Data representation with a dramatic difference: negotiating the methodological tensions and contradictions in qualitative inquiry. Confessions of a budding playwright...

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Based on the need to address the empirical reticence in the leadership literature revolving around networking dynamics in school governance, I conducted a case study of a Maltese multi-site school collaborative, the findings of which are represented
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  Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at Download by:  [University of the West of Scotland] Date:  13 June 2016, At: 13:30 International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education ISSN: 0951-8398 (Print) 1366-5898 (Online) Journal homepage: Data representation with a dramatic difference:negotiating the methodological tensions andcontradictions in qualitative inquiry. Confessionsof a budding playwright … Denise Mifsud To cite this article:  Denise Mifsud (2016) Data representation with a dramatic difference:negotiating the methodological tensions and contradictions in qualitative inquiry. Confessionsof a budding playwright …, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 29:7,863-881, DOI: 10.1080/09518398.2016.1174902 To link to this article: Published online: 05 May 2016.Submit your article to this journal Article views: 35View related articles View Crossmark data  INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF QUALITATIVE STUDIES IN EDUCATION, 2016VOL. 29, NO. 7, 863–881 Data representation with a dramatic difference: negotiating the methodological tensions and contradictions in qualitative inquiry. Confessions of a budding playwright … Denise Mifsud  School of Education, University of the West of Scotland, Ayr, UK ABSTRACT Based on the need to address the empirical reticence in the leadership literature revolving around networking dynamics in school governance, I conducted a case study of a Maltese multi-site school collaborative, the findings of which are represented in a semi-fictionalized narrative dramatization. This article focuses on the crafting of this narrative dramatization and the rationale behind this choice of narrative in social science. In depicting my rather unconventional mode of data representation, I demonstrate how a researcher attempts to negotiate the methodological tensions and contradictions in qualitative inquiry in order to construct knowledge differently. Through an understanding of my unique voice in research, I consider how representation will always remain incomplete. Furthermore, I argue for a continuous reconceptualization of validity as unpredictable and undecidable, while troubling the notions of transcription, translation and ‘verbatim’ in my research. Acknowledging the importance of textuality, I comprehend the significance of the writing  process  in my research, rather than just the  product   of my inquiry. Introduction Qualitative research as a field of inquiry occurs, and continues, in ‘transitional space’ (Harris, 2011, p. 730). Various concerns have been associated with the nature and process of qualitative inquiry (McGettigan, 1997). The tension between language and representation debated by post-qualitative inquiry 1  has been an issue in the field for well over three decades, with the crisis of representation  (1986–1990) being the fourth ‘moment’ in qualitative research, as identified by Denzin and Lincoln (2005) – a ‘moment’ whereby researchers struggled with their location and that of their subjects in textual representations of ethnographic studies. This ‘crisis of representation’ which is explored at length by Denzin (1997) problematizes ‘(a) the “real” and its representation in the text, (b) the text and the author, (c) lived expe-rience and its textual representations, and (d) the subject and his or her intentional meanings’ (p. 4). One must therefore question the relationship between reality and its representation (Pettinger, 2005) since research always unfolds in the domain of the politics of representation.  This ‘crisis of representation’ eventually led to further crises in legitimation and praxis, constituting a ‘triple crisis’ (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005, p. 19) confronting qualitative researchers. Thus, long-held assump- tions and notions such as validity, reliability and generalizability as well as the ability of the research ARTICLE HISTORY Received 6 April 2015 Accepted 3 March 2016 KEYWORDS Creative analytic practices (CAP); Foucault; narrative dramatization; representation; voice in qualitative inquiry; writing process © 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group CONTACT Denise Mifsud     D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   t   h  e   W  e  s   t  o   f   S  c  o   t   l  a  n   d   ]  a   t   1   3  :   3   0   1   3   J  u  n  e   2   0   1   6  864 D. MIFSUD to change the world through its textual representation were seriously re-thought and re-theorized. A response to these crises led to a renewed focus on qualitative research and creating texts, with qual-itative work carrying its meaning in its entire text (Richardson & St.Pierre, 2005). This established the need for texts that make a difference, with the researcher being considered as the ‘instrument’ (ibid., p. 960) in the research process due to his/her writing voice/s. The textual staging of the research ‘story’ is never innocent, being influenced by views of reality and the self.It is within this messy qualitative research milieu that I attempt to give a contribution to leadership theory, practice and policy through my engagement with theoretical and methodological innovation. My forthcoming attempt at explaining the rationale behind my particular choice of narrative dram-atization and demonstrating its actual crafting addresses the following research question: How does a researcher negotiate the methodological tensions and contradictions in qualitative inquiry in order to construct knowledge differently?   