Saturday, July 31, 2010

A bit of a book review; some open musings

I have had enough of networking the theoretical space (lit review). For a breather I am reading a book whose title was hard to resist as a PhD student, its little...and proud of it's littleness, David Silverman's (2007) "A very short, fairly interesting, and reasonably cheap book about qualitative research"
With a title like that it might not get to the reference list in the thesis... the shortest cheapest resource i found was actually a damn good read on provocations for rethinking method.

I am however feeling good about the provocations Silverman puts forward:
That on interview, a conversational approach provides a way forward, that asking the same thing of everyone may not give answers to the same questions and may not give the answers that will advance the research.
That the conversation far from recalling a reality, makes its own reality - people discover meaning after it is spoken.
Feels a bit late now to see a chapter on what questions a researcher might usefully ask...but I am relieved, my giving up on questions and entering into converstaions instead is something Silverman suggests. Citing Garfinkle (1967) Silverman suggests Asking questions generates the answers the person thinks are wanted, retrospectively rewriting history
What is the relationship between this and that might be better quantitatively addressed, the question posed being a provocation to impose order on what might be or have been disordered. SO my questions reshaping could be seen as a natural progression away from this, instead a more invitational way of asking in doing this, whats going on.

People invoke multiple identities in what they do, in everyday life: As in my ch 1. where my own creation story occurs bringing me into my research on change, and also within interviews (see interview on p. in my data analysis, where i discover categories are an artificial imposition.

Congruent with methodology shared by Latour and the ANT researchers, Silverman clearly states [the]tendency to identify research design with interviews has blinkered them to the possibile gains of other kinds of data. For it is thoroughly mistaken to assume that the sole topic for qualitative reserch is 'people'.

I am intrigued by his provocation that data analysis needs to take longer than the lit review or the data collect...I dont think my life, or the life of my thesis could manage that...
But I am really interested in what ch 3 will contain as to the how of this given he says what to avoid...appealing examples, or the seeking out and analysis of sequences.

Silverman talks of there being no need to construct closed narratives, and i like this humility and not because it lets me off "getting it right". My philosophical position is that reality is multiple, so getting it 'right' is an oxymoron. There are multiple ways the data might be interpreted. Citing photographers, I try to create a mixture of straight information and riddles...and so we are invited to construct narratives...Chelbin, on portrayal of visual imagery, says " if they find it strange, it is only because the world is a strange place. I just try to show that"

There are multiple reasons and ways of describing any given event. Inviting the reader to make their own narrative out of what is portrayed is one way forward.
I am not sure that the thesis marker is ready for this :)

Silverman, like Latour, directs the ethnography gaze to the small, the seemingly trivial, to the mundane...what does it take for things to happen...and I might suggest that agency is thereby distributed. It takes many things to make things take a particular shape. There is no policy, no technical thing that has its own trajectory, nor person that can structure the world to suit. The 'devil' is in the detail.

We have a tendency to attend to the exotic, to the catastrophic, to the moment when the system breaks down, but it is the everyday that makes things tick. It is this that draws attention retrospectively to what was needed.

Silverman frequently refers to Sacks "people should not be seen as coming to terms with a phenomenon , but actively constructing it" (I trust Silverman equally applies htis to the work of thesis students).
It is not that there are facts to uncover, but locally assembled phenomena.

And like Sacks citing Goffman's study in observing Police in the Shetlands developing a sense of pattern recognition, who is or isnt behaving 'normally' how do the people in my study develop this sense of recognising any such normalcy from that which is not...
I feel invited in this book to not collapse the tensions, to consider what I make of the data as but one consideration, and participants also have own considerations, and such understandings will also shift with time.

On presenting photographs, Silverman write "Immediately a number of puzzles come to the surface..."
And i am reminded of the theis whisperer's advice those who write, circle their verbs, see what it is they do.
To paraphrase Siverman and Sacks, Im feeling admonished not to let the data go cold. I present it, I make some meanings, but they will not be the only ones.
Imposing closure seems to be one of the many errors i might make.

Unfortunately, thats the freebie extent of the book online, Im going to have to get it from my colleague to find out about the data analysis. I suspect at this point Latour and Silverman would come to disagreement, for Silverman suggests that letting the people speak for themselves is not the way to go, a romantic error apparently.

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