All entries for Thursday 06 September 2018
September 06, 2018
Before taking some time off I shall be reflecting on the given time period. It has certainly been a period of change for the research directions, research questions, research design and the thesis structure.
As I have said before, Ph.D. research goes through seasons of change in almost like a domino effect where changes to one aspect lead to changes in another. In the case of this research within this time period, slight alterations to research directions came as a result of what I was beginning to observe in the data. What I was observing in the data became incompatible with grounded theory and therefore, there was a need to alter the research design and, subsequently, the structure of the thesis. I do not need to talk about these changes in this post as they have been talked about extensively throughout the blog, so feel free to refer to blog posts from March to now to find methodological discussions.
On reflection, I had doubted grounded theory somewhat for a while but I thought that I might have been misunderstanding its use within the context of my research. However as I questioned the relationship between grounded theory and symbolic interactionism, the more I found symbolic interaction as a theoretical framework incompatible with my research.
I attempted to separate grounded theory from symbolic interactionism. Initially I thought it would work, but then I started to become aware of and interested in other data characteristics that I became interested in further but were realised to be incompatible with any version of grounded theory. Eventually I came to realise that the best way to approach the exploration of the phenomenon of interest in the context of the research questions and objectives is to merge various concepts and aspects of different analytical methods together. This shall obviously need careful examination, evaluation, critique and explanations in the thesis.
These academic challenges have led to what I believe shall be a stronger thesis in terms of its breadth, depth and scope of evidencing the need for the research and the need for the way in which I am carrying out this research. I am in a more comfortable and confident position now with the Ph.D. research, but never complacent. Although I have changed methodologies, methods and ideas several times through intellectual engagement with the literature and with the data (this shall be discussed in the thesis), I feel that my research is now in a stronger position.
After time away from the Ph.D., during the next few months up to Christmas I plan to return to the data analysis, whilst writing the research design chapter concurrently particularly the section on detailing comprehensively the process of developing the coding scheme and the themes. I really believe that it is beneficial to write sections of the methodology chapter and carry out data analysis concurrently. I feel that I can detail the process more at the time of going through the stages and phases of data analysis, instead of trying to remember what I did after the process is complete.
There is no doubt I shall be continuing to write about my data analysis experiences on here, and, of course, to a greater detail in the thesis!
‘till next time!
Within qualitative theses, more so than the research design chapter, the findings chapters are impossible to plan from the beginning because the chapters are derived from the data, and not from existing theoretical constructs. More appropriately perhaps it is best to say that the chapters are the products of well grounded, verified and validated interpretations of what is happening in the data relative to the research questions, and which eventually leads to the development of codes, categories and themes.
The findings chapters have obviously not been planned or structured yet, although I have written and continue to write extensive theoretical notes about what I observe in the data and the way in which different codes are being formed (in the tune of the where, how, when, where, and why questions). Eventually I shall be writing theoretical notes about the development of categories and themes, although in some sense I have begun writing about them because, due to the integrated nature of qualitative research, development of codes, categories and themes are not isolated phases. They are integrative, interconnected phases: as you code the data and observe similarities and differences between similarly coded data segments, you become aware of a potential category or theme. This awareness, therefore, leads to the production of notes about the potential category or theme. The production of these notes continues through every phase and stage of the data analysis through to writing the formal findings chapters.
I am using the plural expression here because it is expected that there shall be multiple chapters, with each chapter referring to a particular theme. Each chapter shall detail what the theme is, the way it has been constructed, its theoretical constructs, and the validation and verification process. This process involves comparing the construction and concepts of the theme to relative, published findings not only to verify and validate the theme but to also discover any possibilities of contributing to existing discussions relative to the theme e.g., through discussing the way that my theme differs from other similarly identified themes. Perhaps this could also present opportunities to merge themes, or to perhaps help towards building a united understanding between similarly defined themes. The creative opportunities are potentially limitless.
Each theme chapter shall also discuss relations with other themes found in the data, eventually leading to a thematic map of the phenomenon of interest, which could be given a separate chapter. I am guessing that either each theme chapter or the thematic map chapter shall additionally contain explanations about the way in which categories (which are a level down from themes) combined to form a theme, as well as the associated codes and data segments.
There are other chapters of the findings being considered and this includes a chapter referring to any quantitative findings and other chapters referring to other aspects of the phenomenon of interest. I am not able to decide for sure on the findings chapters until I have finished with qualitative data analysis (coding scheme, its validation, and the development of categories and themes). It is this aspect that shall drive any other need for further data analysis. I have plans in place, but not able to confirm till I have gone through the qualitative process.
I do aim, however, to have made further substantial process of data analysis and associated writings of the potential findings chapters by Christmas!
This is the chapter that shall describe, explain, evaluate and critique the development of my new approach (coding scheme) of exploring the phenomenon of interest. The chapter shall also describe and explain the development and application phases of the coding scheme and the way in which categorical and thematic development took place. Therefore, the chapter prior to this deals with a variety of research designs that were tested, whilst this research design chapter deals with the research design that was actually used in the Ph.D. project.
This chapter is a continuous, ongoing and progressive document because it is being written at the same time as data is being analysed. With a quantitative research project the typical process is to write the research design chapter first before carrying out data analysis, but with the qualitative analysis I am finding that I am writing the research design chapter and performing data analysis concurrently. It depends on preferences: some people might like to write their methodological chapters before carrying out the research whilst others might write their chapters afterwards. But with me, I’m writing the chapter as I progress through the phases and stages of data analysis. For me, it makes sense to write about each stage and phase as I encounter each of them because, as I would be engaging with that phase or stage at the time, I can fully elaborate and explain the processes I used within that particular phase or stage.
