Sunday, December 5, 2010

How would you sample this blog?

I ask because my research proposal involves a population of texts produced over a long period of time—a much, much longer period of time than this blog represents, but not so different from a methodological point of view. Let's say you have a research question that involves changes over time, meaning that you want to compare the content of posts produced in September, October, November, and December. (You could stratify them some other way, but let's keep this simple.) When I submit this post, the count will look like this:

Sept: 15
Oct: 30
Nov: 21
Dec: 12

(Okay, so there's no need to sample from such a small population, but play along.) Can you simply take a random sample of, say, 10 posts from each month? If you did, your sample would have something like 33% of October's posts and 88% of December's posts. Then again, since the purpose of the study is comparison and not overall generalization, you don't have to worry about your samples being uneven. As long as you can generalize about October from the October samples, you're fine. Still, maybe it would be better to take 50% of each month. I don't know. If you start taking percentages, then do you risk some kind of distortion? Is 6 of 12 as representative as 15 of 30? I need to go back to the textbooks.

For what it's worth, I think that my research design is going to involve nonproportionate stratified sampling. That would be relevant to this hypothetical study if, for example, October had 30 posts and September had 5. There's just no way you could sample from 5 and get a representative picture of the content of the blog posts. I suppose, though, that I have to think about the ways in which nonproportionate sampling constrains and affects the comparison.


Hello and goodbye

Before we turn the lights out on this forum, I want to say thank you to all of you who shared thoughts and observations about this process of designing a research project. So much more there than we knew, wasn't there? Thank you Professor Grimes for selecting such a range of readings which I found introduced me to so much new information - games theory, ethnography's intimacies -- and enlightened me in unexpected ways, as light shone into corners i didn't even know were dark . Who knew how difficult it could be to isolate a meaningful research question! Only when I had to make it consistent with all the other parts -- methodology, analysis framework -- did I appreciate how coherent a concept has to be, to have even potential value. As a research investigation anyway.

And thank you also for lectures that were always full of visual as well as intellectual interest.

All tonight's blogs have something in them that resonate; i also feel frightened --at the thought of "going live" with a research project involving people ever again; the ethics talk was excellent, especially as an antidote to grandiose plans; I have used an extra observer to record observations of the "subjects" to capture even more information (that people don't know they're giving even though they have agreed to the process); and my writing process is also bedevilling me right now. Thanks and good luck to all!
I suppose this is my final post for this blog. I would just like to say how helpful I have found this process, both for getting a sense of other people's ideas and projects as well as constructing and making sense of my own.

In reading Chapter 7 of Knight, I began to think a lot about whether or not note taking or using recording devices would be more appropriate in my interviews. The crux of the issue seems to be that in taking notes, there is more of a chance that you can miss something, as well as not being able to be as attentive to the interviewees. These implications can be somewhat avoided if you have two researchers as Knight suggests (168). At the same time, it is still difficult to capture all of what someone says by transcribing it. Using recording devices can assist with this problem, but there is the potential for recording devices to influence behaviour. Ethical considerations would necessitate letting the interviewee know that they are being recorded in any way, so they must be aware of this. It is suggested by Knight that if they are smaller, the interviewees may forget about them and make them more comfortable and thus less influenced by the device in their responses.

I think there is a need to find a balance between these two approaches. I believe that you can allow the interviewee to feel more comfortable about the recording by assuring confidentiality and anonymity. I think that I would definitely use 2 researchers- 1 for conducting the interview and 1 for taking notes not just on what people are saying but their body language, etc. I would also obtain an audio record of the conversation, just because I feel like this is the best way to ensure that I wouldn't miss anything important. I feel that the minor limitations that may come from using a recording device outweigh the potential loss of information from the interview that could happen if there were only transcriptions of the interview.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The End.

I gather that, for most of us, this blog has come to an end. Endings are, of course, beginnings, and for that reason I will write one more post after this one. So this post is not The End after all.

I have been thinking a lot about writing lately because I need to rethink how I write papers. Not, I mean, how I put sentences together—well, yes, I need to work on that part of it—but the whole business of reading, thinking, making notes, writing, and editing. Curiously, this idea is completely appropriate to this moment because if you think back to the beginning of this course, then you will recall that we began with writing. "Start with Writing" is the first chapter of Knight's book. Here, at the end of the course, I arrive at the beginning.

The main reason that I need to rethink how I write has to do with the fact that I write in too many separate stages. First, I read some text and make notes. Then I read my notes. Then I re-read my notes and re-read portions of the text. Then I re-read my notes and re-read portions of the text and write. Then I re-read the text. Then I re-read my notes. Then I write. And so on. Why don't I just read and write?

So that's where I end, or begin. With a research question.


Friday, December 3, 2010

Research ethics in unexpected places

Ever since our class on research ethics, which was fascinating, I have had the funny feeling that, sometime earlier this semester, I stumbled upon an ethical issue in relation to historical research. Typically, the ethical issues that we associate with historical research have to do with academic honesty or, I would add, the fair use and impartial representation of evidence. A few days ago, though, I remembered that I had come across the records of two prison libraries in the Archives of Ontario. The archives hold the library record books that, I presume, indicate which inmate borrowed which book. Interestingly, both fonds come with the following condition, which probably accompanies all prison records in the Archives:

"Access to these records is governed by the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Requests for access to records 100 years old or less must be submitted in writing to the Information and Privacy Unit of the Archives of Ontario."

It occurred to me that writing a request for access to these records would be not unlike writing a research protocol for a study involving human subjects. You should probably make an argument about the value of your research, how you will use the information, how you will secure the information, how you will protect the identities of the inmates, to whom you will disclose your results, what you will do with the information after the study, and so on.

So, as it turns out, our training in research ethics applies just as much to textual records as it does to human subjects. Neat.


Surveys as a Way of Avoiding Ethical Issues?

My research proposal involves two parts. I want to gain an understanding of how librarians in the TPL view Facebook and whether they use it to reach out to young adults. I also want to see how young adults use Facebook and how they view the library and whether Facebook should be used as an outreach tool. Ideally, I would like to be doing interviews with both sets of subjects. However, interviewing minors poses an ethical risk. Therefore, I plan to do survey research in Toronto highschools. I see survey research as being less invasive and I hope to avoid any ethical dilemmas by using this method as opposed to interviews.

Actually Doing the Research

I really like how Knight's Chapter 7 says that it is okay if things go wrong during the research process. Research isn't always as neat and orderly as the methods books would have us believe. The research that I conducted was messy and emotional and confusing. It did not follow a neat, linear pattern and at times I felt lost along the way. Methods books make research seem so cut and dry. If you're interviewing you follow a set of questions and a procedure. You code a certain way and analyze results a certain way and write your paper a certain way. However, the manuals don't explain how it's going to feel when you're asking a participant really sensitive questions or what to do if they start crying. Even after you get ethics approval there's always a chance that you could emotionally harm a subject. I felt that Knight made the research process seem more real.

