Research Design & Rationale

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Research Design & Rationale

My research design draws on aspects of the Social Research Methods MA assignment and uses a similar rationale. The ontological position I have adopted throughout this study is influenced by interpretivism and constructionism; that is, I look at my participants’ world-view emically and interpret social phenomena as the outcome of human interactions. In terms of assessing the trustworthiness of qualitative analysis on these outcomes, I refer to Bryman (2008: 377) who, drawing on Guba and Lincoln, proposes that credibility, transferability, dependability and confirmability are the evaluating criteria, in contrast with the quantitatively associated criteria of reliability and validity. A quantitative research strategy, with its emphasis on breadth, the collecting of numerical data and as Bryman has identified –  “measurement, causality, generalization and replication” (2008: 140) – is best suited to deductively proving an existing, perhaps scientific hypothesis, one with a remit to measure broad societal changes across populations.  The former four criteria, however, embody a sense of elasticity – which sit well with the non-realist view that absolute truths about the social world are simply unfeasible.

Hence qualitative research methods are favoured in my study of empirical data, with the emphasis on the depth and meaning evoked by language and gesture, on drilling down into an instance so as to inductively suggest a theory that might explain social relations, what Williams called the “structure of feeling” in and between social groups and structures. I explored this term in a previous MA module and it has relevance here in support of an understanding of evolutionary trends in social formation and later in my account with reference to pattern recognition:

“[these understandings] could only be achieved, Williams claimed, through a study of the complex interrelations, rather than comparisons, between the shifting agendas of social phenomena, their: “elements of persistence, adjustment, unconscious assimilation, active resistance, alternative effort …”(1961) and the patterns of activity that can be traced therein. He draws on Ruth Benedict’s anthropologically inspired “patterns of culture” to elaborate what he finally phrased society’s “structure of feeling”: a term that embodies both the rigidity of institutionalised codes and behaviours, as well as the more indefinable, “delicate” and “intangible” social norms in which one is almost imperceptibly immersed.” (Cannon, 2010a:4 quoting from Storey 2009:35, drawing on Williams)

It is arguable that Williams (cf. Einstein also and his “rather vague play” with images, referred to in my Conclusion) might have whole-heartedly endorsed Bassey’s “fuzzy generalisation” (1998) formulation.  Bassey claims that the success of an educational theory depends on the extent to which an audience of educators can concretely relate it to their practice rather than the extent to which it can be generalizable:

“Fuzzy generalisation invites replication and this, by leading to augmentation and modification of the generalisation, contributes powerfully to the edifice of educational theory.” (Bassey, 1998)

The below chart houses an overview of approaches to educational research outlining the potentially rich outcomes from “studies of singularities”, as opposed to “studies of samples”, where qualified “fuzziness” is positively encouraged.

Bassey's overview of empirical educational research

Bassey's overview of empirical educational research

Even Williams, with reference to the difficulties of studying any past period, refers to the “in solution” (Storey, 2009:36) nature of “the living experience of the time” (ibid) possibly implying the fruitlessness of extracting general principles from a range of data in the present, given that the data is always “an inseparable part of a complex whole” (ibid).

My case studies have involved mainly face-to-face audio-recorded, some video recorded, semi-structured interviews, phone interviews, focus groups and observations as well as photo elicitation. I will be taking into account the various sites of production and employing triangulation in relation to the research data, the texts, the virtual and physical audiences and the locations in which the texts were received in order to identify patterns between discourses.

In the Social Research MA module I wrestled with the issue of researcher responsibility and although with more experience I have to some extent come to terms with the fact that ‘someone has to do this, why not me?’, the same malaise informed parts of this study:

“I find myself struggling with the notion of what gives the researcher the right to investigative social enquiry and subsequent interpretation? One’s slant will unavoidably be informed by subjectivity which is a product of the environment and the discourses one inhabits. It is therefore incumbent on the researcher to explicitly acknowledge that their purpose is to suggest “a version of the truth” (Gray, 2003:21) from a particular vantage point, rather than seek fixed universal truths. Stuart Hall is reassuring in his approach to this problematic suggesting that researchers can never be absolved from the responsibility of transmitting new theories and conceptual insights because:

 “one moves from one detotalized or deconstructed problematic to the gains of another, recognizing its limitations … [why?] Because what is at stake really matters.” (Hall:

However, Hall’s insistence on making a difference and on social research as a force for good is far from idealistic; continually “living with tension” (ibid), wrestling with “conundra” (ibid) and “struggling with the angels” (ibid) are the cornerstones of his theoretical framework.” (Cannon, 2010b:3)

Hall sees the correlation between the unceasing flow of social phenomena and the self-perpetuating nature of the research process: the fact that there can be no end in sight is its sustaining force. There are connections here with the continually shape-shifting potential of the media text and Merchant’s identity continuum “from which instances of identity performance are drawn” (Merchant 2006: 239). In an environment where meaning is inexorably deferred in relation to context and the sites for digital (self-)representation are multiplying, there is an urgent need for reflective commentary on the resultant social ‘perma-tension’ using as credible, transferable, dependable and confirmable data as possible. Bassey quotes from a paper by Helen Simons (1996), embracing the paradox of generalising from a single case study:

“[We need to] … explore rather than try to resolve the tensions embedded in them. … Paradox for me is the point of case study. Living with paradox is crucial to understanding. The tension between the study of the unique and the need to generalise is necessary to reveal both the unique and the universal and the unity of that understanding. To live with ambiguity, to challenge certainty, to creatively encounter, is to arrive, eventually, at ‘seeing’ anew.” (pp237-238)

Benjamin Franklin:

"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn."

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