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April 18, 2019
Research Design Chapter Philosophical Section: How Much Is Too Much? Part B
Philosophically, how much is too much? There is no definite answer here. I’ve spent the day editing the Philosophical section of my research design chapter following contact with my supervisor. This feedback is proving to be invaluable, because it has guided my editing and also consideration of the content.
Previously I wrote the philosophical section using a comparative, reflective approach. During my time on the Ph.D., I have engaged with a variety of different ontological and epistemological positions. As a result, this led to writing separate ontological and epistemological sections.
Within each section I have attempted to tell a progressive narrative of my engagement with different positions. I discussed how I previously conceived the existence of the phenomenon (ontology) and how I believed that we come to know this phenomenon (epistemology). This led to discussing and explaining how these conceptions changed over time, how this led to me oscillating between different positions, and finally, I explained how I selected the ideal position (with epistemological beliefs drawing from various positions), and offered a justification of their selection.
Why did I do this? I am fascinated with the Philosophical aspects of the research and of the phenomenon, and I also wanted to address concerns in methodological literature about the lack of philosophical discussions within theses.
Recently, I returned to available, relevant qualitative theses and read through their research design chapters again. Clearly, as mentioned in a previous post, there is great variety in the reporting of the philosophical stance with some conflating ontology with epistemology, which I do not agree with. A combination of supervisor feedback and rereading of the theses indicated that what I have produced could be better as future, publishable philosophical essays separate from the thesis, but still relevant in reporting my experiences of the Ph.D. journey. Additionally, these essays could contribute something useful or original to the general discussion of research Philosophy.
The essence of the research design chapter is to discuss specifically about what was actually carried out in the research, as well as developing the appropriate Philosophical, methodological and practical justifications. I find that a lot of theses tend to focus more on methodology and methods than the underlying philosophical stance that underpins or frames the methodology.
I have difficulties with lip service paid to the Philosophical section. Philosophy carries methodology and, therefore, is the foundation upon which methodologies and methods are placed upon. Philosophy provides the framework to how the methodology defines how phenomenon is to be investigated and understood, through the appropriate selection and definition of methods and procedures.
Lacklustre discussions of Philosophies, in my view, make it difficult to validate, authenticate, verify and contextualise the findings. It makes it difficult to understand where the researcher is coming from, and it makes it difficult to understand how the researcher perceives reality. It is difficult to assume, for example, if a theoretical framework is developed from a constructivist or interpretivist perspective unless this is explicitly stated within the research design section.
How much is too much? It depends. The thesis is the core of the Ph.D. It is the core, central artefact of the Ph.D. endeavour that communicates what you have done, how, why, where and when. The Philosophical aspect of your research design, therefore, has to relate very specifically to the ontological and epistemological positions that relate specifically and strongly to your design and to your conceptions of the phenomenon. How much is too much or too little depends on what you are exploring and perhaps arguably how much you value Philosophy, and are willing to engage with philosophical issues of your research. Regardless, however, nothing should lead to lip service being paid to philosophical issues.
The edited version of the chapter now doesn’t consist of extensive comparative discussions of different positions that have been critically and reflectively engaged with, nor is there any discussion of how I shifted and changed positions. Everything is now strictly and directly relative to what was actually carried out, how, and why, their impact on the research design, their impact on the research phenomenon, and the appropriate justification of ontological and epistemological beliefs and their position within existing theories and literature.
Where has all the comparative discussions gone? Where have all the discussions about how I have changed conceptions over time and how those changed entailed shifting between different positions been placed? Has all that been wasted?
Not at all, because now all of that detail can be taken out of the thesis and be turned into publishable, philosophical essays and that is something that I will be working towards! This reason alone made the process worthwhile. The process of engaging with different ontological and epistemological positions increased my understanding of how philosophy impacts methodology and of how I could have interpreted and explored the phenomena within different positions. This enriches knowledge about Philosophy, and empowers the researcher to contribute potentially to academic discourse and existing, unresolved issues.
That, folks, is the ultimate goal of academia, and the ultimate goal of who you are as a researcher. Write and contribute because you want to, not because you have to. If you’re not in the business to contribute in some way, then really, what’s the point?
‘till next time!
December 31, 2018
A Year In Reflection, Part A: Philosophical Changes
A key change enabled me to understand the data in ways that I had not previously considered. This new philosophical understanding paved the way for changes at the methodological level (my approach to coding and interpreting the data: discussed in the next blog post). These changes are as a result of carefully thinking about the nature, structure, source, and origin of the data. All of this shall be discussed in the thesis.
In a nutshell, several years ago initial thoughts about the social learning phenomenon led me to consider different kinds of texts that could represent the social learning process of interest. Putting the research questions and research issues central enabled me to decide which type of text best represented the possibility for a real understanding (reality, or as close to reality as possible) of the social learning process. Essentially, it came down to deciding between investigating the beliefs and experiences that participants had of the learning process, and the investigation of the learning process itself and bypass beliefs and experiences of the process. Because my research revolves around the search for what is real instead of what is perceived, I decided to investigate the process itself. Thinking back, I know I made the right choice. In order to better understand the process of learning you have to explore the process itself or so I shall argue in my thesis.
The problem I had at the time, even as recent as earlier this year, was this idea of what is “real,” what is “truth,” and the extent to which the particular body of text produced by the participants demonstrated a truthful representation of the process. In a nutshell, my observations during the year, so I came to realise, enabled the transition from a more realist (particularly subtle realist) perspective to a post-structuralist perspective of the data. In a nutshell, this closer, but not necessarily absolute, leaning towards post structuralism came about because I found myself beginning to interpret certain data segments and their relationships or logical connections with other data segments in different ways, and I had not previously expected this. My previous thinking was that I expected myself to perceive or interpret data segments and connections between data segments in a specific (I suppose I could say linear) way. I had previously thought that these patterns of occurrences would be quite common and, therefore, discovering (interpreting?) that “real” essence of a particular process of social learning. What I found, unexpectedly, was something different: I was able to perceive or interpret the same data segment, and the same pattern of segment interactions, in different ways. So, not only did my understanding of the data change in terms of seeking specific characteristics and structures relevant to my research project, but the way that I perceived and interpreted the data changed.