Validity and Reliability in Qualitative Research

While writing my peer review assignment on MacMillan's "Soapbox" study I came to the conclusion that qualitative research methods are inherently disadvantaged when it comes to the concepts of reliability and validity. Qualitative research can never be completely reliable because it is ultimately up to the interpretation of the researcher and interpretations can never be standardized. Similarly, when it comes to validity, it seems pretty unlikely that qualitative research will meet minimum standards for both internal and external validity. Qualitative research can never be externally valid because it is not generalizable. Maybe it can be internally valid, but I still feel like that cannot be proven.

While doing this assignment I also read several researcher's takes on evaluating reliability and validity differently for qualitative research; using concepts such as trustworthiness instead. This really resounded with me. Quantitative research is older and more established and these concepts are clearly defined to evaluate quantitative research. It is unfair to have the same standards for a completely different type of research.


Reality can be a frightening thing sometimes. That is how I felt reading ch.7 of Knight, frightened. But at the same time, realizing the hurdles of conducting academic research, no matter how daunting they may seem, is an important thing for novice researchers to absorb early on. The reason is because these challenges are going to be magnified for first-time researchers and they can be very demotivating. By devoting a whole chapter to the pragmatic challenges of doing academic research, new researchers can brace themselves for the many challenges that lie ahead, which is important for maintaining self-efficacy ( which I believe is half the battle).

Not every topic deals with "benign" issues and Peter helps the researcher understand the importance of these sensitivities. I suppose this is what it means to be a professional in any undertaking, being responsive or empathetic to the will and emotions of others. I wonder though, if this can be learned and internalized from the chapter of a research methods book ? I mean, if one were to apply these tenets literally it might obstruct the flow of whatever information gathering technique is being employed. But then again, I am speaking as an a person who is not shy and quite open (if you weren't able to discern from my in class participation). Not everyone is like this however, and it is important to absorb the professional advice from Ch.7 of Knight.

Studying the Internet

Both Hine's and Orgad's articles on studying the Internet were really interesting. The Internet has created a whole new area of research methods. This topic also reminded me of an article I read for 1001 by Miller and Slater called The Internet: An Ethnographic Approach. This article was revolutionary for how Internet is studied today because it discusses seeing the Internet as integral to society and not as a virtual reality. Researchers are slowly developing a framework for analyzing and conducting online research and making it seem legitimate.

A small-scale example of online and offline worlds coinciding in research was how I conducted my previous research on Afghan-Canadian youth. Facebook actually allowed me to conduct this research. I was able to use it to approach potential participants. Basically, I sent messages to members of an Afghan Association in Hamilton outlining my research and asking if they would be willing to meet with me and be interviewed. Because this is a marginalized group I could not ethically approach them in person or by telephone but through the Internet it was more annonymous and they could simply not respond to me if they did not want to be interviewed. This was very difficult for me to describe in my ethics approval application and in my final research paper. Clearly, the framework for online research is still being created.

Focus Groups Have Value!

While I was doing my peer review assignment (I choose to critique MacMillan's "Soap Box" study) I came across a really great section of a book, Berg's Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences. In this section, Berg discusses focus groups in great detail. According to Knight, focus groups are primarily useful for their cost and time-cutting measures. Knight's section on focus groups is very small and he insinuates that focus groups are for lazy researchers. They apparently cannot generate valid data on their own and are used as a sort of preliminary research. Berg, however, had a completely different perspective on the matter. He believes that focus groups allow the researcher to fade more into the background and said that participants sometimes feel more comfortable sharing their views in a group setting as opposed to one-on-one. He also said that a group has the ability to generate findings that cannot be generated by an individual.

My background is sociology and I also took several psychology courses. The whole principle of sociology is based on the fact that society and groups of people need to be studied as a whole rather than as the sum of individuals. I was definitely happy to see that some methods specialists do no simply brush off the importance of groups and group interviews.

Unobstrusive Methods

The difficulty with studying human behaviour is that you can never be sure that you are getting accurate results. I have a background in qualitative research but it can be frustrating to hear that your interviews are biased or that people are not giving you accurate responses because they are afraid of what you will think of them. Even in quantitative methods there are many criticisms. For survey research some people may check off what they wish applied to them. For example, if you are asking how many hours of television a person watches per day he/she may answer fewer hours than are actually watched because he/she plans to cut down on hours of television watched. Sometimes this really bothers me. My friends who are in science roll their eyes when they speak about social science. I want my research to be taken seriously and to seem credible.

I was, therefore, intrigued to read Knight's section on unobtrusive methods. It is interesting to think of doing a study without leaving a mark. You're simply making observations. The researcher cannot influence subjects under these circumstances. Knight says that most researchers choose not to use unobtrusive methods but I think there might be something very valuable to them. I am not sure if they would make scientists take us more seriously, but they definitely are able to get around some of the criticisms with many social science methods.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Ethics and the anthros

Our class on ethics reminded me of this song. I don't think I can speak (or sing) on the topic as eloquently as Floyd "Red Crow" Westerman so I'll leave it to him.

Good luck on your proposal

PS I will follow-up with a post that is actually based on the weekly readings ASAP :) 

Sunday, November 28, 2010


My research study would be a starting point for further investigation in public libraries to
involve more participant in the adult programs by reaching out to the community to meet their needs.
Although my research is not design for individuals to pursue their personal concern or interest, but human is the main subject.

Human in my research is a key person who is the main informant of an organization, therefore related organizational objectives and guidelines should be considered and the ethics policies and regulations must be followed.

In Knight, listed pragmatic responses is a good reminding point to prevent accident.


Last Hurdle

Wading into the last task of preparing the full project proposal, I finally learnt what it was that was hampering my abilty to think it through all the way. The problem is that my research question/s, end up with a cause/effect situation; I am proposing a link between two phenomena that isn't proven (by objective criteria); and my proposal is based on this unproven link. It's an assumption at a crucial juncture -- between my background literature and my research question! So now I have to retrace some steps, re-think and regroup. Will I be able to do it in the one remaining week? Who knows! At this stage I am not so much putting one foot in front of the other, as closing my eyes and jumping. This is probably not as effective as salsa dancing in managing a research project.

BTW the very helpful and lightening website that gave me the answer to my puzzle is
(found it by way of a Cornell university research course).

D/K if it was one of the links given in another post last week? If so, thanks! If not and anyone else finds it useful please let me know.

good luck to all,

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ethics Dilemma

The question arose when writing my research proposal as to whether or not I have to consider research ethics for my proposed research. However when I read the Knight reading for this week, I realized that survey research usually does not pose the same ethical questions as face-to-face research as it is less invasive. However, Knight (2002) does state that “…even in survey research, sensitive issues appear to inhibit disclosure.” (p.169) Therefore, in my research I decided to be transparent with the respondents and offer to them exactly what my research will be about and explain why I am interested in the research and why I am asking them the questions in the survey. Nonetheless, since I am not asking personal questions of respondents and it will all be anonymous, they do not have to answer the survey and I will not be speaking directly with any respondents I believe it will be easier to gain ethics approval if it is needed.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

