Orgad’s topic, “How Can Researchers Make Sense of the Issues Involved in Collecting and Interpreting Online and Offline Data?”, is important to look at, as more research is beginning to take place online. (On a side note, when I was looking for sources for my research proposal I noticed that there is a lot of interesting research online that is happening in Turkey.) As Orgad mentions the distinction never had to be made before now in communications media. This is because the Internet is seen as a space, and “often been seen as distinct and separate from offline, or “real” social life, encompassing relations and practices of their own” (Orgad, 2009). In order to determine whether or not you need to use online and offline data you need to look at your research question. Trying to mix online and offline research poses a lot of problems, including the authenticity of the identity of the people you are researching, and the sample of the respondents. Formulating a method of collecting information from both online and offline sources takes a lot of planning, when I take a look at my research question I believe I can answer it just by conducting online research, and that saves me from having to make a complicated method for researching. When you used both you need to consider a lot more factors. Even in Orgad had to justify using both online and offline methods, stating, “Fundamentally, in reading and analyzing women’s accounts, my aim was not to evaluate whether they were “truthful” or not. Rather. The aim was to obtain an enhanced understanding of women’s experiences of using the Internet in relation to their illness” (Orgad, 2009). Orgad concludes that choosing the right method for data collection is important in order to collect high quality data, and that it is important to use the right methods based on your question.
I can’t help but feel the same way as mmbruno, when thinking about how research pursuits are compromised in order to comply with research ethics guidelines, especially in regards to my research with children/young people. Last week, Dean Sharpe spoke about the allowances in the research protocol for justification as to why you’d want to publish a participant’s name in your thesis/writeup. I’ve always wondered about this in terms of how childrens’ right to recognition for their participation might clash with our responsibilities as researchers to protect their identities. For my specific research project, revealing the identity of the participants wouldn’t really be that useful, but I could see a situation where, if I was using more participatory methods, like having the young people do and publish journalism online, I might want to give them individual credit for their work. I think in that situation I might come up against some conflict about whether or not that was ethically “OK”. This is certainly a topic for further exploration on my part!
Luker is excited about Charles Ragin’s Boolen analysis as a potentially paradigm changing method. “To the extent that canonical methods aspire to be neutral, to simply measure what is “out there,” it looks as if social reality is revealing itself to the social analyst, shyly taking off its clothes to show the inner essence. With Boolean analysis, however, the analyst has to be much more up-front about what theories are being generated in a study, and about how his or her treatment of the data may be affecting the emerging theory.” (pp. 213-214). The way that Ragin’s Boolean analysis forces researchers to think about the way that their approach is affecting the results should lead to more thoughtful methodologies, and perhaps even new perspectives on research itself. This class has made it clear that not only do we need to be selective in ensuring that our methods are appropriate for answering the research question, but that the way that research is conducted also has an affect on the results. We must think about our research reflexively in order to question if there is an “out there” at all.
When talking about research ethics, I cannot help but think about the flip side of the situation: how many research pursuits have been compromised in order to comply with research ethic guidelines. I imagine that there have been many instances where the parameters of one’s area of inquiry, research questions, and/or methodology have had to be reconceptualised in order to correlate to what is considered to be acceptable practices. As such, the findings of such research may not reach the ideal conclusions. While I am not opposed to adherences to ethical practices, and very much believe that they need to be in place to protect the best interest of participants, I am left asking whether, for certain kinds of experimental/controversial/cutting edge research practices, safeguarding the parties involved have, perhaps, thwarted serious breakthroughs. On a more utilitarian/Machiavellian note, might potentially compromising a few be worthwhile if the benefits to the whole cannot be otherwise surmountable? This is a very scary line insofar as humanity is then viewed and treated as a means, which begs the larger question: to what end?
I found Knight’s comparison table of data gathering methods very helpful in thinking about my research project. I had no idea there were so many ways to gather information from the people you’re studying, although all of the methods listed made intuitive sense to me (although of course the more quantitative-sounding ones seemed a bit more artificial). I think that for my research proposal it is fairly clear what methods I will need to use, as most of them don’t suit the situation or would be far too time consuming. I also found the discussion on sample size interesting, because I had always wondered what really passed as “representative” and “legitimate”. I think most people with a higher education will have some sense of what representative samples are, but once you get in to things like ethnography and so on these things become less clear. What is “valid” and “representative”, really? What makes a study matter? Is it the fact that you can, maybe, extrapolate the findings to a larger population, and if you can’t do that do the study’s findings not “count” even though something very interesting might have been uncovered about the group studied? These are all questions I’ll be dealing with as I think about how I would like to go about studying my particular group for my research project proposal.
My favourite part about Luker so far has been the Figuring Out What You Think You Know section within chapter 7. That exercise that she mentions is priceless. Really. I feel like even though I’d already done quite a bit of work on my research proposal, the idea of writing a memo to someone (I imagined it was to one of my past professors) helped me tie up so many loose ends that I was having difficulty stringing together. It also brought up new loose ends, to my initial dismay, but then allowed for an outlet by which I could address them, so that now I don’t feel like I have to worry about it all as much. I know she was talking about issues larger than just a proposal, but it helped all the same for our final assignment.
On a different note, I just want to say that though Knight’s work has been helpful in a pragmatic sense, Luker’s exercises are what really spoke to me throughout this process and helped me not only develop my initial interest but, most importantly, become pretty gung-ho about it all. So, if you’re out there in cyberspace, thanks Luker!
So how did I get to be such a theory-junkie while hating theory as I do? I needed can openers. Here I was with great data, and I needed to know how the smart people in my field thought about how the world was organized, and whether that map could do me any good in understanding my own data. I only like theory when I can connect it to real-world problems that interest me.
– Luker (page 143; emphasis mine)
This observation of Luker’s really stood out to me, particularly in light of ongoing debates about the balance of theory and practice in our programs. Luker admits that she doesn’t find theory particularly interesting in and of itself, even as a career academic, but rather that its value for her is that it can be used as a tool. She uses the metaphor of a can opener, suggesting that theory can help researchers understand real-world problems. I wonder if the broader metaphor of the toolbox might be even more appropriate – if theory cannot only help us understand problems, but solve them as well. (I also wonder whether it might be possible to take this metaphor a little bit further – perhaps knowing theory but not how to apply it is like knowing how to wave tools around, but not how to use them.)