This is not the conclusion of the story, however, and I have a lot of issues, questions, and challenges at the philosophical level with regards to the data, and the phenomenon itself. Some papers suggest that post structuralism does not reduce itself to relativism. In other words, from what I can currently understand, a post structuralist perspective does not necessitate the idea of there being multiple realities. I suppose what could be suggested is that post structuralism acknowledges and enables the possibility of multiple interpretations and perspectives of the same data set. But what does this mean ontologically? What ontological claims could be made? Is there really a form of reality that does exist beyond the text, but it ultimately has to be accepted that we can never truly acquire absolute knowledge about this reality? Is it a case that we can only slowly progress towards the truth of reality without completely attaining it? Is post structuralism, at least as is relevant and appropriate for my research, an epistemological perspective? If post structuralism is an epistemological perspective, then I cannot make any absolute claims of knowledge or knowing about the process of social learning; that, therefore, the segments and patterns relevant to the social learning process of interest can be interpreted in different ways. In other words, different sets of understanding and different threads of knowing can be established from the same set of data. I have been able to identify and interpret different sets of understanding from the same data set, but I have to stick with a “single” set of interpretations that best suit the research questions and the general research agenda, whilst, of course, acknowledging the potential for multiple interpretations. This is where post structuralism, from my current understanding, comes into play. Additionally, all this is, of course, accompanied with the relevant concerns and ways in which interpretations, etc, can be validated, verified, made more accurate, credible, etc. as discussed in a recent blog post. This is quite a topic to get your head around!
Either way, these are some of the questions I am asking myself at the philosophical level. As can be understood and appreciated, this is a complex topic and my ideas and arguments are in continuous development. Indeed, I am coming to accept that there are questions that I simply will not be able to answer, but being unable to answer a particular question that I have should not mean that I cannot present the question and begin to formulate some relevant arguments and possibilities. After all, a Ph.D. is not only a completion of a particular research project but it should also represent the beginning of something exciting and the beginning of new discussion and analytical possibilities.
In general, some of the philosophical concerns expressed here (not an exhaustive list) are ongoing concerns and are a part of a wider ongoing debate in academia. As mentioned, I am not expecting or expected to provide any solid, definite answers to these philosophical questions, but I am expecting to be able to contribute appropriately to ongoing discussions and debate about these, and more, issues.
May 22, 2018
Initial Thoughts and Ideas of the Definition and Philosophy of Discourse Analysis
Emergent research designs are shaped by what you observe in your qualitative data. This can include part of the design, perhaps such as the methods that you use to analyse your data or holistic reconfigurations which can include your research questions and even research directions. This is what I am finding with my research design at the moment. I am finding that I am being drawn to characteristics and aspects of the data that are not likely to be captured by grounded theory, but I previously thought they could. I was wondering which methodological direction I could turn or perhaps use in addition to Grounded Theory. I found usefulness in graph theory or network analysis but this still, as far as I can currently understand, is not able to capture the characteristics that I really want to study and explore the most in relation to the phenomenon of interest and characteristics of that phenomenon. After thinking about this further and in conversation with my supervisor I returned to reading about a method I had previously read about but did not think was relevant, till now (plenty of this happening recently!) and that method is Discourse analysis.
Discourse analysis is a complex, fluid, flexible and adaptable set of ideas, competencies, approaches and methods suitable for the analysis of discourse and language use that can be situated with a variety of different theoretical and philosophical theories and ideologies. Because I have only just begun rereading the relevant literature and contextualise the literature within my own philosophical and theoretical frameworks, this blog post briefly sets out some of my initial thoughts of the definitions and philosophies of Discourse Analysis.
Thoughts about definitions
Discourse analysis is, unsurprisingly, the analysis of discourse and language that occurs in a variety of different contexts and situations. Unsurprisingly therefore, many authors of papers and textbooks note the difficulty in creating a universal definition of discourse because different contexts and situations creates different emphasise, types, structures and formations of discourse. Educational discourse, for example, would be different to political discourse, which in turn would be different to scientific discourse, and so on, not to mention there are many internal differences e.g., Educational discourse differs depending on the its purpose and context e.g., teacher-learner discourse is different to, say, student-student discourse. Teacher-learner discourse could be based on power relationships and acknowledgement of authority whilst student-student discourses could emphasise learner empowerment and the impact of democratic classrooms.
I am beginning to align with the perspective of Julianne Cheek where in a paper titled, “At the margins? Discourse Analysis and Qualitative Research” the author argues that to understand discourse analysis is to effectively understand our own theoretical and philosophical positions because discourse analysis can effectively be placed within any theoretical or philosophical orientation. Julianna Cheek situates discourse analysis within Foucauldian Theory, Post Structualism, and Post Modernism; therefore, the author situates their discussions and applications of discourse analysis within those theoretical frameworks.
A while ago I came to the point where I do not consider myself a post structuralist or post modernist in relation to my own views of the phenomenon of interest and I have further acknowledged this through disagreeing with a quote by an author named Parker who in 1992 suggests that all objects of reality and perhaps reality itself is created by our own discourses and language. I find this a little difficult to accept within Educational circles because in a social learning situation where learners disagree, the person who disagrees with another’s claim needs to present an alternative claim and, ideally, some sort of evidence. Where has this evidence come from? If this evidence has come from an external source then it cannot be possibly suggested (from my current understanding) that evidence is constructed by our discourses and language because this evidence has a real, external existence and would exist independent of our own ideas and awareness of it. What might be more correct to suggest, possibly, is that it is not evidence that is constructed by the learners but the discourse and language that is contained within and surrounds the use of this particular piece of evidence in relation to a claim being made within the context of, for example, challenging another claim. Here you have important questions such as what is the relationship between evidence and claim? What is the nature of the evidence? What is the nature of the claim? What is the nature of the relationship? In what way is the other claim being opposed? What are the discourse and language structures being applied? In what way do these differ from person to person and from context to context? It’s a complex field and that’s just a basic example, from what I can currently understand!
It’s quite an idea to get your head around: to best understand discourse analysis is to best understand your own philosophical ideas, because it is your philosophical frameworks, both ontological and epistemological, that determines the way in which you frame your qualitative data and your framing of the way in which discourse can be and shall be analysed.
As I have discussed on this blog, I align more with a realist ontology than a relativist ontology (I’ve also hinted towards this in the previous section) and therefore I have difficulties in accepting definitions of discourse that suggest that reality itself is constructed by our discourses and language. I am developing my arguments and critiques of this but it suffices to say currently that perhaps in some cases it is not that the object itself is created by our discourses and language, but it is the meaning and interpretations that we apply to an object that is constructed by our language and discourse but that doesn’t mean that our discourse reflects the reality of it and that doesn’t mean that each account is equally true.
Another observation I have made in the literature is that some authors associate discourse analysis with Social Constructionism. I have talked about Social Constructionism briefly previously on this blog, and what I have found with the previous readings of Social Constructionism is that it does not necessarily align itself with a relativist ontology as some authors attempt to make out (remember though that papers and textbooks are usually written to align with an author’s conceptions of reality) but that it is ontologically neutral. I have to reread the literature on Social Constructionism again but from what I can remember and what I can remember writing about it, Social constructionism as an epistemology can work with varieties of realism as well as relativism. Whichever Social Constructionism is situated ontological depends on you and your conceptualisations of reality.
