Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Subjectivity is to Ethics as Caring is to Social Justice

An ode to caring and qualitative research written in January 2016!

Once upon a time when I was early on in my work as a teacher of qualitative research, I created a little table to help students understand the relationship of inside and outside/subjectivity and ethics.  It looked like this:

(Values, beliefs, assumptions)

I was hoping it would help them to see the complexity of the problem and the ways that self is interacting with other in one-to-one and institutional contexts.  This table shows up on pg 40 of Qualitative Research Design for Software Users by diGregorio and Davidson—2008.

The development of my table came about as qualitative researchers were making the adjustment to being considered part of the whole Institutional Review Board (IRB) apparatus, and, concurrent with that the growth of the IRB within higher education and non-profit institutions. 

I am thinking that a similar table might be useful to help students see the relationship that caring has to social justice, and this idea coincides with another thought (see following paragraph)…

I recently got a request from an administrator to provide information on the ways ethics and ethical issues were presented in the classes I teach.  My response was that in qualitative research, ethical concerns are always present and always part of our thinking.  It is there from the start and continues to be part of the discussion through all phases of the work.  Being asked this question forced me to respond to one thing that had been bugging me about qualitative research textbooks—the one little chapter or section about ethics…sometimes sitting near the beginning and sometimes near the end of the book and the one little section on reflexivity with participants—also sitting out alone somewhere in the text and the one little section on critical theory approaches that always really grabs students, who, in my experience care an awful lot about the impact of their work. 

It seems to me that caring (or lack of caring) is part of subjectivity in the individual researcher…and this is the necessary starting point for an approach to research that is respectful of the other in all its forms. 

The Caring Self/Researcher
The Cared for Other
Individual researcher
Individual participant
Community of researchers (team, advisors)
Community of participants (interviewees, observed)
Institutional context;  university, NGO
Institutional context;  school, community agency, business
Disciplinary context:  Field, Communities of researchers addressing this issue, professional organizations
? :  Education, Umbrella Organizations


Care is the individual and interactive expression of social justice;  social justice then is the policy and political face of care. 

Care is understood in the way we deal with others as beings (whether persons, groups, or other grouping) that are personally connected to us.  Social justice is the way we resolve to make our ideas programmatic, legal, visible to the world. 

Caring is a stance.  Social justice is a politically enacted response to that stance. 

What is the opposite of caring?  What is an uncaring stance?  An uncaring stance is one where the motivation or perspective is selfishly motivated for personal gain—a kind of gain that could be economic, political, or social.  Uncaring seeks to put oneself above others.  Uncaring cannot share.  Uncaring is ultimately the basis of  inauthenticity.  One cannot be authentic (and genuinely reflexive) if one is uncaring. 

One can be blind, uninformed, or ignorant and still be caring…ignorant but uncaring contains the seeds of negotiation, understanding, and promise.  But if one were ignorant and uncaring, there would be no possibility of understanding.  In that case, social justice will not be served. 

Just as I am arguing in an earlier blog that problem, not philosophy, should be the starting point of a qualitative research inquiry.  Here I am arguing that caring should be the starting point of a qualitative research inquiry.  If caring (about the problem, the people, the context) is present, then social justice will be worked out through that stance. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

David Lustick: UMass Lowell Colleague Passes Away

Image result for david lustick images

A day at the beginning of the Spring 2016 semester, and David seemed to be dragging as he walked down the hall to the elevator.  Later that afternoon, he learned about the cancer that had taken up residence in his 53 year-old body.  For the rest of the semester as he sought treatment, I found it hard to pass his empty office, and I avoided looking at his photograph near the number on his office door. 

This morning, the cancer won.  He is with us no longer.   When I heard the news, I heard a rip in the fabric of the universe, as some vital essence spilled out. 

David was a vivid presence in our midst--as a teacher, researcher, and staunch faculty advocate.  His students were thrilled by his teaching.  He never shied away from speaking up in faculty meetings or faculty senate if he felt an important issue was being ignored.  Serving on a dissertation committee with him guaranteed you were going to be part of some good discussions. 

He was absurdly visionary, determined, and humorous.  He was in science education and I am a qualitative research geek--so we didn't get that many chances to overlap in our work.  It's only when it's too late you realize what you missed doing and with whom you missed connecting.

In the last few years David conducted trailblazing work in the area of climate change education, which led to an invitation to present his project at a conference at the White House.  He went with most of his family--and later at a faculty lunch shared hilarious descriptions of behind the scenes.  I was thrilled to hear his videostreamed talk that day coming from the White House meeting room.  It may be as close as I get to Presidential fame!!

