Monday, 29 October 2012

A recommended reading that might be useful.

For the purposes of my peer review we have to evaluate the reliability as well as the external and internal validity of the study so I decided to read one of the recommended readings from week 4 called "Determining Validity in Qualitative Inquiry". It's quite useful in defining validity in that they define validity as "how accurately the account represents participants' realities of the social phenomena and is credible to them".  The reading also outlines procedures and strategies for validity ensuring credibility of the study. It talks about validity in the lens and paradigm of the research in general, the use of triangulation to ensure validity, there is also a useful table on page 126 called validity procedures within qualitative lens and paradigm assumptions, collaboration, audit trails, and peer debriefing among other procedures to ensure validity. Just though you all may want to check it out.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

ethanography in different places

I find the readings on ethnography this week really fascinating.  When you think of any research or studies, the typical research methods would be involving only the ones being observed alone (i.e. participants), and excluding the researchers to a point to minimize any bias imposed on the data being collected.  The inclusion of the researcher into the study can be challenging and Luker makes a good distinction between whether it is participation observation or ethnography.  The latter is much more challenging since the researcher puts themselves into a totally new environment (geographically, culturally, etc...).  The good thing from being in an un-familiarized place is that everything seems new which is more easy to write down on paper and remember.  In contrast, placing the researcher in a familiar place may exclude the simplest things because they are considered "normal" and they are unconscious of it.  I feel that the ideal scenario would be to pick a location that is a hybrid (if that makes any sense), however, nothing is perfect in this world.      

An interesting article about what happens when you change the method in which data is collected:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2012/10/27/pol-long-form-census-cancellation-problems-stats-can-data.html


Monday, 22 October 2012

Surveys and Ethnography


In class last week I was thinking about a time when I answered a telephone survey about radio listening when I was at home for the summer at my parent’s house. As was discussed in class, the survey took much longer than they initially said that it would, and was also not explained properly by the person administering the survey. It was about local radio stations, and I had been living away from home for several years – therefore my experience with the local radio stations was from when I was in high school several years before. I think that the answers that I gave definitely skewed the data as I was not answering as an “active/current” listener. This highlights the importance of finding the RIGHT people to answer a survey – maybe the phone book was not their best option in this case.

I was quite interested in the Luker this week, as I’ve always found ethnography to be an interesting method but have never done any ethnographic research of my own. My main exposure to ethnography was studying ethnomusicology in my undergrad. This is ethnographic research about music. Many of the issues that Luker brought up in terms of the balance between being too much of an outsider and too much of an insider come through in ethnomusicology as well. If you are an “outsider” the music that you are researching might not sound at all like what you think music “sounds” like, or it might be involved in a ceremony which you cannot take part in, blocking your access to the data. Alternatively, if you are an “insider,” then your musical expertise will inhibit you from experiencing the music as an average listener would. I think that ethnography is very interesting, but having read this week, it seems to me to be the most complicated and risky method.  

Don't overlook the framing of interview questions


In this week’s reading, Luker discusses a few ethnographic research methods: participant observation, interview, and focus group. She talked in details about the preparation work, procedures, nuances and cautions of each method. Luker expresses a generally positive attitude towards potential bias/disadvantages in research. Whereas Knight is rather fair and objective presenting both pros and cons and especially cautions the reader about the cons. I like Luker’s approach and I see her chapter more like a manual where positivity is seen as a momentum to overcome obstacles in research.

The part I found most interesting is Luker mentioned that people usually make sense of the world according the limitaed numbers of tools and templates that available to them at that time and space. Thus when conducting interviews, it is important to be aware of how people put together the inventory of tools available to them. I just conducted an interview recently for one of the assignments in another course. The unexpected challenge I encountered was that I found the interviewee and myself speaking in different mindsets. Even though I did preparation prior to the interview, the questions I asked still somewhat reflected the tools and information available to me to frame my views on certain issues, and such frame is not shared by others outside the circle and thus they do not understand the question the way I intended. I needed to elaborate a little to let them know what I was looking for, and of course the interview took much longer than I expected. I’m sure some of it was due to my inexperience, yet I’ve learnt that it is vital to form meaningful and effective interview questions. Even so, unexpected issues would still rise in the field. It is a continuous endeavor to adjust and perfect not only the questions, but also strategies, soft skills and nuances like body languages throughout a research. 

