. We cannot eliminate this; to think that we can do so is false. Our participation in different communities (family, school, state, nation, race, gender etc.) shapes how we interpret the world and our pace within it. This is what makes us 'us'.

So, hermeneutic conversation requires us not to rid ourselves of these prejudices but to examine them, and free ourselves of those which hinder our efforts to understand others. It is only when we encounter difference that we can recognise our own prejudices and question them. Then understanding can be developed.

We do not necessarily have to take on the other's views when we examine our prejudices, but change of some sort will occur. "By coming into contact with different beliefs, ...[etc.], we become aware of our own prejudices". If we can interrogate these prejudices in light of the newly perceived alternatives, then new understanding is opened up both with others and in ourselves.

In this way, the authors suggest that the hermeneutic process is compatible with multiculturalism. Empathetic listening is not, as it presupposes that differences between people act as barriers to understanding which must be overcome. Prejudices cannot just be set aside - to suggest as much is to reduce the need for reflection on our pre-judgements. Empathy seeks to 'reproduce' the speaker's original meaning. This way, new understandings cannot be reached. Hermeneutics produces new, multicultural understandings.


'Openness' is more than being open to what the other means so that the understanding can be reproduced. Instead, the listener is open to new meanings and understanding that are being developed through the conversation. Meanings are produced rather than repeated. Meaning relies on more than one person within a specific socio-historical context having a discussion and jointly assigning meaning.

With regard to multicultural conversations, this openness can be thought of as an "openness to alternative interpretation", including self and culture. We reinterpret our experiences differently after time has passed, and also after encountering new people and cultures. This leads us to new meaning. What is said, what is not said (i.e. omitted), the tone of voice, all reflect our prejudices. By listening to ourselves as we speak to others, we can achieve greater awareness of our identity and what frames it.

How does this differ from empathy? A person committed to hermeneutic listening/understanding acknowledges that each person in the conversation is conditioned by different historical circumstances even if they share the same race, culture, gender, etc. It is important to acknowledge these differences rather than to eradicate them and use our own culturally conditioned prejudices to imagine another person's experiences. By responding with a question providing an analogy to the experience, the comparison may not be exact but new meanings can be made through this exploration.

Fusion of horizons in multicultural conversations

"So far, we have described hermeneutic listening as a continuous, cyclical process by which we become more aware of ourselves as well as the unfamiliar other." This leads to the "mutual creation" of new understandings and meaning. Gadamer calls these points where new understandings are reached as a 2fusion of horizons" - opening up a new horizon of understanding through conversation with others of different beliefs, culture, values, etc. Horizons are ever-moving. Where we enter situations that test our prejudices, our horizons will be redefined.

2The act of understanding involves the fusion of horizons" - through looking at other people's lives we broaden our own horizons. Within hermeneutics, it is important to accept the possibility of tension between different sets of prejudices but we can draw this out to create common understanding, a "social construction" shared by all.

The object is to neither have empathy for not to subordinate the other but to redefine our mutual horizons, whilst still acknowledging difference. This builds a common ground to continue the mutual dialogue.

Why listen?

Why should we go through the process of questioning our prejudices and shifting our horizons? Sometimes, we cannot avoid it. However mostly it is a conscious decision for at least one of three reasons:
  1. education is to challenge familiarity with the novel/uncomfortable, to reach new understanding;
  2. We can only come to know ourselves through our encounters with others. Otherwise we are unaware of the prejudices which shape our views;
  3. when we wish to change ourselves, we need to interact with 'others'. Change in ourselves is a social process.
To sustain conversations with others can lead to new understanding which can be beneficial to our personal growth.

The writers finish by discussing that throughout the paper, their thoughts are underpinned by their own cultural prejudices.

My own thoughts?

Once again, this paper is about having an awareness of the lenses through which we see the world. In interpretivism, it is important not to try to put these lenses to one side. This is impossible. But what we must do is acknowledge that they exist.

Other thoughts: How does this link to Lyotard? The talk about Gadamer here suggests there is the reaching of a mutual understanding. However, if I remember correctly, Lyotardian paralogy goes further than that - moving towards a continuous expansion of knowledge and understanding.

Another thought (irrelevant but I wanted to capture it): when it spoke of change in ourselves being a social process, I was very struck by the way this links to Slimming World. when we wish to change, we need to interact with others. Nothing here to do with multiculturalism, but discussion amongst others to change an individual's mindset.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Assignment 1 thoughts...

OK, so this is just a collection of my thoughts on what I need to do. I have to remember that this assignment doesn't set me up for my thesis in 2-3 years time. I think that's what putting me off - if I don't get my topic right then I mess up the entire course. However that's rubbish and is just making me procrastinate.

SO, what topics do I need to think about and focus down on in relation to the research part of the assignment? My initial thought is to research into students' perceptions of the effectiveness of their vocational qualification in supporting their academic transition to HE.

Let's analyse this question...

Students' perceptions of the effectiveness of their vocational qualification in supporting their academic transition to HE

What does this question say?

Students: I may need to make this more detailed: First year HE students? Will they have been at university long enough to make a judgement? Maybe second year?

Perceptions: Using a word like this will suggest that it is a qualitative project, using qualitative techniques of some form to get an understanding of the students' views. Now, how this relates to the SI view of the interview as trying to reach consensus. Am I going in with preconceived ideas? Maybe think more about that later.

Effectiveness: Effective in what way? How can the effectiveness be measured - by me, by the student? Do the students have an understanding of what I mean? Need to clarify.

Vocational qualification: Do I ask about a specific qualification? e.g. BTEC? Will this request lead me to very specific courses where vocational qualifications are a more 'normal' route into HE? Does my asking this question suggest to the respondent that I consider their qualification to be an issue, that they are somehow at a disadvantage that needs exploring?

Supporting: how do I interpret a qualification 'supporting' academic transition? How might students interpret it? What are the qualifications supposed to provide the student with, to prepare them for HE? Is it just a vocational understanding of the subject itself, or is a vocational qualification such as the BTEC designed to provide the student with academic 'skills' which can be transferred to HE? Hmmm... a lot of questions in the use of this word.

