Monday, March 30, 2009

A Mixed Marriage Or: Having Your Cake and Eating it Too

Grounded Theory, as Ian Dey points out, contains unresolved tensions coming from its origins in rival traditions. Glaser came from Columbia University and brought the rigor associated with quantitative survey methods. Numbers serve as facts that tell generalizable truths. Strauss, however, came from the University of Chicago, and his background was in "symbolic interactionism" and its tradition of qualitative research. The following is a encapsulation of symbolic interactionism from wikipedia:

Herbert Blumer (1969), who coined the term "symbolic interactionism," set out three basic premises of the perspective:

  1. "Human beings act toward things on the basis of the meanings they ascribe to those things."
  2. "The meaning of such things is derived from, or arises out of, the social interaction that one has with others and the society."
  3. "These meanings are handled in, and modified through, an interpretive process used by the person in dealing with the things he/she encounters."

Blumer, following Mead, claimed that people interact with each and other by interpret[ing] or 'defin[ing]' each other's actions instead of merely reacting to each other's actions. Their 'response' is not made directly to the actions of one another but instead is based on the meaning which they attach to such actions. Thus, human interaction is mediated by the use of symbolssignification, by interpretation, or by ascertaining the meaning of one another's actions (Blumer 1962). Blumer contrasted this process, which he called "symbolic interaction," with behaviorist explanations of human behavior, which don't allow for interpretation between stimulus and response.

As Dey summarizes, "In the marriage of these two traditions, it was intended to harness the logic and rigor of quantitative methods to the rich interpretive insights of the symbolic interactionist tradition" (25). These two traditions are described as "naturalistic inquiry" and "variable analysis." Dey points out that later interpreters of Grounded Theory have leaned more toward the symbolic interactionist side of this marriage and bemoaned the quantitative roots of Grounded Theory. Naturalistic inquiry is valued for its ability to provide rich and deep interpretation that is contextually based, while variable analysis "facilitated easy measurement" and variables that were "consistent and stable" (27). How can this fixed and rational logic of variable analysis be married with naturalistic inquiry? Dey sets out to explain how Glaser and Strauss accomplish this strange blending of methodologies. His first explanation sets out the broad approach of Glaser and Strauss: "They locate inquiry in naturalistic settings, focused on interaction and its interpretation; and they construe analysis in terms of the identification of categories (variables?) and their relationships" (27). So inquiry and data gathering are purely qualitative, but when it comes to analyzing this data, it becomes more fixed and quantitative in nature. Can this be?

Dey identifies two bridges G&S create to make this marriage work. The first is the use of Categories as a "means of mediating between transient interpretations on the one hand and stable conceptualization on the other" (27). The term "categories" is used instead of variables or values. The second bridge Dey identifies is their notion that "theory can be grounded as it is generated" (27). Fluid concepts can be fixed through this back and forth interpretation between theory and data (the "constant comparative method"). The word G&S have for this connection between concepts (that indicate or lead to theory) and data is "sensitizing" (28). That means that these concepts "remain meaningful in the context of everyday interaction" (28).

Many problems, as Dey points out, exist with this strange mixing of methodologies, but I find I am attracted to GT because it seeks this hybrid goal toward knowledge. If one views GT from a strictly qualitative view point, I can see that they would miss the generalizable ambitions of GT. I believe everything is context-dependent; however, many similarities still exist across contexts and should be acknowledges as well. How come the hero has a thousand faces? Yet, how can we acknowledge and include the rich variety and influence of specific contexts? Can't we find a way to acknowledge both?

I think it is this mixed marriage found uneasily within the roots of GT that attracts me to this methodology. It does seek some generalizable truths (especially as the researcher moves from substantive to formal theory), and it has faith in systematic rigor for revealing truth, yet it must still be sensitized and matched with specific contexts. I need to feel out this paradoxical epistemology that seems to be at the heart of GT and think more about what that way of knowing and seeing the world means. I'm uncomfortable with an extremely context-dependent view of truth, yet I don't believe a transcendent truth that is devoid of context completely. There must be some middle ground.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Facing up to issues in grounded theory research --preconceived frameworks and verification