Ethnography - still seems weird to me

I don't come from a humanities background, so INF1001 was the first I'd ever heard of ethnography. I thought it sounded completely bananas then, and I'm still not really won over.
I agree with Colin that Luker did not really offer any critical insights into the potential issues surrounding PO and ethnography. There is no mention of the researcher bias, and no mention of potential researcher influence, like the Hawthorne Effect. Ethnography mostly puzzles me because I can't wrap my head around how it is actually going to work well in the real world. In theory, it sounds okay, but once you introduce actual people, I think it all falls apart (like so many theories). If the researcher has some kind of bias heading into the project, that will have an effect, same if the people s/he is observing have any sorts of feelings about being researched. People who make terrible impressions on the researcher might affect her or his findings in improper ways - I've interviewed jerks before, and it made me want to take what they were saying with less value. I would imagine that would be magnified in an immersive, long term study like an ethnography. Conversely, if the researcher started to sympathize with the subjects, which would probably be easier to do in ethnography than interviews, that could have an effect as well. I just can't see how any ethnographic results could possibly be anything but horribly biased by the end.
I'm looking forward to class discussion today, I'd be really interested (and surprised!) if anyone had taken part in an ethnographic study before.

Some questions after reading Luker this week.

The Luker text this week left me wondering about a few things related to the ethnographic method.  From what I know and what she has explained this week in the reading the ethnographic method is an intensive method involving field work and notes.  Researchers must be careful to gain the right type of acceptance to the group they want to study, lest their research be in vain and totally useless.  

This method seems rather time intensive.  It would be very difficult to entice participants to participate unless they were compensated somehow for their input.  Is this considered unethical?  On page 172 Luker advises thanking the intervewee...is that enough? On one hand the researcher is taking a significant amount of the participant's time and energy and producing work that could increase the researcher's social and economic status so is it unreasonable to compensate participants.  On the other hand would participants only then participate for the money and what does that mean to the research, will the quality of the participation be better or worse?

She also uses the word theory a lot.  From what I understand the ethnographic method is birthed out of the Anthropological discipline.  Anthropologists don't really believe in social theory.  Because social theories can't be replicated under the same conditions and they believe that social theories are constructed.  The Anthropological discipline argues that information that comes out of ethnographies and participant research is filtered through the researcher and therefore their positionality. Positionality is a mish mash of a person's position in society such as their age, gender, socioeconomic class etc.  These act as a filter and information is filtered through this positionality.   As a result that ethnographic work is a truth not the truth about a social aspect.  Other researchers with different positionalities may not produce the same ethnographic results and therefore not the same "theories".  

She also advocates capturing themes in research earlier rather than later.  Ethnographic field work notes are likely dense and difficult to wade through if left until the end of the research; however, speculating on themes and elements early may lead you to miss more important information in later interviews and leaves the researcher focused on "finding" things that they believe are important to their original research question rather than simply letting the research take it's course even if that means the original research question becomes redundant.

Interviews



Luker’s discussion this week with respect to interviews, where she discusses how a researcher should look when doing an interview, didn’t seem that important to me at first, however after reading this chapter, it changed my perspective. If we can construct our questions so that they can be answered in a specific manner than we can also influence how participants answer the questions being asked by the way we appear. Luker states “we telegraph our opinions, our class status, our religion and almost everything else about ourselves”. As the interviewers, we need to be aware of what messages we are sending or projecting with the image we portray. We want to look generally professional and older, making sure the “look” fits with what we hope to accomplish out of our interview.  Another interesting point which Luker discusses is the technique regarding laying out index cards of your single questions in different orders and you will start to notice a “clump”, which is forming a topic outline of the area(s) your interested in. This is great because you will get a visual understanding of the themes in your topic and make possible connections.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

The subject studying the researcher



In the past few weeks we looked at different approaches on how researchers can study their subjects. This week’s readings sort of turns the lens around and talks about how the subject studies the researcher. Stebbins talks about the social aspects to doing field research, and the need to gain respect and acceptance from the group you are studying. He states that researchers should be socialized within the group in the first weeks or month, because this is the period of time where the subjects will study to see how much you are interested in their group and how competent or knowledgeable you are in portraying them accurately in your final work. Both Stebbins and Shaffir think that the impression that the subjects paint of you will have an impact on how they will help you with your research, and influence the types of information they will give you access to.

