Sunday, April 17, 2011

Comp. Research's Greatest Hits

OK, here are my top ten readings from this semester:

10. My Freshman Year by Rebekah Nathan. Didn’t teach me much about Comp. Research, but it was a good introduction to ethnography by a pro, and utterly readable.

9. Rehearsing New Roles by Lee Ann Carroll.  Not a thrilling read, but certainly the kind of solid research that anyone could be proud of.

8. “Seduction and Betrayal in Qualitative Research” by Thomas Newkirk. I think it’s somewhat one-sided, as we have discussed in class, but it goes a long way toward exploding the myth of the omniscient researcher and research that has no effect on its subjects.

7. “Turning in upon Ourselves: Positionality, Subjectivity, and Reflexivity in Case Study and Ethnographic Research” by Elizabeth Chiseri-Strater. I thought this was a really good exploration of the position of the researcher, especially helpful for the beginning researcher who has not yet had time to work through these questions.
Bonnie Sunstein

6. “Culture on the Page: Experience, Rhetoric, and Aesthetics in Ethnographic Writing” by Bonnie S. Sunstein. Sunstein explores the three sides of writing an ethnography and how they interact.

5. “Ethnographic Practice as a Means of Invention: Seeking a Rhetorical Paradigm for Ethnographic Writing” by Robert Brooke. A chance to look over the researcher’s shoulder as he does field research and decides how to frame the resulting article (which we also read).  Our conversation with Brooke was a highlight of the semester.

Heidi McKee
4. Heidi McKee and James Porter “The Ethics of Digital Writing Research: A Rhetorical Approach.” Not only do McKee and Porter lay out many of the ethical problems inherent in digital research, they provide a casuistic heuristic with which to take them on. Great stuff, as was our chance to Skype with Heidi McKee.

3. “The Importance of Harmony: An Ecological Metaphor for Writing Research” by Kristie S.  Fleckenstein, Clay Spinuzzi, Rebecca J. Rickly, and Carole Clark Papper.  Our assignment this week was to write up two or three “take-aways,” for the class, and I’m going to use my top three readings as a framework for this.  The reason I chose this article as one of the three is its completeness.  It really does try to acknowledge as many aspects of writing research as it can in article format, and it situates them so neatly within the ecology metaphor. The authors recognize distinct entities within the research paradigm, as did Cross, but they go further and incorporate these entities, as well as other forces, into their vision of research as ecological system.  Their acknowledgement that research is not easy and neat is one that many writers make, but most researchers seem to end up with their own research being neatly wrapped up, even if no one else’s is.  These authors are fine with leaving some loose ends; after all, research should resemble the real world.

2. “Ethnography or Psychography? The Evolution and Ethics of a New Genre in Composition” by Keith Rhodes. I thought we gave this article short shrift in class, perhaps because it never really caught on in the composition community. We had so many questions about ethnography and its place in composition research, though, that I think this article deserves another hearing, since it deals with many of our questions.  Rather than claiming that a study is an ethnography and then redefining “ethnography” to fit what our study does, Rhodes suggests that we admit that we are not writing ethnographies, as they are defined by anthropology and other social sciences.  He proposes the term “psychography” for our discipline.  The difference would be in a heightened awareness of ethics, a consciousness of the research participant as empowered other, an acknowledgement that a class is not a culture, and an openness to hypothesis testing as well as hypothesis generating. Rhodes recognizes that the article calls for scholars to cross some traditional boundaries in their research; institutionalized academic writing conventions make it difficult to publish research outside the standard mold. Unfortunately, his prophecy of difficulties in adoption of his method seems to have been fulfilled, as few compositionists write in the genre called “psychography.”

Shirley Rose
1. “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” by Shirley K. Rose.
How do I love this article? It is about citation practice. I was able to cite it in my research proposal. And it has Burke! It was sort of a side-road week the week we read about lit reviews and citation practice, but with my research interest in sources and my love of all things Burke, reading this article was like meeting a long-lost relative! Rose chooses Burke’s terms “love,” knowledge,” and “authority” to inform her theory of citation. “Knowledge” refers to the facts we may have learned from a source; “authority” to the boost of our ethos when we can demonstrate we argue backed by well-known names in the field. But “love” is Burke’s idea of identification; by citing certain authors, we assume identity with them and put our own work into conversation with theirs. Rose points out that Burke uses familial terminology to describe this kind of relationship; in a way, the authors that we cite are our intellectual “ancestors” (42). 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Wrapping it Up