tunnel vision

One of the major problems I found with Kushin's article, which I peer reviewed, was that he wanted to find what he was looking for in his data analysis that he saw 'only what is obviously relevant to those perspectives and to miss indications that things might be rather different than those perspectives imply' (Knight, 182). With my own research in mind, I have an idea of what I think I will find going in (or what I hope I will find). I think it would be beneficial to use Knight's tips that he lays out in Chapter 8 for guarding against this type of tunnel vision in quantitative analysis. It is always possible to find out more than you were trying to find in your research project- perhaps something more relevant than the original theory you are testing. I need to keep this in mind both for external and internal validity.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We have been discussing a great deal the use of online vs. offline data when studying online phenomena. I have been thinking about this divide a lot within the context of my research proposal. Due to the fact that it has to do with how identities are constructed on Facebook and whether or not Facebook acts as a supplement or substitution to offline communication, I felt that both online and offline data would be necessary to tackle these questions. Orgad's 'How can researchers make sense of issues' was very helpful in solidifying my choice to use both types of data. In Orgad's study he talks about how the face-to-face interviews conducted on breast cancer patients who participated in online support groups revealed much more complex connections between their online and offline experiences. I am hoping for this to happen with my own research as I am seeking to find out not only how people act on facebook, but their motivations for using the social networking tool in a particular way or for a particular purpose. Clearly this divide between online/offline data depends on your research question, goals and objectives. Orgad talks about how many criticisms of using offline data imply that using online data is not as valid as offline data. For my project, I don't feel the need to privelege one or the other. I am studying an online phenomena, but the offline data I hope to collect will allow me to see how these realms relate.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


After reading chapter seven of Luker, I tried to organize the elements for my research study and I came up with the following elements that I found interesting to add to the public library programme agenda:
Programmes for adult with different abilities
Educational programmes
Training programmes
Technology programmes
Programmes for older adult

Need to say that reading Knight’s chapter eight, made a clear sense of data gathering, although I am still not sure how to develop qualitative data analysis in the case of adult programme in the public library.


Death by analysis

I missed out on posting last week, mainly because I was too exhausted to come up with another usable thought, but also because, having glanced at the readings I thought: low priority -- I'm not planning an online component for my project. Lo! when I did get down to reading them of course I found much to put through the mental grinder. For one thing, I do a lot of reearch online already, and as Hine suggested somewhere in that dense thicket of concepts, only partially digested as yet, how to evaluate online information is quite an important issue. So; more mulling over these 2 papers needed. So far the Orgad is not making total sense to me yet - though I sense there is sense there to be made.

On to this week's chapters on the analysing of quantitative data. An aspect of the research process that I have always approached with dread and avoided as far as possible. Surprisingly, Laker's exposition of the various options gave me some hope that this might not always be so. I began to dimly feel the beauty of information hidden behind the cryptic face of unreadable numbers; and the potential excitements of gradually seeing that information take shape, like a photograph developing, as the data yield coherence and pictures.

Qualitative information, I see now, can't have that kind of mystery, because something is always readable on the surface, albeit partial or misleading.

But maybe the mystery would pall as I come to understand the techniques well enough to be able, possibly, to anticipate patterns in the choices?

Maybe. But that moment is a long way in the future for now. The thought of quantitative data analysis is still a form of instant soma. Not the pleasant kind. If indeed that existed.

I want also to thank all of you who write so extensively about the readings, your thoughts and reflections on their content, applications and particular uses for you. Much of interest, and really appreciated!

Knight, colours on a palette, and questerviews

I wonder if Knight's discussion on the so-called palette of methods would have any relation to my previous post on "Questerviews" . Running with Knight's analogy, I think it is fair to say that questerviews (depending on the study) would be like a mixture of traditional royal blue and magnolia.In other words, they would complement each other depending on the mood one is attempting to elicit (e.g. a vibrant mid-day sky). Coming back to research methods, if a survey uses highly technical or politically charged language as part of its design, it would be creative and appropriate to record the respondents interpretations of the language in the survey (e.g. a questerview). So for example, imagine you are doing a survey on conservatism, I can't tell you how many definitions I have heard of this concept- it is mind boggling. what is more is that of the countless definitions I have heard, none seem to coincide. So what use is a survey with uses the concept of conservatism when there are so many wide-ranging understandings of it. That just one example of the need to creative when "designing ways of using inquiry methods to face the research questions" (Knight, 2002, p.119)

I don't know, I can rant a bit more about Knight but I'll maybe just end by saying that I think Knight is quite balanced and a good source to have handy when writing a research proposal, which is what i think we are all in the process of doing. I will definitely be citing Knight's wisdom in my proposal. And by the way, best of luck to everyone on this assignment, it certainly feels a bit daunting to me. 


I am still having trouble thinking about how to 'frame' my research as we discussed from the Luker readings in the first few weeks in class. While we learn about new methods I am finding it difficult to truly understand the essence of each method. Doing the peer review helped me figure out what ethnography is but unfortunately for my proposed research I can not use that method. So I feel as though I am back to square one. I have a clear idea of what my research is, but I am still am looking for that edge or 'frame' as Luker calls it.

I think I am going to have to use a mixed-method approach and after attempting to read Knight I am not sure how to feel about this approach. His pragmatic and often dry explanations did not help ease my confusion and just aggravated me. So I feel as though I am back at the beginning when I did not even know what a research method is. Hopefully after the lecture tomorrow I will feel less aggravated and be able to focus on the principles that Luker and Knight were discussing instead of all the work I still have to do for my research proposal.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Hey everyone.

I came across this really novel method called a questerview. Its not even in the dictionary!!! Basically what it is is the combination of questionnaires (e.g. the kind used in quantitative studies) and interviews (e.g. the kind used in qualitative research). How it works is that respondents are tape-recorded as they complete a questionnaire and are asked questions relating to their understanding of the terms in the questionnaire.  The data collected from questerviews would be so informative and rich compared to questionnaires alone. 

So what a neat idea for strengthening a study against validity threats and using qualitative and quantitative methods in tandem. This idea is just brilliant if you ask me.      

Check out this site for more details:

Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Monday, November 15, 2010


I have to begin by saying that Hine’s piece confused the heck out of me. Maybe its because I am dizzy from writing so many papers, I’m not quite sure though. Nevertheless, here is my interpretation. Please clarify me if I’m wrong:
The Internet is a conduit for complex social interaction. Consequently, the meanings generated by this medium will be complex and hard to decode. In other words, like in any situation, the sender’s information will be interpreted by the receiver in a way that conforms to his or her own sense of reality, except the internet is not any situation. The internet is a sender-receiver situation multiplied by the tens of millions and with a global reach. How do we as social scientists begin to decode such messages? Where do we begin? What are our boundaries? I think Hine is right to suggest that the first step is to develop a “reflexive” methodology for defining our boundaries?????. Having fixed boundaries around such complex and interwoven “sites” (which transcend the offline-offline divide) would be too limiting. So I think the main point in Hine is that when defining the boundaries of online research, reflexivity is paramount??? Please help. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Finding boundaries

Reading Hine’s article helped me to think about defining boundaries in my research study, however it is not an easy task.
When I think about my research, it is somehow ethnography/culturally related. One aspect of developing and planning adult programmes in the library is to know the cultures of the community and their expectations.
Finding demographic data is very helpful in general but to get it in a more pertinent domain we have to come up with creative ideas and topics. Then, we must put them into work using different methodology (surveying or interviewing) and collecting data from individual members, community outreach and various organizations.


The Possibilities..

