RESEARCHING THE REAL WORLD



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© Lee Harvey 2012–2017

Page updated 29 May, 2017

Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012–2017, Researching the Real World, available at qualityresearchinternational.com/methodology
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A Guide to Methodology

CASE STUDY A method for reflexivity (Mauthner and Doucet, 2003)

Mauthner and Doucet, (2003, p. 416) argued that 'in practice few researchers give reflexive accounts of data analysis or discuss how reflexivity can be operationalized'. They outline a method to address reflexivity systematically.

Within discussions of reflexivity, attention is often drawn to the importance of recognizing the social location of the researcher as well as the ways in which our emotional responses to respondents can shape our interpretations of their accounts. However, few methods offer concrete ways of doing this. We used the voice-centred relational method of data analysis (Brown and Gilligan, 1992) which has these reflexive elements built in. It revolves around a set of three or more readings of the interview text. One of these readings involves a 'reader-response' element in which the researcher reads for herself in the text. She places herself, her background, history and experiences in relation to the respondent. She reads the narrative on her own terms, listening for how she is responding emotionally and intellectually to this person (Brown, 1994: 392). In practical terms, a 'worksheet' technique is used (for this and other readings) whereby the respondent's words are laid out in one column and the researcher's reactions and interpretations are laid out in an adjacent column (Gilligan et al., 1990; Mauthner and Doucet, 1998). This allows the researcher to examine how and where some of her assumptions and views might affect her interpretation of the respondent's words, or how she later writes about the person. This reading is based on the assumption that locating ourselves socially, emotionally and intellectually allows us to retain some grasp over the blurred boundary between the respondent's narrative and our interpretation. Failure to name these emotions and responses might lead them to become expressed in other ways such as in how we write about that person. This reading is also premised on the epistemological assumption that our intellectual and emotional reactions to other people constitute sources of knowledge (see also Hammersley and Atkinson, 1983; Miles and Huberman, 1994; Mishler, 1986).

Natasha, for example, used the 'reader-response' reading of the voice-centred method to explore how the fact that she was not a mother and had not experienced postnatal depression might influence her interpretation of the women's accounts. The method helped her identify where this appeared to be limiting her understanding of aspects of their stories. However, her ability to be reflexive and articulate the nature of these limitations was enhanced by 'doing' reflexivity within the context of a research group and drawing on the insights of other researchers, particularly those who had experienced motherhood. For example, they pointed out that her interpretation of the women's accounts was premised on a negative conceptualization of motherhood and by the loss and bereavement model of motherhood informing much of the feminist literature she had been reading (see Mauthner, 2002). (Mauthner and Doucet, 2003, pp. 418419)

Mauthner and Doucet continue by referring to some epistemological and ontological presuppositions of their method.

Reflexivity at the data analysis stage also means examining the ontological and epistemological assumptions built into particular methods of data analysis by those who both develop and use them. The voice-centred method we used is informed by particular ontological and epistemological assumptions. For exam- ple, it holds at its core the idea of a relational ontology in which conceptions of the separate, self-sufficient, independent, rational 'self' or 'individual' are rejected in favour of notions of 'selves-in-relation' or 'relational beings'. Human beings are viewed as interdependent rather than independent and as embedded in a complex web of intimate and larger social relations. This view is akin to sociological accounts that highlight the self in symbolic interactionist terms (see Doucet, 1998; Mauthner, 1999; Mauthner and Doucet, 1998). (Mauthner and Doucet, 2003, p. 422).

They conclude with a plea for researchers to create space for reflexivity

Our experiences point to the importance not only of building reflexivity into methods of data analysis, but also of creating dedicated times, spaces and contexts within which to be reflexive (see also Siltanen, 2001). In our case, regular meetings with our research group significantly enhanced our ability to be reflexive about what we were doing when we were in the thick of our research. At the same time, we need to recognize that a profound level of self-awareness and self-consciousness is required to begin to capture the perspectives through which we view the world, and that it may be impossible to grasp the unconscious filters through which we experience events. No matter how aware and reflexive we try to be, as Grosz (1995: 13) points out, 'the author's intentions, emotions, psyche, and interiority are not only inaccessible to readers, they are likely to be inaccessible to the author herself'. There may be limits to reflexivity, and to the extent to which we can be aware of the influences on our research both at the time of conducting it and in the years that follow. It may be more useful to think in terms of 'degrees of reflexivity', with some influences being easier to identify and articulate at the time of our work while others may take time, distance and detachment from the research. (Mauthner and Doucet, 2003, p. 425) .

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