Heidi McKee certainly seems to be the expert on digital writing research ethics, so I look forward to our chance to interact with her during the next class period.  For this week, we read three of her articles, two written with James Porter (“The Ethics of Digital Writing Research: A Rhetorical Approach” and “The Ethics of Conducting Writing Research on the Internet: How Heuristics Help) and the singly authored “Ethical and Legal Issues for Writing Research in an Age of Media Convergence.”  This last article lays out some of the issues specific to new media: issues of representation (self, participant, and third-party), issues of informed consent, and issues of intellectual property rights.  The other two articles offer an approach to dealing with these and other ethical issues rhetorically. McKee & Porter suggest that the researcher identify two or more binaries that affect the question at hand, for example, the nature of the internet space where the material was originally posted (privateàpublic) or the personal sensitivity of the information contained in the posting.  It is then easy to identify the cases where no additional care needs to be taken (publicly posted, non-sensitive information) and the cases where informed consent needs to be carefully solicited (privately posted, sensitive information).  The borderlands between these two extremes is where the careful ethical reasoning needs to take place, in a process that McKee and Porter have developed from the now nearly forgotten theological technique called casuistry.

I’m going to pause here and respond to Dan’s blog.  I’ll start with ethnography.  Ethnography began as a way for a researcher to learn about a previously unknown or little known culture and to share that knowledge with others. When composition began to adopt ethnography as a research method, some of the parameters of the study were fundamentally changed.  No longer was the researcher travelling to a foreign land to describe new customs. Instead, the research was done in familiar communities. Once the element of alienation was removed (anthropologist “translates” strange culture for academic community), the effect was that ethnographies served to highlight the differences between communities (instead of us all being American, we are now Appalachian, Alaskan, Christian, Amish, Hispanic, etc. etc.). So it is difficult to generalize from studies whose purpose is to do the opposite of generalization. I’m going to go along with Dan on this one and say that I wish there were fewer ethnographic studies being done in rhet/comp; I don’t see their usefulness.  There is still a place for the literacy memoir (Lives on the Boundary), but beyond that… I don’t see it.

But research in general—I think that goes too far. I think Dan lists some problems and issues with research (not enough theoretical support, not enough practical application), but those problems can be fixed and aren’t intrinsic to research. Research with theoretical support, sufficient data, important research questions, and an ethical approach can yield important information for our field.  Without it, we’re all just guessing.  Where would process theory be without The Composing Process of Twelfth Graders? The solution isn’t to toss out research, it’s to do research the way it should be done.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Some diverse reading this week: three short chapters on methodologies for studying writing; the methodology chapter from Danah Boyd’s dissertation, and three articles describing studies of online writing.  The common thread is the emphasis on (or at least the capability of) researching online writing.  The chapters on methodology come from Digital Writing Research: Technologies, Methodologies, and Ethical Issues, edited by McKee & DeVoss, and they describe the diary method, mobile technologies, and video/screen capture.  These methodologies allow researchers to follow their subjects in absentia by reminding them to log their activities or monitoring their computer screens.  The benefits of these methods are that the researchers can be much less obtrusive, letting subjects do much of the observation for them.  The drawbacks are that the subjects might forget to record their activities or find the frequent updating cumbersome.

The four actual studies that we looked at this week had common methodologies; namely, the researchers examine online writing and interview some of the writers to look more deeply into the writing acts.  The differences come in the types of writing each study analyzes.  Leon and Pigg write about just two graduate students, examining their online presence as they move toward professionalization.  Danah Boyd’s dissertation examines teenagers and social networks; as a dissertation, its scope is much larger than the other article-length research.  Boyd carefully lays out her methodology, noting its possible pitfalls (distance, scope, and age of subjects).  She reasons through her choices for each of these difficulties, providing solid groundwork for the research to come.  Liew and McKee each address online writing as resistant or confrontational, Liew as a student speaks back to his teacher via a blog, and McKee as students participating in online discussions come into conflict with one another.

The articles this week give a broad introduction to the possibilities of online research and to some of the ethical issues.  As Boyd and others point out, the number of subjects available to us online is many times that which we would have access to locally, but communication with them can present logistical problems.  

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ethical Implications in Qualitative Research

A couple of great articles this week!  First we have “Turning in upon Ourselves: Positionality, Subjectivity, and Reflexivity in Case Study and Ethnographic Research” by Elizabeth Chiseri-Strater.  “All researchers are positioned,” she begins.  Exactly to what extent researchers are aware of this, how they negotiate it, and how it appears in their research make up the balance of the article.  Some researchers consciously write their positioning into their research; I thought of Van Maanen’s confessional ethnographies as she described this type of awareness. While the remnants of positivism might lead researchers to fight the tendency to write themselves into their studies, Chiseri-Strater celebrates it: “Turning in upon ourselves prevents us from removing our selv(es) from our research process, from our connections with our informants, or from our written translation of data to text” (119). In other words the researcher should be aware that one subject of any study will always be the researcher herself.