I found the article The untapped potential of virtual game worlds to shed light on real world epidemics by Eric T Lofgren and Nina H Fefferman to be extremely interesting. I have never been one for gaming. I get too frustrated and have never been interested enough to learn. However, I have always enjoyed watching others game because they were actually good. I spent my childhood watching my brother play, which suited him fine because he never had to share the controller. This was all before online gaming, which opens up a new world, both for the players and for researchers. Not only can researchers observe how the game is played but also can now observe how players all around the world interact.

The case study of the World of Warcraft and the Corrupted Blood epidemic is now offering researchers a new arena to study human responses to epidemics without having to actually be infected. I can remember vividly the news reports from the SARS epidemic and the H1N1 epidemic last year. The images of people wearing masks, attempting to escape 'hot zones' of contamination were very real. And to think, these real life reactions to epidemics could be replicated in an online world is amazing. The fact that this was also unplanned, led to the very real reactions of the gamers. As the authors state, for many of the gamers this virtual world is a very real part of their own worlds. (p. 627) I think that there are endless opportunities for researchers to use online worlds to replicate real world scenarios and issues such as epidemics. Since the article was published in 2007, I wonder if any researchers have begun to devise plans to complete research in online worlds.

Validity and Originality

Is it possible for a completely original qualitative method or measure to be valid? I have been toying with this question because I have been rethinking validity in general, having bungled the matter somewhat in my peer review, and because I have been wondering about the legitimation of methods and measures.

The more I think about validity, the more I think that conventional validation is really a matter of social process. Measures are valid when other people—subjects, peers, reviewers—agree that they are valid. Construct validity is an obvious example. Knight maintains that you have construct validity when you operationalize a measure in a such a way that it is acceptable to other people (p. 136). You are investigating what you set out to investigate because other people agree with your description of the concept. Face validity seems to be similar. Presumably, face validity increases with the number of people who agree that your measures are valid. Content validity, too, depends on some kind of agreement about the capacity of your questions to get at the domain or dimensions of the concept. In each case validation seems to be a matter of fitting your research into a social consensus about the relationship between a measure and a concept. Here's how one researcher put the matter:

[Mishler] starts from the process of validating (instead of from the state of validity) and defines "validation as the social construction of knowledge", by which we "evaluate the 'trustworthiness' of reported observations, interpretations, and generalizations". Finally, "reformulating validation as the social discourse through which trustworthiness is established elides such familiar shibboleths as reliability, falsifiability, and objectivity" (qtd. in Flick, An introduction to qualitative research, pp. 226-227).

So what happens when you use a method or measure in an unconventional way or, more to the point, if you invent a method or measure from scratch? Clearly, you no longer enjoy as much social approval as a more conventional researcher. Does that mean that your findings will be invalid? No. It does mean that your research may have to be the catalyst for a new or revised social consensus. The tricky part is that your findings may be the only things that justify the validity of your research. In other words, you may have to do all of the research in order to prove that your approach was valid. However, you're not alone. I suspect that a lot of qualitative researcher use their findings to justify their design. Hine implied as much at the conclusion of her article in Internet inquiry. She wrote that "the key recourse has to be the dialogues in which the study is able to engage: If we can do studies [. . .] that say something interesting and that advance debate [. . .], then our studies will have some claim to adequacy" (p. 18-19). I can imagine David Gauntlett saying something similar about Serious Play. Knight calls this a "post-structuralist" view of validity (p. 135). But I think that we distort the discussion of research methods when we posit this kind of validation as an exception to the norm. Instead, it is better to think of it as producing the norm. To my mind, the various discourses of validity reflect something like the Kuhnian model of scientific progress, a dialectic between paradigm and disruption.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

virtual communities

I have been thinking a lot about the pros and cons of virtual communities. I am coming at my research proposal from a perspective where I believe that the replacement of offline communications with online communications has a negative impact on the ways we construct our identities and the way we maintain relationships. That being said, after reading Bakadjieva & Feenberg's case study, I realized how complex the issue really is. Seeing virtual communities as having a democratizing effect makes it difficult to criticize them. The user can encounter others (the communities) in their own terms. I know that there are many positive aspects to online communities. I just feel that replacing offline communication with online, or just using it as a primary means of communication through tools such as facebook gives the illusion that friendships are being maintained. There seems to be a level of superficiality that people must accept and willingly participate in, in order to be relevant.

Monday, November 8, 2010

What is the secret of creativity?

           Based on today’s lecture and assigned readings, I would like to make two quick remarks (This time more optimistic than some of my previous posts). First, it may sound simple enough, but I found the discussion on the case-study APPROACH extremely valuable, in part due to the clarification that it is not a “method” of social science. I feel that this clarification is very important, for me anyway, because now I think I understand correctly, simply put, that the case study approach is used to facilitate the use of certain methods (or something like that). Maybe the metaphor of the case study as the fry-pan, the methods as the ingredients, and the end-product as the findings is appropriate? Well I tried anyway.      
            The second point that I wanted to make was how the reading and discussion of Pinch & Bijker’s (1987) (wow that’s old by the way, which I guess speaks to the durability of their ideas) social construction of technology  approach or “SCOT” just really opened my imagination to a plethora of research ideas (which I don’t have the space to talk about right now). I guess one way to summarize my day was that I was exposed to the wonders of “approaches” to social science, not to be confused with methods :)  

By the way, I couldn't think of a title so I decided to use the opening of a “joke”, which the answer is: “knowing how to hide your sources” –Albert Einstein  

AHA Moment!

As some of my previous posts have discussed, I have been having some anxiety as to what method I am going to use for my proposed research. I feel as though I know very little about the methods which is very frustrating and disconcerting. However, I had an AHA moment today in class when we were talking about case studies and research strategies. While I still felt completely lost and frustrated when we were discussing SCOT, when we briefly discussed the histories research strategies I got really excited. I finally found a strategy and group of methods that I will be able to use for my proposed research. I hope to learn more about this method soon and am starting to feel a little better about my research proposal.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Case Study

Case study is a good way for comparison. But we have to keep in mind that there should be general inclination to be able to apply it to our subject. Also, case study is a good practice to look at the problems in a different way and it will give us a chance to review, compare, evaluate and make better decisions for our own topic.

In my particular research, case study could be used to find out about varies adult programmes that is offered to the libraries with similar size population.

Falling over the line

I felt as though I couldn't do another thing today, extra hour notwithstanding, but the blog called... It's a good discipline though, I do find that having to write my thoughts compels a certain amount of orderly thinking, at least in theory.

Earlier today heard a CBC program on gaming -- reminded me of the discussion we started in class a few weeks ago, about the effect of video games on children. What about adults? These game masters and developers are suggesting that"gamification" is the next cultural definer (?) after Facebook. The concepts under discussion went from the role of cognitive psychology and ethics in gaming --motivation v. manipulation -- to whether game design is an art form. Also apparently the industry/field needs more diversity. I'd be interested to learn more about this, especially after reading Boellstorff''s paper.

I have not read the articles for this week. But I'm looking forward to class anyway, if only to drop off the review! which became a torture to finalize. Hope you all had an easier time with yours.