Academic transition: May need to clarify this term both for myself and the students. Presumably (I'll need to think some more about this myself...) I mean generic skills, such as those we support students with in study skills. It would be important to stress this throughout any interviews, otherwise I'll get a lot of information which is academic subject-specific, which may lead to lack of cohesion and generalisability (however limited in qualitative research) amongst the results.

In HE: Well, at least this bit is relatively straightforward.

Right. With those thoughts in mind, how can I clarify my question?

First year students' perceptions of the effectiveness of their vocational FE qualification in developing academic study skills which support their transition from FE to HE.

I'll leave this to settle in my mind for a while and return to it at a slightly later date. In the mean time, at least, I've got something to direct my reading.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Interviewees are not automatons

Reading from:

Foddy, W. (1993). Interviews and questionnaires: Theory and practice in social research. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

This information is taken from chapter 2 of this book. The chapter is entitled: A theoretical framework.

This paper links to the session we undertook on questionnaires and interviews. In it, Foddy discusses the issues associated with both a quantitative method of survey and also qualitative. Foddy introduces symbolic interactionism (SI) as a way of social actors in a social situation negotiating a shared definition of the situation.

An overview

Foddy introduces the positivist approach which attempts to discover the 'real world' 'out there'. To do this they use a 'stimulus/response' model of questioning, with carefully controlled questions and also answers. They aim for standardised understanding and standardised responses, to provide validity.

Foddy discusses ten key assumptions associated with positivistic surveys, primarily that the researcher provides clear definitions and the respondent is able to provide appropriate standardised answers in the specific situation, and that answers from different respondents can be meaningfully compared.

Pawson (n.d.) suggests that questions and answers are simplified to a 'lowest common denominator' approach. This is a very behaviourist approach. Control is by the researcher, trying to formulate standardised questions and limiting the respondent to standardised answers.

In contrast, 'qualitative field researchers' are interested in how human beings 'experience' their world, for example through the use of non-directive, open questions. They are committed to understanding the respondent's 'meaning' so use near-to-naturalistic unstructured interviews. The researcher and respondent should come to a joint construction of meaning. The data are narrative. Questions have been asked about he 'validity' of qualitative researchers' data, and the fact that it is difficult to replicate studies.

Within quantitative research, they still cannot control for the respondent not understanding the question 'correctly'. This is equally true for qualitative research, with the respondent often looking to the interviewer to show evidence of arriving at a "shared understanding" of questions and answers.
[Note: may need to consider Lyotardian paralogy here, to go past this shared understanding - see my notes on Lather].

Symbolic Interactionist (SI) theory

SI was coined by Blumer (1967, 1969).
- Humans interpret and define each other's actions; they do not react in a stimulus/response way.
- Humans can be the objects of their own attention - the concept of 'self';
- Conscious social behaviour is intentional. We construct and rehearse different possible lines of action before choosing how to act in a given social situation;
- These are ongoing processes, occurring at every stage of a social interaction. Both parties take part in this. Each social actor takes their view of the other into account but also the other's view of themselves, when constructing and choosing possible lines of action.
- Human intelligence is, in part reflexive, for example when you 'take the role' of the other.

SIs claim that social actors in any social situation are constantly negotiating a shared definition of the situation.

Implications of SI theory for social research

Survey researchers and qualitative field researchers have paid little attention to respondents 'taking the role' of the researcher when framing answers. Similarly the reason for asking the question. SI theory suggests that respondents will constantly try to reach a mutually shared definition of the situation with the researcher. Respondents search for clues if the information they require are not forthcoming. Different respondents may attach to different 'clues' and so differently interpret a question - so there is little reason for comparing respondents' different answers.

There are at least four additional sources of response variability that the researcher should keep in mind when formulating questions. Different respondents can interpret the same question in many different ways and give many different answers to it.

My thoughts

In the questionnaire exercise in the first weekend, it was clear to see that including free text answers in such a questionnaire led to a wide range of interpretations of the question. The questionnaire wasn't designed particularly well, but even so the relatively straightforward questions were open to different interpretations. It's probable that the same respondent could answer differently at a different time. So, quantitative work is subject to this issue.

The SI viewpoint seems to be to accept/embrace this multitude of potential answers. The participant will take their cues from the researcher and respond to the researcher to try and reach concordance.

Relevance to me? Again, I think this highlights the importance of thinking about my own frames of reference and being aware of them throughout an interview process, from writing the questions to the questioning itself and then on to the analysis. Just to be aware that the respondent is not only responding to the question I ask but more particularly the question they think I asked, and looking to me to help them provide the answer they think I want. Difficult!


Saturday, 17 October 2015

Bringing together the week 1 reading

Even before the weekend, I'd started to get an understanding of why we'd been given the articles to read. They all revolve around the idea of validity. How do we know that research is good research? Do we actually need to know this?

Different paradigms raise different interpretations of what is meant by 'good' research and how this can be determined.

At the weekend session, each group was given a paper to discuss. we ended up with Lather, which was rather mind-blowing.

What was said about each author?

Hammersley: A post-empiricist, believing in 'subtle realism'. He believes that rigorously conducted method is a guarantor of truth, from a scientific viewpoint. "Validity is a synonym of truth and method its guarantor" (p. 69). This is the correspondence theory of truth. For Hammersley, research is science.

Smith: Outlines three perspectives that challenge the dominant view. He suggests that all judgements are based on practical, ethical issues - we are all post-foundationalists. We make judgements based on social interaction. The criteria aren't fixed in advance (compare to Hammersley). Think about how you judge art. You engage with the piece - you ask questions of it, it asks questions of you - a "fusion of horizons" - dialectical criteria.

Collins: Structures in society perpetuate the dominant truth. Concrete experience is required.

Lather: Not quite 'anything goes' but suggests a more open view of what can be used to consider validity. Be aware that even in alternative views of validity, the shadowy hand of positivism remains.
 Use of reflexive poetry, reflecting on participants' feedback. All needs t be considered. And maybe all's been done before...Erasmus Darwin  - scientific prose in poetry! It seems that, although Lather suggested that some of her ideas were undoubtedly ephemeral; nevertheless, some seem to have ensured over 20 years... http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08893675.2015.1051293

Week 1 reading - heaven knows, (almost) anything goes!

