Sunday, September 26, 2010
One of readings from INF1001 contains a rather mundane observation about ethnography that has curious implications. In The Internet: An Ethnographic Approach, Daniel Miller and Don Slater note that "ethnography means a long-term involvement amongst people" (21). How long? They provide a number of examples: one year, eighteen months, five weeks (plus fifteen months). They refer to eleven years of total research at one point. In one of the INF1240 readings, Knight says that he ran a two-year study (37). Knight also introduces us to longitudinal studies that follow subjects for decades (37). Presumably, a decades-long study could have different researchers at the end than it had at the beginning. This raises an interesting question: are they all doing the same research? I mean, are they all committed to the same research question and methodology? For the sake of argument, I would say no. A researcher in 2010 can't look at a project that was designed in 1970 and think, "this research is exactly right." This scenario makes me wonder if a project can change over its lifetime. How much can it change without breaking the whole thing?
You may wonder what this scenario has to do with small-scale research. Well, imagine that you spend two years in the jungles of Manhattan, ethnographically recording the behaviour of people who sell fake designer articles on the street. Are you the same person at the end of the project that you were at the beginning? Are your concerns the same? Are your questions the same? Do you have a closet full of fake designer clothing?
You get the idea. Somehow, as researchers, we have to observe ourselves while we observe our subjects. We have to record the ways that we change. It matters, to my mind, because we can't give a faithful account of our research unless we can give a faithful account of ourselves.
I am still mulling over the tremendous amount of material and discussion of this week. Last Monday’s class on the history of social science research methods and theory started the week off with a substantial chunk of Things To Think About (TTTA for short!).
In considering the historical and ongoing social influences on methods and approaches, I found in Said’s term “orientalism” a useful crystallization of some key issues. The definitions we have to think about in doing research, of subject, information, classification, knowledge, knowledge preservation, etc etc -- all these terms and many other tools of the scholarly professions are linked to culture, power, our relations to power, unconscious belief systems -- as Stephen Jay Gould so chillingly explored in The Mismeasure of Man, a book that was very illuminating for me on those often invisible assumptions and positions.
So I am still thinking along the lines of examining our own influences and conditioning and how they affect our observations and interpretations, as a preliminary to being able to choose useful research approaches and/or questions.
I am reading the other blogs with interest, but they present a lot of information that I can’t assess or process at the moment!
Saturday, September 25, 2010
When Kristen Luker was describing the way in which libraries are set up using systems, I was brought back to my undergraduate days. I quickly realized in my History degree that having a concise and smart- as Luker mentioned- research plan, I could save myself many headaches and panic attacks. As I built up my research methods, and am continuing to do so, I remember the time I came across the fact that books were placed on the shelf in terms of subject. Not only did I begin to save myself time but also found many books that my feeble online searches had not produced. However as quickly as I realized how well this worked for books, I was hit by the fact that finding journal articles would not be as simple. I have since struggled with finding a similarly smart way of searching through journal articles. However, the Luker chapters this week have given me some great tools to hone my skills as a researcher and to find those elusive journal articles related to my research question.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Coming from a philosophy background, I am interested in epistemology- how we come to know what we know and what constitutes as knowledge. In relation to Karl's post, I feel that historiography ties in really well with this course. Much like historiography is the study of the discipline of doing history and the methods used to create history so to speak, we will be evaluating the discipline of doing research by comparing and contrasting the many different approaches to social research. History is so complicated because there is a desire to complete a picture of the past on the part of historians, when this task is impossible. Drawing on a number of different resources, both objective and subjective, there are inevitably gaps. I found it interesting that Karl touched on the notion that many historical documents that survive had nothing to do with objective record keeping. The leap from using documents that are fractions of social life to the creation of knowledge of social reality of a period in time being studied is something that should continually be subject to scrutiny. I am getting close to that word limit, so I will wrap this up. I just wanted to say that it seems as though research in the social sciences perhaps has more to do with asking the right questions and realizing that there isn’t necessarily an objective answer to the questions we ask. Perhaps ‘knowledge’ is more complicated than right/wrong objective/subjective dichotomies.
I'm finding the Luker book to be extremely helpful so far. I did my undergrad in Sociology so I obviously appreciate Luker's sociological references. During my undergrad I took a qualitative research methods course and ended up conducting a study on Afghan-Canadian youth and ethnic identity through the use of interviews. This has definitely caused me to be biased in favour of a qualitative approach and I really agreed with Luker's criticisms of survey methods. I found that my interviews yielded such a wealth of information that I would not have been able to get through a survey. For example, when I asked participants flat out if they had ever experienced discrimination nearly all of them said that they had not. Throughout the course of the 1-3 hour interviews, however, I often discovered that many of my subjects had difficulty finding jobs, had been called derogatory names by people on the streets, and sometimes felt excluded from "Canadian culture". A survey would have simply indicated that Afghan immigrants do not experience discrimination. That being said, I am intrigued by the concept of a middle ground between qualitative and quantitative methods. I'm interested in learning more about quantitative research and how I can combine it with my qualitative training to produce a more complete picture of an issue. What type of experience does everyone else have with research? Does anyone have a preference for qualitative or quantitative methods?