"The very attraction of grounded theory may lie in the way it obliges us--because of its commitment to theory--to face up to some fairly basic issues about the nature of social research. If we accept the elementary (but awkward) principle that to do research requires reflection on what we are doing and how we do it, at the very least we should try to confront and clarify these issues." Grounding Grounded Theory (1999), Ian Dey p. 24

This is the first of a number of posts I will make discussing grounded theory and my own interpretation of the methodology. As Dey points out, there are a "plurality of 'interpretations'" of grounded theory that seem to fall into three camps: 1) the orthodoxy of Glaser, 2) the safe schemas of Strauss and Corbin, or 3) the doctrine of dimensionality of Schatzman. I have increasingly developed a sense of what grounded theory is through reading, but as I do more reading in preparation actually to perform the methods of grounded theory analysis, I feel that I need to coalesce some of my thinking. That's what these posts will be, and I anticipate that they will continue through the researching process.

I want to talk about two questions that Dey raises at the end of his first chapter in the book cited above. Here's the first one:

--How much scope does grounded theory allow for adopting preconceived frameworks as an aid to analysis?

This question is, of course, the source of the big break between Glaser and Strauss (and Corbin). Glaser adheres to the principle that the researcher should lay aside all preconceptions and theories as they analyze data. This question gets at the scope that will be allowed for adopting preconceived conceptual frameworks. This doesn't necessarily mean a particular theory but simply the use of ANY frameworks ahead of time for understanding data.

It seems to me that the question is moot since it is impossible NOT to bring conceptual frameworks and even theories with us as we examine data. I suppose we could get too worked up over this point, but I very much have hinged my study on faulting previous theory building for creating that theory through deductive analysis of data based on outside theories. Theories to understand data. I want to go the other way--data to form a theory to understand the data. Thus, I think I need to side more in the camp with Glaer. One comment made in chapter 2 about categories seems relevant here: "Glaser and Strauss (1967, pp. 240-41) present categories as 'sensitizing' concepts that related meaningfully to the realities of interaction (as perceived by participants)" (28). I think the last part is significant. I need to key into as much as possible how my participants are seeing this interaction and representing it. The important thing is not my interpretation of the interaction, but their interpretation (or my interpretation of their interpretation). The data itself will indicate the concepts that will emerge.

Strauss and Corbin developed a particular method for "integrative coding" rather than allowing for broader possibilities for coding. Strauss and Corbin's "coding paradigm" followed conditions, context, action/interaction strategies, and consequences. This is what is referred to as "axiel coding." They believed the use of this coding paradigm "allowed data to be related systematically in complex ways" (Dey 11). I look at this paradigm and I am immediately reminded of Aristotle's Topoi. The topics from which the rhetor selects his or her arguments. I, personally, don't see a huge problem with applying these analytical heuristics to the data to see what they reveal. It seems that Strauss and Corbin are creating a more detailed procedure to guide coding data and analyzing it. Glaser would be more open an improvisational in his coding.

A bigger question regards how much will I bring in theories and preconceived ideas regarding rhetorical reflection into my analysis. Strauss and Corbin allow a number of different options for possibly using theory. My stance, I think, will be this:
--define my preconceived theories, ideas, and biases
--set them aside
--code with an open mind
--see what happens

I think in my initial pilot coding I will try to be "objective" and let the data speak. When I have what I hear the data saying I may then turn to my theory to give it a name or an explanation. I'll just have to feel out what I will do. From my reading of Strauss and Corbin, I believe they adopt this approach which is flexible and allows the use of theory if it seem appropriate. My thinking right now may reflect that I have read more from Strauss and Corbin than Glaser (other than the 1967 book). I have ordered three Glaser books to look at, so I may learn more about his approach and change my mind. For now, Strauss and Corbin seem to outline a better procedure to follow for doing the coding successfully (and systematically).

Second question:
What place has verification in grounded theory?

This question has significance for me because the current research design I will follow involves grounded theory analysis to develop a coding instrument and then a test to see how well this coding instrument is useful for analysis through a large scale content/rhetorical analysis of student reflective texts.

So I would generate and then verify--all in one dissertation study.