Monday, November 1, 2010

interpretation and coding

I found that Thomas' 'Artifactual study in analysis of culture in the postmodern age' was very useful in clarifying the distinction between the limits of communication and interpretation as an extension of those limits. He questions how direct any method is in the debate between artifactural analysis vs. methods that have been perceived as more direct; such as interviewing and ethnography. He thinks that verbals responses are also texts to be subject to inference and interpretation. This does not mean that they cannot have validity, which is why he makes the important distinction between coding and interpretation. This will be a helpful way to think about validity in the article i chose for my peer review assignment because coding is an important way in which many people organize data so to not risk 'interpretational pluralism'. It doesn't mean that coding will always be done well or that it shouldn't be assessed on an individual basis, but it certainly increases the validity of a study if there are many people who can agree that particpants(' responses) fall into certain categories without dispute.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Assignment 3

The article that I have chosen for assignment 3 is:
“Making the Most of Your Video Trends in Patron Access and Resource Sharing” by Barbara J Bergman.
She used survey method for her research study. The steps and principles that she used for her study is very practical. Although this research is more towards academic libraries but her approach to find solutions for circulating the video collection could be used in any libraries. This research study made me to think about the methodology of my own research.
By reading this article I realized that choosing the right research method is more important than choosing a few different methods. Because even by choosing one method you can find different ways to approach the subject matter in the research study. Therefore the findings will be in more details to support the research statement, and also more reliable for the future study of the same field.


New Assignment

I’ve chosen the ethnographic study on the role of the internet in social change in the Middle East to review, and I’m finding the explorations of different facets and applications of ethnography very interesting.  Shaffir and Stebbin’s articles demystified some of the methodology, especially on the issues of personal preparation for working in the field,  which my experience of the direct interview had brought well forward for me as I wrote in my previous post.  I found Stebbin’s reminder that the researcher needs to have a credible level of competence in the area of study, and Shaffir’s discussion of the role that modifying oneself or even dissembling to some extent, might play in winning the confidence of the subjects of study (people!), especially notable.  Whether the encounter is structured, semi-structured, or  informal, I am now acutely aware of how much difference the researcher’s knowledge of context could make to the direction and depth of the Q and A process.  Empathy also comes into it.  Which is where participation can change the character of the interaction in some fundamental ways, as Boellstorff also emphasizes in his observation that while it’s impossible to fully observe and fully participate simultaneously, it’s in that paradox that the best connection can be made. 

The van Dijk article’s exposition of critical discourse analysis and his dissection of how discourse control in policy debate functions to manage public views and the status quo in the maintenance of racism struck a particular chord with me.  Derrrick Bell (Faces At the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism)  has some amazing multi-layered and multi-disciplinary analyses in this area.  Critical theory and many other theoretical approaches tell us that power relations are a fundamental aspect of social analysis; the role of racialization in those relations can hardly be exaggerated and would be especially important in ethnographic studies of a wide range of topics and contexts, yet discussion of its role has been so successfully discredited or otherwise discouraged that in my experience it’s rare outside of specific forums dedicated to that discussion.

Now you see Trotsky standing next to the podium where Lenin is speaking...

Now you don't

I am still finishing my reading of Knight, but in the meantime I have posted these two images after being inspired by the discussion on p.104. It is useful to consider why Trotsky was removed from the second pic (e.g. by whom and to what end?). This story is very revealing.  Knight's comment that understanding the "context if production" and that "published images are carefully chosen and have been produced under certain constraints of creation [e.g. totalitarian regimes, my example] and the process of selection and editing helps researchers to attribute significance to the images" (104) is bang-on in my opinion and very insightful.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Being Honest with our Biases...

I had some issues with the Knight reading this week, especially with his discussion on the History field on pg. 110. When he stated that changes in literature happen because of changes in ways of thinking and not new information becoming available, I have to disagree. Personally, I believe that new ways of thinking and new resources work hand in hand. If we were never to find new sources then academics would continue to hash out the same problems in different words. It is because of new resources that become available, such as the opening of some Eastern European archives, that new ways of thinking are brought forth. They do not simply materialize from nothing.

I do understand what Knight was talking about when he was saying that modern scholars look at historical events, etc. through tainted modern discourses and might not take into consideration the lens through which they gaze at the past. However, I think this goes back to our discussion in class last week on knowing our biases when doing ethnographic research. I think the same needs to be done with historical research. As long as a researcher is upfront about their biases, then I can not see why new ways of thinking and research can stem from new resources.

In keeping with the title of this blog, I am a trained historian. Some of my animosity behind Knight's viewpoint may be because I take offensive to the implications. However, I still strongly believe that without new resources becoming available new ways of thinking would not come about and vice versa. To me they are interconnected and can not be viewed as separate and opposite entities as Knight does.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Some thoughts on anthropology and the technological species

Let me begin by posing a semantic question: Can we reasonably interpret what Star describes as the ethnography of infrastructure as an archeology of more contemporary artifacts? Is this question even worth asking? The reason I ask is that I feel Star’s ideas, which undoubtedly have a novel tone, are perhaps more established than the buzz around the Ethnography of Infrastructure would lead us to believe. Let me explain.
Homo sapiens have always been a technologically dependent species, and since the development of archeology, the technological extension of humankind has proven to be a fruitful way to interpret human culture and social relations. Is the ethnography of infrastructure not then, in essence, a continuation of this tradition? I suppose one key difference between the two children of anthropology (archeology and ethnography of infrastructure) is the focus on living versus past humans, which is a significant conceptual difference. However, the commonalities between the two in terms of their focus on technology and artifacts as the basis for interpreting human social life is too compelling to be ignored. Both the archeologist and ethnographer of infrastructure have a privileged detachment as researchers for examining social phenomenon (past and present). I will give two brief examples to illustrate my point:
First, artifacts from an aboriginal burial ground tell the archeologist a story of customs and rituals common to a tribe during a certain time-period. Second, the health care infrastructure in small-town Ontario tells the ethnographer of infrastructure a story of customs and rituals of physicians who need to cope with a lack of resources and networks. In both cases, and for arguments sake, those who are directly involved in the use of such technologies are less likely to produce a scientific account of their social implications. On the other hand, the ethnographer-archeologist is in a suitable position to examine such implications by means of the researcher’s own technological extension, namely the tools used for building an appropriate framework of analysis.
In Tom Boellstorff's case study on Ethnography and game studies, I found that he made a very important point about culture being something that is about relationships among things, rather than a thing in itself or a mere set of 'rules' that we live by. When he talks about game cultures, he says that these cultures can not be reduced to the rules of the actual games but instead proposes examining the relationship between the physical and virtual worlds by discovering how they play the games they play, how their life outside of the game affects how they play the game, where they play the game, etc. I found this case study to be relevant as a way for thinking about my own research. I would like to try to determine through my research how social networking tools like facebook affect offline communication. By taking Boellstorff's model, I could examine how people use facebook- do they use it at work, at school, on their smart phones? This would be a good way of examining the social networking cultures by looking to physical world aspects that determine behaviours, frequency of use, etc., on a social networking site like facebook.

