Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The New Research Paradign is NOT Mixed Methods: It's Inclusion

A segment of a social networkImage via WikipediaIt's strange to wake up and think, "Oh, I've had a blog."  But that is what happened this morning.

I was giving thought to the wonderful team I am working with on the Sexting and Teens project...and that led me to thinking about how it was different in nature and quality from the structure and qualities of so many other research various kinds of research projects that try to 'work across the aisle' (as in mixed methods)...which led me to think about dissertation committees...and then that led me to thinking about  the work I have done over the past two years as an Associate at the UML Center for Women and Work...and now as a participant in their new Emergent Scholars program for undergraduates. 

What it brings me to is that I think in addition to all of the other revolutions our world is engaged in, we are also undergoing the throes of a paradigm shift in the ways we consider research methodology.  We are shifting from the old reality in which single disciplines dominated, hand-in-hand with single methodological approaches.  I find these studies to be, what I would call, descriptively based.  This is the world in which the separate divisions of qualitative research grew up--grounded theory, case study, ethnography, symbolic interactionism.

The new paradigm of research is highly interdisciplinary in subject matter, and highly integrative in methodology.   It is grounded in complexity and is what, I would call, as problem-based.  It requires far more community to find the answers--a community of researchers working in and with communities of users/experiencers.  It is driven by the factors that are driving so much of world change:  globalization, new technologies, new forms of visualization. 

Currently, we are passing through a hybrid stage that we refer to as "Mixed Methods".  It mixes the best and worst of both worlds. 

I think one dark side of the old paradigm is that it leaned toward the exclusionary--exclusion of other disciplines, exclusion of other methods, purism in methodological perspectives.  In this world, you were valued when you are pure.  You were valued when surrounded by others who are just like you.  When you leave those enclaves you needed to be wary...which leads to be prickly.  Micro and macro discrimination were prevelant around methodology. 

The light side of the new paradigm as I have experienced it is inclusion.  As a qualitative researcher, I feel included, honored, and valued.  I can be part of research discussions addressing a range of topics with a range of methodologies and I feel that my methodological approach is valued.  I can be expert in what I am expert in, and don't have to prove expertise in every other kind of methodology because to solve the problem, understand the phenomenon we all have to pitch in and bring what we have.  

This is not to say that single discipline, single method studies are suddenly useless or to be denigrated, but the ground is shifting under our feet and as research methodologists we will need to be able to enter these new environments.  I like the fact that I can be expert (a qualitative research) and be valued in an interdisciplinary group.  I like the fact that in these new environments the various kinds of blatent and less blatent discrimination that has been practiced against my kind is not considered acceptable. 

But this creates a dilemma...because now I also have to come up to the mark myself and practice inclusion, not exclusion.  This is a dirty secret that qualitative researchers would rather not say much about, but it is also there. 

Many, many thanks to the members of these research teams/groups/experiences that are inclusively moving forward. 

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