Thomas Newkirk contributed “Seduction and Betrayal in Qualitative Research.” I already had some reservations about certain types of qualitative research (similar to Dan’s comments in class last week), and this article certainly added another nail to the coffin.  When we do qualitative research, especially ethnographic or classroom-based research involving populations with which we have or build a personal relationship, we are immediately faced with a dilemma.  We can either be “objective” (read really big scare quotes here) and risk hurting someone’s feelings if we report negative results, or we run the risk of manipulating our findings to avoid that hurt.  While Newkirk offers possible ways to mitigate these pitfalls (discussing the dangers at the time of consent, giving the subject the right to offer alternative interpretations, and the possibility of intervention in the situation), even these solutions only lessen, but do not remove, these openings for damage.

Both of these articles are from Ethics and Representation in Qualitative Studies of Literacy, edited by Gesa Kirsch and Peter Mortensen.  The introduction to this volume was also on our reading list for this week.  The editors identified three key areas that continue to challenge those doing qualitative research on literacy: ethical dilemmas, often involving the relationship of the researcher with the subjects of the study; issues of representation, that is, what stance does the researcher take herself, and how does she position her research subjects; and institutional and social contexts, the set of givens which often begin as invisible, but result in major influences, both recognized and unrecognized, on qualitative research and its publication.  I was surprised at the number of times the word “pain” recurred in this introduction; the researcher may be in pain from a situation that prompted the research or from incidents in the research itself.  The subject(s) may be in pain either as a result of the research or as a result of factors unrelated to, but scrutinized in, the research; there may be pain in any number of relationship configurations relating to the research.  As researchers move away from the positivistic (and basically unrealistic) view of researcher as completely objective and unrelated observer, awareness of actual emotions, including pain, caused and uncovered by the research process has increased.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Old Believer Women in a Postmodern World

Title: Old Believer Women in a Postmodern World: Changing Literacy, Changing Lives
Where you can find it: This dissertation has not been published.  I was lucky enough to obtain an interlibrary loan copy from one of the two US libraries that has it.
Audience: Compositionists, scholars interested in literacy studies and qualitative research.
Genre: Qualitative research: case study/ethnography.
Epistemology:  Post-positivistic—Graber finds “themes” rather than hypotheses.  The research is very specific to the Old Believers, so the dissertation would not be read as generalizable to literacy in other contexts.
General focus: Graber examines literacy in the lives of women of the Old Believer sect who have enrolled in classes at the community college where she teaches.  She seeks to determine how their newly acquired literacies affect their lives.
Research questions:  Graber lists the following research questions:
  •  What is motivating Alaska’s Old Believer women to pursue higher education?
  •  How does advancing their literacy impact their roles and self-perceptions as women in this highly traditional culture intent on preserving cultural boundaries while being unavoidably exposed to modern culture and ways of thinking?
  •  How does expanding their literacy enhance their lives and/or create conflicts and complications? (64) She links these research questions to three paradoxes:
  1. Their desire to preserve their 17th century cultural values against the backdrop of rapid technological and social change.
  2. Their desire to pursue higher education in contrast to the inherent complications that becoming "better education" creates in their lives.
  3. The impact of conflicted cultural views that education is a woman's responsibility rather than an inherent "right." (53) 
Lenses/theories at work: The similarity of this work with Katherine Sohn’s dissertation cannot be denied, and indeed, Graber thanks Sohn in her Acknowledgements section.  Sohn and Graber both graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, two years apart, and I believe that Dr. Carole Bencich was dissertation advisor for both of them.  The three of them, together with Jenny Staben, published an article in CCC (2003) on how to successfully write a qualitative dissertation.  
        The dissertation has no traditional literature review; rather, Graber offers a 10-page "Conceptual Framework" chapter which lays out her approach to literacy. 
Methodology: Graber included both quantitative and qualitative data.  In addition to the extensive data she gathered on her six main subjects, she interviewed principles of schools in Old Believer villages, located articles in the media about literacy in the villages, and interviewed faculty at her own community college.  After interviewing the six subjects, she selected three to follow even more closely, shadowing them at work and in their daily lives.  Graber claims that the diversity of sources she draws upon helped her with triangulation.  She also triangulated via “follow-up contacts, member checks, peer debriefings, and negative case analysis” (78).
The Research found: Graber organizes her findings around 7 themes: Legacies of literacy & work, Attitudes toward education, Technology, Internal and external motivations for pursuing higher education, Perceived benefits of higher education, Conflicts and complications, and The paradox of literacy.    
  •  The researcher was both very well-informed about the Old Believers and sympathetic to them.
  •  The research (both background/context and the case studies themselves) was detailed and specific.
  •  The dissertation was interesting and well-written.
  •  I’m not sure how this information would help anyone else unless they were also working with Old Believers or some similarly conservative sect (i.e. Amish).
  •  It does not seem that those doing qualitative research on literacy and women can come up with many findings other than that literacy gives them more agency.
  •  Much of the tone and findings are nearly identical to Sohn’s dissertation of two years earlier.
Implications: Further research could be done with the Old Believers, but as long as they resist education as a group, potential subjects will be limited.   This work would serve as a good model for an ethnography/case study based on another people group.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Sky is Blue! More at 11...