Lather, P. (1993). Fertile obsession: Validity after poststructuralism. The Sociological Quarterly, 34(4), 673-693.

This is the final piece we were asked to read before the first EdD weekend. This was, quite possibly, the most difficult work to read. I've read and re-read it and still can barely get my head around the concepts. There may be some interpretations of her work that make it clearer to a beginner in this area - I'll have to have a look. Usual caveats apply with this overview of the article - there's a lot of direct material and little interpretation. I will need to go back to the original article if I want to use anything at a later date :-/

(Note: maybe have a read through this: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Nf_FBQAAQBAJ&pg=PT64&lpg=PT64&dq=what+is+%22antifoundational+discourse+theory%22&source=bl&ots=TOjElHemfF&sig=JXGS-k2qOQECK6kQwxJTIVqNk9Q&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CC8Q6AEwA2oVChMI6Mab1v7IyAIVg4UaCh2sFgZn#v=onepage&q=what%20is%20%22antifoundational%20discourse%20theory%22&f=false)

Lather suggests that, at the time of the article, everything is up for discussion, to develop a new way of thinking or rather new ways. She defines validity as "the conditions of the legitimisation of knowledge in contemporary postpositivism" (p. 673).  "Rethinking validity in light of antifoundational discourse theory". She wants to continue to use the word "validity" (with all its associated baggage) but to use it in a more subversive way.

Lather is a poststructuralist feminist and suggests that out of the current void in terms of validity will come innovative ways of imagining it, powered by practice. She muses on the development of validity criteria which are sensitive to context. She suggests that even within the realms of postpositivism, the positivist code still maintains its grip. Think differently is her watchword!

The masks of methodology

Lather suggests we need to see "...what frames out seeing." (p.675). A range of methods have been used to try to resolve the issue of validity, such as member checks, peer review and triangulation, but ultimately these raise more questions than answers. "...to not revert to the dominant, foundational formulaic and readily available codes of validity requires the invention counter discourses/practices of legitimisation" (p. 676).

Transgressive validity

"What do you do with validity once you've met poststructuralism?" Lather provides four "framings" of validity that take antifoundational discourse theory into account.

Counter-practices of authority

Lather introduces a "dispersed validity" (p. 677) suggesting alternative ways of considering validity. She fights against the ideas of "policing sociological sciences" and the development of another "regime of truth". She suggests that her ideas are ephemeral, to open us up to possibilities.

Frame 1: Validity as simulacra/ironic validity
Baudrillard suggests that we have "shifted from a culture of representations to one of simulacra. Neither original nor copy". Ironic validity acknowledges that text will always fail to represent what it points towards but can never reach. Her example (Agee & Evans, 1988) looks at the struggle of an "I" to become an "eye" that both inscribes and interrupt normalising power/knowledge.

Frame 2: Lyotardian paralogy/neopragmatic validity
Legitimising research through 'paralogy' does away with the "Habermasian drive for consensus". Having briefly read about this, my understanding is that Habermas saw discussion as ultimately leading to consensus. However, Lyotard, whilst acknowledging that consensus was one stage of discussion, but ultimately it should lead to 'paralogy' - the development of ideas through conversation which consequently leads to an unending development of new ideas. Lather uses Woodbrooks' (1991) study of African-American women in leadership positions in HE. Woodbrooks used two standard methods of validity in qualitative research - member checks and peer debriefing. After reflecting on the feedback from the participants, she amended her work and sent a second draft to the participants. What resulted was the juxtaposition of the voice of the white female researcher with those of African-American female participants. She held her own frame/lens up for scrutiny and her privilege as a middle-class white female was identified. She had missed out on key aspects of the African-American female experience.

Frame 3: Derridean rigour/rhizomatic validity
Deleuze and Guattari (1983) suggest that the tree is a modernist model of knowledge, but the rhizome as the model for post-modernist knowledge. Arbitrary branching systems of knowledge - networks.

Frame 4: Voluptuous validity/Situated validity
Lather suggests that authority "comes from engagement and self-reflexivity, not distanced 'objectivity'". She discusses Richardson's (1992) essay on a study conducted on unmarried mothers. She writes sociological research as poetry - a "disruptive excess".

Lather suggests that her offerings are given as "more problem than solution" (p. 683). Within the gap offered from the death of positivism lies potential.

My thoughts

I suppose, from a gardening viewpoint, if you pull up a well-established plant which is no longer of use or performing as it should, it opens up clear ground. On the clear ground, seeds can germinate and grow. Not all will reach maturity but in the mean time they are valid competitors which have the potential to grow to maturity.

I can't imagine using these methods of validating research at the moment, but maybe this is because they are so distant from my comfort zone. Of greatest interest out of the four is that of Lyotardian paralogy. It makes sense that conversation should not need to stop at consensus but continue, to see where it does lead.

Actions based on this reading:

  • Maybe read about Lyotard some more


Sunday, 11 October 2015

Weekend 1 reading: Patricia Hill Collins - afrocentric feminist epistemology

Collins, P. H. (1991). Towards an afrocentric feminist epistemology. In: P. H. Collins (ed.). Black feminist thought. London, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Black feminist thought, like all specialised thought, reflects the interests and standpoints of its creators. Tracing the origin and diffusion of any body of specialised thought reveals its affinity to the power of the group that created it. Because elite white men and their representatives control structures of knowledge validation, white male interests pervade the thematic content of traditional scholarship. As a result, black females' experiences with work, family, motherhood, political activism and sexual politics have been routinely distorted in or excluded from traditional academic discourse.

"Black feminist thought as specialised thought reflects the thematic content of African-American women's experiences. Subordinate groups have to use alternative ways to create independent self-definitions and self-valuations. African-American women have developed a distinctive Black female's standpoint and have done so by using alternative ways of producing and validating knowledge.

"Epistemology: the study of the philosophical problems in concepts of knowledge and truth."
To investigate this work, Collins consulted established bodies of academic research but also her own experiences and those of other Af-Am females - this is illustrated by the use of the word 2our" rather than "their" within the research. Few statistics are reported; instead. the voices of Black women are used. This allows Collins to explore the thematic content of Black feminist work in a way that doesn't violate its basic epistemological framework.