The philosophical concerns of discourse analysis appear to be very open for debate and therefore there does not appear to be any universally acceptable definition or philosophical positioning of Discourse Analysis. This very much depends on the understanding that you have of yourself and your own philosophical positioning.
This is all work in progress but I do feel that there is a place for Discourse Analysis in my research as it aligns now with the way I have been observing and exploring the data and my observations of Grounded Theory being able to capture what I have been observing. Whether or not I keep Grounded Theory and Graph Theory approach, and whether or not this research is going to be multi-method or mixed methods, depends entirely on the way that I can use discourse analysis, and the way in which it can complement other approaches. A blog post shall be written either soon or sometime in the future about my initial thoughts of the methodological thoughts of discourse analysis.
It’s a complex field!
‘till next time!
April 06, 2018
Some Current Thoughts on the Qualitative Strand and Open Coding
There has to be a sense of emergence where codes are derived from data and categories are derived from codes. This idea of emergence makes sense as I have not been able to identify an existing framework that is suitable and relevant for the type of data I am using and the way that I am now exploring the phenomenon of interest, and therefore, theoretical constructs, relationships and hypotheses must emerge from the data.
I read an interesting paper the other day where an author aligned the idea of an emergent approach with the realist ontology: truth emerges from the data after a continuous cycle of coding and recoding, but this brings about a couple of problems. First of all, what is defined as truth and of being true? How can it be measured? How can I know that something is true even after going through continuous cycles of coding and recoding? How can I know that this truth emerges from the data and not simply a reflection of my interpretations of the data? Is it absolute truth that emerges from the data or is it that with each coding and recoding I could come closer to the truth without completely attaining it? How do I know either way? Is there some set criteria for truth? If so, then would this criteria itself represent truth if it’s simply been constructed by another human being? Would it therefore be better to consider the set criteria is bringing one closer to the truth rather than mirroring the location of absolute truth?
One thing I do know is when I think about the qualitative strand, the purpose that it brings to the research, and what I currently would like to achieve with the strand, allowing the data to speak for itself; to enable this “voice” to emerge naturally and to code in accordance to what is believed to be occurring within the data makes sense. And this is where it is interesting because some authors suggest that enabling the data to speak for itself (please note that data do not literally speak!) and to therefore let understanding and meaning emerge from the data, but it is clear that there is an interpretation process happening. We as researchers interpret what we are observing in the data and attach to chunks of data what actions and events we believe are occurring within that data segment. Question here therefore is what is the relationship between truth and meaning? Is meaning objective and already exist within the “voice” of the data? Or, do we define meaning and apply it to what we perceive or interpret to be happening within the data? There are techniques within grounded theory such as theoretical sampling and constant comparisons that provide some answers to these questions but to what extent is truth realised by just grounded theory alone? Can ultimate truth really be attained?
What is the purpose of the qualitative strand within a mixed methods approach? From what I have been rereading, mixed methods can be used to build and test a theory, theoretical constructs, relationships and hypotheses. Their development occurs in the qualitative strand and then tested in the quantitative strand, and therefore adding an extra dimension of richness, integrity, authenticity, verifiability and validity to the research design.
A question I am working on at the moment given that Grounded Theory is part of the qualitative strand is to what extent do I use grounded theory? I have now more or less worked out the initial phase of qualitative data analysis, and this initial phase shall consist of Open Coding also known as Initial Coding. I think this is more or less a definite because it is through Open Coding or Initial Coding that meaningful data segments are labelled with suitable codes that describe what is happening; where a technique known as constant comparison is used to identify similarities, differences and variances, and where (in broad terms) these similarities, differences and variances contribute towards categorical development. I have recoded my data a few times and so far I have lots of codes, and some initial categories developing but shall now have to recode the data since developing new ideas about the research design and about the way I want to explore the phenomenon of interest. And also because I understand the data more now. This leads me to an interesting thought: not only do our theoretical understanding of what is occurring in the data develops over time along with the need for particular research design elements (assuming emergent research design), but also understanding of the data itself emerges from the way that we perceive and interpret what is going on. There is an interesting relationship going on here between our own perceptions and interpretations, the development of these perceptions, and the data itself. What role does the data play in this relationship?
I can begin to observe what I had not previously observed and I can understand the grounded theory techniques better than before. I have started to draw out the steps and phases of the new research design with the current focus on the qualitative strand. I understand more now about categorical development and have outlined more questions I want to ask about the data as I proceed with recoding the data and continue to develop categories.
Aligned with my philosophical beliefs, I believe that there is a truth out there behind the process of the phenomenon of investigation but whether or not this real truth can occur only from coding and recoding for the context of my research is doubtful. But a mixed methods design perhaps could lead me closer to that ontological truth without actually reaching absolute truth. Aligned with my epistemological beliefs, the logical process (abductive) that underlies my use of grounded theory (develop hypotheses inductively from the data and use deductive methods to test the hypotheses against the data) aligns with my beliefs that knowledge is not certain and absolute. We need to continuously think about the data, think about what is happening in the data, think about how we interpret the data and how we know what we know to be true or perceive to be truth (meta-Philosophy) as long as everything is grounded in the data. All hypotheses, ideas, observations, and thoughts must be grounded in the data. We need to question our own biases and acknowledge them. All this while we maintain our sanity long enough to do so!
A big question that I have next is: when I have all the codes, and have developed all the categories and identified relationships between each category and the relevant properties and dimensions, what then? Grounded theorists talk about bringing everything together to form a theory whilst other grounded theorists discuss the idea of linking categories together to identify relationships in a process known as Axial Coding. I think I am currently leaning towards axial coding or some sort of coding technique that enables me to relate categories, because it is through the relation of categories and really understanding the way that categories interact with each other could I then begin to understand the way that the particular learning phenomenon of interest progresses from start to conclusion. This is challenging and whilst I shall try to work it all out for the sake of the diagrams I am drawing out as plans, the only way I think I am going to know for sure what I shall do is to simply do the coding. But the way I am viewing this at the moment is whilst the categories in themselves explain what is happening with certain parts of the phenomenon, by themselves they do not explain the process. There needs to be that extra step that identifies the process and the relationships therefore between elements of this process in order to better explain the phenomenon.
Once I have developed the ideas of the way I am going to approach the qualitative strand I shall then deal with the quantitative strand, fit everything within a mixed methods scenario if proven to be the most appropriate strategy, as well as a case study methodology if necessary, and then actually test my ideas against the data and remodify accordingly after receiving feedback from the supervisor.
‘till next time!
December 15, 2017
Reflections Of The Year!