Monday, October 25, 2010

IQ Tests

In Chapter 4 of Knight, he talks about the 4 characteristics that define a scale. The issue of validity stood out as being something that is taken for granted in many ways. We talked in class before about IQ tests. There is a debate about whether or not they have validity. They preference a certain way of thinking or learning and use that as the grounds for quantifying intelligence. If we accept this form of testing and evaluating intelligence then it would be meaningful to have a high score on the IQ test, but it could just as easily have no meaning if you don't believe that the testing framework has validity. In many ways this is what happens with our own school work. Our intelligence is being quantified, but from within a framework of evaluation. There are not exact (objective) right answers in the social sciences, but there are processes. Almost like if you got part marks for having done most of the steps right in a math problem but then come up with the wrong answer. There are certain criteria that must be met on assignments and these criteria can be assigned numerical significance.


Luker discusses in Chapter 6 the importance of generalizability in research. This has a lot to do with sampling. You have to be able to convince your audience that your research is not just a specific case but can be applied to similar scenarios. Luker said that most of her research was conducted in California which is considered to be atypical. To counter these assumptions, Luker did several observations or interviews outside of California. I am wondering if my research on the Toronto Public Library System is generalizable to other library systems. Can it be considered an example of Canadian library systems? This is something that I will need to grapple with in order to produce successful research. I need to find a way to make it useful for other circumstances. In the same way, for my literature review, I am taking researchers' work and generalizing it to my research in Toronto.

data cropping

In Chapter 6, Luker gives tips for going about 'data cropping'. The first of which I found to be particularly helpful in the context of my own research. My proposal has to do with privacy and facebook. I was seeking to find out if there was a correlation between age and privacy concerns on facebook- both in terms of privacy settings as well as the types of information that is being divulged online. I chose to do interviews where I select and divide my interviewees into 3 age categories so that I can see if there if the variable I am trying to explain actually does vary. In other words, if age is a significant factor in both peoples' motivations for using the social networking tool as well as their actual behaviour online. If I am trying to say something more secific about the younger age group of facebook users and privacy, then it is important that I make sure to have some other age group to compare it to. This would be necessary for showing that the trend I observed was not merely a trend among facebook users in general.

Doing Ethnography

The recommended reading "Doing Ethnography" was written by William Shaffir, a former professor and mentor of mine during my undergraduate years. This article obviously appealed to me initially because I know Dr. Shaffir personally. It also appealed to me, however, because I am definitely attracted to the research method of ethnography. I don't think this method will be appropriate for my thesis, but I envision combining my sociology background with my interest in libraries down the road. In my previous research, additionally, there were times when I employed participant observation methods in which I noticed some of the things pointed out by Shaffir. I visited a mosque as part of my research on Afghan-Canadians, and, like Shaffir changed his appearance when studying Hasdic Jews, I dressed in a way that brought me closer to the community. I understand what Shaffir meant by the ethical implications of ethnographic research. No matter how open one is about conducting research, there will always be an element of deception. When I visited an Afghan mosque for my research I was obviously open about the fact that I was gathering data. However, the subjects I interviewed assumed that what I was wearing and the questions I was asking signified a strong interest in converting to Islam.


In Luker's Chapter 6 she discusses the process of sampling during research. I found this chapter to be pretty helpful when considering my proposal. Luker's correct in saying that you must sample when doing research because there is simply not enough time to collect every single piece of data. When I was first designing my basic proposal I thought I would be able to collect data from every single library in the Toronto Public Library System. Now, however, I am realizing that this would probably be beyond the scope of a thesis. I know I must take a sample and I guess the question remaining is: how large should my sample be? How many interviews are sufficient for this project? Another thing about my proposal is that I would like to gather data for two different samples: libraries in Toronto and highschool students in Toronto. I am in the process of reevaluating this. I want to ensure that I am not taking on too much.

Interview Experience

This week I had to do an interview for my Library Foundations class and found it to be extremely rewarding. Although I have had experience doing interviews in the past, it was nice to experience interviewing in a different context. Previously my research was on a very sensitive topic: ethnic identity in Afghan-Canadian youth. This time, I was interviewing a friend about his understanding of libraries therefore the dynamics of the interview were different. I found that I still enjoyed the research method of interviewing. For this reason, I am planning on including interviewing as one of my methods for the proposal. I just want to make sure, however, that I am not simply sticking with the method that I am most comfortable with so I am going to try a quantitative method to supplement it. I am also going to use surveys. I think the combination of qualitative and quantitative methods will be very complementary.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Interviews and Focus Groups

For this week blog I am trying to gather all the reading and come to a conclusion for choosing methods.

Basically Participant Observation (PO) is the main key for methods such as; focus groups and interviews. The requirements for these methods are based on the theory and questionnaires that the researcher is conducting. In order to build up our theory, it is important to look at the cultural aspect of the people who are being interviewed.

It is very true as I read this week articles that the PO must get close enough to the people of the study and yet be far enough to be able to analyze it.

In my research study I will find out about the community outreach/organizations and build up the practices and questions to discuss during focus groups and interviews.
These methods will be very useful in my research study because the programmes in the library is very much related to our community needs and interests.


Interviewer Observer

This week I had an interview to do for INF1300.  It was a sobering exercise.  So easy to write, I’ll use this method and that method… reality is a bit more demanding.  Even a one-on-one Q and A with someone you know, can surface a lot of issues about the process.

It’s a challenge to word questions without leading; to prompt without suggesting; to receive all answers with the same benign inscrutability that will (hopefully) disarm anxieties and neutralize any desire to give a more pleasing or less ignorant answer.. etc etc.

It’s a process that made me aware of how weighty the ethical issues are or can be.  I didn’t find too much guidance on this in the readings for this week.  But I can see that participant observation of any kind is going to be a many-layered challenge.

Interviews and Focus Groups

Historical! Comparative! Complicated!

I read Luker's chapter on historical-comparative methods with great interest because my research topic is historical (early modern) and I, like some others, have been wondering how to do historical sociology.

I am a fan of "building theory," which is the heart of Luker's book and, yes, the heart of her historical-comparative method, perhaps because I was in English literature and I built theories or interpretations about texts out of textual evidence of one kind or another. A notion like "pattern recognition" (190) sounds good to me. However, Luker argues that historical sociology attempts to build theory by identifying particular relationships: either "what events in the past shaped how this turned out in the present?" or "why did things turn out this way in one place and another way in another place?" (191). These questions represent a particular kind of history, one that focuses on causes and effects. They aim to build generalizations.

I want think about my research in relation to her method because I recognize the power of causal explanation to make research seem valuable and important and original. (That's an assumption worth interrogating.) I want to say that certain experiences, represented in texts, influenced the development of certain social and cultural formations. I'm pretty sure they did, but I won't know until I do a lot more research. But what if they merely reflect those formations?


Into the Abyss...

The more we read about the different research methods, the more I realize how little I know about them. Coming from a History background, I know about reading texts and using them to help frame my own analysis on a certain subject. However, each week we are learning about new methods and each week I am at a loss as to whether or not I even understand how the scholars are explaining a method, let alone whether or not I can use it in my proposed research. A few weeks ago we were discussing how to know if our proposed research was something new and unique and now I am wondering the same thing about my own research. I am wondering did I choose it because I am passionate about it or because of a lack of a better idea. I hope it is the former, but our discussions have really got me thinking.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

About interviews...