Black women intellectuals often encounter two distinct epistemologies - elite white male interests, and Afrocentric feminist concerns.

Eurocentric masculinist knowledge validation process

The Eurocentric masculinist knowledge validation process: the institutions, paradigms and other elements of the knowledge validation process controlled by elite white men.
Two political criteria influence the knowledge validation process:
  1. Knowledge claims are evaluated by a community of experts whose members represent the standpoints of the groups from which they originate;
  2. Each community of experts must maintain its credibility as defined by the larger group in which it is situated and from which it draws its taken-for-granted knowledge.
Therefore scholars challenging the basic beliefs of the culture at large are deemed less credible than those supporting popular perspectives. This has suppressed Black feminist thought. Accepting a few "safe" outsiders legitimises keeping outsiders out. Those who challenge the taken-for-granted assumptions run the risk of being ostracised.

Af-Am female academics face potential rejection of knowledge claims on epistemological grounds (theories of knowledge). Rather than using Eurocentric, masculinist criteria for assessing knowledge, they may use other criteria. These methods of validating knowledge claims must be acceptable to the group controlling the knowledge validation process.

For example, positivist approaches of validating knowledge do so by producing objective generalisations, distanced from values, interests and emotions of the researcher. Positivist methodological approaches:
  1. Distance the researcher from the 'object' of study;
  2. Show an absence of emotions;
  3. Ethics and values are deemed inappropriate;
  4. Adversarial debates are the preferred method of ascertaining truth.
For these reasons, it's unlikely that Black women would use a positivist epistemological stance in rearticulating a Black female standpoint. Back females are more likely to choose an alternative epistemology, using different standards consistent with Black females' criteria for substantiated knowledge.

So, what does this look like? The core African value system that existed prior to racial oppression, and also a sharing of the common experience of oppression leads to a distinctive Afrocentric epistemology. This is similar to the feminist advance of a history of gender oppression which led to the feminist epistemology. There is an alternative epistemology for Back women - an Afrocentric feminist viewpoint. There is a discussion of the overlap between the feminist and Afrocentric standpoints - with Black women belong to 2both/and" - there is some overlap but also some separate, in addition. The Afrocentric feminist epistemology is rooted in the everyday experiences of AfAm women.

What are the dimensions of an Afrocentric feminist epistemology?

1. Concrete experience as a criterion of meaning

AfAs use wisdom to assess knowledge, and an understanding of their oppression through race, gender and probably class. "Knowledge without wisdom is adequate for the powerful but wisdom is essential to the survival of the subordinate". Those individuals who have lived through the experience about which they claim to be experts are more believable and credible than those who have merely read or thought about such experiences; i.e. the 'lived experience'.

Some scholars claim that women, too, as a group are more likely than men to use concrete knowledge in assessing knowledge claims. Therefore, in valuing the concrete, AfAMFems invoke not only an Afrocentric tradition but a woman's tradition as well. There is considerable institutional support in traditional AfAm communities for valuing concrete experience - sharing it through the 2sisterhood".

2. The use of dialogue in assessing knowledge claims

"Dialogue is a talk between two subjects, not speech of subject and object - it is a humanising speech, one that challenges and resists domination."
Through dialogue, connectedness rather than separation is an essential component of the knowledge validation process. The use of dialogue has Afrocentric roots, seeking harmony. Different to adversarial debate, it has its basis in African-based oral tradition. The use of call-and-response discourse needs the active participation of all. For ideas to be tested and validated, everyone in the group must participate. Black female centrality in families and community organisations provides AfAm women with a high degree of support for invoking dialogue as a dimension of an Afrocentric feminist epistemology. This ties in with a female way of knowing.

3. The ethic of caring

"Talking with the heart" taps the ethic of caring - another dimension of an alternative epistemology used by AfAm females.
  • Emphasis on individual uniqueness, rooted in a tradition of African humanism;
  • Use of emotions in dialogues - emotion shows a speaker believes in the validity of an argument;
  • capacity for empathy.
There is growing evidence that the ethic of caring may be part of women's' experience as well.

4. The ethic of personal accountability

People are expected to be accountable for their knowledge claims. AfAms believe it is essential for individuals to have personal positions on issues and assume full responsibility for arguing their validity. Knowledge claims made by individuals respected for their moral and ethical connections to their ideas will carry more weight than those offered by less respected figures.

It seems (with limited research) that there is a female model for moral development, therefore there is another convergence between Afrocentric and feminist institutions.

"An alternative epistemology challenges...knowledge an opens up the question of whether what has been taken to be true can stand the test of alternative ways of validating truth".

My thoughts

Very interesting. I've heard talk of intersectionality on Twitter, and not really understood it (or taken much notice of it) until now. It seems clear to me that experiences and understandings will vary. What a middle class white woman conceives of as their feminist viewpoint will be different, though no more or less valid, than that of a Black woman. However, the Black/transgendered/with impairments will have additional barriers of oppression. It was fascinating to learn of different ways in which research can be viewed as 'valid', based on cultural roots. It's obvious that this should be so, but my own view has been blinkered by the standard white Eurocentric masculinist approach that it is very hard to conceive of alternative voices towards validity, as suggested here. Something to read  more about. It's unlikely to be something I develop, but it has made me more aware of the frames within which I operate, as being a privileged, white, cis-, able-bodied woman.

If I had to categorise Collins, it would be as a critical theorist, with one key concern being from a feminist viewpoint, though of course taking in other oppressed sections of society, particularly that of African-Americans. As a CT, she would espouse 'transformation'.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Weekend 1 reading: Smith and the problem of criteria

Smith, J. K. (1993). The problem of criteria. In: J. K. Smith (ed.). After the demise of empiricism. The problem of judging social and educational enquiry. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

This is another of the weekend 1 readings. Smith is an interpretivist. Again, as I don't really yet understand the topic, a lot of this is verbatim and will need to be paraphrased or quoted if I use it in work.