This research question further explores three main concerns which are presented below:(1) a consideration of the incomplete nature of representation due to being caught within the tension ‘between the desire to know and the limits of representation’ (Koro-Ljungberg, 2008, p. 231);(2) a problematization of the conceptualization of validity that extols the reductionist view of knowledge and data, while exploring validity as unpredictable and undecidable; and(3) an acknowledgement of the importance of textuality and a simultaneous recognition of the significance of the writing  process  in research, rather than just the  product   of the inquiry (distinction made by St.Pierre, 1997a, p. 408). These methodological research questions did not guide my study from the outset; to be more precise, they developed during the simultaneous course of data collection and analysis as I wrestled to find the ‘appropriate’ way of representing the contradictions and dysfunctionalities emerging in the network dynamics in order to ‘illuminate’ them to the reader, however avoiding the use of traditional post-positivistic representation formats. I will now attempt to situate my work within Lather’s (2013) framework for different kinds of qualitative research, although it does not seem to fit in neatly within one framework, but crosses the border between QUAL 3.0 and QUAL 4.0. QUAL 3.0 uses postmodern theories to problematize concepts associated with qualitative inquiry, such as validity, voice, data, reflexivity, experience, interviewing, the field and clarity. On the other hand, QUAL 4.0 assumes ‘no methodological instrumentality to be unproblematically learned. In this methodology-to-come, we begin to do it differently wherever we are in our projects’ (Lather, 2013, p. 635). Humanist foundations still ground the research design and process (in terms of my research methodology), but post-theories (in my case, Foucauldian thought) are used to think about analysis, while I simultaneously problematize concepts of validity, voice, data, authenticity, experience and reflexivity. However, I am also ‘becoming’ (Lather, 2013, p. 635) into QUAL 4.0 as I ‘imagine and accomplish an inquiry that might produce different knowledge and produce knowledge differently’ (ibid., p. 635). I will now present some background information about the Maltese education scenario within which this study is set, as well as the study itself and the research questions it addresses in order to give the reader a better picture of the rationale behind my choice of narrative dramatization and my crafting of this representation, which ultimately is the focus of this article. Raising the curtain on my research: relations of power in a Maltese school network   This study is set in Malta, where the education system has been undergoing a structured, gradual but steady change in terms of decentralization and school autonomy. The particular organizational reform addressed by this study is that of networking, mandated by the policy ‘ For All Children to Succeed  ’ (Ministry of Education, Youth & Employment, 2005). Under this reform, Maltese state primary and sec- ondary schools were clustered into networks (legally termed ‘colleges’) according to their geographical    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   t   h  e   W  e  s   t  o   f   S  c  o   t   l  a  n   d   ]  a   t   1   3  :   3   0   1   3   J  u  n  e   2   0   1   6  INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF QUALITATIVE STUDIES IN EDUCATION 865 location. This major reform necessitated the introduction of new roles and responsibilities, among which was the deployment of the College Principal, designated to be the educational leader of the college as a whole. The purpose of my research is to explore relations of power in a Maltese college among the ‘key actors’ involved, namely: the Minister for Education, the Directors General, the Principal, the Heads and the policy document ‘ For All Children to Succeed  ’ (2005) – networking as it unfolds within school governance in this multi-site school collaborative. This networking, or lack of it, is explored via three main thematic areas:(1) How is collegiality, as a policy-mandated reform, performed within the Maltese education scenario of gradual, but progressive decentralization?(2) What relations of power flow in the dynamics among leaders both within and across the various levels of the leadership hierarchy?(3) How is leadership distributed among the leaders constituting the college?My study adopts a Foucauldian theoretical framework, more specifically his concepts of power, dis-cipline, governmentality, discourse and subjectification. Data for my case study are collected through semi-structured, in-depth interviews; observation of a Council of Heads meeting; and a documentary analysis of ‘ For All Children to Succeed  ’ [henceforth referred to as FACT] – the policy document mandating the setting up of networks. The college constituting the case study is made up of a number of primary and secondary schools – no specific data can be given due to the bounded nature of the Maltese edu-cational community. Interviews were carried out with the eight leaders – these were complimented by the observation of a day-long Council of Heads [henceforth referred to as CoH] – a monthly meeting, mandated by the Education Act, that takes place among Heads and the Principal. The data were tran- scribed and translated and then subject to narrative analysis – with the idea for a narrative dramatization occurring at the very initial stages of analysis – early on during the transcription stage (for reasons that will be explained later on in the paper).Engaging with relational ethics in the awareness of my responsibility towards my participants, I attend to ‘the ethics of what to tell’ (Ellis, 2007, p. 24) as I selectively leave out data which having been transcribed and translated would still fail to protect the anonymity of particular participants. Attempts at avoiding betrayal have been made (although it cannot be guaranteed), with assurance being given to the participants that the data will only be used for the purposes of this research and will not be disclosed to third parties.I provide a theoretical reconceptualization of leadership as it unfolds in networking and what emerges is a case study of network leadership that jars with people’s received assumptions and com-pletely overthrows the received notions of educational leadership