We will mourn this loss in different ways.  David--I will miss you.  I will send my thoughts out to the universe, hoping your transmitter is on and can receive my message.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Thanks to QSR NVivo: Love that Survey Import Wizard!

Wonderful Morning!!  I spent from 9-11 am in the company of the delightful Noelle Wyman, QSR trainer, and several other UMass Lowell colleagues learning about the new Survey Import Wizard NVivo has developed.  I love it! 

We were a mixed group--some people with NVivo experience and some with none; some people with qualitative research experience and some with very little.  Noelle was able to make everyone feel comfortable no matter what the level and kind of experience. 

This new addition to NVivo 11 makes it so easy to bring survey data into NVivo.  There is good integration with Qualtrics and Survey Monkey, but regardless of the survey tool, if the data is in spread sheet form--it is good to go. 

Using the Survey Wizard, the data comes in and Cases and attributes are magically created, as well as nodes are made for the open-ended data.  I will be looking for unsuspecting survey researchers on campus this fall who would like to try this out. 

Thank you too to Chris Danforth from QSR, sales representative for the Eastern United States, who also joined the group. 

Having QSR North America around the corner in Burlington, Massachusetts has been great for those of us at UMass Lowell who make use of this tool.  We appreciate having this expertise in our own back yard. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Shout Out to Janet Salmons!

I want to give a shout out to Janet Salmons, author of Doing Qualitative Research Online (2016, Sage Publications), for coming up with one of the most elegant ways to categorize qualitative research data that I have yet encountered.  Three words, all beginning with “E”: 




Extant materials are already available (created or made) and ready to be picked. 

Elicited are materials that a researcher gleans from researchees in real time or through a direct interaction with the participants.

Enacted calls for researcher and participants to create the data, such as you would do with role playing or arts-based research.  

I am embarrassed to say how many hours I have spent writing notes and drawing diagrams as I tried to figure out how to find a simple way to categorize the many possible forms of research one can find or create.  It’s even more complicated when you try to figure in how to work with face-to-face vs online or virtual data collection. 

When I discovered Salmon’s three E’s, I was momentarily stunned (Why hadn’t I thought of this!), but then elated because I could stop the endless quest for the framework that constantly eluded me. 

I want to say “Thank you Janet Salmons for creating this way of describing data.  I will be using your new book this fall in my Advanced Qualitative Research, and I will be singing the praises of the three “E’s” when I do!” 

You can learn more about her work at her author’s website:

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

NVivo and Survey Tools: Making the Most of Open-Ended Data

This Friday, 8/26/16, the UMass Lowell Center for Program Evaluation is sponsoring a two-hour workshop (9-11 am) on ways to use NVivo with open-ended survey data.  NVivo can be mashed up with several of the popular Survey Tools to allow you to work more efficiently and productively. 

If you are interested in attending, you must be registered in advance.  Email  for more information. 

Qualitative Research Play Day: Mission Accomplished!

In Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, Mole, an earth dweller who is fleeing from his own spring cleaning, meets Rat, a river dweller, who is only too happy to wax lengthily and eagerly about the joys of messing around the river—on the river, in the river, anything to do with the river. 

Well, today was a day like that for a couple of us qualitative researchers on the UMass Lowell campus.  Like Ratty, we were only too happy to be messing around with our qualitative research data and tools, talking about it, reminiscing about projects and design.  Oh the glory of having such a wonderful, relaxing Play Day with Qualitative Research. 

The occasion was the workshop titled:  Help!!  I’ve got a boatload of qualitative research data—and don’t know what to do with it.  My compliments for the great title, which was supplied by fellow UMass Lowell faculty member Doreen Arcus of the Psychology Department.  It speaks to the circumstances so many of us face, whether you are a full-time qualitative researcher, part-time or accidentally-backed-into-it-unexpectedly qualitative researcher.  So little time, so much good qualitative data all around! 

Our day had some structure, but a lot of open-endedness.  As the leader of the day, I wasn’t sure what kind of qualitative research needs would land on my doorstep.  For that reason, I always plan to spend a lot of time up-front—listening to participants.  The questions I have for them are about:  the data, their knowledge of QR, their knowledge of QDAS and other digital tools, and what do they want to accomplish?  We create our goals from our answers to these questions.

Today, we spent a good amount of time thinking about QDAS (Qualitative Data Analysis Software—namely NVivo) and how it would help to organize a study and the different data that could be used with the tool.  A particular interest that emerged was the ways Endnote and NVivo could be worked together to make life easier for any researcher.