Because the chapter is work in progress, the structure of the chapter has not been finalised although I have a rough outline of the chapter in place. These include sections that discusses, evaluates, critiques and explores my philosophical beliefs and my personal background (interests, beliefs, experiences, knowledge prior to the Ph.D., etc.), and their possible impact on the development of the coding scheme and categorical and theme development (a process called ‘Researcher Reflexivity’). The outline also includes sections that discuss the methodology and the data collection and analysis methods.
I feel that I have made fair progress with this chapter. I have written lots and lots of notes about my beliefs, experiences, philosophies, my critiques and use of methodology, methods etc. and continue to do so. It’s becoming a matter soon to simply knit these sections together to form the chapter, and work out what I need to develop next. What I am focussing on currently, however, is comprehensively detailing and explaining how I am analysing the data; the phases and stages of data analysis that shall result in the new coding scheme and the identification and development of themes. The writing of this section, obviously, shall continue for as long as data analysis continues.
Lots of editing and rewriting to do, obviously, but I think on the whole I have wrote a considerable amount but shall need to knit the sections together after the data analysis process. That way, I can observe where I need to go next with the research design chapter. Writing the chapter especially the specific data analysis section at the same time as carrying out the data analysis has, however, helped tremendously with documenting with precision and accuracy exactly what I am doing, where, when, how, and why.
A Ph.D. is a continuous journey of exploration, critique, evaluation and questioning. It is a critical, reflective, evaluative, and analytical engagement with reality, with self-knowledge and understanding, and the knowledge that exists in published literature. If you take the Ph.D. and your research seriously enough, these intellectual investigations can extend beyond the Ph.D.
The key fact to remember is that a Ph.D. does not represent the conclusion of your research, but represents the beginning: it lays the groundwork of your publishing interests, and the disciplinary fields within which you desire to explore and contribute further. It involves the contribution or invention of something new, with potential opportunities to expand upon this contribution and invention through post-doctoral opportunities. Whatever is created during the Ph.D., for example a theory or model, can be situated within different philosophical, theoretical and technological contexts with a variety of different participants. This would lead to evidencing the authenticity, validity, verifiability, transportability, and usefulness of the theory or model. Subsequent explorations beyond the Ph.D. can even lead to amendments and adjustments to your theory or model, and even extensions and specific versions designed for particular contexts and circumstances. This existing journey of research and development is a nuanced experience and you cannot really, fully predict where it shall go with any sense of certainty and accuracy.
With qualitative research in particular, questions and research directions related to the phenomenon of interest can and do change, therefore it can take a long time before you are settled on a particular set of questions and directions. This could be misconceived or misinterpreted as you not knowing what you are doing or that you keep changing your mind flippantly. This is a complete misconception of qualitative research, because when a qualitative researcher changes direction they do so intellectually.
Change to directions and questions come not as a result of hunches or emotions, but as a result of an intellectual engagement with the data, with interpretations of this data, and literature. It takes time to really understand the “layered” existence of data and the many ways in which data could be observed and perceived, and should be observed and perceived in a way that aligns with your broader, general research interests and objectives.
The very essence of engaging with qualitative research is that directions and questions change over time, and if this is intellectually justified, elaborated and explained with each change then you are evidencing and tracking your learning and development. These changes can be justified through these reflections and observations in the thesis. Intellectual justifications, elaborations and explanations are constructed as you deepen your understanding and appreciation of the complexity of the reality that the data represents.
Deepening your understanding of the data arguably occurs if you are given the time to investigate various ways in which data can be analysed and not simply accept the first approach you come across as most suitable just because it has been used most often used in existing empirical literature. The most often used methodology, approach, etc. is not always the most suitable for your own research context. Invest your time in thinking about what is really correct, what isn’t correct, and if any sense of correctness could actually be achieved (without your research project collapsing in on itself and fall into relativism!).
It is through what has been discussed so far that eventually led to the construction of the methodological literature review.
Essentially, this chapter is the narrative of how my research has evolved over the four or five years of thinking about the research issues, experimenting with different analytical methods, experimenting with different philosophical theories, and contemplating and reflecting deeply upon different methodologies. Questions related to these issues are ongoing and will no doubt stretch beyond the Ph.D. (might be important to note unanswered questions in your thesis: that way you can address them at the VIVA examination and also show ambition and commitment to post-doctoral opportunities).
But as it is, this chapter begins to tell the narrative of the development of my approach, the way that my approach differs from others relative to the objectives of research explorations of the phenomenon of interest, and the way that my approach could possibly complement other approaches.
The approach that I am developing did not come to me immediately, nor was the approach based on the first set of ideas and answers that I had when attempting to align research design with research issues and initial research questions. It has taken years of reading existing literature, of comparing and evaluating existing theories and models, of understanding how and where these theories and models have been applied, and of understanding the general context of their application and of critiques that exist regarding their effectiveness and usefulness. Reading and evaluation of these theories are ongoing though more now with the aim of justifying and evidencing the need for the new approach to exploring the phenomenon of interest.
The feature of this chapter is the exploration, comparison, evaluation, and critiquing of the philosophies, methodologies and analytical methods that I have tested against the data, research issues and evolving research questions in order to find the most suitable approach to exploring the phenomenon of interest. Philosophies include realism, constructivism, relativism, interpretivism, and constructionism. Methodologies to be included are mixed methods and qualitative. Analytical methods include a variety of discourse analyses, grounded theory approaches, content analysis, and thematic analysis. From these evaluations and critiques, a picture begins to build that explains the way that my approach to exploring the phenomenon of interest has been constructed. Full elaboration of my approach shall take place in the Research Design chapter.
This is going to be a big chapter, and is a reason why the literature reviews had to be changed to make space!