as presented in literature. It is my hope that my ‘findings’ will make the readers think of leadership in a way they have not thought of before, moreover presented in a way they are not expecting me to, in my rather unconventional narrative dramatization. These ‘findings’, which brought forward mismatches between the leaders’ narrative in the interviews and their performance in interaction during the CoH, constituted a ‘moment of epiphany’ in my research. This led to my ‘dramatic’ decision of representing my data in a three-act drama. The ‘triple’ use of narrative Narrative analysis of the empirical data generated during the interview process and the observation of the meeting allows me to unravel the often ‘masked’ power flow circulating among educational leaders through the construction and performance of their identities that emerge through their accounts and interaction. The ‘positioning of self in relation to the other’ (Watson, 2012, p. 460) emerges in narratives as ‘we narratively construct the other and through this construction we establish claims for our own identities’ (ibid., 2012, p. 471).    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   t   h  e   W  e  s   t  o   f   S  c  o   t   l  a  n   d   ]  a   t   1   3  :   3   0   1   3   J  u  n  e   2   0   1   6  866 D. MIFSUD I show how ‘identity is constructed through narrative’ (Watson, 2012, p. 460), paying special atten-tion to how leaders construct and perform their identities. Bamberg (2003) conceives of positioning in two distinct ways: the ‘being positioned’ orientation in which the subject has little determination of agency, and the ‘positioning oneself’ orientation where discursive repertoires are constructed rather than already given. These constitute two very different ‘agent-world relationships’ (p. 135). Utilizing the above theory of positioning analysis, I explore how the leaders position themselves in relation to discourses by which they are positioned. Davies and Harre (1990) argue that the power of discursive practices lies in the endowment of subject positions. Accordingly, who one is is always an open question with a shifting answer depending upon the positions made available within one’s own and others’ discursive practices and within those practices, the stories through which we make sense of our and others’ lives. (p. 46) According to Hendry (2007), ‘Our narratives … are the tales through which we constitute our iden-tities. We are our narratives … Who we are is embedded in our stories’ (p. 495). This approach increased my awareness regarding the role of questions and my behaviour in the success of narrative generation and production. As I actively constitute the ‘stories’ that I interpret and subsequently analyse, I attempt to facilitate the production of narratives in my interviews by establish-ing a climate that allows for storytelling. I allow longer turns at talk, paying attention to details such as specific incidents and turning points, picking up on these for further probing. Additionally, when shifts occur, associations and meanings that might connect to other stories are explored with the participant. According to Riessman (2008), creating possibilities for extended narration involves investigators relin-quishing their control – I follow participants down their trails as I acknowledge the asymmetrical power relationships within the interview process and the benefits derived from power-sharing.Narrative is thus both the phenomenon being studied and the methodological approach adopted, in addition to being the mode of data representation. The perspectives of ‘both narrator and analyst’ (Riessman, 2001) come into view as I attempt to switch roles. The active researcher who collected empirical data through in-depth interviews and observation adopts the stance of what Smith and Sparkes (2008, p. 20) label as the ‘storyteller’, where the analysis is the story or the story is the analysis. I do not consider myself just as a ‘story analyst’ (ibid., p. 20), where ‘analytical procedures’ are employed to examine features of the data. I do not find   narratives – instead, I participate in their creation through ‘active interviews’ (Holstein & Gubrium, 1995). Narrative analysis provides the site for the production of ‘another narrative’ (Watson, 2012, p. 463) which unfolds as I craft the narrative from interview and observation data. The fictional representation of narrative In my attempt at dealing with this ‘crisis of representation’, I fictionalize a dramatic representation of the ‘voices’ of the leaders in the drama Polyphonic College , where the three main themes of school net- working, relationships of power and leadership distribution, materializing from my data, are presented in a play of three acts. The case study presented is  the analysis, with further interpretation drawing on concepts discussed in the literature review and Foucauldian theory. I acknowledge my presence as a narrator, observer, producer, interpreter and playwright within the play itself. Nonetheless, as Richardson (1992) states, ‘no matter how we stage the text, we … the authors (researchers) … are doing the staging’ (p. 131) – I do assume responsibility for this ‘staging’. Through the use of fictionalizing devices (in my case, the selection of verbatim quotes from inter-view and observation data and their subsequent crafting into a narrative dramatization), I move away from a conventional form of analysis and representation, thus releasing myself and my readers from what Barone (2007) refers to as ‘a methodological straightjacket’ (p. 460). I choose to ‘do representation differently’ (Berbary, 2011, p. 186) by creating a representation through the use of creative analytic practices. These practices utilize genres as fiction, poetry, narrative and performance, thus rendering data representations more ‘effective’ at portraying the research study (Richardson, 2000). Writing as a method of inquiry   (WAMOI) (Richardson, 1994) thus emerged in which the researcher pays attention to    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   t   h  e   W  e  s   t  o   f   S  c  o   t   l  a  n   d   ]  a   t   1   3  :   3   0   1   3   J  u  n  e   2   0   1   6
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