Qualitative Research What if everything we’ve learned so far is total crap?
WHAT WE’VE DONE IN THIS CLASS • The social science idea is that reality is out there, and we need symbols (numbers) to represent them. So we put numbers on things and worry a lot about measurement issues (reliability and validity and control and artificiality).
A BORING ALTERNATIVE • A BORING ALTERNATIVE: Stats focus on broad conclusions across a large number of people; they allow broad conclusions but lose depth. Example: If you study verbal aggression you ask very general statements, but you don’t learn the many different ways it can manifest itself. • So, you do either in-depth interviews, get open-ended data and try to make sense of it, or do something like focus groups. This is called “qualitative research.”
A COOL ALTERNATIVE: Ethnography. • An alternative thought is that language creates reality. Here’s a list of famous dead people you’ve need heard of (FDPYNHO): • Kant: Some but not all knowledge can be gained empirically • Husserl: Who we are and what we expect will shape how we view the world. “Phenomenology.”
MORE FAMOUS DEAD PEOPLE: • Weber: “Social action.” All knowledge must be communicated to be of value, and communication is always a social act, which is one subjective being trying to get a point across to another subjective being. That means it will always be subjective, and what you eventually get is a series of subjective interpretations of reality, but not a clear picture of reality itself. Plato called this “shadows on the cave wall.” • Schutz: (a) There’s a lot of reality out there, and we choose what to pay attention to. That’s always a subjective choice. (b) Reality is socially constructed; what we take reality to be (Iraq is evil) is a product of our own subjective experience and our culture (our own fear and our country’s way of viewing others).
HOW TO DO IT: • 1) Immerse yourself in a culture. Like “local anthropology.” Anthropologists go and live in an indigenous culture and report back; ethnographers live in local subcultures (like street gangs, or nursing homes, or hospitals, or steel mills, or clam bakes). • 2) Use induction (not deduction) and subjective experience. Take lots of field notes and tape recordings, video if you can get it. Called “participant observation.” • 3) Take all that experience, all those notes, and write it up in an “ethnography.” It’s a mix of literature and science.
DIFFERENT VERSIONS • The strong version: Social science is crap because (a) it’s ontologically flawed, and (b) it’s an abuse of power (you are stealing knowledge; why the hell does the British Museum need the bones of Native Americans?). Only ethnography is good, and what really matters is power. • The moderate version: All inquiry is good, and different approaches are better for different questions. Ethnography is good for questions like “What’s going on?” and social science is good for questions like “How much?” or “How often?” Example: Ethnography could tell that there was Dr/Patient power difference and how that showed up, a social scientist could code video tapes and see how often it happened, and measure health care outcomes. • Keep in mind that this should be its own class.