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Methodology and Messiness

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    The data for this study consist of two recorded and fully transcribed lessons out of the fourth-year language course and two sets of fully transcribed student interviews. In collecting and analyzing these data I engaged in a few different research orientations. As my study was aimed in part at improving my own pedagogy, it can be said to be a form of action research. However, this study aims to be more than a ‘procedure designed to deal with a concrete problem’ (Cohen and Manion, 1985: 223), as it seeks to understand how students responded to my approach and to see what would emerge from my classes in terms of student learning and engagement. In that sense, my methodology is ethnographic in nature in trying to understand the ‘richness, complexity, connectedness, conjunctions, and disjunctions’ (Cohen et. al., 2007: 167) of the classroom environment. I used the ‘traditional’ ethnographic methods of participant observation, although there was a tension between my dual roles of teacher and researcher. I also carried out in-depth ethnographic style interviews. My study reflected to some extent the tension which exists in ethnography between traditional naturalistic perspectives which sees the ethnographic product of field notes as a closed, completed, and final text, and a postmodern orientation influenced by the linguistic, or interpretative turn. The latter orientation looks upon the discipline as characterized by difference and diversity and a series of tensions ethnographers and the people they study both engage in.

    As I indicated earlier, my data seemed messy and contradictory. The realities of the classroom and the students’ experiences seemed at times ambiguous, elusive, and slippery. However, it is in reflection that I can conclude that this indistinctiveness is an inherent part of the research which seeks not to reduce or simplify the complexity of social reality. As Blommaert (2010: 11) states, social activities are ‘not linear and coherent, but multiple, layered, chequered, and unstable.’ By refusing to impose ordered methods to complicated and kaleidoscopic realities, ethnography becomes a critique, Blommaert suggests (ibid).

    It can be said that in my own study I used the standard social science approaches of observations and interviews. Similarly, in the initial stages of the data analysis, I followed the ‘mechanical’ approach which is inherent in that standard methodology. Nevertheless, my intellectual engagement with the data, as well as with the ‘project’ as a whole, has embraced ways of thinking about the method which sees messiness not as an unavoidable disadvantage, but as a ‘way of working’ and a ‘way of being’ (Law, 2004: 10).

    In my reflection on the data, this study also borrows from grounded theory (cf. Glaser and Strauss, 1967). Rather than having a clear hypothesis at the start of the study to explain certain phenomena, research using a grounded theory approach aims to understand these phenomena through the data. Concepts and categories of explanation are ‘discovered’ through careful analysis of the data, as well as through reference to and reflection on theoretical literature. The tentative categories and concepts which emerge can be tested over and over again, against new data in a continuous cycle. In relating the data to concepts and to make links with existing theories and categories, I developed and rearticulated the concepts which I discussed in the previous chapters. This process of developing categories and concepts took place through ‘coding’: reading and re-reading the data and going through these to see what categories emerge, whilst acknowledging the multiple voices and what Denzin and Lincoln call the ‘breaks, ruptures, crises of legitimation and representation [and] self-critique’ (quoted in Atkinson et. l. 2007 (2001): 3).

    This page titled Methodology and Messiness is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Gerdi Quist (Ubiquity Press) .

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