Luker adds to these ideas through showing that self-presentation is also something to be considered in interviews. Unlike field research, the interview has only the first few minutes where the researcher can “hook” or interest their subject into their research. She mentions some tips in terms of how you should dress and present yourself to your subject, because your subject can detect certain things about you through your behaviour and clothes. This demonstrates how the subjects also study the researcher, and that the subjects are not the only ones being analyzed. The researcher should think about how they present themselves to the subjects or practice what Shaffir calls “self-presentation”, because it will influence how the subjects see him/her as a researcher. These impressions will influence the subsequent interactions that the researcher will have with their subjects.

Observation/Ethnography – what about personal biases?


This week’s recommended reading about the subculture of skateboarding made me think about situations where the researcher potentially goes in with a predetermined mindset, or perhaps has expectations about the potential outcome of observation.

Although Becky Beal states upfront that she combined a ‘feminist’ and ‘critical’ perspective about the subculture of skating, I felt that the feminist aspect was not analyzed very critically! It almost felt as if she had set out to discover an ‘alternative form of masculinity’ and therefore may have overlooked some of the underlying emotions or perspectives expressed by the female skaters. She describes her method of selecting participants to observe and interview – her method was fairly random in terms of recruiting skaters she met on the streets, and snowballing from her initial point of contact. The group of people she eventually selected over the two year duration of her research – although geographically co-located in the same city – had various numbers of years of experience and diverse backgrounds. The quotes discussed in the article prove diverse points of view for the male as well as female skaters – but I wasn’t convinced that the author had immersed herself enough within the subculture she analyzed in order to make claims about their behaviour (i.e. I didn’t feel she provided sufficient evidence of her own role). Or if I were to view her role as a ‘non-member’ as described by Stebbins – then did she really have enough insight into the emotions and perspectives of the skaters to make her claim about their alternative form of masculinity? Stebbins described his perspective about ‘nonmembers’ fitting in through the process of learning and participating to demonstrate competence. I wonder though if it is truly possible for an ‘outsider’ to make a conscious effort to fit in enough to demonstrate competence for the purposes of making claims about the group or community being studied without subconsciously (or maybe even consciously) developing biases about the potential outcome. And I wonder how these biases are addressed under ideal circumstances. 

Almost too positive

Reading Luker this week, particularly the section on participant observation, I felt like she largely breezed past the significance of how the mere presence of the researcher can have an impact on the findings. Luker talked about how to build trust, and different approaches to take to try and make sure that the data is as accurate as possible, but the truth is that there is no way to ever be sure that the same things a researcher observes would occur without the presence of the researcher.

In truth, I've felt like this has been something that, throughout the readings, Knight has seemed much more concerned with than Luker, who focusses more on the positive sides of research tools than the negative sides. And maybe the reason Luker does not worry about this is that this process is meant to build theory, not prove it. Certainly she suggests as much for interviews and focus groups. If the presence of researcher has an impact on the data from which the researcher builds a theory, well-crafted attempts to prove the theory should fail. However, I still can't help but feel like any impact of the researcher needs to be accounted for, and that any theory crafted without that will lead to flawed research, and so I'm disappointed that Luker did not really address it.

Ethnography

The readings this week examined ethnography and participant observation. I found that all the readings were informative about ethnography, (interviews and focus groups, in the case of the Luker chapter), and each one served as a different lens from which to learn about how to do ethnographic studies. It would certainly be interesting to undertake an ethnographic study, but as was demonstrated in the readings, there are a number of conditions to consider. What resonated with me was the importance of building trust with the individuals one is observing. Without trust, it would be hard for individuals to feel comfortable being observed and questioned by a researcher, and could prove challenging to act naturally in their setting. This could, therefore, result in a research outcome not entirely truthful to the individuals being studied.

Both Luker and Stebbins discuss the two ends of the continuum from the perspective of a researcher in an ethnographic study: a participant-as-observer-as member and the participant as-observer-as nonmember. For the former, the kinds of rules a member would not notice and include their research study may provide insights into the group that can explain certain aspects of the group's culture. Another challenge posed with being a member of a group one is studying is that it can be challenging to distance oneself from the group in order to conduct the research. However, on the other end of the continuum, a participant as-observer-as nonmember has to gain entry into the group. Everything in the studied society is new and exciting, and it could prove to be hard to ascertain what is important to note and question. After reading about the advantages and challenges from each of these perspectives, I suspect that it would be more challenging to complete a study as a participant-as-observer-as member because I would find it very hard to be attuned to not overlooking nuances and taken for granted rules that an outside observer would notice and think to ask questions to individuals being observed.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