It has now come to that time of year where I begin to wind down for Christmas and begin reflecting on what has occurred during the year: the changes to my thesis, philosophical beliefs, methodological directions and understanding of the phenomena of interest, and what I can carry forward into the next year with significant strides and potential. And, what a year it has been! It has been a year of realisations, progress, doubt, and changes.
Reflecting on this time a year ago, I had just been assessed by the Upgrade panel and was in the middle of transitioning between philosophical and methodological directions. Because of the doubts I had of my own research methodology, which occurred after submitting the first upgrade paper but before the upgrade presentation, and the issues raised during the upgrade process, I had to resubmit the upgrade process with my new thoughts and new directions that I had been thinking about (and some which came about through discussion with the panel and my supervisor). I was forming an ontological battle in my mind. Methodologically speaking this was clear: I dropped the mixed methods approach as I had doubts about this approach, which were confirmed by the assessment panel, and kept the Grounded Theory method, but upgraded it from a method to a methodology. Grounded Theory plays a much more important role in my research now than it had previously, only I had not realised the significance of its role till just before the upgrade presentation. But ontologically it was a battle between realism and relativism: was I viewing reality as independent of my own thoughts? Is there a reality independent of my own thoughts? Or is reality simply constructed in my mind? Is reality relative and contextual, and therefore consist of no objective qualities? I eventually came to the realisation in late summertime that I am simply unable to pigeon-hole the beliefs that I have about reality, given the context of the research and of the phenomena of interest. From this realisation of the complexity of my beliefs I am now coming to the belief that my ontology is a mixture of moderate realism, along with aspects of pragmatism, complexity theory and phenomenology. Epistemologically, it appears that my beliefs about knowledge is a mixture of interpretivism and contextualism. The finer details of both sets of beliefs, such as the relationship between aspects of ontological beliefs, between aspects of epistemological beliefs and the wider relationships between ontology and epistemology (eventually working into the methodological justifications) need to be worked out more clearly and comprehensively. However, the fact that I have come to realise this diversity of my beliefs is what I could consider to be a key highlight of the year, and a key stepping point in the research progress. I am continuously questioning my own beliefs, however, and continuously reading more about ontological and epistemological theories.
The upgrade process was a really interesting experience. What was originally meant to have been a three thousand word paper eventually turned into a near seven thousand word mini dissertation! But I did enjoy this, and I felt that it really helped me to set the foundations for the eventual realisation that my philosophical beliefs are more complex than I had ever previously realised, and really helped me to focus on aspects of the phenomena I wanted to explore. But even then, things have changed or altered slightly since submitting the second upgrade paper, but that is the nature of research. It never stands still and you can never really say that what you think currently really is or will be the case in the future. I’m viewing things in the data that I had not realised before, and I’m viewing my own beliefs and questioning my own beliefs in ways that I had not originally thought of. This is a part of what I call ‘Meta Philosophy’ and during the year, especially during the summertime where I found myself becoming more consciously aware of the complexity of my philosophical beliefs, I have found this to be an increasingly important aspect of describing the foundations and roots of my research design. I have talked a fair bit about Meta Philosophy during the summertime on this blog, though I shall have much more to say about this subject in the future especially in the thesis.
As for the thesis, I feel much more focussed and settled in my mind about the directions I want to take. Even at the beginning of the year, I didn’t feel I had a lot of clarity because of the philosophical and methodological transitions that were taking place even up to late summertime. Now, whilst there are finer details to work out and explore, as there shall always be, I do feel much clearer now and have greater levels of clarity in general when it comes to my thesis, my identity as a researcher, my research design and therefore the way that I view and want to explore the phenomena of interest. I feel much clearer with the role and function of literature in my grounded theory project though I appreciate that different people will have slightly different approaches, but I feel more confident with my own approach. I will know for sure during the next year however if this approach I have in mind shall work. I feel confident that the three literature review chapters I have planned will work and will be well written and will achieve all the goals and aims that I have for each chapter. I feel that I have progressed well with drafting aspects of some of the chapters of the thesis during the year: the first literature review chapter (which I am now tentatively calling the Function of Education within a Contemporary Society), the third literature review chapter where I critique various relative learning models and theories, and the methodology chapter particularly the beginning sections where I detail the ontological and epistemological beliefs, and their impact on the selection and use of the methodology and method. Obviously this and all other chapters are work in progress, but I do feel better that after months of doubt, of questioning, of experimenting, of restructuring and rewriting the outline and exploring lots of research papers that I have a workable structure.
I just have my fingers crossed that I have what it takes to deliver a sound, comprehensive, well written, original thesis.
What are the root causes of the changes that have taken place as outlined? Along with the upgrade paper I’ve also sourced inspiration and influence from the CES Conference and the process of publishing my second research paper. I have talked much about the CES Conference during the year, but here it suffices to simply say that I am really pleased to have been afforded the opportunity to present some of my findings at the time at the conference, and the feedback I received from the audience and subsequent discussions that took place at other conference presentations were invaluable. They were invaluable because they made me realise the importance of describing and explaining some aspects of the phenomena in ways that I had previously valued but had not realised their importance to include in the thesis. Secondly, the feedback and the general conference experience enabled me to realise who I am becoming as a researcher and therefore assisted in developing my identity, which I strongly emphasised in the subsequent published reflection of the conference.
The CES experience therefore was a major highlight, as was being able to have a second research paper published based on critically reflecting upon my experience as a conference presenter and attendee. The paper included ideas I am working on regarding the impact that our epistemological beliefs have on our identity, identity development and experiences of academic conferences. Secondly, the paper contained other ideas that I have regarding the way in which conferences play a role in our professional development and thesis development. Attempts were made at identifying a relationship between the two ideas. The experience of writing and editing the paper and working with the reviewers was again invaluable to the development of thesis directions, and of who I am as a researcher.
In summary: the key highlights of the year were successfully passing of the upgrade process from MPhil (Master of Philosophy) to DPhil (Doctor of Philosophy), the successful CES conference experience, and the publication of my second paper. Also, I feel much clearer now with my thesis, with my philosophical beliefs, methodological directions and understanding of the phenomena of interest. Whilst much more work needs to be carried out, the foundations that I have laid during the year should lead to much greater and more significant strides throughout the next year. I will, of course, be keeping you all up to date via this blog!
But for now, thank you very much for the kind comments that I’ve had during the year from blog readers. It’s fascinating to know that people I’ve never met before can become so interested in what I am writing. It’s nice to think about this blog and my writings having some sort of influence on others and inspiring others in that way. That is, of course, should be a reason why we become Ph.D. students and want to be involved in the world of academia.
Thanks again for reading, and as this is the final post of the year on this blog I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New year, and I look forward to writing much more on here during the next year!