PEs, CTs and interpretivists can all agree:
  • There's no definitive way to distinguish knowledge from opinion or from false claims;
  • There's no definitive way to sift good research from bad.
All three paradigms agree that the empirical theory of knowledge is undermined by the fact that theory-free observation is impossible, and so on.

The end of the common ground

However, as the three theories have developed, so have major differences in their positions. The differences lie in the depth to which the PE ideas of theory-free knowledge, abandonment of direct realism and collapse of fact-value and subject-object distinctions are taken.

PEs: To develop a "modified" version of empiricism. They are unwilling to abandon completely the concepts of truth and objectivity as ideals. They suggest that, without these ideals, it is impossible to determine knowledge from opinion and good research from bad. They view the task as to modify empiricism rather than abandon it.

PEs have sought to develop the philosophical doctrine of realism, from 'naïve/direct' to 'sophisticated/indirect' realism. They also argue for the importance of certain values key to the scientific process, e.g. being guided by the 'search for truth'. They realise that certitude is impossible but one isn't railroaded into relativism; just because research cannot definitively be judged on its quality does not mean that some research is not more valid than others. "They are looking for a non-foundational theory of knowledge" between certitude and 'anything goes relativism' and between definitive criteria for judgement and no criteria at all.

CTs have attempted to develop an alternative foundation for knowledge, with alternative conceptions for truth, objectivity etc. Within CT, the ideal is to make transparent the historical socio-political forces that have led to false consciousness, distorted communication, etc. The knowledge must then be put to use so that the exploited can transform themselves and society. "CTs make no pretence that their theory is neutral or divorced from practical action".

The key task for CTs has been to develop a normative foundation for their position. Doing this, they've adopted a critical realism, interpreted objectivity and truth within a historical viewpoint, elaborated a theory of communicative action and rationality, etc. They do this knowing that certitude is impossible but that relativism  is unacceptable. They realise that judging research definitively is impossible but state that some research is more objective and valid than others. Their task has been to establish alternative criteria, alternative to empiricism, post-empiricism and interpretivism.

Interpretivists are guided by human solidarity. hey heavily discuss the 'no theory-free knowledge' concept, the collapse of subject/object dualism, the end of the distinction between facts and values, etc. They push further than PEs and CTs - they redefine traditional concepts such as subjective, objective, truth, relativism etc in non-epistemological terms.

The key position of interpretivists is that researchers do not have a unique hold on knowledge. We cannot judge, in a foundational or epistemological sense, knowledge against opinion. The best we can do is to describe forms of justification for knowledge that are common to a particular group or society at a particular time. Any judgements must be framed by practices and moral concerns, not epistemological ones.

Interpretivists believe that researchers are not privy to privileged knowledge about social life. A research study is thought of as another narrative account of our social lives, alongside other (research and lay) narrative accounts.

However, that is not to say that they believe all research is equally important or justified - they're not 'anything goes' relativists. However, this judgement is not made as to whether some research is more objective (giving an accurate depiction) but because some accounts make sense to us given our interests at this time and place. Judgements we make about knowledge against opinion and good against bad research are practical and moral tasks, not epistemological ones. Interpretivists must elaborate what lies beyond epistemology and beyond the thought that there are special abstract criteria for judging research quality.

  1. The need to fill the vacuum left by empiricism with another theory of knowledge: PEs and CTs agree with this; we must be able to say something special about genuine knowledge against false claims and about good against bad research. Good research is defined in terms of objectivity. Interps do not desire to develop a theory of knowledge and believe that there is no vacuum to fill. The absence of a theory of knowledge does not mean that all claims to knowledge and all research are equal, but not better because they are more objective but what we can agree on at any given time/place.
  2. Theories of knowledge differ between PEs and CTs. PEs want modified empiricism but CTs want an alternative basis for knowledge. Both have adopted realism and make claims to objectivity but have different concepts of these definitions. PEs see objectivity as true to reality as it exists. CTs seem objectivity in terms of historical distortions that have led to the present false consciousness. PEs believe that objectivity is a matter of detachment. CTs believe objectivity can only be understood in terms of commitment to the emancipation and empowerment of those who are unaware of the reality of their situations.
These differences are clearest when it comes to the interpretation of meaning, i.e. in hermeneutics.

PE make a distinction between meaning and significance. Meaning has independent existence and can be known (in principle if not in practice) at any given moment, as it actually is, separate from the interests and purposes of the interpreter. An objective account of what an author meant is one that has accurately captured that meaning. Meaning is given this status as an external referent point against which to assess interpretation; therefore we can assess the extent to which an interpreter has got it right or wrong.

Making this interpretation is not arbitrary. Using the regulative ideal of objectivity the author makes a hypothesis with a systematic approach. The extent to which the interpreter applies data collection and analysis can be judged. Furthermore, they explain how their subjectivities are made explicit and how discomfiting evidence was sought.

CTs make good on their versions of realism and objectivity with a critical or depth hermeneutics. Interpretation doesn't mean an accurate representation of the author's meaning, because the author may be mistaken. An objective interpretation points out to the victim of false consciousness the reasons for their illusions/distorted communication. In other words, an interpreter must depict what an author meant and also assess that meaning in light of objective historical conditions. This will lead to true meaning and the possibility that empowerment and emancipation will follow. Therefore, good critical research is that in which the researcher has been reflexive, clarified historical conditions, collaborated with those studied and educated meaning as to the true nature of their conditions.

Interps don't see hermeneutics in terms of theories, as they are not interested in theories of knowledge. They believe meaning only comes into being as a result of dialogue between the interpreter and that to be interpreted. There is therefore no objective or 'right' interpretation. However, this doesn't mean that there is no good or bad research - one interpretation is often agreed to be better than another. All one can do to convince another to accept their interpretation through providing materials that best support it. Interpretivists see criteria not as abstract standards but as open-ended evolving lists of traits that characterise what we think research should do and be like.

Criteria for judging social and educational research

PEs and CTs, based on their interest in a theory of knowledge, have both attempted to establish some form of abstract, general and universal criteria for distinguishing the quality of research.

