Sunday, 9 December 2012

Final Post!

I just realized I forgot to post for this week! I will make it brief, but I wanted to reflect a bit on the last assignment. One thing that I really enjoyed about this course was how progressive it was. I could feel a transition and learning process as we proceeded through the assignments, and though my final proposal was very different from my SSHRC proposal, hopefully the learning process is visible in it! The research proposal definitely put me outside of my comfort zone, but I am glad that I did it. I feel like I learned a lot from writing it that can be used in other assignments. There was a lot of soul-searching and forging my own path, and I feel that I am now a better writer and researcher because of it.
I wanted to comment briefly on the textbooks. I think that Knight was more practical and studious, but I had a hard time getting into his chapters. Luker's book was less structured, but made me feel like even though I had no idea what I was doing, I too could write a research proposal. Luker was definitely more relatable, and though Knight's content was useful, Luker's attitude and message made this course a lot more manageable for me.
That's all! I had a great semester and learned a lot. Have a great holiday everyone and see you next term! :)

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Finding Patterns & Some Final Thoughts

It’s my final post for Research Methods! Where did the time go? Not sure if anyone will be reading the blog at this point, but I still wanted to add some final thoughts. Hopefully everyone was able to successfully submit their research proposals. Now that we’ve completed the course, does this mean we no longer have to call ourselves “amateur” social researchers?  As I thought about what I could write in my final post, I reflected on what worked really well this term. The readings were all generally interesting, with some being more relevant than others, just based on our individual research interests and selected methods. I must say though that I gravitated more towards Luker’s book and really enjoyed her writing style. Throughout her book she makes good use of analogies and metaphors, which really made learning about research methods a lot more fun! For example, in this week’s readings, she refers to herself as a “Julia Child junkie.” (Luker, 2008, 198) She uses the “syrupy reduction sauce” which is a mixture of sautéed juices and some alcoholic addition as a metaphor for social researchers. She explains how social researchers are also given the task of reducing the data they have gathered into something they can “manage” and analyze in “meaningful ways.” (Luker, 2008, 199) I learned that the process of analysis and reduction is an ongoing one, which begins as soon as you come home from gathering data or even the first day you start your project. One meaningful and relevant suggestion that Luker makes is that our important job is to find “pattern recognition” in our data. (Luker, 2008, 199)

But beyond the readings, I also enjoyed attending the lectures and the learning that occurred during class participation. It was a pleasure meeting and speaking to you all about your research ideas. Best of luck and hopefully we’ll be seeing each other again very soon.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

On coding and cartoonists...

Picking up on Luke's post about manual vs. computer-assisted coding - while I've been in this class, I've also been taking a class that has allowed me to conduct a small ethnographic project. I've been in the process of coding my field data for the past few weeks, and I've done it all manually - and it's been a pretty rewarding process. I can mostly imagine digital methods to be useful when there's a huge volume of data - which, in my case, there wasn't (well, there was a lot - but compared to the amount that a year-long project would amass, it wasn't much). Coding manually was helpful because it was easy for me to visualize where in the data specific things were located, and there was something I liked about the hands-on nature of the whole thing - combing through pages of text, highlighting, using sticky notes, all the while building a web of important concepts and themes. There has been something that feels kind of creative about it, about really actively engaging in the work you've done, and about searching through it for all the layers of meaning.

This is a bit of a departure (and it's probably not, you know, properly research-y), but I'm a big fan of cartoonist Lynda Barry, and when she talks about doing creative work, she's a huge advocate for using your hands and doing things manually. She talks about how, when she's working on something (whether it's writing or drawing), "The worst thing I can do when I'm stuck is to start thinking and stop moving my hands." In interviews, she talks about her process, and about how when she gets stuck on a project, she just puts it aside and moves over to another sheet of paper, where she starts drawing something else (even something as simple as painting the letters of the alphabet) - for her, the thing seems to be that being engaged in a physical way in what she's doing helps her to generate ideas. My feelings about manual coding reminded me of this - in my (pretty limited) experience so far, there has been a rich physicality and materiality to it that I have really enjoyed, that has helped me feel immersed in my data, and has engaged my mind in ways that working on a computer hasn't done.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Hey all, hope everyone is doing ok getting through the end of the term and getting their proposal in. It's been a long week, so hopefully I'm not too incoherent.

Anyhow, in reading the Luker chapter on analysis this week I really noticed the similarity between discourse/content analysis and interview analysis. It seems like after an interview has been transcribed, the process is more or less the same, which is puzzling given that Luker seems to like interviews but is skeptical of content analysis.

The trouble seems to be about correlation vs. causality, which makes me wonder if many studies really get at causality? Is establishing correlation not worth something logically at least? The boolean analysis that Luker talks about does seem to get over the limitations of overly simplistic cause and effect models, though I'm not sure I buy that it is any more "veritable".

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Research Workflows

I find Luker’s reflections on the differences between computer-assisted qualitative coding, and a purely manual process very interesting. Reading Knight’s view of qualitative coding, he seems to view the processes as highly interchangeable. Based on my personal experience, digital vs. analog based workflows are not interchangeable. Luker’s observation at the computer-assisted workflow had her focusing on the minutia and work out to large themes fits with my experience of working with reading materials. When working with print materials I find it much easier to hold a mental map of the content and be able to find things based on feeling image of where it was. For example, I was able to find a specific non-indexed paragraph in a 500 page book I read five years ago by flipping through the book and locating where in the structure the content I was looking for fit. By contrast, when working with digital text, I can find specific details via keyword searches, but my sense of where things are located relative to each other, or on the scroll bar is negligible. Thus far, I’ve used both where possible; printing the digital material I was working with. As far as research applications, I think my ideal would be a combination of the digital and analog where appropriate. However maintaining the necessary links to go back and forth would be a significant workflow challenge.

I was going to write about shaping analysis, but I didn’t, here is the Yes Prime Minister clip I was going to use anyway:

What Is This a Case Of?

This week, Luker talks about the hard work that begins at the end of research process just as we are all tuckered out from gathering the data. I find that I can perfectly relate to this point. It has been interesting collecting information and reviewing literature on the topic I’d chosen for my research proposal, but I see now that the biggest chunk of the work is putting it all together.

It’s not just about writing a good story. Not only we need to connect our data to the existing scholarship, we also need to make sure that the resulting account of the selected social world sheds a light on areas of this world that have not yet been lit. This actually sounds very important for the social world itself. Our research can make a difference. How progressive. What a responsibility. Our purpose, as researchers, is to illuminate our selected social worlds with additional ideas that will lead to wider knowledge.

I also really want to say this. Doing the actual research about my topic has been enjoyable. I love reading the existing literature and develop my ideas about it. I want to keep going and just read, read, read and then write about it. I have been feeling frustrated about having to write the proposal for the research before the research is complete. So far, I have re-written my questions and re-thought my methods a million of times. I wish I could finish the research first and then write a proposal. I wonder, if it's known to do that. It feels like I would have a very clear idea about the research questions after I've asked everything I could and gathered all the info I could.