Sunday, 21 August 2011

An interactionist view of PhD development?

Back at work and back at the PhD this week. Task 1 was a response to the ethics peer review of my research proposal (which btw, has taken ages, and I'm nearly off timeline as a result). First look at the letter sent out resulted on cries of 'oh what?!...seriously?!...do they really need to ask that now? etc etc). However, a re-read helped me see that the comments were fairly minor on the whole, but fair enough to ask. The one that got me thinking was the one asking for more detail on the analysis. I guess it was fair enough to ask for more detail, but it felt...so far away. I have to admit, I wasn't quite sure about all the detail. I could tell you what sorts of things I was interested in looking at (after all, I'd nailed that in the initial proposal) but how I'd do it was another thing.

Asking the question prompted an answer I didn't know I had. Rather, I might have had it, but I didn't (yet) have the words for it. It made me think that the process of learning and inquiry in this PhD cannot be looked at as an individual one. Learning is prompted, drawn out, shaped and developed in response to other things. Perspectives develop in relation to other perspectives, to questions and so on. 

Rewind for a second; my study is a narrative study of professional identity. I'm getting people talking, through oral and visual narratives, about how they use all sorts of symbolic 'reference points' in their situations to build their narratives about themselves. When I was asked about what sort of analysis I would conduct then, I had to pause. I knew it would involve trying to understand how people 'worked' with or handled these reference points to build their narrative. I had to think (I know, is IS called for occasionally in the process). Clarity was needed, however; in my head I 'knew' what I wanted, but had never articulated it. The question brought out the thinking in narrative form. I needed to construct the narrative of my own research. 

Here are two options that I didn't go for, followed by the approach I do want to use:

  • Conversational analysis. This sort of line by line study of the transcripts for me focuses on the internal structure of language but remain a little technical for me. 

  • A grounded theoretical approach. You might think GT would be a contender for me, because my theoretical frame (symbolic interactionism) has roots in interactionism and can be related to forms of grounded theory. It need not be however. I tend to agree with Douglas Ezzy (2002) who suggests that grounded theory 'pulls apart' narratives (my words).

  • A form of narrative analysis. Certain forms of narrative analysis appeal to me because they deal with narrative data in context, phrases in the context of the meaning intended by the participant. Within the 'family' of forms of analysis, I'm drawn to approaches that emphasise meaning; after all, a key focus of the study is on participants' 'sensemaking' they do in constructing their narratives. The work of philosopher Paul Ricoeur helps here, whose form of hermeneutic narrative analysis feels also focuses on meaning, for example through examining the process of 'enplotment' individuals use in constructing narrative meaning.