December 13, 2017
Reflection of Applying Initial Stage of Grounded Theory, Part A: Philosophical Stance
My experiences of engaging with grounded theory at a practical level from the late summer till just a couple of weeks or so ago illuminate the importance and role of philosophical beliefs. I have confirmed to myself since the summertime that the philosophical stance of a researcher not only gives rise to the need of grounded theory, but also determines philosophy-data-source compatibility. I have come to realise over the past few months that different types of text documents hold differing existence properties, different knowledge characteristics, and different properties that enable access to this knowledge. Although, access to the knowledge held within text based documents are arguably realised more through the methodology and methods that are selected, rather than our philosophical beliefs. Researchers, regardless of access to held knowledge within text documents, need to think about the way in which their philosophical beliefs not only impact their engagement with reality, but also act as a lens through which different text documents are perceived and analysed. The researcher needs to be mindful of the characteristics and values held by the text documents, and the meanings, interpretations and assumptions that are placed upon each document.
As an example, an interview transcript arguably holds a constructivist or relativist existence where the document portrays or represents a single voice (relativist) and knowledge that can be a co-construction between researcher and participant (constructivist) depending on the nature, structure and purposes of the interview. A discussion transcript is more difficult to define, in my opinion, because a discussion transcript represents multiple voices and can change context and knowledge content over time. I am finding, however, that context of learning is having a profound impact on what I perceive and hypothesise what is occurring within the data. This context is not just the environment within which the research is taking place, but also the context of the learning content, which is altering and shaping the course of the learning that takes place, and the knowledge that occurs.
As has been documented on this blog, during the summertime I came to the realisation that my ontological and epistemological beliefs are more complex than I had previously been consciously aware of, hence I was not able to align my beliefs with a single pre-existing ontological or epistemological perspective or theory. What I have arrived at now is the realisation and awareness of my ontological beliefs being a mixture of realism, pragmatism and complexity theory, and my epistemological beliefs leaning towards interpretivism and contextualism. This, I feel, at least in part, lies at the intersection between the philosophical grounding of Glaser, Strauss, Charmaz and Bryant.
What does that mean in the actual practice of using grounded theory? I am still working through my ideas (I have no doubt that this shall also be the case beyond the Ph.D. but that is the nature of research), but currently the impact that my ontological and epistemological beliefs on my use and understanding of grounded theory are briefly described as follows:
Realism: my belief that there is a reality independent of our minds implies that I perceive certain text documents as being capable of capturing the events and instances of learning processes, and that these events and instances occur regardless of whether or not participants are consciously aware of their existence. I suppose more generally it could be argued that learning can happen whether or not the learner is consciously aware of the fact that they are learning, or are engaged with some sort of learning activity. Since I am not a hard-line realist (I consider myself more of a moderate: subtle realism, influenced by the writings of Michael Hammersley) I do not believe that what I observe in the data fully or accurately mirrors reality itself. What I perceive to happen in the data needs further testing and exploration.
Pragmatism: it is argued that pragmatism is well suited for research that aims to change practice in some way. My issue with pragmatism however is that it does not concern itself with ontological and epistemological issues therefore it is not concerned with truth, but with usefulness. If something can be usefully applied within a practical context and if it offers real value to whoever is applying that something, then it would be considered adequate. There are aspects of Pragmatism that I do agree with regarding its use with grounded theory, such as the idea of fallibilism, with Bryant leading the way for such discussions. Fallibilism suggests that knowledge is always fallible and never represents the truth of reality, therefore, as mentioned earlier, I always accept the possibility of my emerging theory, whilst progressing towards truth, can never fully represent truth. I need to be careful here though, because whilst a theory can arguably never represent truth there cannot be two assessment systems that represent truth equally: one must be able to represent truth over the other.
Complexity Theory: learning processes, as previously described, have a complex existence. They have a complex existence because characteristics and events related a learning process could either be perceived to occur, or actually occurs, at any given point. Question: can a learning event that is actually occurring at any given point, or could probably occur, be perceived to be occurring? Another question: just because an event is perceived to be occurring, does it mean that it is actually occurring? Here we have a battle between perceptual occurrence and actual occurrence, along with the possibility or probability of occurrence. I’m dealing with phenomena here so the way that I perceive and interact with phenomena might not be in complete alignment with the intentions and beliefs of the learning participants. With this, I can also observe elements of Phenomenology in my ideas here, but these ideas are as yet incomplete and are continuing to be worked on and developed further. Another interesting aspect to the existence and occurrence of events is that context can influence what can be perceived to or can actually exist (e.g., technological environments might alter significantly what can be perceived or actualised compared to face to face learning environments).
As for my epistemological beliefs:
Interpretivism: There is an element of interpretation because coding data segments is based on my perceptions of what is occurring or happening within the data: the events, patterns, happenings, relationships, objects, instances etc. The knowledge that I gain from the transcripts that I analyse using grounded theory is really an interpretation: I interpret data segments to mean something and I label each data segment with a relevant code to represent the meaning I place upon that data segment. Here, however, is where my realist ontological beliefs come into play: because I view reality as being independent of my beliefs and that truth is a progressive journey, I have the belief that my knowledge and interpretations do not mirror reality itself. Therefore, my interpretations, hypotheses etc that are products of the data analysis are tested against further data, several times before being confirmed as part of the emerging theory.
Contextualism: what I am coming to realise is that subtle changes to the context within which the learning process occurs can mould and shape the direction and formation of that learning process and therefore, what I can perceive happening within the data. I think my ideas of contextualism is probably a little different to what other philosophers and authors define as contextualism, but I’m still working on these thoughts.
That’s Part A completed! The next blog post shall briefly cover the application of Grounded Theory, where I discuss the way in which I applied the initial coding stage: open coding, and the writing of memos.
October 05, 2017
Reflections Of The Past Academic Year Part B
Complexity of my Philosophical beliefs
I again have written extensively about philosophical beliefs, both ontologically and epistemologically related, particularly during the past year as I explored my ideas further and explored, and continue to explore, published philosophical literature. I found that my beliefs do not fit exactly within any particular and specific ontological framework or theory and therefore, have become consciously aware of the complexity of my ontological beliefs. For several months I have experimented with different ontological theories and frameworks and have found that I am drawing on authors and ideas related to mild forms of realism (namely Michael Hammersley’s “Subtle Realism”), Philosophical Phenomenology, and Complexity Theory. This realisation has come about through observations in the data collected so far, observations that have led me to form the belief that events and instances of concepts are perhaps not quite so straightforward in their existence and appearances that perhaps some analytical models would perhaps lead a person to believe that represents reality.