One of the participants has spent many years developing a professional literature database organized in Excel.  We realized it could be imported into NVivo and used productively there with qualitative research projects to be developed.  It could also be exported from NVivo into Endnote for use as part of a shared library.  Thank you Sarah Marks of the UMass Lowell Library for helping us with the Endnote ideas.  This is just one example of the kind of problem-solving for which Play Days are good. 

Thanks also to Shanna Thompson, administrator for the Center for Program Evaluation, who joined us and shared with us, as well as the Faculty Development Center people who also supported the workshop. 

For the full text of the Wind in the Willows—I just discovered Wikisource!!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

HELP!! I have a boatload of qualitative research data and don’t know what to do with it.

[This is a description for a workshop I will be leading this Tuesday, August 23, 2016 at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.  If you are in the area and interested--contact Shanna Thompson at the Center for Program Evaluation for more information:]  You must be registered in advance to participate.
If you can't attend, but are interested in taking in a workshop like this, please let me know.  I love to do this kind of day.] 


Are you a quantitative or mixed method researcher who gathered some open-ended survey data that is sitting around waiting to be written about?

Are you a qualitative researcher who had a great project that got derailed for some reason and want to return to write about that great data?

Are you a post-doc who has qualitative research data that wasn’t included in the dissertation that you want to give voice to? 

In other words, do you have qualitative research data that is eating a whole in your heart because you aren’t writing about it?  Then this workshop is for you!!

This day-long interactive workshop is designed to help you get back in the saddle with the write-up of those great materials.  You will

·        renew your confidence as a researcher and writer,

·        get energized to take new leaps into publishing,

·        learn strategies for identifying topics and developing articles from qualitative research data

·        develop outlines for three new articles (or more)

·        brainstorm where to place pieces and learn about journals specializing in qualitative research

·        Learn how new digital tools can assist you at many phases of the work

·        Develop writing partnerships that work

Bring your data and laptop along to this research playdate.  The day will be fast paced including full group discussions, quiet review and writing time, small group collaboration, and short informative lectures.  There will be a variety of handouts, as well as an online site where materials will be shared. 

Tools that MAY be helpful to have downloaded and set up on your computer:  NVivo11 and Endnote (UML has site licenses for both). 

Start the semester off, ready for success.  Join us for a new kind of writing/research day. 




Saturday, August 20, 2016

Digital Tools and Qualitative Research: Looking into the Future

I am very pleased to announce the publication of a new article about digital tools and where it could all be going.  The article was co-authored with Trena Paulus (University of Georgia) and Kristi Jackson (QUERI), two good friends with similar interests in the topic of technology and qualitative research.  Below is the title and reference information. 


Speculating on the Future of Digital
Tools for Qualitative Research

Judith Davidson1, Trena Paulus2, and Kristi Jackson3


Qualitative Inquiry 2016, Vol. 22(7) 606–610 © The Author(s) 2016

Reprints and permissions:

DOI: 10.1177/1077800415622505
Let us know if your imagined future looks anything like ours! 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Davidson and D-Space: Web-release of earlier unpublished materials!

Thank you to George Hart, Library Director at UMass Lowell, and his assistant Marguerite Grant for uploading several of my unpublished papers and presentations to our new D-Space area.  I am so excited to have these available through this online data base. 

Nine items are now available.  They fall into groupings that have much to do with who I am as a qualitative researcher. 

You can access them at:   under Judith Davidson in the Graduate School of Education.

I am particularly excited to have three papers from 2005 accessible on the Internet.  I refer to them by these short-hand names:  "Grading NVivo", "Genre and Qualitative Research", and "Learning to 'Read' NVivo".  These three were all presented in Spring 2005 at three different conferences (it was a marathon!).  Taken together they map out territory I was exploring in regard to the way students and teachers or researchers of qualitative research work through the task of understanding Qualitative Data Analysis Software (QDAS) functions and capacities.  I am excited to see that others are taking up the challenges described here (Woolfe and Silver and their 5 stages of QDA Teaching is one example). 

There are also two papers about teaching QDAS in higher education:  1) a 2008 presentation on "Teaching QDAS in a Virtual Environment"; and, 2) a 2007 paper on "Teaching and Learning with QDAS". 

Two papers provide evidence of my ongoing speculation about the big issues in regard to the nature of digital tools:  1) "Swimming in a Sea of Data" from 2013; and, 2) "Methodological Quandaries" from 2015. 

Finally, there are papers about specific projects.  "Teen Talk about Sexting" presented in 2012 discusses a completed project that is described more fully in my book:  Sexting:  Gender and Teens published in 2014 by Sense Publications. 

"Negotiating Digital Tools on Complex Research Teams" presented in 2016 is fast becoming one facet of a book in the making. 

Thank you George and Marguerite for making this possible.