Have a good night and see you all in class tomorrow morning!
I was surprised to see that Kristin Luker mentions historians in her book, Salsa Dancing into the Social Sciences (18, 25). I have been wondering, in an amateur way, how research methods from the social sciences may be applied to historical social life. For those who are interested in contemporary social life, which is unfolding today, my curiosity may seem pointless. Consider, though, that contemporary social life is often historical already, encountered just after the fact. Consider, as well, that contemporary social life could be an image or performance of a reality that no longer exists. (Think of someone who, for example, goes to a social event that is boring or unpleasant because he or she did so in the past.) We are always slightly downstream, so to speak, from the "contemporary." When we study social life, we are studying history.
The consequences of being downstream may be minor, particularly in the case of ethnography. Yet many of our research methods involve memory. Interviews, focus groups, and questionnaires depend on the memories of our subjects: historical circumstances, events, relationships, and feelings. Are memories of recent events more reliable than memories of old events? How do we weight the difference, if there is one, between the memory of last week and the memory of last year? To complicate matters further, if we're interested in the distant past, then many people whom we may wish to interview are dead. If we want to compare the present to the distant past, then there's a good chance that our research methods are going to look like apples and oranges. Should we, in that case, restrict our study of the present to methods that can be used to study the past?
Of course, dead people leave traces. We can examine census data, insurance maps, letters, business records, and ephemera by means of text or discourse analysis. We could also use quantitative methods. But historical records, or "life documents" in Luker (25), represent only a fraction of social life, and the records that remain often survive for reasons that have nothing to do with objective record-keeping. They survive for political reasons, institutional reasons, personal reasons, and accidental reasons. Those reasons can change over time. Moreover, the history of books shows us that many records change over time: words are altered, sections are added or deleted, translations are made, and so on. Finally, those who have studied literature are familiar with the 'unreliable narrator' whose performance of a narrative hides as much as it reveals. The problems of historical documents are analogous to the gap between researchers and subjects that plagues surveys (43). Does our 'reading' of a document match that of its creator? Does a document really answer the questions that we ask?
Can we use social science methods to study historical social life? To a certain extent, we have no choice. The cost is that our methods may seem excessively rhetorical and our generalizations excessively presumptuous. At the same time, it seems important to remember that the problems associated with historical research, problems of memory and documentation, are not just problems for historians.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
I can't really describe what he does, but it sounds like nothing else: "I specialize in taking teams of concept/industrial designers, psychologists, usability experts, sociologists, and ethnographers into the field and, after a fair bit of work, getting them home safely. The tough part of the job is in using the data to inform, inspire and affect how my colleagues think and what they do, and in turning research into products, services and core intellectual property that underpins the future business." Most of his posts are small, thought-provoking, sometimes puzzling observations about technology and culture. It's not academic or scholarly, but it's always interesting. Why is it relevant? Well, it's the by-product of real field research. And he has a "methods" section, which shifts the focus to research itself.
At the beginning of this week my main concern was to collect and assimilate the information that would get me to the right place at the right time. Once I was in those right places though there was of course a whole lot more to do than just be there -- information descended in a steady flow, occasionally becoming a deluge, and at some heady moments, tricky rapids.
Our first Research Methods lecture left me feeling first exhilarated – all that orderly knowledge waiting to become part of my understanding! -- then anxious; so many skills to acquire, and so little time to do it in.
Now it’s the end of the week. I survived the gruelling schedule of Information Tuesdays. The tutorials elucidated some of the mysteries – particularly of INF1003. On Thursday a tour of the Inforum opened yet more information doors. Could sense evolve from so much over so few days? After the tour I sat down with a book – an actual physical book—and to my great relief found that words on pages still spoke volumes. After the first chapter of Luker I was smiling; this, I thought, is a great lifeboat. She is offering not only an approach to research, but to graduate school survival! Thank you to Kristin Luker for writing the book, and to Professor Grimes for choosing it as a course text.
And now I haven written and posted my first ever online piece! Information has become knowledge, and knowledge, I hope, will eventually become understanding.
Thank you to Maggie for setting this up, and to Rustam for creating the mailing list and kicking us off on the blog.
Friday, September 17, 2010
For example the dicipline in qualitative research in digital world's innovations go beyond our experiences. We need to look at the historical aspect of it and ask questions such as: how and why has it started? And how has it developed?
In my oppinion we need to commence our research based on the bibliographics record. Also narrowing down the subject in different areas make it more feasible.
By: Nahid Azari-Haghighat