PEs: Their realism leads them to judge that research which more accurately depicts reality (ie is more objective) from less accurate depictions (less objective). Whilst mistakes can be made, over time, with more research and analysis, more accurate judgements can be made. PEs differentiate between valid research and important/relevant research - this has been carried over from empiricism. Research can be of no practical or theoretical importance but can be valid through employing appropriate data collection and analysis and through thorough research. A view of importance is, necessarily, more subjective.

To CTs, good research must be both theoretically well developed and lead to emancipation and empowerment (i.e practically based). These are addressed through validity. Judgement is the extent to which the researcher accurately captures how people interpret their own expressions and those of others. This also needs to be understood in terms of the historical conditions that have led to these interpretations. Finally, good critical research must have catalytic validity - it must lead to or inspire practical action. Because of this, CTs are less likely to make a distinction between good research and important research. A researcher could objectively depict a person's interpretation and determine that the interpretation is mistaken or an illusion but not inspire people to act on that knowledge; therefore meeting the criterion of theoretical success but not that of practical agency, so it is invalid and unimportant.

Interpretivists: As the criteria problem is not an epistemological problem, criteria are not conceptualised as abstract standards. Instead, they are characterising traits. To argue that some research is good is to advance an argument for the particular traits that you think should characterise that study. Therefore decisions about the quality of an interpretive study draw on exemplars of that research tradition, involve judgemental interpretation and are a practical-moral affair.

Practical consequences

Within empiricism it was thought (in principle) that an objectivity of judgement about quality of research was possible. However, in reality, this was only ever loose and imprecise. PEs believe that although mistakes in judgement of research do occur, in the long haul, it will if it *is* good research, come to the forefront. This has implications for peer review of research journal articles.

P. 158: "It appears that there is little prospect for universal criteria to distinguish good research from bad" therefore there's little sense in the notion of a community of all researchers.

Potential concern related to the problem of criteria is the status of social and educational research/ers - no longer such as 'special or privileged knowledge', although it does still occur in PEs and CTs because of their self-reflection, openness to criticism, systematicness in thinking than non-researchers. Interpretivists shy away from this idea of a 'hierarchy of knowledge'. In the absence of a theory of knowledge there is no point worrying about a hierarchy of knowledge. There's no special knowledge about knowing and therefore no special, abstract way of distinguishing knowledge from opinion and good from bad research. Research is therefore knowledge that is different from, and expressed differently from the knowledge and language of the lay person. However, it is not superior knowledge - research is another voice in the conversation.


If PEs and CTs are correct that there is a theory of knowledge to replace the empiricist theory of knowledge, then there are abstract criteria/standards for distinguishing knowledge from belief and good from bad research. These criteria are loose and imprecise but are sufficient for the task of distinguishing good/bad research. Therefore these criteria can also serve as the basis for the claim that research knowledge is superior to other forms of knowledge - because it can be judged.

If there is no theory of knowledge (I.e. interpretivism) then there are no (epistemological) criteria for distinguishing good research from bad and knowledge from belief. Instead, there are characterising traits which are expressions of our values. The attempt to distinguish knowledge from opinion and good research from bad is a practical and moral task, not an epistemological one.

What  next? Questions to answer.

PEs: Standing between the correspondence theory of truth and the coherence theory of truth, they have yet to come up with a convincing theory which draws from both. They also acknowledge their uncertainty about the role of empirical evidence in theory choice in light of there being no theory-free observation.

CTs: Can they justify that their critique is more than just another possibility (amongst many others) for understanding the social and educational world? Is their critique of ideology only another ideology? Have *they* escaped the historical distortions and false consciousness that everyone else is enveloped within?

Interps: Have they actually moved beyond a theory of knowledge, or just side-stepped it? "A judgement that a research study is good is never more than an expression of the fact that people, guided by the ideal of human solidarity, have come to agreement about the quality of that study".

What this means???

There's no agreement on the criteria that are used to consider what is good/bad research. Different groups use different means or even believe that there is no clear way except through agreement on characteristic traits at that moment in time.

CTs believe that change should occur. PEs do not seem that different from empiricists.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Surveys, data and interpretation

There are two opposing schools of thought with regard to surveys: post-positivism and interpretivism. We completed an activity to look at a sample survey from these two different viewpoints.

Firstly, a word about the survey. Even a brief look at it suggested problems. It was, apparently, a survey produced by a professional research group, rather than an undergraduate up against a hand-in deadline.

The information/brief notes below come from the class session. I need to read through Foddy's (1993) work (hard copy of chapter 2 provided) to understand more.

Foddy explores the key assumptions of behaviourism (a post-positivist school of thought):
  1. The purpose of a survey is to discover information about the world objectively, as it exists 'out there'. Behaviourists produce questions that allow us to access that view as accurately as possible - behaviourists believe you can reach this truth.
  2. Everyone has a common and shared understanding of the questions posed; questioning is based on the view of a common vocabulary. Language is unambiguous, and clear questions can provide accurate objective data. Whole heap of problems within here to unpack!
  3. Questions utilise a stimulus-response model in which they are carefully standardised to ensure that the respondent gives only one response. These are directive questions, with a closed question approach.
  4. Because questions are standardised and respondents provide only one response, each question can be meaningfully compared, otherwise there is a problem with consistency.
Symbolic interactionism:
Blumer (1997) states that the SI approach rests upon the premise that human action takes place always in a situation that confronts(?) the actor. The 'being with' is significant; different interviewers will elicit different responses from people.

The SI perspective:
  1. Reality is negotiated; we are interpreting the interpretation of others (secondary interpretation). Behaviourists want to control a situation by forms of words. SIs believe that this is folly.
  2. Attitudes are transient. Responses vary according to time and place.
  3. The social context is paramount; each person has a self concept and is reflexively shaped and influenced.
Therefore, there is no single response to be accessed but a range that varies according to the time/location/social situation.

