Writing and thinking about qualitative research: 2017 reflection

For the last three years I’ve reflected on the year through what I have learnt researching and reading qualitative research. Each year I have organised the blog post by responding to a list of questions that were posed to Carolyn Ellis, Norman Denzin, Yvonna Lincoln, Janice Morse, Ronald Pelias, and Laurel Richardson. In 2015 I suggested that early career researcher voices were absent from their responses. In 2016 I suggested that qualitative research needs challenging.

Again with another year of research behind me, I want to imagine I’m on that panel and answer the questions. So here in the 18th December 2017, I conduct my third audit on what I think about qualitative research.

What is your personal history with qualitative methods?

This year has been a year of research. I have been apprenticed as a research manager inside a major competitive research grant with links to policy makers and industry. I have learnt a lot about well funded qualitative research that sits within a critical pedagogy and social justice framework. I have also found that the theoretical framework of the research is influencing how I think about critically theorizing technology.

Was there a moment of epiphany that got you into qualitative work?

You may have noticed that in 2017 I haven’t been blogging as inquiry as often and that is because of (what I will call) a cautionary epiphany. A significant paper I read this year was by Professor Jennifer Gore who explained that empowerment is a problematic word. Power does not have a zero-sum. I cannot redistribute power by simply saying so by blogging. Society does not magically restructure because I use different grammar.

Have you ever experienced an ethical crisis in your qualitative work?

Blogging as inquiry becomes more difficult when you know a claim is not rigorously interrogated before being made. The point of blogging as inquiry is to review the angles with readers, but I have come to understand that there is an ethical contract that an academic has with their readers. While I may present myself as an inquirer in the titles, grammar and punctuation I use, I am still an academic researcher and I have a certain structural authority simply by having that job and being a Dr. Despite what I thought last year, I am not necessarily empowering my readers by blogging as inquiry and so I made the ethical decision to be more thoughtful when I blogged, steering away from quantity.

As such I’ve turned to live tweeting papers I am reading for research and blogging when a thought is more fully formed. By summarizing through a tweet stream I hope to:

  1. Open up access to ideas often locked behind a paywall; and
  2. Help me process the ideas.

If you would like to follow along and join the discussion, you can follow me @DrNomyn or search the hashtag #NBnotes.

Do you have a favourite qualitative study and why?

I read a lot of theory this year while working on a qualitative study that is not my own. Part of my research manager role has been to write first drafts. To do a good job I needed to get into the mindset of the project, hence reading the theory. I found some wonderful papers in critical pedagogy and social justice policy. Below are my five favourites:

Gore, J. (2003). What we can do for you! What can “we” do for “you”?: Struggling over empowerment in critical and feminist pedagogy. The critical pedagogy reader, 331-348.

Lingard, B., Sellar, S., & Savage, G. C. (2014). Re-articulating social justice as equity in schooling policy: The effects of testing and data infrastructures. British Journal of Sociology of Education35(5), 710-730.

Srnicek, N. (2016). Platform capitalism. John Wiley & Sons.

Fraser, N. (1990). Rethinking the public sphere: A contribution to the critique of actually existing democracy. Social text, (25/26), 56-80.

Emejulu, A., & McGregor, C. (2016). Towards a radical digital citizenship in digital education. Critical Studies in Education, 1-17.

What is the current state of [social justice] qualitative methods? What are the major challenges qualitative researchers face in the next decade?


In the end social justice qualitative research risks being ideological words written at a mass produced rate – food for the bloated neoliberal academic behemoth and blogging is its snacks. Despite good intentions social justice research has dovetailed too neatly with neo-conservative agendas in research funding which seek to make us forget about egalitarianism. For true empowerment to happen through qualitative research, words also need to be crafted with action. I am still trying to work out what that action might be but below is what I think so far.

Qualitative research to me, including that associated with educational technology, must research with stakeholders, not on them. The people (theorists, sociologists, teachers, leadership, software engineers, technology providers, curriculum and pedagogy writers, policy makers, students — EVERYONE) research is trying to reach must have a share in the formulation, conduct and redistribution of the findings. Transnationalism must  be factored in and research must be intersectional. These requirements can no longer be ignored in contemporary research that claims to be about social justice.

It is for this reason that critical pedagogy, with all its problems, should be the centre of my future qualitative research into technology in education. The problems with qualitative inquiry, the neoliberalisation of social justice, the breach of national borders by the platforms, the white dominance of academic work, and the the disconnect between those who work with, develop, and promote educational technology are all tensions. But tensions are good. Hurdles are helpers. Nothing worth doing was ever easy. Pick your idiom.

My challenge over 2018 will be to stay with the trouble and get uncomfortable.

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