I also found this to be the case with my epistemological beliefs. I spent many months trying to fit my beliefs within a particular framework with the final attempt being with constructionism. With constructionism, I was convinced that I found a framework or theory that aligns with my own epistemological beliefs (the way that we can come to know reality). After reading further into constructionism, I came to realise that I was only agreeing with parts of the theory, and not all parts.
I am finding that I am beginning to draw on authors and concepts related to contextualism, relativism, constructivism and interpretivism.
Becoming aware of the complexity of my own beliefs has been a milestone, because this has altered my conceptions of the learning phenomenon as possessing a more complex existence than I had previously imagined. Additionally, coming to recognise the complexity of your own philosophical beliefs, and having a sound and comprehensive understanding of how you have come to recognise the nature of your own beliefs (meta-ontology and meta-epistemology, or meta-philosophy) begins to form the basis of your own identity. That is a positive step towards you becoming self-aware as a researcher, which enables you to begin to situate your identity within the complex world of academia.
It’s really important that you don’t fight against your self-awareness regardless of the extent to which your beliefs are complex. If you fight against what you have observed in yourself and you try to pigeon-hole your beliefs within a framework that really isn’t compatible, you start to develop a false identity based on your anxiety and unwillingness to explore further. If you fight against what you have observed in yourself and you don’t explore further, you would be lying to yourself, lying to your supervisor, lying to the thesis assessment panel, and lying to the academic community. Be real.
Multiple Literature Reviews
The fourth key milestone is the development of multiple literature reviews. I will talk more at length about this in the future, but at the moment it suffices to say that I have become aware of the possibilities of structuring and outlining the thesis in different ways. Through reading through more literature on constructing literature reviews, I have become more aware of my own aims and objectives with the literature review. And the complexity of these aims, the amount of different aims as well as the different types of literature that shall be used within the thesis has led me to believe that multiple literature reviews are required.
Each literature review deals with a set of particular aims and different types of literature, and each subsequent literature review builds on the ideas and concepts presented in the previous chapter. The first literature review chapter deals with the backdrop as discussed in a previous blog post. The second literature review chapter deals with specific debates and discussions regarding specific concepts related to the phenomenon of interest and relevant to the research. The third literature review chapter critically evaluates existing analytical models pertaining to identifying and assessing the learning phenomenon. Then following all these literature reviews shall be a summary section that provides a summary of my arguments regarding the need for the research.
I do feel better with developing three literature reviews as in my opinion, trying to write a single literature review chapter that serves to achieve multiple goals and objectives and utalises a variety of different types of literature would make the literature review appear disjointing. Patterns of thought and the development of argumentation would not be easy to follow through.
Developing three literature review style chapters entails a logical, progressive narrative of conceptual and argument development and progress where each chapter logically develops and progresses the concepts presented in the previous chapter(s). Idea and concept development shall be easier to follow therefore, and reading shall be more flowing and easier and comprehendible.
I feel that it’s been a successful academic year with key milestones reached and achieved.
After the brief time off I can plan to move forwards and progress with developing the theory, and produce the best thesis that I can possibly write!
September 10, 2017
Ph.D Update: Philosophical Thoughts, Critical Review, and The Literature Review
Since the previous blog post, I’ve been working on various edits of an accepted critical review, along with writing an essay about Education (shall discuss this more another time), the literature review, and have been rethinking ideas about reality.
Conceptions of Reality
You might remember previous blog posts where I have conceptualised my epistemological beliefs as Social Constructionist and the subsequent posts where I have discussed my doubts about my own conceptualisations (yes, folks, you are allowed to question your own conceptions!). I am absolutely convinced that because of my increased awareness of the ontological existence of the phenomenon of interest that my epistemological beliefs go beyond constructionism
Constructionism, according to my current understanding of it based on the readings I have so far completed, originated in sociology and focusses on the importance of language and culture. It suggests that language is the driving force behind knowledge construction and attainment and cannot be separated from its culture. In other words, access to knowledge of reality is provided by language alone, and our understanding of reality and therefore knowledge attainment and construction is culture-specific.
Despite initial acceptance of this I began to struggle with knowledge derived from language and culture. The grounded theory methodology can allow language to be considered in its representation of nuanced occurrences of what might or actually exists, represented as concepts in the data and relationships between these concepts, there is no way I can gain understanding of cultural influences on the behaviours of the participants. I as a researcher am not embedding myself within any particular culture, and I do not have any direct access to the participants’ beliefs and perspectives. Therefore, as mentioned, I have no way in determining the way in which culture impacts the behaviours and thoughts of the research participants. But this, I realised, doesn’t really matter because investigating culture and its impact on participant behaviours isn’t relevant to the research problem that I have identified.
Another reason I began to struggle with a pure constructionist epistemology is that I have become more aware of the complexity of my epistemological beliefs and because of this, I am now taking inspiration from various epistemological perspectives including constructionism. Just very recently, I have come to understand that consciousness and awareness are important features of my thinking about reality and thinking about the existence of the phenomenon of interest.
What really is reality? What is the nature of existence of social objects? Do these objects really exist? How do these objects come into being within social interactions? Social objects come into existence because of interactions, but does that mean that if a particular social object does not occur at a particular point that they don’t actually exist? What if they do exist within a particular social interaction but are not perceived to exist? Does existence entail perception? What about awareness? Do we have to become aware of something in order to perceive a social object as being real? What if our perceptions are fallible and that what is perceived to exist does not really exist? How can I tell that what I perceive is real, and, how can I tell that the way that I perceive is just and sound?
These are just some of the questions that I am now asking myself with regards to the occurrences / existence of social objects within a social reality. This is important because how can we say that something exists if we are just perceiving it? How can we know that what we perceive really exists and what gives us any justification to claim that something exists?
This is where phenomenology comes into play, and I’m only just recently beginning to appreciate its potential value. I originally rejected it as anything relevant to my research because I was perceiving the value of phenomenology through the lens of a research methodology, and not a philosophy. Phenomenology as a philosophy is different to its conceptions as a research methodology, and understanding this is a continuous task, and there shall be a blog post about this soon.
The Critical Review
The critical review of my conference experiences back in May has appeared is complete and sent in for final confirmation and publication! It has most certainly been a learning curve given that this is the first time I’ve ever written a critical review for publication, but at the same time it has been a fulfilling, satisfying learning experience. Writing the critical review has really helped me to shape my understanding of how experiencing the conference, engaging with the audience and their feedback and engaging with various presentations at the conference contributed towards further development of my thesis structure, content and layout. This will lead to a stronger, more comprehensive thesis with a tightly integrated structure, with the concepts taken from the conference leading to a theory that is closer to the truth and reality of the phenomenon of interest than previously conceived.
Specific to the thesis, the background, literature review, results and discussion sections have been enhanced with new concepts to explore and where possible, develop hypotheses to test and possibly include in the theory as part of the validation and verification process. Speaking of the literature review……..
