Methodological Meanderings – Part 1

Methodological Meanderings – Part 1

I’ve been revising my methodology chapter recently, which was a process that filled me with dread when I considered it. Much to my surprise, I’ve found that I’ve actually enjoyed it. When I originally wrote the chapter, I must admit that I was, like many other doctoral students, a little bit hazy on the differences between the methodologies that are presenting in much of the social sciences. It’s a large field, with many murky corners in it – I particularly like David Larrabees idea of the field being ‘marshy’ and ‘rural’.

But now, with the benefit of a few more years discussion and a lot more reading under my belt, there is something vaguely familiar about that methodology chapter and, dare I say it, a feeling that I might know a little bit about what I’m talking. I’m not about to out myself as the master of methodology – there’s a long road to travel before there’s any risk of that taking place – but I do think that I’m more confident when it comes to describing the main forms of qualitative research and how they fit into my own work.

At its heart, my research is a critical ethnography. Ethnography is generally pretty simple – it is the writing (with the requisite examining and studying) of a group of people. Well, that’s the anthropological definition, but once those fiendish sociologists got their hands on it, it became much more than simply writing about the ‘quaint’ customs of a random group of islanders. Modern ethnology is perhaps best explained by Michael Agar in that there is a special form of logic that marks out satisfactory ethnographers – they are iterative, reductive and adductive. I like the notion of abductivity – this idea that, given new or surprising pieces of evidence, we create theories to try to explain why they happened. There’s a lot of theory building in there.

The critic part in Critical Ethnography is important too – that sharpens what I am looking for in my study of the classroom. Whereas traditional ethnographers would argue that I should be looking for everything (and I do, to a certain extent), I am primarily seeking to uncover oppression and then help students to take action against that oppression.

But what about the links in my research to grounded theory? Or phenomenology? Grounded theory is much more closely linked to positivist ideas of social science – Strauss and Corbin make it clear that there is a right and wrong day to do grounded theory, and any theory developed from research needs to be generalisable – but there are elements of grounded theory – especially their approach to coding, as one moves form Open and Axial Coding to Selective Coding that should speak to any qualitative researcher.

More to come.