Friday, October 14, 2011

Qual/Quant Dilemma: Post 2

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 05:  Leaves are stuc...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeI just deleted my last post, because as I continue to think about this issue I am beginning to create a more readable understanding of it.  What I am trying to do is understand how quantification is part of all thinking...from the most emic to the most etic perspective.  So here is my framework:

1.  Emic/Lived/Insider:  Embodied/Narrative quantification or logic

2.  Qualified Perspectives:  Semi-formalized quantification
-sits at the boundary between the emic/insider and the etic/outsider, meaning that it has privileged access to insider accounts AND to disciplinary and methodological discourses
-Semi-visible quantification or numerical accounts

3.  Quantified Perspectives:  Formal/Disembodied Logic
-this kind of research sits outside and at a distance from the naturalized account
-it focuses meaning within disciplinary and methodological accounts
-Fully visible quantification or numerical accounts

My notion of narrative or embodied logic/reasoning/theories is drawn from Lakoff and Johnson's work on the role of metaphor as the basis of thinking.  They demonstrate how metaphor is built from bodily experience of time, space, distance, speed--the very basics of being and organism moving in space...and this leads to metaphors and comparisons that undergird all thinking from the most mundane to the most complex.

My argument is that narrative or embodied reasoning is an act of quantification, meaning, thus, that all thinking is...we are identifying more and less, and from that forming patterns, describing size, shape, connection,  intersections--this is both algebraic and geometrical...underneath it all.  This ability to quantify (mathematicize) is in natural settings embodied, narrative, visual/observed...and is increasingly more formal, drawing upon resources of literature/methodologies/ and disciplines--what others have observed about what it is and how to understand it. 

An issue for qualitative researchers is that we are trying to distinguish ourselves from the pack--it's very clear what the difference is between the subject/participant...and the quantitative researcher, but we are sitting in the middle...with permeable margins on either side. 

Part of this difficulty is that on the margin/boundary between them (the participants/natives/subjects/objects of investigation) and ourselves...there may be very little difference.  People have always observed other people and commented upon their behavior.  People have studied social issues from the beginnings of time.  We are quite good at it...

Qualitative research formalizes this capacity with knowledge and tools related to a particular era.  It takes us a step away from the other, a slight bit of distance.  But in today's world, many people are serving as "lay" anthropologists and sociologists and doing a very good job of it.   They have access to the thinking/logic of qualitative research and they employ it, with or without a Ph.D. 

Rather than despairing about the fact that we may, as qualitative researchers, be actually indulging in a sport of quantification, I think we can exploit it to our benefit.  But it will require that we talk openly about our analytic processes.  Our tendency is to say--"It's a different paradigm."  "You couldn't possibly understand."  "It emerges."  "This is not quantifiable."  A lot of our arguments are recursive in nature.  I think we need to turn ourselves around and head back into the thicket where we think that lion is located...and see if it is really real? 

For instance, how do we locate patterns?  How do we translate text into code?  How do we move from emic understanding to the first 'qualified level' of distanced understanding?  What are we actually doing?

Critical to being able to do this is leveraging the new possibilities of transparancy that are available to us through digital tools.  Qualitative data analysis software (QDAS) offers us this opportunity, and so do other tools.  What would REAL transparancy look like in qualitative research?  

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