Posted by: JenLuecht | April 6, 2015

Four is better than one…right?

Qualitative Research Methods, Sarah J. Tracy, Exercise 3.2 (p.49)

As someone who cannot be satisfied with just one (explanation, foundation, or even cookie from the jar), I have discovered that four theoretical approaches closely resonate with my own assumptions in research and general philosophies on life.

The first of these is the interpretive paradigm. This paradigm assumes that experience and knowledge are constructed and reproduced through communication, interaction, and practice – a consideration that is essential for communications professionals and scholars. I truly believe that the understanding of reality is, in fact, mediated through the researcher and that nothing can be totally unhindered by our individual awareness (even research). This paradigm would be incredibly useful when interpreting research data and forming conclusions, as it contains in it the assumption that we are all makers of our own experience and interpretation of reality, regardless of how objective we may attempt to be.

A second paradigm that I’ve already hammered in research, again and again, is the postmodern/poststructuralist belief surrounding power relations. This framework suggests that power relations are dispersed, unstable, and plural and it emphasizes the avenues of resistance and change. In my opinion, power relations are one of the most important factors in our societal structures, organizations, and communities, and they will forever influence how individuals interact with one another, whose voice is heard, and what messages will become the status quo.

Closely related to this discussion on power relations is Feminism. It contains the key assumptions that male dominance exists, that it unfairly reduces the societal role and perceived value of women, and that change is ultimately advantageous to the status quo. Although I adamantly believe that this theory is one of the most valuable, I also see potential danger in its constant application. It could encourage a researcher to go into the field with a preconceived notion of change that may or may not actually be needed, along with a potentially false explanation of the “why” and “how” in a population (before the study even begins). In addition, it would also be detrimental to use one’s own past and experience to assume the particular type of change that is needed to shift the power relations in a male dominated group.

And finally, let’s add one more to the group – Ethnography of Communication (EOC). This framework struck a chord with me because it draws from many different intellectual traditions and can be used as both a theoretical perspective and a method in studying the cultural patterns of communications. Because EOC can be both theory and method, it would be particularly useful in promoting successful self-reflexivity during research.

Until this point, I’ve employed a vast amount of postmodern/poststructuralist and Feminist framework in my qualitative research. But now, as a communication masters student, I am enamored with adding the interpretive paradigm and EOC to the mix. Though, before doing this, I will first have to delve further into Tracy’s discussion surrounding the combination of paradigms: how dangerous, or immensely useful, can it can be to blur the lines between them?


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