Analysing the questionnaire

We were asked to critique it from an SI point of view. These are my thoughts:
  • directive tick boxes are used extensively
  • Use of examples limit responses
  • There are some free text boxes, but these limit free text as they are only one to two lines.
  • It provides just an overview - there is no depth of understanding
  • It is situational - where you complete the questionnaire may affect how you answer it (at home/work)
  • questioning on the role at the start of the sheet may set the 'character' of the 'actor' in completing the work: I'm deputy head, so I must write as that role rather than my true feelings
  • SIs would not use anything like this!
The behaviourists noted:
  • questions could be interpreted in a range of ways
  • acronyms were not explained
  • vague, open questioning
  • Categories - what's the difference between 'a little' and 'some'?
  • Eliding of categorical data with ordinal data causing confusion and ambiguity (q4)
  • What is good is that there are some closed questions.
Surveys will always inevitably be conceptually flawed as an attempt to reach some form of 'truth'. You need to realise that they are not an easy option, and also to consider how you will analyse the data, from the design stage.

Interviews may be onerous (transcription etc.) but provide richer data, through listening, interpreting and analysing.

The most interesting part of the activity for me was when the tutor provided the responses to one of the questions ('what image does educational research conjure up for you?') and asked us to draw together themes. This was quite labour intensive, but it was relatively straightforward to pull out the common threads. Of course, I say that but I have to begin to consider how my own frames of reference can (and indeed do) affect the sorts of themes I draw out and how I'd write an analysis based on those themes.

The themes I pulled out in this brief activity include:
  • a dichotomy between those talking about 'doing' research and those talking about 'being done to'
  • How research is used/misused
  • questioning the relevance of research
  • it's academic, not practice-based
  • an imposition on the workload
  • for the development of practice
  • discussion of the mechanics - the techniques used
  • Used to justify change for change's sake
  • Deliberate manipulation of findings to suit the audience
  • Research is done, but is not implemented
  • The excitement of new, positive ideas
  • Promoting a positive change
  • acknowledging complexity - no clear answers.
The general overview of those themes seems strikingly negative and pessimistic on the role of research. However, the tutor then provided us with the analysis produced by the researchers...

This starts by suggesting that a number of important themes emerge (but... who decides that they are important? That also suggests that some are unimportant). It uses numbers within the analysis in an attempt to provide 'evidence' of scientific robustness. The word 'unsurprisingly' is used to explain that a number of respondents look at the technical side. That's rather loaded. Who is it who is/isn't going to be surprised? To be honest, based on the question asked, I'm quite surprised that people answered it with 'technical' words such as 'statistics' or 'graphs, surveys and videos'. Perhaps if the respondents had been given more room to write, more meaningful data could have been produced. The analysis then goes on to talk about the positives drawn from the findings, even though these are much fewer. There is an acknowledgement that some answered 'yes, but...' ie qualified their positive outlook with a negative viewpoint. The research then admits to the dominant negative views of research. It pulls out the most dominant negative theme as research being done by 'others' not on the ground.

This analysis is constructed in such a way as to emphasise the positive over the negative. Certain responses are privileged, that is they are selected over other, discarded responses. Tis links back to research concealing as well as revealing. research is a 'snapshot' which reveals the motivation of the researcher. it is a construct which shows the researchers' views of teachers' views of research. We all do it, but we need to recognise that we do. There is always 'the view from somewhere', and no impartiality, with emphasis, privileging and focussing on particular themes over others.

Relevance to me?

An interesting exercise in drawing out themes from data. Something I enjoyed, although having to think about my own viewpoints and how they affect the data I'm drawn to and emphasise makes my brain ache just to think about it! Maybe I can see a use for this within my research for this module. I don't think I would feel comfortable about a survey (and having to justify its use) but within interviewing instead.

Assignment 1 - some tutor comments

These are just brief notes of things the tutor said, in no particular order, and with no interpretation...

  • Locate the work within the professional setting - make it contextualised
  • Make it conceptually sophisticated - this is level 8!
  • Write yourself into the assignment; place yourself in that context, using reflexivity, the influence of the subjective self in research
  • Start with a short biographical narrative: who I am, what I do and why the question is significant to me.
  • Positionality: the understanding of where you are positioned within the research paradigms/ How do you want to be judged? What standards and criteria should be used? This relates to the philosophical underpinnings of the research. Hopefully it will follow through to the thesis.
  • Develop a discussion around different frameworks, honing in on a particular perspective relevant to who I am, my research interests, and how it will go.
  • Where do I stand in relation to these deep ontological views?
  • Collect empirical data, interpret it and theorise around it.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

The truth? A truth? Multiple truths? No truth?

The following notes come from the hand-written notes I made on Saturday 3rd Oct 2015. It may not make sense, as I don't really understand most of it at the moment! Extra reading to do via hyperlinks.

Rorty believes that objectivity in research cannot be achieved. So, what is truth? How can we tell what good research is?
More Rorty reading to complete

Objectivity implies distance/separation from the object, to understand the world 'as it is'.

Kant believed that there are two worlds: the noumenal world of things that exist, and the phenomenal world, which is mediated through our own senses. There is an unbridgeable gap; we are not separate from the context we research. The 'self' and 'other' are always conjoined.

Reflexivity is used to examine, as best we can, to understand our values and the influence they have on the research process. We can never *fully* do that: where does the inside/outside frontier begin? Also, we're human and always interacting therefore cannot fully identify our values, judgements and prejudices. Who we are is contingent on who we are interacting ; there is no essence of identity, so driving down to truth is pointless. We cannot reach a true good/certainty; Plato believes there is something more real lying behind the reality we know.

The present is inauthentic and we work towards a future which is more authentic. However, this doesn't happen.

The dominant view of research is that there *is* a truth. Intepretivism posits that there is not.

Over recent years, there has been a move towards the use of 'mixed methods' becoming popular, as it involves both qualitative and quantitative research. The suggestion is that it is therefore more valid, authentic and with a degree of validity. However.... quantitative data collection drives forward many policies, to the detriment of many services (would need evidence to support this argument!). Greater credence is given to quantitative research results than qualitative.

Note to self: where do I stand in relation to these deep ontological views?

Rigour: we try to ensure objectivity but we are ultimately doomed to failure...

Thomas Kuhn, in the Structure of Scientific Revolutions, talked about paradigms. He suggested that there are normal periods of science, with agreement on sets of beliefs underlying the science process. Occasionally, someone comes along with revolutionary ideas, leading to the displacement of the theory  a paradigm shift.