The Literature Review
The original plan of the literature review many months ago was to divide it into independent, loosely coupled sections titled Knowledge, Argumentation, Interaction and Technology. I have no idea what possessed me to think of these sections as independent and loosely coupled, because it doesn’t make any sense to do so. I think at the time I was feeling overwhelmed with the sheer amount of existing literature that has been published and the relationship between literature and the grounded theory approach. I think at the time I wanted to gather a sense of understanding the sheer volume of existing literature in each of the categories (and by this time I had already been reading about some of these topics for many years) within the context of my research problem (context is important! I cannot emphasise this enough because context plays a part of the lens from which you shall view the literature). Several months on I am now changing my approach to the literature review to thankfully something a bit more logical.
I’ve come to realise I cannot talk about one category independent of other categories. I can to a certain point, however, but I cannot view each category as fully independent. I can, for example, discuss relevant types of technology in terms of its features and affordances, but beyond this I cannot talk about technology independent of the research context and the research questions, and I cannot talk about technology independent of the way in which it, for example, facilitates interaction. Similarly, I can discuss argumentation to a certain extent but I cannot talk about argumentation fully independent from the way in which knowledge is handled through argumentation. A strong example of how my thinking about the dependency / independency relationship between these categories of literature is with argumentation. I attempted to write draft critiques of and relate definitions of argumentation. However, after reading a paper from Andriesson et al (2003) I became aware of the difficulties that I would have if I continued along the path of attempting to define and critique definitions of argumentation independent of discussions of other literature categories, even if only to understand the diverse literature that exists within each category.
The basic fact is, when I talk about argumentation, interaction, knowledge, technology and other possible concepts, all discussions must be situated within the context of Education. This is a Ph.D. in Education and obviously, the thesis is the product of the discipline within which it has been written, therefore it would not make sense to talk about these concepts outside of the context of the discipline and particularly outside of the context of the research problem. It doesn’t really matter if conceptions and perspectives are bought in from other disciplines such as sociology, psychology etc. the key guiding focus of the literature review is the disciplinary context and the research problem.
There have been various changes during the past few weeks with the key changes being the literature review and its structure and content. The other key changes have been my continuous increasing awareness of my own beliefs of reality and the way in which we can obtain knowledge of this reality, but this shall be discussed more in another blog post. And to emphasise, managing the literature is a huge part of the Ph.D. especially for grounded theory based projects. But for the purposes of the literature review, all discussions of all concepts have to be situated within the context of the discipline, in my case Education. And, I am now finding it impossible to discuss concepts fully independent of each other and really, this is what the literature review entails. It’s not just some bullet pointed facts-of-the-matter chapter, it’s a serious business of critiquing, analysing, evaluating and synthesising literature in order to provide the intellectual and evidence filled basis for the need of your research.
Andriessen, J., Baker, M.J. & Dan Suthers, D. (2003). Argumentation, computer support, and the educational context of confronting cognitions. In J. Andriessen, M.J. Baker & D. Suthers (Eds.) Arguing to Learn: Confronting Cognitions in Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning environments, p.1-25. Dordrecht, The Netherlands : Kluwer Academic Publishers.
August 19, 2017
Should Ph.D. candidates be talking meta–ontology and meta–epistemology?
Continuing to engage with writing the first drafts of various sections of my thesis, and this week I began to redevelop and construct an outline of some of the sections of the literature review. A part of the literature review shall refer to theories of epistemology (knowledge) and justification (methods of providing evidence or reasons of any claims about reality). The section is being written to link with other sections relating to collaborative learning and collaborative technologies and therefore attempting to write a reflective, critical narrative of existing, relevant literature. I want this to flow logically and not be disjointed. This is ongoing work.
As part of this task I have been rereading many different theories of knowledge and justification to identify theories that I can critique and relate to various aspects of the research phenomena of interest. What I have unexpectedly discovered during this reading is that not only can I critique and relate theories of knowledge and justification to different phenomena of research interest, but also relate some of the theories to research design. Many textbooks advise Ph.D. candidates to discuss and explain their ontological and epistemological beliefs and their impact on the research design, but they do not appear, from what I can understand, to request students to go further and jump up to the next level of abstraction. What do I mean by this? I’ll provide an example.
I have the belief that in the social world or social reality there are objective objects that exist independently of our consciousness and mental activities: we do not need to be consciously aware of their existence in order for them to actually exist (I’ll be describing this term in more detail in the thesis). But how do I know this? How do I know that there are objects out there that exist in that way? On what grounds have I based these beliefs on? In what way can I tell that I have developed these beliefs reliably?
Similar questions can be applied to my epistemological beliefs (which, as explained in the previous blog post, are changing; or, more accurately, I have become aware of their incorrectness). Therefore, in addition to discussing and explaining my epistemological beliefs and their relationship to my ontological beliefs, I should also be asking about the genesis of these beliefs. How do I know that the way that I perceive the acquirement of knowledge is correct? Where do my epistemological beliefs come from? On what grounds do I base these beliefs on? In what way can I tell that I’ve developed these beliefs reliability? And in the changes to epistemological beliefs over the years I should ask an extra question: did my epistemological beliefs change, or did I become more consciously aware of their existence? Either way, I need to ask more general questions: on what grounds were these changes made? How exactly did this change occur? Why did the change occur? What impact have these changes had on my research?
I guess these can be loosely termed meta-ontology and meta-epistemology. I am talking here about going beyond the level of discussing, explaining and justifying our ontological and epistemological beliefs to discussing how these beliefs were made, why they were made, and the grounds upon which we have formed these beliefs. This is an extra level of discussion and an extra level of abstraction that does not contend with discussing the acceptability and correctness of the beliefs themselves. Acceptability and correctness of the beliefs themselves shall be judged by the general criteria of the research project. What I am talking about is the method or approach that we have taken to form, come to know, become aware of, and ground our ontological and epistemological beliefs. I appreciate that some people might not view the worth of such discussions. I’m not entirely sure myself as I’ve only just thought about this since writing the previous blog post, but I think it is something that is worth thinking about further. Also, I am not entirely sure that, if these discussions do go ahead, they should be a part of the methodology chapter of if discussions should be in a separate chapter perhaps based on researcher reflexivity.
These are all tentative, initial ideas, but might be something worth pushing for. I shall have to ask for advice on this from my supervisor but I think perhaps discussing the core question how we know what we know should be considered more important.
Keep asking questions and never think that any idea is ridiculous because at Ph.D. level anything is possible. Remember, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer, but the strength of argumentation!
August 10, 2017
Ph.D Update: Multiple Changes Are Happening!
