Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Qualitative Research Network at UMass-Lowell: Brown Bag on "Giving Birth to Theory in Qualitative Research: Adolescents and the Sexting Continuum"

Land and SeaImage by Sally L. Smith via FlickrThe UMass-Lowell Qualitative Research Network sponsored its third brown bag for the Fall 2011 semester (November 8, 2011: 12:30-1:30).  We (the Sexting Project) were the featured project.

The Sexting Project is a three-state, interdisciplinary study of teens views of sexting (and the parents and educators who work with them).  It was funded by the Department of Criminal Justice.  We are about 2/3's through our data collection activities (surveys and focus groups).  We have collected data from 20 youth focus groups (123 individuals); 4 parent focus groups (5 more to go); and we still have 3 groups of educators and criminal justice professionals to interview. 

Our focus for the brown bag discussion was "Giving Birth to Theory in Qualitative Research:  Adolescents and the Sexting Continuum".  The topic was an answer to the hardball question musicologist Alan Williams lobbed at me at the end of the last brown bag--"How do you create a theory from your qualitative research data?" 

To explore the question, our group decided to trace the evolution of our notion of the sexting continuum.  The sexting continuum is our understanding of teens' responses to why sext?  We were surprised to learn that many had positive or unagressive reasons that they thought one might sext (you don't get pregnant or std's, for example).  On the opposite end, there was limited discussion from teens about overtly agressive behavior in regard to sexting.  The teens we talked to were not at all interested in relationships with strangers on the Internet...their connections were about people they knew.

What was very interesting is that the largest category was the squishy stuff in the middle--that wasn't quite one or the other--it implied agression or coercion, but teens were reluctant to label it that way.  Instead, they talked about joking with each other, trying to attract someone. 

So, the continuum is our theory that is growing as we delve more deeply into the data and talk with others about the meaning of what we are finding. 

Those who attended raised some very interesting questions that included:
  • thinking about the narratives in which sexing is embedded (discourse formations)
  • thinking about the technological literacy that is required of teens
  • the notion of sexting as a rite of passage
  • the aesthetics of sexting (how do people chose how to present themselves in these situations)
What was very exciting for me was to hear our two Emergent Scholars on the project, talk about the work they have been doing.  They did a great job describing how they were working with the project in NVivo and what they were learning about research in the process.  Nice job Mary Ann and Lindsay.

 Thanks also to Shanna, our fantastic graduate assistant, and the special insight she brings to the work.

We have two great talks coming up in the second part of the semester...more on that next!  

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