Monday, October 13, 2008

"Am I making sense?" "No."

I often criticize my program for focusing (almost exclusively) on quantitative methods -- at the expense of qualitative methods.* I'm now in my fifth semester and am taking my first class on qualitative methods. I very much want to learn about them/how to use them but I'm troubled by the language used in some of the literature.

Why am I troubled? Because I'm not convinced it makes any sense. I'm sure it makes sense to somebody, somewhere (whoever you are, you are welcome to explain it to me), but it doesn't make sense to me (and I'm not just some nobody they pulled off the street -- I have quite a bit of background knowledge related to this).

I fail to understand why this literature can't be written in language that's more practical and understandable. Is the author trying to impress somebody? Are they so far removed from reality that they think this makes sense? It seems like they're off in their own little world speaking an entirely different language.

Here's one sentences that has frustrated me:

Methods are needed that are simultaneously epistemologically/ontologically based in the soil that nurtured pragmatism, symbolic interactionism, and grounded theory, and that also address demands for empirical understanding of the heterogeneous worlds emerging from this "fractured, multi-centered discursive system" of new world orderings.

*So we're all clear, quantitative methods are essentially numbers-based techniques used to analyze data, while qualitative methods rely on "softer" knowledge, often derived from interviews or observation.


Anonymous said...

I can understand your frustration with that language. It's a legacy of the quant/qual debates from years ago, and if I were to hazard a translation into English, it would be, "We're trying to figure out how researchers can portray the world in a warranted fashion while also being antifoundationalist." To be honest, I don't think it makes sense for Clarke to put pragmatism in the same boat with interactionism and grounded theory. You can be a positivist who works in the qualitative world (like early 20th century historians), and you can be an antifoundationalist who works with numbers (something I think Dewey would have proposed, and many days I feel like that). Some people may have grown up (professionally) working from an epistemological view that they fit into their methods, but I don't buy the correspondence that Clarke assumes.

Another part of the problem is the attempt by some who interview, observe, and take notes to mirror the psychology terms of reliability and validity, when those are just operationalized forms of procedural and substantive warrants. Historians using archival sources don't have reliability and validity, but they do have a procedural warrant (the footnote) and a substantive warrant (the argument that darned well should engage the existing historiography, else be torn to shreds in reviews).

eduwonkette said...

That quote makes me nauseous.

There's a ton of qualitative work out there written in lay English. Keep the faith, Corey!

RDT said...

In that quote, the mixture of jargon and metaphor seems pretty toxic...