survey of the effects of privatization

I found an interesting case study in a research method book by Bryman and Others (2011) were they were pointing out the effects of of privatization.  They describe the difficulties of obtaining access to some companies that were under the process of privatization due to sensitive information.  I find that if companies are able to filter out what information can be given, then the questions must be modified for it to be answered.  This was the case for the study because the researchers had to modify the questions which created non-sampling error.  In addition to that, the participants were chosen by the managements (human resource manager), so this reflected a bias of the company and created a source of sampling error.  I did not agree with the decision because the participants that were excluded were the manual workers (= low literacy).  Is this a socially acceptable barrier because it does bring up the issue of human rights and equality.  Overall, sampling errors and non-sampling errors sometimes do interrelate and it shows how non-response rates and sampling frames can be affected by the sensitivity of the issue. 

Monday, 15 October 2012

Perfect amount of generalization


Luker’s section on generalization was very helpful in shedding some light on how to eventually make claims based on research findings. While writing my SSHRC proposal (which was based on my MI Thesis proposal), I found myself panicking over whether I was moving off-track with my suggested method of conducting email interviews of a handful of people. I decided on the number of people to interview based on various papers written about the ‘ideal’ number of interviews/the perfect sample size etc. However, when I finally sat down and wrote my proposal, I suddenly became unsure of how I would eventually make sense of the data I had collected. Would it really represent a real-world phenomenon? How would I differentiate my research findings as a real description of something that really happens vs my personal opinion/perspective about something that happens? Essentially, I was worried about convincing people that I had enough evidence to ‘generalize’ and describe something as a real-world situation.

I thought Luker’s explanation about situating research findings at the same level of abstraction with other comparable studies very helpful in addressing my concerns about generalizing and making sense of the data collected. Luker’s final remark essentially summed it up for me – I learned that I need to generalize ‘theoretically”... “ to see how our findings illuminate, contradict, extend, or amplify existing theory.” This idea helped me  realize that I don’t necessarily need to explain everything about my little area of research – rather focus on explaining ‘what’ is happening, and ‘how’ it is happening. Within the limited scope of the research questions I tend to answer through my Master’s thesis, I don’t necessarily have to try to explain ‘why’ things happen in a certain way – I can instead focus on choosing a level of abstraction already explored and situate my ‘what’ and ‘how’ on that level of comparison. 

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Finding a Grain of Sand and Defining your Variables



I also found the Luker chapter this week to be very insightful and really helpful in giving some last minute advice in terms of writing my SSHRC proposal. She gives reassurance that it is impossible to take into account everything, and I used her sampling techniques or data cropping to help myself focus my project to a more manageable size. However, after reading the Generalization section of the chapter, I was a bit concerned whether the “grain of sand” that I chose to investigate very closely would be able to provide insight to a larger picture. 

I found the section on operationalization to be very interesting (and she used a long but good example to illustrate her point). Luker makes the point that language can be a factor in influencing the quality and nature of the data that we collect from subjects. I came to understand that it is important not only for me to clearly define the variables within my research, but it is equally as important to determine the meanings that my subjects attribute to my variables. The subjects may not think on the same wavelength as you when it comes to particular concepts or terms, and this can greatly influence how they interpret your questions and the information that you collect from them.

Operationalization and defining our research concepts

In this week's readings, Luker examines the "sampling, operationalization, and generalization" aspects of conducting a research study. I found this to be a particularly apt reading when thinking about the pursuit of information in my research proposal. I especially found Luker's commentary on operationalization and sampling to be very interesting. The demonstrated variations in rape statistics across the USA was concerning, but it illustrates an important point, that in order to gather effective research we must be clear and in agreement on what it is we are studying (i.e. terms, definitions, and concepts). As Luker writes, we "also have to worry about how we operationalize "our concepts" or "variables" (pg. 113)."I think this will present one of the greater challenges as we progress in our research studies. How I categorize or define the concepts of my research could vary significantly from the way in which the people I interview or survey think of them, and well I like to think that I would be aware of this well analyzing the results, it is likely that there will be inevitable miscommunication or misunderstandings along the way. Moreover, I'm not sure it is possible for two individuals to fully agree on how to define a concept, so I suppose this will become a sort of trial and error exercise.