I’m starting to find it valuable, as I settle into the rhythm of doing these blogs, to try to use the theoretical article we read each week as a lens through which to view the examples of research that we read.  This week’s theoretical article was “Imagining the ‘Iron cage’: The Rhetoric of Hidden Emotions in Critical Ethnography” by Paul Nugent and Mitchel Abolafia.  This article argues that successful ethnographers shape their “characters” much as fiction authors do.  While they may maintain the façade of scientific disconnection, their human connection with the subjects of their research allows them to portray them sympathetically, not by overtly asking for the reader’s approval, but by describing “hidden emotions.”  I found this article to be a little “dog bites man,” just because these kinds of revelations (authors shape their narrative! News at 11!) are nothing new for rhetoricians.  In a journal called Ethnography, an engineer and a sociologist may be breaking new ground, though.

Erin Krampetz uses data gathered by Andrea Lunsford’s large study at Stanford to study the writing of international students in “Writing Across Cultures and Contexts.”  Although she uses a methodology that combines quantitative and qualitative data, her qualitative data, her study lacks the character portraits that Nubent and Abolafia describe.  Krampetz almost always uses direct quotes from the student interviews as she discusses the students and their writing, and I believe that this prevents her from painting the picture of hidden emotion described above.  The emotion comes not just from the subject, but from the researcher’s relation to the subject.  The fact that Krampetz did not have strong relationships with these students (because she was not doing an ethnography) is revealed in the way she writes about them.

David Foster describes his research (in Writing with Authority) as case studies and observer participation (42).  His work reveals a little more of the character of the students he observes, but because it is not an ethnography, I don’t find much suggestion of hidden emotion.  Sohn’s work, for example, much closer to an ethnography, draws character portraits fine enough to catch a vague sense of Sohn’s own personal relationship with her subjects.  Foster’s book, however, does a good job of laying out broad differences in collegiate writing between a U.S. university and a university within the German system—which was his purpose in writing.

Monday, February 21, 2011

In 2005, Richard Haswell wrote an article, published in Written Communication, that challenged NCTE and CCCC for not publishing and supporting more RAD scholarship.  ("RAD" stands for replicable, aggregable, and data supported.)  Haswell is quick to disallow binaries before they can be established; RAD scholarship is not in opposition to qualitative research, nor is it to be contrasted with "theory."  Haswell is more concerned with the conditions of the research being established and described so meticulously that "other people at other institutions could conduct similar surveys and be able to compare the data meaningfully" (201).

Lee Ann Carroll's description of Pepperdine's research in Rehearsing New Roles strikes me as qualifying as RAD scholarship.  Given that the book is not the only scholarship to result from this study, I believe there would be enough description of the parameters of the study to replicate it at another school.  The data is available on a website, and Carroll includes some of the questions in her Appendix.  As Haswell points out, other outlets are publishing this type of research (this particular book is in the Studies in Writing & Rhetoric series published by Southern Illinois University). 

Van Maanen's description of "impressionistic tales," on the other hand, would not qualify as RAD scholarship.  I have significant questions about Van Maanen's categorizations overall, but they culminate in his description in this chapter.  The research cannot be replicated because Van Maanen describes its aim as "braid[ing] the knower with the known" (102).  Therefore, if the knower is different (i.e. a different researcher), the research findings would also be different.  Rather than being concerned with replicability, aggregability, and data, Van Maanen tells the research to adhere to standards of interest, coherence, and fidelity.  The uniqueness of the situation, not its replicability, is what makes the situation valuable for research.

Though Haswell cautioned against binaries, impressionistic research as Van Maanen describes it is very different than RAD scholarship-- but the scholarly world would be poorer without it.