I know there are many of us who are in INF1300. For those of you who aren't, one of our assignments involves conducting an interview on the public's view of the library by interviewing a non-library worker. Within the past week I have conducted the interview and have found that this class has really assisted me in determining the method I would employ as an interviewer/researcher. The goal in this particular research is to discover what a person knows about libraries, how the operate, etc. At first I thought that it would be very lightly structured but through talking with many people in the class, there was a general consensus that many of the people interviewed did not know a whole lot about libraries. This made it difficult as an interviewer because despite the openended questions, it became apparent that there needed to be more structure than I had originally thought. The questions that I thought would have long answers were very short and I had to compensate by asking questions in different ways or being more specific without telling them what they know about the library. Of course, discovering that there is a lack of knowledge about the library gives a researcher valid information which can lead to questions of why there is such a lack of knowledge on the resources offered by the library, for example. That being said, I wanted to cover all of the bases and try my best to engage my interviewee with the questions I was asking to solicit answers that were more elaborate than a simple 'I don't know'. This would have made for a very short interview.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lets hear it for radical tirades

Although I found Luker’s tips on sampling, operationalization and generalization, as well as the summary and class discussion to be extremely useful, the whole conversation triggered a healthy sense of disillusionment in me. Let me explain.

By fixating our attention on the “validated” means for producing “acceptable” generalizations, I think we run the risk of overlooking a world of “truths” which can enlighten our sense of “social reality.” For example, if an oppressed South African living in jail during the apartheid era produces a journal of his experiences, I would not penalize his work for leaving out a discussion on methodology. If anything, a preoccupation with social science methods would, somewhat ironically, render obscure this important piece of “reality.” This example speaks to the attractiveness of post-colonial literature (as well as poetry, music etc.) as a source of “truth” in our complex world.

In other words, if we accept that Luker’s (and similar scholars) methods are highly westernized, then it is not unreasonable to claim that they affectively perpetuate a western mindset in our society (also consider the immense influence of the academy).This affect is not only a hindrance to our pursuit of knowledge, but can also be quite dangerous. Take for example the Jews from the Frankfurt School whose critical theory (note the lack of capitalization) rose from the oppression of Nazi Germany. Although society has progressed since his time, Foucault, whose thinking was also unconventional in this sense, was a homosexual. You get my point.

As a final note to close this tirade, I believe that often important “truths” are too personal or humanistic to be attained by conceptual “methods,” as much as the established order would steer us to believe.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Adult Programmes in the Public Libraries

It is very exciting when I finally could frame my research study. Now I am ready to dive in and discover all different ideas and endless possibilities for the adult programmes in our medium-sized public libraries.
I really believe in what Luker says about “generalization”. The case of my research study began when I had some informal conversations with colleagues and staff at larger-sized public libraries and realized that this problem is general, therefore the audience for my research study will be far beyond our community.

Knight: Chapter 4 made me to consider all the different types of questionnaires; including rating scale questions for each programmes, semi-structured interviews with different groups in the community, and use q-sort to get a better understanding of adult groups beliefs and expectations.

I am not sure, but based on Annette Lareau school study, is sampling the same as comparison?


Friday, October 15, 2010

Different Methods?

Lately I have been trying to figure out how I am going to go about doing my proposed research. The readings we have done thus far, while I find them interesting, are not really feasible with my intended research. Because I am studying an event that happened over sixty years ago it would be very difficult to find people to survey, either face to face or in a more canonical way. While there are still survivors alive, they would have been children during the war. Since my research focuses on women during this period and not children, it would be difficult to gather the information from those who were not in the correct age group. While I know that they would most likely remember their mothers, they would not have first hand knowledge as to what it meant to be a woman during this period.

Therefore, I know I am going to have to focus on diaries and memoirs that have been written. While, I think this is more difficult than working face-to face as I can not ask questions, I am optimistic that I can still gather the information needed for my research. I am anxious to learn more about how to go about researching using written text and not face-to face methods, even though I do find them very interesting.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Visual Thinking

The workshop that Eleonore and Jennette organised last Friday on the Artlab approach gave us a good look at the actual workings of the exercise.  It facilitates more abstract thinking and, paradoxically, more direct communication.  Using modelling material to express our responses seemed to generate material that was more complex and revealing than the verbal information exchanges.  All good! from the researcher’s viewpoint. But as we discussed in our post-exercise review, this could need some sensitive management in groups where participants might feel uncomfortable about exposure. As well, though there’s a lot of good potential for layered, authentic information, as Knight observes in his review of face-to-face methods analysing it systematically could present challenges.

On another front; reading through the SSHRC proposal samples I’m struck by the issue of language use; it seems to be very difficult to avoid using specialised vocabulary.  Coming to a working understanding of many of the basic terms of contemporary information studies is one of my own challenges at the moment.  I am appreciating just how much of a gatekeeping function specialised vocabularies have, especially in the process that Innis’ Minerva’s Owl thesis critiqued -- the building of knowledge monopolies.  (At the same time as his writing itself demonstrated the sin, being almost unreadable in both content and form!)   The other side of this issue is expressing one’s ideas accurately and appropriately, which might demand technical terms – which, as the information age has and continues to evolve so rapidly, are already common usage within vanguard users in the community.  The Seiter article/interview – which was indeed troubling – also demonstrated some of the barriers that class-and-knowledge based language differences can present in just relating, never mind information-gathering.  It’s a problem with many dimensions and implications, I find.


Writing a Research Question

Hello Everyone,

I'm going to go back a little bit for this entry and talk about Luker's Chapter 4 and her discussion of translating general ideas into a research question. She uses the analogy of an intellectual cocktail party, different groups focusing on different conversations and having to find a way to insert yourself into a conversation. I am still concerned with being original in my research proposal. Everything I think of seems to have already been done. I'm really struggling with finding a way to make my research stick out from everybody else's. In my undergraduate degree I did my research on Afghan-Canadians and ethnic identity and it was a really original topic. Afghan-Canadians hadn't been researched extensively at all and my literature review consisted of studies done on other immigrant groups. I'm looking for that same spark of originality that I had with my undergraduate research but it seems to be eluding me.

Hope your proposals are going well!


Monday, October 11, 2010

A Public Service Concerning the Passive Voice in your SSHRC Proposal and Writing in General

In a word, no.

Or, to take a more moderate view, as little as possible. The frequent use of the passive voice is the sign of a writer whose command over English is dubious at best. Why? Passive verbs put your prose into reverse, front-loading your sentences with objects and trailing a bunch of agents out the back. They sap your prose of its swiftness and attack. Let's look at some examples, invented for the sake of instruction, and some possible alternatives.



My methodology is founded on pioneering research by Smith.

You can spot the passive construction in the combination of the passive verb and the agent ("is founded on . . . by Smith"). Here's an active version:

Smith's pioneering research is the foundation of my methodology.

Better. But it emphasizes Smith's research and not the author's methodology. Let's try some another version:

I will base my methodology on the pioneering research by Smith.

Probably better. This version makes the author into the actor.



Metadata is defined as "data about data" that enables users and researchers in the discovery process" (Smith and Wilson 45).

It's a ghastly sentence for a number of reasons. Besides the presence of the passive voice, there is enable, one of those awkward verbs that never sounds human. Here's an active version that clears up some of the problems:

Smith and Wilson define metadata as "data about data" that helps users and researchers in the discovery process (45).