The issue of verification of theory for grounded theory is complex. Glaser's position is that verification has no place in grounded theory--it is a different methodology. Grounded theory takes two positions toward verification. One position is that verification is left to others researchers at a different time. Grounded theory's job is not verification, so it would go against this purpose of grounded theory to have a study that involved both generation and verification of theory. The second position of grounded theory regarding verification is that the theory generated from grounded theory contains implicit verification within it because it fits the data. There is no need to check the theory because these ideas are induced from the data--to verify the theory we need only look at the data. I believe I am oversimplifying things--as Dey mentions there is "ambivalence in grounded theory about the status of discovery and verification" (38). It is clear to me, as well, that "verification" has two different meanings in these two positions.

I am reluctant to make my own study a two part study where I generate and then verify. Not only would it possibly make my study very large and time consuming, but it would violate some of the principles of grounded theory methodology (it seems to me). Also, I conceive of my study as the initial stage of theory building where a more homogeneous set of data is examined. The second stage is to maximize differences in one's theoretical sampling to see how the theory becomes refined.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

What If?

What if the researchers into brain imaging talked about in this NPR story were to focus their research on the influence of "reflection" on brain function?

Reflection has this belief surrounding it--it is magical. It has super powers. It is almost as if we were to put students/people into the telephone booth of reflection, and POOF! Out they come with a new understanding, even perhaps with a transformed view of the world.

I have been gravitated to reflection because I see it as the central mediating factor for learning (and action). Mediation. What does that mean? It means it has to be added, it has to be passed through, it is the lever to make something happen. I have particularly associated it with the classical notion of phronesis or practical wisdom. It is the application of knowledge to particular contexts.

What if... we were able to do brain scans of people engaged in reflective thinking? What would it show? What parts of the brain would be stimulated? How would this brain function differ from other kinds of brain function?

Wouldn't it be amazing if I were to talk these researchers into studying the brain on reflection! It seems like it would be a good idea. Reflection has this high and hollowed place in the kingdom of thinking; surely researchers would be interested in studying these kinds of higher order brain functions.

Oh--and could we detail physiologically developmental differences in reflective thinking? To confirm the research from King and Kitchener. Wouldn't that matter? If we knew better what our students were capable of cognitively, wouldn't that matter? It seems to me that it would.

I'm just dreaming here. Maybe I should try a letter to these folks doing this brain scanning research just for grins. Maybe the social sciences can join hands with the hard sciences.

What if?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Zeroing in on Researching

My sights are now set on getting prepared to start my the actual grounded theory coding, so this post will be about planning. I have a window while my IRB is getting approved, so I need to take full advantage of that time.

IRB Window
--Rrice has draft, may need some edits, hopefully signed and to the IRB no later than 3/27
--IRB approval optimistically in 10 working days, but it could be more. IRB approval by 4/13-4/27?

So I have roughly three to six weeks to get ready. That's lots of time. To be honest, I should have had this IRB done in mid-January. Nevertheless, I will work within the constraints I have and try to make full use of this time.

Preparation Tasks: (not in any especial order)
  1. Secure access for Fred to copy of TOPIC from Susan
  2. Work with Fred and Rich for what I will want from the database and what might be my first slice of data
  3. Brainstorm and get input on just how I will approach this mountain of data--initially, the most important thing is to determine what will be my first slice of data
  4. Secure copies of each of the textbooks/curriculum guides for 1301/1302 for 2004-2006 (I have some of them already, but I think I have to scramble for the others). Review this curriculum.
  5. Review how to do grounded theory coding, perhaps practice a bit with other writing examples (maybe peer responses or something)
  6. Get a couple of other grounded theory analysis books via ILL
  7. Explore if I will use a qualitative analysis software program like ATLAS-TI or NVIVO and practice using the tool
  8. Do a theoretical bias inventory--that is, lay out my thoughts on what I think and the theories I have about rhetorical reflection. This must be carefully done. Which leads to next point--
  9. Investigate and get some help about how to code and balance one's theory and observations.
  10. Make a plan for what my "pilot" study will be--that is, what will I do (in a rigorous and systematic way...) to process my "pilot" study (which is my first slice of data)
  11. Make initial investigations about what might be possible eventually with larger scale "data-mining" within the database and the eventual qualitative analysis of quantitative data (I've had some correspondence with Gloria McMillan on this subject)
I think this is a pretty thorough list, and I'm glad I have a bit of time to prepare. If by chance you can spot any other things that might need to be done or specific suggestions for individual tasks, please let me know.

That's the plan for now. I'm going to tape it up on my wall...