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«Story is far older than the art of science and psychology and will always be the elder in the equation no matter how much time passes. —Clarissa ...»

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Qualitative Research

and Habits of Mind

Story is far older than the art of science and psychology and will

always be the elder in the equation no matter how much time


—Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Women Who Run With the Wolves (1996)

B ecause the researcher is the research instrument in qualitative research

projects, it is important for the researcher to practice and refine tech-

niques and habits of mind for qualitative research. Habits of mind in this text

will include observation habits, interview habits, writing the researcher reflective journal habit, the narrative writing habit, the habits of analysis and interpretation, and the habit of writing poetry found in the interview transcripts. In addition, the creative habit and the collaborative habit will also be discussed. Combining and working on all these habits will also pre- pare you to be a reflective researcher in terms of Internet inquiry along with the issues surrounding the use of blogs as data and representing data in visual format and visual text, all with an eye toward the ethical questions embedded in our research approaches. You need to fine-tune your observa- tion skills, your interviewing skills, and your narrative and poetic writing skills, and this edition of the book will provide exercises to assist you in this journey on the path to being a better qualitative researcher. In addition, in 1


this technology-centered world, you need to know how to use and critique the latest technological artifacts that may or may not make your work eas- ier. In fact, you need to practice like a dancer warming up. You need to reflect on what works for you, like a yogi who meditates and stretches before class begins. All these bodily activities help to jump-start your brain, the primary center for you, the research instrument. Thus, you need to practice seeing what is in front of you. You need to practice hearing the data, that is, listen- ing skills to hear what your participants are telling you. You need to flex your arm muscles and write in both narrative and poetic forms. In other words, you have to be present in the study. Like the dancer and practitioner of yoga, you need the body to reflect what the mind can produce. In this third edition, I rely on continuing work in the classroom and in the field along with my ongoing dialogue and debate with my students. As a teacher of qualitative research methods, I have been fortunate to have been both inspired and tested by my doctoral students. No matter what the geographical setting, the

questions they have raised remain nearly the same:

1. How can I become a better qualitative researcher?

2. How can I improve observation skills?

3. How can I improve interview skills?

4. How can I become a better writer?

5. What can I do with these skills?

Most recently, another question has been forthcoming:

6. Can I get a job as a qualitative researcher? (Of course!) Realizing that the first five questions have no easy answers and realizing that there is no one way to respond to these questions, I am using the concept of stretching exercises once again to frame this third edition as a response to my students’ questions. I have written elsewhere (Janesick, 1994, 2000, 2001, 2007) using dance as a metaphor for qualitative research design and would like to extend that metaphor by using the concept of stretching. Stretching implies that you are moving from a static point to an active one. It means that you are going beyond the point at which you now stand. Just as the dancer must stretch to begin what eventually becomes the dance, the qualitative researcher may stretch by using these exercises to become better at observation and interview skills, which Chapter 1 Qualitative Research and Habits of Mind 3 eventually solidify as the research project. These are meant as a starting point, not a slavish set of prescriptions. Also, in yoga, stretching is critical because you stretch not just the body but the mind as well. In fact, in yoga, every cell is activated by a series of asanas, or postures. The idea is that by activating your cells through stretching, breathing, and successive postures, you not only stretch the body but you also stretch emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. As a qualitative researcher in training, so to speak, you will grow in many ways as well. In fact, no matter how many tweets, twitter accounts, Facebook postings, blogs, or web-based activities you the researcher in training participate in, in the end, you still need to rely on yourself as the research instrument and rely on the two basic techniques of all qualitative work, observation and interviewing. In this book, you will find exercises to assist you in your development and hopefully assist in your definition of your role as a researcher.

Identifying Habits

As a starting point, I see these exercises as part of shaping the prospective researcher as a disciplined inquirer. Disciplined inquiry, a term borrowed from the renowned educator and philosopher John Dewey (1859–1952), assumes that we begin where we are now and, in a systematic way, proceed together to experience what it might mean to inquire. Furthermore, his notion of “habits of mind” resonates here. In this case, practice exercises are used to help in identifying a disciplined inquiry approach and to develop habits of mind. To use ballet as an example, the ballet dancer in training takes a series of beginning classes, intermediate classes, and various levels of advanced classes before going to performance en pointe. There is no way an individual can skip from beginning to advanced stages in ballet, or in modern dance, for that matter. In fact, the modern dance student is often required to study ballet at advanced levels in order to have a stronger ability to do modern dance. So it is with yoga. You can imagine that in a discipline where your goal is to integrate breath, body, mind, and spirit, you must proceed through levels of beginning, intermediate, and advanced study. It is the same for you, the qualitative researcher in training. You work toward developing as a qualitative researcher by developing habits of mind to enable you to move toward your goal.

One has to develop habits and skills and train the body incrementally.

Likewise, the qualitative researcher has to train the mind, the eye, and the soul together as a habit. By doing these exercises, we allow for an


interchange of ideas and practice, self-reflections, and overall evaluation of one’s own progress through each of the chapters described in this text: (a) the observation and writing habit; (b) the interviewing and writing habit; (c) the creative habit; and (d) the analysis habit, which include making sense of the data, ethics, intuition, interpretation of data, Internet inquiry, and interaction with the Institutional Review Board (IRB). By assuming a posture of disciplined inquiry and assuming development of sturdy habits of mind, the prospective qualitative researcher is an active agent. This is not about memorizing a formula. Nor is it about dropping into a research project and finishing up quickly.

