“Becoming constructed in complexity based qualitative research: Searching for meaning in others, and most importantly myself “
by Michele Battle-Fisher
I am a divergent thinker in a convergent field of health. I am a mixed methods researcher (if it has to do with unraveling networks and complexity). As such, I have found peace in embracing complexity being two brained. I love systems and its inherent mathematical complexity. I may reel in the messiness of my subjectivisms and tie it together with closure found in systems science and its sociographs. There is such a thing as social network ethnography. Did you know? We need to know the “science” as well. But we happen to narrate the findings…In this blog post, I hope to illustrate a side of constructionists that may in more positivist systems researchers may never been exposed. This is me, unapologetically….UCINET and narrated voice…
“The party’s over and I need to clean up the mess”
It is over. This is the moment to take a breath and honestly assess my experience with an idea for a social network qualitative project. I have an idea at looking at meaning making of health within families. Network- check! Now as a qualitative researcher we are supposed to make the strange familiar. But I dealt with two warring ideals (if I can steal a phrase from W.E.B. Dubois) – an ideal to the research and also an ideal of self (Can’t forget about me…). This kind of work makes you vulnerable, intellectually and emotionally. Anyone that says that I did not give a part of myself during a qualitative study is foolin’. Well, if you don’t give a damn about the topic perhaps you can do that to a degree. But if you are truly connected to the question, there is no sparing your stamina.
The wonderful part of research of this type is the visceral reward. Maybe it’s the dopamine rush (though too much of a good thing can lead to abnormal psychosis- a nod to positivism). There are so many chances to engage with the material.
• Writing field notes in preparation
• Pacing the floor hoping that your subject shows
• Looking in the eyes of a person that must become “naked” in the sense of disclosure
• Writing extended notes
• Sleep on the couch with field notes on head waiting for some reuptake of the material into the grey matter
• Complete tasks as required to simulate the hellish schedule that we should keep with the material (though in reality life happens and guilt ( and guiltless elation) set in when you don’t have a napkin to scribble on)
• Reading academic journal articles to find your epistemology (that proves more elusive by the day) – Would you talk about this with a date? Heck no. So remembering that the subjects want voice not conjecture is hard…
• Reformulate IRB to accommodate fact that your work is not front-loaded (No, I don’t know my theory now. Does grounded theory ring a bell? Yes sir, I only ask that I keep time schedule open-ended. Thank you for your graciousness, your highness. I will follow your opinion but just listen to me a moment…)
• Looking back at all of the xylem and phloem that you destroyed for notes and throw in the air
• Pick up papers, say Hail Mary, and know that this is all worth it. It is for knowledge and tenure.
“Idea generation or how I learned to love the bomb”
Perhaps through an engagement in discourse, this work can show the difficulty of being human. Health is a gift that is often left unopened. What is left out of the discussion is the value of humanity. Why being on this Earth even matters (even as we all have finite time here). I hope that this complexity project will be able to show that element.
“Subjects are not a dime a dozen”
I know that research is not supposed to be therapy. I know that when I receive a cold-call from an undergrad student for a survey, I do not always participate. Why? What can I gain? I know that in the consent we make clear that the subjects may not personally gain but they need to get something out of this. Dealing with families adds the wrinkle that they don’t want everybody to know. But the point is families should be talking about health otherwise one is left to get safer sex info from “American Pie”. If it is found that meaning is deficient in the family dynamic that is a finding. Though it hurts to know that for many, family may not such a sanctuary.
“I have talked to you, now what?”
This is a great question to consider. From the view of observer, I would have a trunk load of material to go through. But the subject (ego) will not forget that the subject talked to me. When I worked in the field, I became very close to the people that I served (alters). I suppose that is a reason why qualitative resonates so with me. The network matters.
“Field notes to befuddle”
I love writing. But field notes can be tedious in the sense that I am still working on being a complete observer. I seem to take light in my notes. But I am taking this seriously. Perhaps it is my way of releasing the stress of being so close to an ego. I don’t know.
“Girl, you had better listen to your elder”
Sure, I have been taught to respect my elders. But culturally for me, that does not give an allowance to ask questions back. This was hard to do. Listening to my subject was thanks enough but it doesn’t hurt to let your subjects know how invaluable they are. Now I am asking you to list the five most influential people in a name generator. Are you close? How often do you interact and what do you do when you interact? I am prying into somebody’s intimate business. Listening is not a skill that comes easily especially when you are thinking why I was not told this before in previous meetings. But I must appreciate the imperfection of being human. Things happen on their own time.
“Is there a reason on God’s Earth? Finding an epistemology”
Yes there is. I do believe in co-construction. There, that must be it. But the science understands that rates and risks cannot be subjective. I must have dual citizenship but my home resides with subjectivism. Go social construction!
“Dang, what’s my theory?”
This is not easy but I have some ideas. This will become more apparent after more data collection.
• SOCIAL NETWORK theory!
• Intergroup theory (communication)
• Intergenerational miscommunication (communication)
• Human capital theory (heritability) (economics)
• Social structural theory (sociology)
• Social cognitive theory (public health, mainly but it is intrapersonal)
• Differential health endowments (economics)- This made me think of an AP article about Haitian mothers forced to choose which children to feed and which to die- Life ain’t no crystal stair…We can parse our “words” in the same way
But honestly, I want to get through the arduous task of collecting and analyzing first. My head hurts.
“Can I get Workers’ Comp for carpel tunnel?”
The endless rewinding and typing…This is where I best engaged with the transcript. I spent hours listening to a voice that I had known for some time but sounded resoundingly new. I do not mind transcription. But I need a good mix tape to listen to…
“Will I find my way?”
As I reflect on this experience, I am grateful. This is the most writing I have done since rhetorical theory. I have been told that this is a great thesis that could possibly build a career. Yes, maybe. But sometimes we divorce ideas. I just want to become a better complexity researcher. I just hope that I survive the few bumps along the way. I am on my way home.