A paradigm is a conceptual framework. Unlike within science, different frameworks an co-exist in the social sciences, capturing different ideas about the nature of research. There is a 'leakiness' between different paradigms, and often bigger differences within research paradigms than between them (as suggested by Hammersley).

These paradigms both simplify and conceal/obscure - they reveal and conceal.

Definitions and Paradigms

Ontology: to do with the nature of truth, the nature of being. Whether you believe in truth  or not is an ontological question. Do we believe in *a* reality, are is it relativist?

Epistemology: What do we know? Theories of knowledge. There is also standpoint epistemology e.g. feminist viewpoint. Epistemology is also a statement on the nature of being.

Ontology and epistemology are inseparable. It is impossible to have a theory of knowledge without a theory of being.

Methodology: An approach to [research?] It is the underpinning philosophical/conceptual frameworks guiding our research.

See the grid (2/10/15): An adaption by Garrett of Sparkes' (1993) assumptions underlying paradigms.

It looks at three paradigms: post-positivism (PP),  Constructivism/Interpretivism (Int) and Critical Theory (CT).
Post-structuralists would suggest that the grid is nonsensical as they cannot be separated.

Positivism: Auguste Comte followed an empiricist epistemology and believed that you can apply the research rules of the natural sciences to the social world with practical justification leading to social progress. Examples include evidence-based practice, empirical data.

Nowadays we discuss post-positivism (PP) as positivism was discredited, as absolute truth cannot exist. PPs attempt to proximate the truth (BUT... how can we know how near or far we are from the truth?). They believe we can try to minimise our subjectivity but this is ostensibly impossible.

PP Ontology: External-realist - reality exists but can never be fully apprehended. Correspondence theory of truth.

PP epistemology: Modified objectivist//dualist: objectivity remains an ideal but can only be approximated.

PP Methodology: Nomothetic (generalizable)/experimental/manipulative; wants to generalise.

Our writing must use narrative devices to persuade the reader of our understanding of the truth, e.g. detailed field notes, rich data from interviews, to give a strong sense of context through our writing.

INT ontology: relativist: there are multiple mental constructions, socially and experientially based, which are local and specific.

INT epistemology: subjectivist - researcher ad researched are fused into a single entity. Findings are the creation of the process of interaction between the two.

INT methodology: hermeneutic/dialectic/ideographic - individual constructions/understandings are refined through a process of dialogue. This paradigm privileges cases, e.g. ethnography, understanding a culture in depth though a personal lens. Within hermeneutics (e.g. Heidegger and Gadamer) they embrace the frameworks but realise that we cannot know what they are, but they do allow us to challenge our judgements, 'placing prejudices at risk'. This changes us - reflexivity. reflexivity means adaptation of, for example, your interview questions, reacting to the interviewee, asking different questions, moving amongst questions - the interview is a conversation.

Truth is transient, based on social agreement in this paradigm.

CT Ontology: Critical realist/internal idealist

CT epistemology: Subjectivist/interactive

CT methodology: ideographic/participative/transformative - an ambition to transform for those at a social disadvantage, i.e. make a difference. You may collaborate with those you're researching, doing research with a group rather than to a group.

Questions to answer: Where do I sit? I suppose, without knowing very much at all, and by looking at my responses to the initial 'definitions of research' activity, I feel I sit most comfortably within the interpretivist paradigm. Despite my background in science (or maybe because of it), I feel that it doesn't provide the sort of information I feel I want to gain for my research. I feel uncomfortable with the critical theorists viewpoint of active involvement to make a change. We'll see how this develops.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Weekend 1

My first EdD weekend took place on Friday evening and on Saturday. A chance to meet the other people on the long journey to a doctorate. Many of the others are specialists in primary and early years, with a smattering of university employees and one or two secondary teachers. There's even a retired  teacher who has already completed a PhD after retiring. whilst some seemed to have an understanding of some of the concepts, I wasn't the only one who seemed new to it all.

After a brief course introduction, we started into the first module, research methodologies for professional enquiry. This is the source of the reading I've been doing over the past fortnight. There was a brief overview of the assignment, then straight into considering our views on research. We worked as small groups to winnow 27 statements about research down to what we considered the six most important. We were the only group to make it to six, and we managed to have quite a discussion whilst doing so. I wish I'd noted down the statements, but in general, they seemed to relate to an interpretivist viewpoint, from what I've read.

One group only agreed on a single statement - that research is always parasitic. Our group did discuss this, but we discounted it. Parasitism is a negative process to the host, and whilst some research (if not done ethically) *may* cause harm to the participant(s), overwhelmingly research will at least cause no harm and can have positive effects. The whole point of critical theory paradigm seems to be that one completes research in order to transform the lives of those who are underdogs and have been ignored or actively put down by the dominant section of society.

We were then allocated one of the pre-reading texts to go over ready for an activity the next day. Typically, it was, for our group, the one paper I'd barely started reading. I had a chance to read over Patti Lather's paper once that night and then first thing in the morning, but it made little sense. Some more time reading during the activity did clarify areas for me, but it wasn't easy. More on that in the blog post about that article.

In the afternoon, we looked at the role of questionnaires as methods of gathering data. The tutor introduced two opposing schools of thought (post-positivist and interpretative. We then analysed a questionnaire from one of these viewpoints. Half of the class from a behaviourist viewpoint and half from a symbolic interactionist view. The summary was that, despite it being a questionnaire from a well-respected research group, the design of it was rather appalling, ultimately satisfying no-one. An extension of this activity was to investigate some of the key themes drawn out from one  of the free-answer questions on the questionnaire. I found this very interesting. Note to self: could I use this approach in my assignment? We then looked at the interpretation published by the research group. fascinating differences appeared, giving a positive spin to the results. It also illustrated one of the research definitions we did choose the previous evening: research conceals as well as reveals. It selected in particular (privileged) responses, whilst 'selecting out' others.

After an investigation of our view of ourselves as professionals and people, the day was finished. Reading to do, writing up to clarify, and thinking about assignment. Lots of things to do if I want to stay on track and organised.

Planned blog posts:
1. Complete reading blogposts
2. Post on starting the assignment
3. Reworking notes taken during the weekend
4. Read and blog on the reading we were given during the weekend.

A scary first session over.