Memos Memos Everywhere

In light of the recent posts discussing Positivism vs Interpretivism, Grounded theory approach, and the challenge of thinking about epistemology and ontology, I decided to use this post to continue the debate and share a few things I have been thinking about and doing, that I hope will help me making sense of the paradigmatic views and theoretical approaches that may eventually be a part of my research.

Research design has been a challenging task nonetheless very meaningful process to me, because I am having the chance to dig deep inside into who I am and the personal values, beliefs and goals I carry with me. To start such reflection I referred back to writing exercises, a piece that I remember was topic of the first lab meetings I participated as a member of the group, and that inspired me to find ways to apply different kinds if exercises to research design. As a result of that and of the ongoing advanced qualitative class I am taking right now, my computer file folder entitled “Memos” is growing very quickly as I go through the process of writing my proposal and thinking about my research design.

I am using many forms of memos. I got myself a research “journal” that I am using to register the “brilliant” ideas I come across one way or another during this process, not only ideas for  research goals/ methods/ questions, etc… but also epiphanies  on concepts, theories and how I am making sense of them as they apply to my research. I am carrying it with me everywhere I go because, believe me, ideas pop up unexpectedly in very strange situations. The goal is not to loose track of my thought process as it evolves into a conceptual framework for my research. Saying it bluntly, I want to be able to say clearly why I choose the approach that I choose for my design and how I justify it.

To start this search for my own clarification about where in the world of qualitative research I sit in, which I assumed would inform my methodological choices, I wrote my first memo as a class exercise – a “Researcher Identity Memo”.  It may sound very “elementary” to some of you, but I saw this exercise as opening the doors of my own path through understanding why I seat where I seat right now,  how I came to be here, and where I can potentially go. The memo was a reflective exercise about past experiences in life, upbringing, values and beliefs that I may see connected to the topic of research I choose to investigate, how would I predict that as facilitating or imposing challenge to my work as a researcher. This turned out to be 6 pages document that brought out 3 personas in me that equally influenced my decisions. The educator, the scientist, and a concerned citizen of this world. The synergies between the values, beliefs, experiences, goals and interests of each got me to decided on my research topic (family “affordances” to learning at the touch-tank exhibit at HMSC).

This actually made me rethink my research goals to identify personal, practical and intellectual interests as they combine to answer the “so what?” of my research idea. In fact, “the evolution of my research questions” is another ongoing memo I am working at as my questions emerge, evolve, change, etc. I also have a mini notebook on a key chain attached to my wallet for when those revealing moments happen as I have dialogues with other professional like yourselves or want to write a quick reference to look at later. I think the practice of writing these memos is helping me untangled bits of theoretical debates that I am slowly making sense of , and that are helping me se where I sit.

Now if you are not too fan of writing, if you avoid writing exercises like the plague, Laura suggests to use alternatives ways of registering this moments. She told me she used her phone to record a voice memo the other days. How you do it is not the key issue, but I think it is important that you find a way  that works for you that you can register the evolution of your thought process. Going through a few conversations with Shawn during our weekly meetings, he articulated an approach he thinks I seating on right now for my research. he bursted out these big words together that I am still trying to work trough but that emerged smoothly and almost instantly out of his mind. He called it “Neo-Kantian Post-positivist and Probabilistic Theory of Truth”. I hope he wasn’t tricking me :). Here is the way I see where I stand right now in my less eloquent philosophical terms:

1. Departing from axiological views, I am interested in explanations and descriptions of real meaningful events, why and how questions.

2. Therefore, I am moving from “data to theory”, through inductive questioning

3. As for what is the nature of reality? (ontology), I think I compromise in between objectivity and subjectivity, is there a possible inter-objectivity or inter-subjectivity?

4. As for what counts as reality? (Epistemology), I tend to associate with Social-Cosntructivism.

So,  I using the following schema as a wall decoration in my research room:

Epistemology – Social-Constructivism; Theoretical perspective/ Approach – Interpretivism; Suited Methodology: Grounded Theory.

However, I see myself as open to new topics, ideas. So I am adopting a paradigm but it does not necessarily mean that I will completely oppose combining aspects of other paradigms. I read in a piece of literature once that “sometimes we need a little constructivism, and sometimes we need a little realism”. While I oppose to think radically about it, I do think that it is important to use existing theories critically, and if  you are to be critical you are open to testing (hermeneutics). Here is were I seat in conflict between objectivity and subjectivity, qualitative and quantitative values, and that is why I intend to use mixed methods

I don’t know if this links perfectly to the definition of the approach Shawm saw me taking, But boy, I am happy to be going through this discovery process right now, and memos are really helping me along the way.

Susan