Or start with your subject:

Metadata is "data about data" that helps users and researchers in the discovery process (Smith and Wilson 45).

Much better. But I'm still not happy with this sentence. The clause feels clunky. In any case, the elimination of the passive voice is a significant improvement.



"I argue that relations between readers and e-book retailers are shaped by processes of economics and demographics."


"I argue that economic and demographic processes shape the relationship between readers and e-book retailers."

The difference is clear. Don't be afraid to use a present indicative verb ("shape") in your writing if it matches the tense of your topic. Its power comes from its clarity and directness. Note that I also changed "processes of economics and demographics" into a leaner phrase.

Of course, in spite of these various examples, you can use passive constructions without mangling your prose. Sometimes they work quite well, and some sentences sound better in the passive voice. However, if you notice that you're using passive constructions in paragraph after paragraph or, worse, sentence after sentence, then it's time to edit aggressively. Your readers will thank you.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Just thinking..

When I was reading about Horvat and Antonio's study of African American girls in an elite high school in Chapter 3 of Knight, I thought about it in the context of the distinction that was made between empathy and sympathy. As the research being done was about unequal power distribution, sympathy was present. I thought about how an interviewer sharing their views with the interviewee, while perhaps seeming to 'lose objectivity', might engage people to expound views that they have but have not voiced without being prompted due to the fact that they are (in this case) a racialized group. This then led me to think about the interviewer's expectations when conducting interviews. In this case study, the subject matter was not neutral, and thus would cause some to believe that the data produced from such interviews would lose credibility. From my perspective, these interviews could only be conducted in such a fashion. The findings of a study like this are both anticipated and the motivation for doing the research. There is an idea that they will find that their is an inequality and they disagree with this inequality as the motivation for their research. It is not neutral. Is the information produced less valid when sympathy (if we are distinguishing it from empathy) is used in interviews? What is the measure for that?
Chapter 3 of the small-scale research by knight, helped me to understand the face to face inquiry methods that the researcher used in the proposal example 2. And I think that the researcher using observation in a lightly structured method with open questions. Also I noticed the same research method in the “D. Gauntlet’s Lego Serious Play Research”, week 4 reading. In both cases the study is explanatory, in a way that points to areas to explore in conversations with people.
Need to say after reading this week materials and rethinking about my own research, I decided to reframe my research study to a smaller subject to be more concise and productive in the research methodology. It will be community related and I am making my list of prompts to discuss with other colleagues in different department of the library.   

Feedback and its mediation

I was struck by the centrality of feedback in some recent methodological discussions. David Gauntlett, having invited people to model their identity in Lego bricks, observes that people need time to think about their models and reflect on the meanings embedded in them. He concludes that people need "reflective time to construct knowledge." Peter Lunt and Sonia Livingstone, in their article Rethinking the Focus Group in Media and Communications Research, point out that feedback is part of the "new, critical approach to methodology that emphasizes empowering and respecting respondents as participants in the research process" (80). Interestingly, Gauntlett represents feedback as a conclusion of his research—it's an essential part of identity formation—which happens to confirm his method. Lunt and Livingstone represent feedback as an ethical quality of modern research.

Looking closer at Gauntlett's Lego experiment, we can see that the model itself acts as feedback. For example, he says that some people "balance" their design, building new elements in a discursive relationship with elements that they have already built. In this case, the feedback is not mediated by the researcher, perhaps increasing the validity of the findings. However, saying that the 'feedback is not mediated by the researcher' is not the same thing as saying that the feedback is not mediated. Obviously, the feedback is mediated by Lego. To what extent do the Lego pieces themselves suggest certain qualities or options? After all, they are meant to be connected together in very orderly and symmetrical ways. How does the symmetry of Lego pieces affect someone's desire to achieve "balance" in his or her model? At the same time, note that many people build their Lego models on a large base, effectively linking the various elements into a unified whole. How does that influence their model and our 'reading' of their model?


Face-to-face methods

Knight provides a no frill anatomy of face-to-face inquiry methods. Read alone however (and self-evidently), as the bracket of methods at researchers’ disposal could limit the variety of techniques which comprise a more holistic, intelligent, flexible framework for analysis and subsequently, a clearer understating of a given area of inquiry. For example, combining the data from a flexible interview protocol with quantitative data on the same topic can add a human dimension to the study and shed light on the meaning of numbers so to speak.  I am not suggesting that Knight is being negligent; however, it is important for researchers to consider not only the pros and cons of different face-to-face inquiry methods, but also their pros and cons in relation to methods outside of the bracket of face-to-face methods. I believe this is sometimes referred to as the triangulation method of doing research and has proven to be a fruitful approach. For example, unless the researcher has an omnipotent sort of knowledge of the topic of the interview, then she or he will have to triangulate the data collected with other methods for understanding the topic at hand. This last point (triangulation) is actually discussed later on in Knight, which highlights the point that this chapter ought not to be read in isolation. Nonetheless, it does serve the useful purpose of providing a good anatomy of face-to-face methods.    

Food for Thought

For the past few weeks, I have been working on my application for the Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS). Like the SSHRC proposal, there are strict guidelines, limited space and a lot of hard work. I thought that because I have already written a SSHRC proposal, and was going to be proposing the same research, that writing my OGS research proposal would be easier. In a sense it was easier because I already knew what I wanted to research however, it turned out to be way more difficult than I had ever anticipated. The biggest challenge I faced was trying to fit my two page SSHRC proposal and one page bibliography into a single page. I remember when writing my SSHRC, the difficulties I had fitting my information into the page limit and now I had to cut that down by more than half! I had a very hard time gauging what was important, what message I wanted the committee to receive and what I ultimately wanted to focus on.

The reading in Knight this week really helped me with my dilemma but not in the way I think Knight intended it to. When Knight was discussing the different options of face to face research and the pros and cons of each, I was attracted to the sections where Knight discussed how to figure out what was relevant when doing research. I believe if I use similar methods in deciding what is most relevant, not only in my OGS proposal but also when I start researching for my end of term research proposal, I will be able to research more effectively. And that is the point of this course isn't it?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Gradually synthesizing

In the three lectures so far some big questions have arisen -- the nature or at least the form of truth, the methodology paradigms and who asks the questions, of whom, and how, and now the big nut (that may be hard to crack before midnight!) – what’s our own interest? and how can it be defined in an essential question? 

Some of the information that has been raining down on us in these first three weeks is starting to coalesce into some kind of synthesis though.  In INF1003, highlighting the progression from data > information > knowledge gave me a useful framework for analysing some of that “information,” much of which was actually only data for me initially.  Having integrated and organized some of it now, I can think more usefully about how information becomes knowledge, and that that process is both the process of learning something, and of being able to apply, manipulate or expand it into related or entirely other areas. 

The data that our key question may generate has to become information before it will transmute into the knowledge that might provide new insights or solutions to perceived problems.  But long before we get to that point, it seems that the process of generating a meaningful question is the same – data (our multitude of thoughts, observations, interests and inclinations, not to mention all the feelings that go along with them), has to be processed into coherency, out of which the question/s will emerge.

We hope!