Here is the question: “Why do we need research? Or why research is important?” I’m 99% positive that among all the possible answers one will be stated the most, perhaps in various forms but having the same meaning: “to give voice to the voiceless, to hear them out and to empower”. Then there is another question: “What are the limitations or disadvantages of a qualitative study?” Again, can you guess the most probable answer? “The most probable” according to me, of course. And you are absolutely right. It’s more subjective.
Although it is a total exaggeration to say that a qualitative approach has an inherently subjective nature, there is no denying that a researcher brings in his or her positionality, bias and personal interpretation of the stories told by people. So the next question arises: How as a novice researcher do I not confuse their voices with mine? Or as Participant 6 put it when asked about his or her teaching beliefs towards the role of a student in the classroom:
“Do you mean the issue of “me or him” (laughing)? Well, to be honest, I am not yet sure about it.”
“Me or him”. Me or them.
It got me wondering during the research tasting stage i.e. data collection and analysis. I knew that some of the interviews went not so well, not as I had expected them to go. That is even if I knew from theory that I should not be pushy, or interrupt the respondent, or lead them towards the anticipated answer, I still did it. Also, I found myself to be an unfocused listener. At times, it was difficult to concentrate on what they were saying.
Now I am at the stage of consolidating my coding framework and preparing to write the results chapter followed by a discussion of findings. Even if I ground my interpretations in literature and conceptual framework, how can I be sure that it is the most accurate interpretation? Interpretation of what they think not an interpretation of what I think. Because sometimes when reading different studies I find myself questioning the conclusions that authors made. Especially, if there is a long direct quote from a participant and we interpret it differently.
I think I got better towards last interviews where I listened more carefully and let my respondents talk freely. Lesson learned: we need to listen. Also I think that the quote from a respondent that got me thinking is a very good example. As even if there is any other different twist to it, it is necessary to consider it through critical and analytical lens first. Lesson to be learned: to try to let them be a priority in my study as much as possible by being more critical.
This post is more of a reflection on data analysis process. It might seem over exaggerated or oversimplified to some extent, but I do believe that the question raised by one of my participants is worth thinking about.