As part of our Ph.D. research and training, we must try to avoid polarising our beliefs and, therefore, subscribe to a stance, position, approach or method just because it appears to be the most convenient and approachable. What might be convenient and approachable might not be appropriate and relevant for the research problem and nature of the research context. It is part of our emerging identities as researchers to think very carefully about who we are and what we do, to take a critical stance towards every decision that we make, reflect on our decision making to ensure that there are no gaps that could cause methodological or practical problems, and to therefore ensure that every element of our research design connects reasonably and logically.
Earlier this week as part of the qualitative section of the methodology chapter, I began to describe the characteristics and features of qualitative research. As I began to relate characteristics and features to the research setting and context, phenomena of interest and the position of myself as the researcher (research positionality: I shall discuss this more in the future), I noticed that I was beginning to discuss the idea of complexity. Qualitative research, I was saying, is useful for exploring the nuanced, complex existence of social phenomena and the complexity of the setting of the phenomena of interest. It struck me there and then that this complexity of the existence of the phenomena of interest and the way that we come to know this complex existence was not mirrored by my awareness and discussions of my epistemological beliefs. What was going on here? Was I beginning to doubt my own epistemological beliefs? Or did I simply become immediately aware of the possible inadequate way in which I was perceiving and labelling my epistemological beliefs? This begs the question: can our epistemological beliefs shift as we progress through our research projects, or are our epistemological beliefs always in a constant state but that our awareness of their states continuously changes? Are epistemological beliefs therefore a construction in our minds, or do they pre-exist and we simply become more aware of them through various experiences?
Whilst I was tackling these complex questions (which are still being tackled), I completed the rough first draft of the qualitative section and began to tackle the grounded theory section. As I was writing this section I began reading through Birks and Mills (2015) publication “Grounded Theory, a Practical Guide.” Based on their comprehensive discussions of the philosophical and methodological developments of grounded theory, situated within the controversies and movements of the time, the authors advised students to be mindful of the possibility of what I call grounded theory methodological fluidity. I’ve talked about the idea of fluidity before and shall talk about this more in the thesis, but essentially the authors suggest that Ph.D. candidates should not simply subscribe to a specific grounded theory variety but to explore and experiment. Ph.D. candidates are therefore advised by the authors to draw upon and build upon the ideas and approaches of the multiple varieties and writers of grounded theory. This would lead to the development of a grounded theory approach that best matches the research problem, the nature of the research setting and context, the data collection method, and the position of yourself as the researcher. This overwhelmed me, because not only was I grappling with my own increased awareness of the complexity of my epistemological beliefs, I was also now beginning to grapple with the possibility of needing to draw from multiple varieties of grounded theory, and to build upon procedures and techniques presented in different varieties as necessary. I have the belief that there has to be a connection between the two: that a change in my awareness of my epistemological beliefs has led to a change in using grounded theory to analyse the phenomenon of interest.
Where am I with all of this now? Ontologically I’m still a realist: I still believe that there is a social reality that exists outside of our conceptualisations and perspectives of social reality and therefore there are social elements of social reality that do exist. The revelation here is that perhaps I have limited myself in the way in which I can come to understand these objective social elements or phenomena. Perhaps constructionism alone cannot fully capture everything that I am and everything that my epistemological beliefs have led me and are leading me in terms of my research design. But how can I at any time suggest that any particular epistemological stance really reflects how I can attain knowledge and understand phenomena of interest if my epistemological beliefs are continuously evolving? Or, more likely, that I am becoming more aware of what pre-exists in my mind? The simple fact is: I can’t! From the many months of reading and thinking about different epistemological stances, nothing really fits completely within my realm of coming to know about the phenomena of interest. This has to be because all of these difference stances: positivism, post-positivism, constructivism, constructionism etc follow set assumptions about the way that we as researchers come to know reality, the nature of our research problems, and our positionality. How we might come to understand and know about the phenomena of interest might follow a more post-positivist line, but my positioning of myself as the researcher and the way I engage with the data reflects a more dynamic approach. The best way I can really “label” my beliefs is to reread in more detail literature on different epistemologies and draw upon ideas and approaches from various authors and approaches, and develop strong argumentation for why I perceive the research setting and phenomena of interest the way that I do.
Methodologically, grounded theory is the only approach, situated in a qualitative methodology, that makes any sense to me. But what flavour now? Because of my increased awareness of my epistemological beliefs and the way in which I position myself in the research, and of the nature of the research setting, I cannot fully subscribe to the techniques and ideas of Strauss and Corbin’s version of grounded theory. I shall explore these issues and reasoning as the research progresses, but at this time it suffices to suggest that I will have to follow the advice of Birks and Mills (2015) and other authors. Their advice is to carefully, thoughtfully, reflectively, progressively, and critically draw on approaches and ideas from various key grounded theory authors (Glaser, Strauss, Corbin, Charmaz, Clarke and Bryant) that are most relevant and appropriate for my overall research design and research context. And, where necessary, to reformulate or build on existing grounded theory techniques.
To try to summarise all this: becoming more aware of the complexity of the research setting has caused me to become more aware of the complex nature of my epistemological beliefs. But a key question that I might like to tackle in the thesis is whether my epistemological beliefs have changed to become more complex, or if my epistemological beliefs have always been complex and I’ve only just become aware of this complexity. Can they change? Or is it simply the case that we become more aware of their complexity? Or is it a bit of both depending on what we experience and the way that we come to understand and build on this experience? This has to be reflected in my now new position on Grounded Theory: I cannot possibly capture the complexity of the research phenomena using just the procedures and ideas described by Strauss and Corbin. There has to be some sort of way that I can draw upon and build on the procedures and techniques from multiple authors that are most appropriate for my research design and research setting. But this I can only find out as I progress with my reading and testing of different techniques.
As for rereading the literature on epistemological theories and grounded theory approaches, as many authors state it’s not a matter of which array of writers you draw from and build upon, but it’s the way in which you can strongly defend and justify your positioning. What this means is there really are no right or wrong answers, but there is such a thing as a justifiable, defendable answer. And this, ultimately, forms the core of your thesis chapters and what you need to present at your viva. Overwhelming perhaps, and a little scary, but at the same time challenging, thrilling, motivating and exciting!
Reference / Bibliography
Birks, M., Mills, J (2015): Grounded Theory, A Practical Guide (2nd Ed). SAGE Publications
Urquhart, C (2013): Grounded Theory for Qualitative Research: A Practical Guide. SAGE Publications.
I have included Urquhart because she was the other author who influenced my now changing approach to grounded theory, though haven’t mentioned the author in the blog post as Birks and Mills publication was the first to really confirm the need for a change. That being said, both books are worth a read through if only to find out more about the idea of researcher leading the methodology and not methodology leading the researcher!