All entries for July 2017
July 21, 2017
The children leave school on this day with an extra hop and a skip gliding along the pavements like an aeroplane celebrating the beginning of their summer holidays! Do not run in the middle of the road, children, as it’s not advisable! College students and many undergraduates are also venturing off on their holidays, leaving us postgrad researchers to work on our projects during the summer. And you know what? I wouldn’t want it any other way!
The Methodology Chapter
The key aim of the current draft writing is to lay the foundations of my ontological and epistemological beliefs, and begin to outline the relationship between those beliefs. Because of the ongoing analysis of literature, and critical and reflective engagement with my ideas, a full elaboration of my beliefs is not possible with the first draft. What I am attempting to achieve therefore is a build-up of the chapter in “layers,” where each layer builds upon descriptions and conceptions of the earlier layer. It might be useful to think about a layered approach to developing the methodological and literature review chapters. With the case of the ontological and epistemological sections, this first draft or “layering” of ideas involves developing the foundations (describing my beliefs and show some initial critical engagement with literature) through descriptive writing. These descriptions can later be built into explanations and reasoning as a mode of providing justifications and well elaborated argumentation for the beliefs that I described. These descriptions could also be used as the basis for deeper, reflective and critical comparative analysis of other perspectives as part of justifying and explaining my beliefs and their impact on the research design. Descriptive writing is therefore the key focus of this round of draft writing. In the next round of drafting the ontological and epistemological sections I shall build on these descriptions and convert discussions into explanations, deeper reasoning, argumentation development, and deeper critical and reflective analysis and engagement with literature. I have just recently started writing the section on describing the research as a qualitative approach, and although not a huge lot has been written yet it will follow the same layered approach.
I think beginning with descriptions, even if you know your arguments and reasoning, and so on, shall help guide your further discussions. Each paragraph or even sentence shall be scrutinised for clarity, concepts, points of views and basis of potential argumentative points so that they can be explored further and expanded upon. This way, as a qualitative researcher, you are getting even more intimate with your own ideas as you think deeply about what is being described in each sentence. This does take some time, but it’s important to be able to carry this out and connect each sentence, each idea, each paragraph, each page and each chapter from the wider macro (chapter) perspective and the microscopic (sentence) perspective. Using this approach, it might be possible to identify more concepts to explore in the literature review, or include in the emerging theory and discuss in the results or discussions chapters.
The descriptive drafts of the ontological and epistemological sections have now been sent for feedback, and whilst they are only descriptive accounts they should be able to show where the ideas are going and where they could possibly influence methodological choices.
Research Journal Article:
The other major writing task of the moment is editing a three-thousand-word journal paper that has been accepted recently by a research journal. I think the editing is coming along well enough. The paper is a critical account of my recent conference experiences, where I critically reflect on these experiences and link these critical reflections with thesis development, professional development, and the general doctoral experience.
The reviewers were welcoming of the paper and said that it’s well written, but have suggested edits. The core edits revolve around further, specific elaborations of the relationship between conference experiences and professional development and to give specific, detailed examples of the way in which aspects of the conference have impacted on my thesis development and my identity as a social scientist. The reviewers also advise on engaging critically with existing literature regarding the topics covered in my critical review including attending conferences, and the relationship between attending conferences and research development, professional development and the general graduate academic experience. This was unexpected, as I had not previously realised that critical reviews can include extant literature.
This is the first time I’ve written a publishable critically reflective account, so it is a learning curve but the experience is beneficial as it’s helping me to think more about what happened at the conference. And, it's helping me to refine my critical and reflective analytical skills on a broader level, which can only be benficial for the thesis! Additionally, it’s helping me to focus and classify my ideas about the conference within a particular approach, and the approach used to guide my critical reflections is the knowledge building perspective. Essentially, I am reflecting upon conferences as a knowledge building activity, which in the case of my thesis can lead to change. Thus it could be recategorized as a critical knowledge building activity where critical approaches, as described in various methodological textbooks, are used to promote a change. I’ll have to work on this a bit more before handing the paper in.
The editing process is therefore ongoing, and during the week I’ve managed to increase the paper to over five thousand words! Thankfully, I managed to reduce it back down to under the word limit of three thousand words. I sometimes have the attitude of getting everything down on paper first and worry about sorting it out at a later stage, and so I did!
Draft writing sessions are in full swing, with recent focus placed on the journal article, though now I feel more confident with the paper in its current state, though obviously needs further editing, I can balance the work between the journal paper and the methodology chapter. I am finding the writing and editing of the journal paper a fascinating learning journey, particularly as I realised that I can engage with extant literature when writing critical reviews!
July 07, 2017
Draft chapters of the thesis are now currently being written! I started a section of the literature review before Easter focussing on analysing and critiquing some of the learning models of interest, to which I shall return at a later point, but for now focus is on drafting the methodology chapter.
