Friday, November 20, 2009

Paul's Questions for 11/23

Potter does not suggest that all qualitative scholars conform to a standard of thinking alike, but that it would be beneficial to have a greater sense of general community. Potter also believes qualitative scholars should be better at communicating this to others intellectually, not just emotionally. It seems to me that whenever I ask someone familiar with qualitative work to describe it, or compare it to quantitative research, inevitably the answer seems to involve the notion that qualitative work is free from the constraints of numbers and statistics and is, rather, focused on thoughtful interpretation of various forms of text. Isn’t this the best answer at the most basic of levels? To me, this seems to constitute a “general community.”

Richardson described most qualitative research as boring because most authors “suppress their voice to a scientific style of writing.” Potter adds that it is ironic that researchers who focus on language are not more careful in their use of it. I imagine many of these “boring” scholars write this way to get published. Are journals that are deemed qualitative more accepting of writing that may be more journalistic in style than academic? If not, why not? Surely it’s not because qualitative theoreticians want to put up barriers to the uninitiated in the qualitative field, right? Potter suggests this as one possible reason for a lack of clarity in most qualitative writing.

In defining the qualitative approach, Potter names seven methodologies: ethnography, ethnomethodology, reception studies, ecological psychology, symbolic interactionism, cultural studies, and textual analysis. Potter adds that scholars using them share a common basis of five axioms, one of which is that researchers “should strive to see the situation from the perspective of the other rather than from predominantly their own perspective.” While I get the reason for this, how realistic is it? Isn’t this difficult to do since we use our own experiences to interpret text? While we may try to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, don’t we know the fit of our own the best? Even later in the reading is a section asking, “Does reality exist apart from one’s perception?”

The two tensions in qualitative thinking, Fluid-Order and Reflection-Transformation, seem like they can be mixed and matched, depending on what’s being examined. If, for instance, I’m observing the procedural behaviors of a newsroom staff, I may approach the project from the “reflection” perspective since I want to observe activity for as long as possible to best reflect reality. Yet, I may still choose “transformation” to take the information gathered and provide a point of view to transform, or fix a problem I may perceive. Can you have both the reflection and transformation themes working together for the same research project?

I’m hopeful about convergence for my research into presidential debates. For instance, I want to know how often a certain topic may come up during a debate, and compare it to other topics in order to get an accurate picture of the “pie.” But I want to interview the people responsible for the questions that helped “bake” that pie. In this way, the quantitative and qualitative approaches are equally important to answering my questions. That’s why I like Potters belief that “scholars who focus primarily on the question can make a greater contribution.”

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