This is about constructing a critical space for serious observation and interview skills habits and development of those habits. By actually constructing this space, the prospective qualitative researcher automatically begins a laborintensive and challenging journey. This is like the journey of a dancer from first dance class to performance, or a student of yoga from beginning stretches to amazing handstands, backbends, headstands, and other postures that truly test the body and mind at every known level. This requires time, patience, diligence, ingenuity, and creativity, all of which are required for the qualitative researcher. Just as a dancer keeps track of movement phrases and critiques on performance, in the exercises described here, you will also keep track in a researcher reflective journal throughout the use of this book to reflect upon your own habits of mind as they develop.

Getting Feedback and Writing About It

Consequently, some exercises here may also provide a way to work on the role of the researcher by helping researchers to know themselves better. This can be helpful only when researchers are engaged full-time with participants in the field. Participants will trust the researcher if the researcher trusts himself or herself. It goes without saying that the researcher must have a solid knowledge of the self. One of the great things about graduate study is that if done correctly the student should grow and change remarkably. I have often remarked that graduate school is for stretching the mind and using parts of the brain that have not been used so actively previous to graduate study.

One of the great things about teaching is watching that process unfold. Also, I like to think of the classroom as something of a studio space, a laboratory if you prefer, to see the various levels of habits of mind displayed in behavior.

Graduate school or any learning space allows for the practice of the exercises and allows for space to fail, to receive feedback, and to redirect. Just as in a dance studio or yoga studio, constant feedback is given to allow for progression

Chapter 1 Qualitative Research and Habits of Mind 5

toward performance, so too in the studio of the qualitative research classroom, is there a space for critique, feedback, and redirection and not just from the instructor but from fellow researchers in training. The feedback loop is essential in this process. The dancer as artist is accustomed to the constant feedback loop of performance, critique and feedback, redirection, and then a new performance. After that performance, we do it all again with feedback and redirection to the next level. Another good example to illustrate this point can be seen in the performances at the Olympics. Judges assess the athletes through a rating system. They give feedback with that score, and then the coaches of the athletes go in-depth into the redirection for the next time around. The athlete has to take part in the redirection or suffer in the ratings.

All of this conveys a sense of action, dynamism, and movement forward. So now, we can begin on the habits we need to develop to become a qualitative researcher and refine existing habits.

Finding Your Theoretical Habit

Research is an active verb. It is a way of seeing the world that goes beyond the ordinary. Thus, this series of practice exercises is designed to help learners along the way. In any class, there are beginners, midlevel learners, and advanced learners. The exercises written here help individuals find themselves in terms of their levels of expertise in observation, interviewing, writing, and analysis. This also requires self-knowledge.

These exercises are not a formula. I created them, and I have tested them for years. They resonate with students, and they work for me, provided students make the effort to really go the distance. In that sense, the qualitative

researcher starts with two basic questions:

• What do I want to know?

• What set of techniques do I need to find out what I want to know?

This is the starting point for any research project. In qualitative work, the fact that the researcher is the research instrument requires that the senses be fine-tuned. Hence, the idea of practice on a daily basis sharpens the instrument. Many individuals can look at something and not see what is there. It is

my goal to have readers of this text try to sharpen the following skills:

• Seeing through the habit of observation

• Hearing through the habit of interviewing


• Writing as a habit (researcher reflective journal, narrative writing, and poetry)

• Conceptualizing and synthesizing as a habit of mind (developing models of what occurred in the study)

• Communicating through ordinary language

• Reflecting on Internet resources and tools that may help in refining yourself as the research instrument One of my dance teachers once said that dancers are, in the end, architects of movement. So, before an architect builds a building, he or she must understand, for example, the use of structure and the grammar of architecture, steel, plastic, and stone. Likewise, the qualitative researcher must understand the functions and feel of observations, interviews, writing, and so on, before the final written report of the study is created. Prior to that, the researcher also needs to know the theoretical foundations that guide his or her research. In this book, exercises are designed to allow for finding your theoretical framework. What is the ology or ism that guides you? Is it phenomenology? Is it social reconstructionism? Is it feminism? Is it critical theory in any of its forms?

Your job by the end of this book and at the end of your researcher reflective journal artifact is to identify and describe the theory that guides your work and why and how you might use that to inform your observations, interviews, and writing.

I have found that learners respond to being actively involved in these practice exercises for a number of reasons. They have told me that these exercises strengthen their confidence, imagination, and ability to cope with field emergencies. (See Appendix B for reflective journal samples.) In addition, students appreciate the fact that all of these exercises are understandable, because the language used to describe them is ordinary language. I have always found students more responsive and enthusiastic when ordinary language is used to include them in the active engagement of qualitative research. They are more excited about theory, practice, and praxis when they are not excluded from the conversation. The reader of this text will see that the exercises are described in ordinary language, following in the tradition of bell hooks (1994), who pointed out that any theory that cannot be used in everyday conversation cannot be used to educate. In addition, the actual experience and practice of these exercises in observation and interview activities often help to allay fears and misconceptions about

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