It might appear a little unconventional to write the methodology chapter before writing a full literature review, but this makes sense to me given that I am utilising a grounded theory methodology. However, I am thinking about the literature review whilst writing the methodology chapter, as there are concepts and ideas that I have thought about that are suitable for the literature review but had not been previously considered, therefore demonstrating that a thesis is designed and should be written as a logical, interrelated narrative about the research project. Each chapter can be written in whatever order you feel is right for you, but to write each chapter without thinking about its influence on the next chapter or, where necessary, the way it has been influenced by the previous chapter places the thesis in a position where everything feels disjointed and unconnected.
At the moment, the main focus is on the methodology chapter as I really want to lay out, structure, argue, justify and really think more about the components of my research design before commencing with a scheduled long period of data analysis and theoretical development. Others might differ in their beliefs, but it is my belief that if I engaged with data analysis and theoretical development without a comprehensive, fully elaborated and detailed documentation of the research design I will be in danger of using grounded theory with either incorrect or unacknowledged assumptions. Remember: there is a general use and purpose of grounded theory as a methodology but at the higher level, grounded theory methodology, and any other methodological approach you choose to adopt, is guided and shaped by your ontological and epistemological beliefs.
Reading through other theses makes the approach to writing about ontological and epistemological beliefs somewhat of a mystery. Some I have read have made no mention of any such beliefs and therefore you are left wondering what the underlying assumptions of their research design are. Other theses have discussed such ontological and epistemological beliefs but have treated them like an afterthought, intended or not, in a sub section of a major chapter section. Many methodological authors have stated that there is a lack of philosophical discussion in many theses and some have emphasised a huge need for more Ph.D. candidates to engage with such discussions, but yet surely treating such discussions as a sub section of a bigger chapter section is a sign that philosophy is not being treated with any serious thought?
A reason that could explain the disengagement with philosophical discussions is that philosophical concepts particularly concepts within the social sciences are abstract concepts. Ontological concepts of the social sciences are not physical in their nature and appearance: you cannot physically “grasp” a mind, or processes and objects of learning, as they exist at an abstract level. Some people have difficulties with philosophising what they cannot grasp or that which is not viewable, but I wonder if this is because their individual minds cannot really grasp such abstract concepts; that their cognitive and psychological behaviours in some way do not allow them to grasp such concepts. Or, that they have been socially or culturally conditioned in some way to think that what you can grasp and feel (sense experiences) is all that you can theorise about, or philosophise.
I don’t necessarily agree with the view that sense experiences represent everything about “the real” of reality; I think it is possible to philosophise about social processes and objects, but further discussion really is beyond the purpose of this blog post. I am, however, developing my own ideas about this and currently detailing this in the draft chapter of the methodological chapter.
With that, debating ontological and epistemological perspectives, discussing and justifying my own ontological and epistemological beliefs, relating and interconnecting ontological and epistemological beliefs, and linking these beliefs with the research context, phenomena of interest, research questions and with other aspects of the research design (not to mention making references to the literature review) is where I am currently at!
In response to calls in the literature, and because I want to, I am devoting a fair amount of space to ontological and epistemological discussions as these are important. Some books have suggested that these discussions can take up anything from just a few paragraphs to several pages, but I think due to the complexity of learning and collaborative social process I can tentatively suggest that I am justified in writing several pages on the subject. My plan for the methodology chapter is to detail the ontological and epistemological beliefs first in separate but connected sections (e.g., the epistemological section references the ontological section as and when necessary), followed by a discussion of the qualitative approach, followed by a discussion of the grounded theory methodology, and then the data collection and analysis methods.
The methodology chapter is planned to be written in that order because it makes absolute sense to me to write about and detail the ontological and epistemological beliefs first, as these shape and guide the way in which the qualitative approach is considered and the way in which grounded theory is used and for what purpose. But reading through other theses, this is not the structure that some of them follow, so I have to make sure that the structure is right. Either way, I have no problem changing the structure as long as I can keep my detailed accounts of my ontological and epistemological beliefs. I will be providing an initial overview section of the research design first, to introduce the reader (the supervisor and thesis assessors) to the research design, its components, and the layout of the methodology chapter: they appreciate that sort of approach!
I will be sending draft sections to the supervisor soon with these questions! But either way I do think it is important that due to the nature of the phenomena of interest and the research context that I do detail my ontological and epistemological beliefs, because they do shape and form the methodology and the way in which the methods are used. Omission of such discussions would lead the reader, I feel, to perceive that there is something missing and wonder why I had not provided any sort of philosophical justification.
Planning on sending in a draft of the chapter as it stands to my supervisor near the end of the month, but till that time I shall keep on reading, writing, and thinking!