Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Technologies and Art in Qualitative Research: How they are similar

Today I had a productive dog walk.  Yes, there she is--the little minx. 
Where the walk took me, in my head, was about the issue of working in technology and working in art--design problems--and how I solve them in both. 

What got me started on this was thinking about the ongoing argument between NVivo and Atlas-ti (and probably others of these forms of software).  Atlas-ti insists it is not hierarchical, but works in a more phenomenological way.  NVivo says--"I can do that too.  Try my free nodes."  As I watched Suzanne Freise demonstrating Atlas-ti at the Qualitative computing conference in Istanbul, I realized she was using naming strategies to achieve what NVivo does with tree nodes.  It was a work around that I used once upon a time in NVivo 2 to create categories and lists in the forms I wanted.

I'm not bringing this up to argue one direction or the other, but more to muse on the role of work arounds in technology.  What happens when we come up against a barrier or a limit with a tool?  How do we manipulate it, reshape it, do something to get to our desired goal? 

This reminded me of the challenges that had been set for me in art class (Contemporary Practices at the Essex Art Center with Cathy McLaurin).  We were presented with many design challenges.  I remember when we had to bring in a kitchen object.  I brought in a kind of European vegetable grater.  I had to draw it multiple times--the little holes, their shadows, the handle--it was a lot for someone with limited drawing skills.  But then I was required to make the object in a different material--I chose cardboard and aluminum foil, and it never really resembled the original. 

However, this process--of a design challenge--has much in common with what happens when I try to work out a technology work around.  AND, it also closely resembles what happens in coding in qualitative research.  I have to focus in on the features, analyze what is there, look at it from many angles.  I must extract what appears to me to be the significant feature for the task I am trying to accomplish.  This is a choice, that sets other choices aside.  It puts some features in one box and some in another--I don't call this hierarchical, I call this selecting, boxing, containerizing, clustering.  My mind can only deal with so much. 

So that's what happens on a dog walk.  

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