Sunday, October 20, 2013

Ethnography, Autoethnography, Participatory Action Research, Photonovella & more

Theories, methods, observing, relating - I am not sure how qualitative researchers sort out all the different choices they have. The armchair walk through method seems to make a great deal of sense.

The video in my previous posting is an example of ethnography. In fact the narrative that Evie did moves it toward autoethnography, which according to Reed-Danahay (1997) is a "self narrative that connects the personal to the culture by placing understanding of self within a social context." It also overlaps into the realm of participatory action research where Evie and her family are 'no longer "subjects" or "objects" of research but are considered experts of their own experience, with complementary knowledge and skills to contribute to the research process." (Mayan, 2009 p. 43)
The format used to express the story was photonovella, where Evie's narrative was built around Kieran's still images.  Overlapping, complementary methods that responded to the situation in what the participants deemed to be the most appropriate way.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Expression (with arctic examples)

This Arctic Life from Kieran O on Vimeo.

Collecting or making data? Actual events or representations? In whose words? With words? With gestures? Who is doing the interview? Is it a one way street or a two way street?

Images play an important part in expressing ideas and feelings, they play an important part in qualitative inquiry. So does voice. Both the framing of the expression and the actual sound of one's own voice. My son put together a multi-media piece to express the texture of Evie Onalik's life. He was the eye behind the camera, the photo editor, the researcher. It is about one part of Evie's story. It is literally her voice you hear narrating. Check it out here.

Collecting or making data? Actual events or representations? In whose words? With words? With gestures? Who is doing the interview? Is it a one way street or a two way street? Again and again, over and over, the questions have to be asked!

Another film that plays with some of these questions is the award winning 2003 Norwegian film, directed by Bent Hamer, Kitchen Stories. See the trailer here.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Who are you? What are you thinking?

"A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years mere study of books." - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Who are you? What are you thinking? Yes, you who are visiting my site, reading my meanderings and crystallizations. 

Steve Wheeler has a great blog post at learning with 'e's where he discusses how he transitioned from viewing his blog as a way of 'crystallizing his thinking' to the realization that "blogging is ultimately a conversation".

Right now, I am at the cave exploration stage regarding qualitative inquiry. The cave looks interesting enough for me to want to be a spelunker. I have donned my gear (Maria Mayan's textbook & course - COMM 597 - a qualitative inquiry course), started to explore and found a few crystals (my earlier posts) to try and help move my thinking along. 

I am hoping that my invitation to others to respond to my crystals, expose a few of their own . . .  be drawn into conversation through using the comment section . . . will be accepted.

In order to begin this blog I had to become comfortable with the reality that I was unlikely to post anything particularly profound (to continue the analogy, I am unlikely to go really deep with any speed . . . too easy to get lost!). 
           . . . so welcome, look around, check things out and leave a comment or two. 
                          Who are you? What are you thinking?

Friday, October 4, 2013


Tenganan is a remote Indonesian village, located in the hills behind where we were living in Candi Dasa. Foreigners are rarely admitted to the village, no cars can enter through the village gates, the elderly women follow the old tradition of going bare breasted and most of them have mouths stained red from chewing betel leaves. As always, our children are a focal point and open doors for us.

The villagers nod and laugh and we are told once again, “You have perfect family, two boys, one girl!” My two-year son with red curly hair is passed around from villager to villager so that they can rub his hair for good luck.

We are going to find out about ikat, the traditional textile making process that Tenganan is famous for. The patriarch of one of the families explains how each family in the village has a traditional pattern that they produce. The people of Tenganan bind their threads very tightly in a pattern that has been passed down through the generations. Then the threads are dyed, bound again, dyed the next colour, bound again . . .  and so the process goes. I am reminded of Ukranian pysanka. However, ikat is far more complex. Each colour is associated with a different Hindu god and each god is associated with a different hour or time of day. The dyeing must accompany offerings to the gods and be done at the right time of day. The colours mature at different rates and some colours, such as a particularly rich red take as long as seven years to mature.

