Reflexive Methods

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.

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Mini Online Research Assignment: Grieving.com

Grieving.com is a website for people to meet and talk with others who are going through similar experiences. The definition of grief is used broadly, applying to anyone who has lost someone close to them, including causes such as death, the legal system, and divorce, among others. Users are able to express emotions that they may be uncomfortable expressing to those around them, as well as exchange advice on coping mechanisms. This is a particularly interesting case in which to examine emotional identity issues, and there are many questions that can be asked. What is it that draws users to this particular form of support? How often do users frequent the site? Do they consider themselves part of a community? Is this their primary way of dealing with grief, or are they seeking out information or services elsewhere? Methodological challenges could include the ethical decision about whether to study the users overtly or covertly. If studying them overtly, the changes to their risk behaviour must be taken into account. Overall, a study of grieving.com will make an ideal case study for a project on emotional information seeking.

-Melody, Kate and Tracy


Loop de Loop

Near the end of “The Ethnography of Infrastructure” Star states that one “master narrative” will always permeate the infrastructure of an information system.  She goes on to state that some of these biases can be altered more easily than others. This highlights the need for feedback to be considered an essential element. However, feedback should not only be considered necessary to information systems design, but to research design as well.

Feedback from users provides two benefits. Continually improving a system should be justification enough for including a feedback mechanism. Gathering feedback also provides an assumption that users are intelligent enough to know what modifications should be made.  Supplying a platform for users’ voices to be heard would assist in breaking down the “master narrative” and exposing biases, as well as cultivating innovation through community effort. For researchers, looking for workarounds and hacks can help expose practices at the local level. Looking for these points of intervention can also help a researcher avoid the trap of technological determinism, in that these feedback loops tangibly demonstrate the flux and fluidity of the online sphere


Yin: Defender of the Case Study

Robert K. Yin makes a good point at the beginning of “The Case Study Crisis: Some Answers”. Responding to an article by Matthew Miles about the pitfalls in analyzing qualitative data, Yin mentions that case studies don’t actually imply the use of a particular type of evidence or data collection method. Instead, he advocates for case studies as a research strategy, similar to experiments or histories. This way of considering the case study seems to open the method up. I think Yin’s defence of the case works because he provides a rationale for what sort of phenomena makes for a good case study, rather than focusing on the best way to conduct one. By providing a broad framework for the kinds of characteristics that should be examined through a case study (that it is a “contemporary… real-life context” and that “the boundaries between phenomena and context are not clearly evident”), Yin answers Miles’ concerns and demonstrates that it a systematic method that deserves a place in social science research.


Different Strokes for Different Ways of Knowing

Both the Knights chapter and the Thomas article drive home that different methods allow researchers to know different things. Knights illustrates this through examples, “Boxes 4.9 and 4.10 show something of the ways in which texts can be treated in discourse analysis, although it will quickly become obvious that this is far more than an approach to documentary research, being a general way of making understandings.” (p.105). Thomas discusses many of the arguments levelled against content analysis, and shows how they are misunderstanding the point of the method. For example, when contrasted against “deeper textual techniques” such as semiotics and close reading, Thomas sees them as topics that aren’t ruled by the kind of regulated standards of evidence that govern content analysis. Thus, they may not necessarily yield similar results, but that does not make either result any more valid than the other. Making room for a plurality of methods can only benefit the academic quest for knowledge by elucidating many truths.


A Case for Mixed Methods

I have to say, every time I read a chapter from Luker, I somehow feel reassured that I can do this whole research methods thing. I think it has as much to do with her tone and writing style as how clearly she explains methods. Something I particularly appreciate from chapter 8 is how she shows that focus groups can be used in conjunction with interviews in order to speed along a study. I think there is a lot to be said for mixing methods.

As ellkbc mentioned, ethnography has some skeletons in its closet, not the least of which is the contradictory tension between the “ignorant” researcher who, after a period of participatory-observation, becomes expert enough to understand and explain the social relations of her/his research subjects. I talk about this issue in my previous point, and I think this week’s readings have helped me better articulate that hunch. I do think ethnography is a great method for my area of research, but I also think it needs to be supplemented with other methods that allow subjects to have more of a voice, such as an interview. I think mixing methods is a great way to tackle the troubled notion of objectivity-subjectivity in a study, and forces the researcher to approach the case from more than one point of view.


Data for Data’s Sake?

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m interested in the products of fan communities, and which of these products gets commodified and which do not. I’m also interested in issues of authority and credibility, which have a big impact in an online environment. My question has been reduced to something like: what role does commodification play in legitimating a cultural text?

I’m still unsure about the best method to use in answering this question. Knight’s discussion of documentary analysis was interesting, and I’m also drawn to an ethnographic study of a fan community, because I think an understanding of the broader community is necessary in order to understand what gets commodified and what does not. I’m wondering if it’s enough to just observe, though. It seems like questionnaires aren’t ideal due to the lack of an ability to improvise if things start to go off the rails. But maybe a questionnaire could help me get a better sense of who the members of the community are, so that I have some sort of data that I can link my observations to. Or is that just a “data for data’s sake” attitude? I guess I feel like I need to give the people that I will be studying a chance to speak and express themselves in their own words. I’m just still uncertain about how best to accomplish this.