thinking analytically

We’ve now stopped ‘doing’ our research project and have taken on the task of analyzing what we’ve done. Well that’s not really the case. That’s just how it looks on paper. In reality, these two stages of our project are not discrete. We’ve been trying to make sense of what’s been happening all along. We’ve not only engaged each other but also other people in the “What do you think this means?” conversation all the way through.

If we were doing pretty old-fashioned social science we might describe this by saying that we’ve been triangulating our data. Triangulation usually refers to the use of:

  • different kinds of data e.g. time, space, people
  • different kinds of methods e.g. interview, survey, document analysis
  • different investigators; e.g. a team of researchers
  • different theoretical approaches: e.g. using more than one theory to frame the study and/or to bring to the analysis

Social scientists who practice triangulation do so because they believe that in so doing they are getting closer to the ‘real’ and ‘authentic’. They are working to prevent ‘bias’. Their methods are triangulated to become ‘reliable and valid’.

We could see the way we have worked in this project as doing precisely this kind of triangulation. We have indeed worked with different data, different methods, different investigators and different theoretical approaches.

However, we don’t believe that we have used this range of approaches because it will bring us closer to some kind of reality or truth. Rather, we think that the question of ‘cultural value’ – the thing we are trying to research and understand – is a profoundly contested phenomena. Different people bring different experiences, expectations and knowledges to a ‘cultural event’, such as the one we have staged. And these different people may very well experience the same event differently. We reckon that there isn’t going to be a truth out there for us to find out about going to an exhibition, taking part in a community-based performance or participating in our workshop. There isn’t a ‘cultural value reality’ out there waiting for us to stumble over/into.

Because of this, we can categorically say that we are not triangulating.

It is the range of participant perspectives that we find most interesting and that we think of as the point of our research. So rather than triangulation, we think about using multiple perspectives – working with different research tools, researchers and theoretical resources – as a means of trying to ‘record’ the diversity, difference and commonality arising from a cultural experience for a specific group of people. We are interested too in trying to interpret the research records that we have accumulated together with participants and interested others. We want to proliferate difference perhaps, rather than arrive at a singular point of commonality.

We also think that the ways in which people experience ‘a cultural event’ may well change over time. We have therefore deliberately constructed iterative occasions when we use different research tools, researchers and theoretical resources to encourage shared reflection on the event. We hope that this revisiting of the initial experience will help all of us to understand how thinking about a cultural experience and its value – for whom, how, and even maybe why – changes over time.

So, if we are asked to describe our research methods and analysis, then we are going to have to say that for us:

(1)   method/analysis are blurred and imbricated, not separate events, and that

(2)   the process that we have set up is one that deliberately sets out to represent multiple perspectives and iterative reflections.

 

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