Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Beautiful

For a while, a long while, I've been nervous about how I would weave together the 14 stories of the participants in my dissertation study. Would I be able to pull out all the nuances successfully? Would I leave out crucial information? What if I totally miss the mark on something?  

But today, as I code the 13th of 14 interviews, I realize something pretty basic, but also is easy to lose sight of during this process: It's all right there in the text. The participants are telling me the story. I don't need to make up this stuff. The information is all in there. I just need to organize it, present the findings, and finish it up. This is BEAUTIFUL. 

In rereading these paragraphs, some of what I've written seems really stupid and basic. But when I think about it, it's not stupid. I've read a gazillion articles and books on data analysis, and I haven't really seen anyone discussing the natural, and admittedly emotional, process that I'm seeing occur as I'm getting deeper and deeper into this analysis. Hell, maybe I just missed it (that's definitely possible!). The connections among the participants are suddenly just leaping off the page and coming together into related containers, like nesting Tupperware (wait, it's not sudden at all: I've been doing this for a YEAR). Researchers talk about using a constructivist epistemology, meaning that we make meaning of the world by creating our learning structures around us and understanding the nature of how we know based on what we're creating. OK, OK, I get it. I guess that's a fancy way of saying, "No shit Sherlock! Now that you're intimate with your data, don't you see that this connection should happen HERE, and that one happens over THERE?" It's natural. This isn't a contrived process, and for some reason I guess I thought it was. I guess I've interpreted the data-analysis articles as building a series of steps that must or should be taken in order for the analysis to be Successful. But it isn't lock-step. Again, it's just natural. 

Funny, I don't recall reading anywhere that the researchers need to lose themselves in the data analysis, be taken away by it, become part of it, and learn from it. But only when that happens can we really understand what's happening in the data. It's all about intimacy. Why is that missing from the data analysis literature??

I see the problem here: how the hell does a researcher TEACH this process in an article? In a textbook? How do you write about becoming intimate with your data in way that researchers will appreciate? I guess I can understand the problem now, but still...seems like a big hole out there to me. And I'm talking about both qualitative and quantitative processes here. I feel like I can only truly know enough to write about data results once I know every inch, nook, and cranny of these interviews. I'd likely say the same thing about a set of numeric survey results, too. OK. Rant over. Guess I know what I'll be writing about in my budding scholarly career. haha. 

In spite of the fact that this post turned into a bit of a rant, I'm in a good place today. I'm feeling like this dissertation is just a big paper due at the end of the semester. And it's only September. Why wouldn't I finish this on time?

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Really good thinking, Rob...you have a wonderful way of writing what you think. I can't wait to read the finished product....
xo mom

EA said...

Yeah! This sounds like great progress!!

I'm surprised you didn't read about intimacy in the analysis literature you covered. I don't know if it was my advisor or the literature I read, but I seemed to come across that concept everywhere. "Read the interviews repeatedly, become intimately understanding of them..."