Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Urmitapa Dutta: "The Long Way Home" in Qualitative Inquiry

It's the end of the Fall Semester, and my doctoral qualitative research course was at the point of thinking about writing-up research.  They were reading about the possibilities qualitative research could offer for divesting themselves of the classical scientific paper design.  They were excited, but also daunted.  What would it look like to write something that didn't start with problem statement, question, and literature review before moving to methodology, results, and discussion.  They had read a lot of those over their years in the doctoral program, and at this point they were not sure they would have any legitimacy in they strayed from this pattern.

I heightened the tension by asking them to take a piece of data and turn it into one tiny creative piece of their choosing--poem, micro-story, drama, etc.  They shared the results, which were as interesting in and of themselves as were the stories of the processes of development. 

To give them a chance to learn from someone who had gone before, I had the brilliant idea of having them read a piece of research using creative non-fiction techniques to tell the story.  The piece I asked them to read was written by the smiling face to the left:  my colleague at University of Massachusetts Lowell, Assistant Professor Urmitapa Dutta of the Department of Psychology.  It was a great choice!  Not only that, Urmi was able to stop by the class and discuss the paper and her dissertation process (always of great interest to doctoral students who are reaching this point in their program).  What a wonderful evening! 

To share this experience with us, I suggest you read:

Dutta, U. (2014).  The long way home: The vicissitudes of belonging and otherness in Northeast India.  Qualitative Inquiry, Online version at: Sage Online Version

The article is a sophisticated and very intellectual exploration of issues related to the meaning of home and its loss, racial and ethnic differences and strife, and regional political and economic strife with global implications.

It is also a deft use of autoethnographic material, as Dutta grew up in the location of study--Northeast India--and has experienced these issues in first-hand, hands-on manner.  My students were in awe of the manner in which she moved between self/experience and other/literature.  They were amazed to see how personal quandries and pain could be the pathway into discussions of such seemingly dry issues as the "Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution".  After reading Dutta's piece, they, too, felt a part of them to be residing in the Garo Hills, a location they may never have encountered before. 

Our discussion with Urmi was rich and provocative.  As always, it is one thing to read about a technique--like autoethnography or creative non-fiction--in a textbook, but it is a very different thing to read a good example of it and then to talk with the author about how she did it.  Urmi's advice to them was to write and keep writing in these different modes, building up a cache of materials upon which you could draw. 

Thank you Urmi and thank you to the Fall 2014 Semester Qualitative Research class. 

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