Monday, March 15, 2010

Memos and Qualitative Research: Kathy Charmaz

String TheoryImage by darkmatter via Flickr
Since I started this blog I've written several entries about visual memos.  For some time I've meant to look at the discussion of memos/memoing in texts that I consider classics in this area to see how these descriptions might help me understand what I am trying to get at with the visual memo.  So here are some of my favorites on memoing:

Charmaz, K.(2006).   Constructing grounded theory: A practical guide through qualitative analysis.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Sage Publications.

Emerson, R., Fretz,R., Shaw, L. (1995).  Writing ethnographic fieldnotes.  University of Chicago Press. 

Maxwell, J. (2005).  Qualitative research design:  An interactive approach (2nd ed.).  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. 

Miles, M. & Huberman, A.M. (1994).  Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Sage Publications.

(Oops...just realized I left out one of my favorites by Anslem Strauss--I'll catch up with that one later.)

Today I am going to write about one of these:  Kathy Charmaz's discussion of memos. 

"Memo-writing" is the title of Chapter 4 in Charmaz's book.  It is an elegant description of memos in grounded theory.  It will really give you shivers. 

"Memos catch your thoughts, capture the comparisons and connections you make, and crystallize questions and directions you want to purse."  (p. 72)
Here are some of the functions memos fill for her:
  • "conversing with yourself" (p. 72)
  • "explicate and fill out categories" (p72) 
  • "serve as the analytic core" for subsequent writing (p.76)
Her primary advice in creating memos is to "do what works for you" (p. 80) and "...engage a category, let your mind rove freely in, around, under, and from the category..." (p. 81)

Charmaz explores the ways the techniques that writers of many sorts employ to get themselves off the ground--clustering, freewriting, etc.--can all serve the qualitative researcher at the stage of memo writing.

She gives special attention to "Using memos to raise focused codes to conceptual categories" (91)  This seems to me key in thinking about the ways memos can assist in the refinement process, that is, the process of making a clump of data into something called evidence--that's like spinning flax into gold. 

One thing that cannot be ignored in talking about memos and qualitative research is that the discussion of memos is always right in the middle, squished between data collection and coding on one side...and products, representations, and presentations on the other side.  Memos, in the written textual mode, are always about refinement of raw data and leveraging preliminary interpretations.  As Charmaz says, the construction of the memo is the "pivotal intermediate step between data collection and writing drafts of papers" (72). 

For the novice researcher, I think that the notion of memos is hidden behind flashy things that catch their attention like coding or interviewing--things that stand out as if they have neon lights on them.  Memos, for the qualitative research connossieur, however, are like a fine wine.  They are swished around in the mouth and savored!  The tastes are subtle and learned.

I think I will stop here with Charmaz and take on another one of the classic memoists next. 

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1 comment:

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