After years of careful tending, the threads are complete, the looms are strung and the pattern begins to appear. Then the shuttle is loaded and as the woof is added to the warp the pattern crystallizes before one’s eyes. Both sides of the textile are identical. The pattern is embedded throughout the entire fabric. As the textile is used, worn, moved, the threads wear and a richer and richer colour appears. Ikat from Tenganan is alive with pattern which, rather than fading, becomes more and more vibrant with age.

Ikat is an iterative process. A process that requires patience and perseverance. Over and over the thread is bound and dyed. Over and over the gods are appeased. Over generations the patterns are learned and passed on. Over and over, approaching a desired goal, over and over a complex pattern appears. A vibrant, high quality, ‘alive’ product that matures with age emerges. There is no rushing ikat.

Iteration – Iteration is the act of repeating a process with the aim of approaching a desired goal, target or result. Each repetition of the process is also called an "iteration", and the results of one iteration are used as the starting point for the next iteration. – (Wikipedia accessed October 3, 2013)

Over and over, with qualitative inquiry one sits with the words, the actions, the body language. Ideally, there is no rushing. Time needs to be taken to allow the complex pattern to crystallize. If done well, the results will age well. Qualitative analysis has its own cycles, cycles of intense concentration followed by pauses that provide a space for the unconscious mind to do its work. Qualitative analysis is a way of unraveling life’s complexities in an attempt to discover and ultimately understand a particular phenomenon.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Tone of Coding

Coding - "the process of identifying persistent words, phrases, themes or concepts within the data so that the underlying patterns can be identified and analyzed."

I have my coloured pens out, quiet room, cup of tea & an hour set aside to start coding.

Naturally I start with the easy part - persistent words and phrases. The challenge comes with themes and concepts. They are slippery. I think I have them identified well but then find myself pondering over whether this word or that phrase really fits the theme or concept that I am currently coding. Exactly what does my theme encompass? This is the messy, fuzzy around the edges part!

I become very myopic as I code. I am totally focused on one category to the exclusion of all else . . . quite intense! I end up having to sit back from time to time and literally soften my focus . . . recentre and try to feel the tone of the material.  With soft focus I try to broaden my observational powers and see if there is something lurking in the peripheral vision of my attention zone. Is there some underlying theme? I refer back to the jottings I made right after the session and find a gem that I had overlooked. This reinforces making the notes immediately post session.

It is amazing how much energy and time (blew past my one hour mark) all of this takes!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A does not lead to B – it’s a network

A does not lead to B – it’s a network” – Maria Mayan, Instructor COMM 597, The Principles of Qualitative Inquiry

It seems to me that the statement above is in keeping with the history of communication and information processing tools.

The invention of the alphabet and writing promoted very linear, segmented, forms of expression and the parallel development of formal logic, scientific method and of quantitative inquiry as a dominant research method. The printing press solidified the conceptual framework of lining up discrete units in a linear fashion to ‘understand’ the world.

What is characteristic of electricity and the digital age? Electricity is a field, with flow and radiance. Digital media’s most common metaphor is that of a network. “A does not lead to B – it’s a network” It seem to me that an interest in, and acceptance of, qualitative inquiry would be a natural offshoot of the new forms of communication. New ways of visualizing, organizing and accessing information are profoundly affecting the way we approach research.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Qualitative Inquiry

Today . . . the start of my course on Qualitative Inquiry with Maria Maya PhD. as the instructor. (I like the play of QI and IQ)

The text for the course is Dr. Mayan's book,


Reading it was like coming home. Yes, yes and yes. The messy, holistic, contradictory stories are where we need to seek understanding. Yet, rigour and a clear minded, mindful approach that is keenly observant are essential parts of disciplined research and inquiry.

It feels matriarchal to me. It also feels like there are clear parallels with silence and meditation, sort of like being collected and confident enough to slow down, become very still and then listen/view/observe/understand/connect/combine/ and move towards aha moments with a clear and focused mind.

The other parallel that jumped out at me is the similarities between qualitative inquiry and design thinking