Methodological Challenges in the Politics of Research

The following are ideas stimulated and discussed during an MRes seminar on the 28/11/13 conducted by Geoff Bright & John Schostak at MMU in Didsbury.

How are ethical considerations (for the researcher and the researched) impacting on the quality and content of the data that can ethically be used and published in a study?

Necessary ethical considerations protecting individual’s identity, reputation, personal life etc can develop into a political negotiation to allow data to be seen whilst maintaining important ethical considerations. The researcher could find themselves in a catch 22 where the ‘edited’ or removed data (negotiated in order to gain permission of use) is the data that proves the most important and pertinent points: but conversely, none of the agreed data will be published without the agreed omissions as a caveat to publication. This challenge would appear to play a significant part in the choice (or necessity) of the methodological approach in data collection and impact greatly on the avaiable data for analysis.

An interesting and pertinent point raised by a collegue is that: considering the idea that data once heard or read, cannot be unheard or unread (at least in its effect on subsequent processes of thought either implicitly or explicitly), even if data is excluded from the final analysis, its influence on the researcher’s analysis will be implicitely present.

If data has been seen by the researcher and has subsequently been edited for analysis, then edited and removed data will always be a part of the analysis (or an implicit influence on what the analysis has left out). The decisions to remove data has an unavoidable effect on the direction and content of conclusions.

There is another agument: If context (cultural/ theoretical/ physical position within a text) is imperative to the sense-making and meaning of words and clauses within a text (either implied or percieved) then if this is edited with consent or corroboration of the interviewee then this could change the whole context of what can be read into or garnered from the wider document or of the words within it. It could be no more than an excersise in what somebody is prepared to present to an interviewer/ researcher – what will be allowed to be seen. but maybe this sums up the entire nature of research – of looking at any other subject.

One methodological consideration could be to apply another researcher to the initial data and negotiation of content and for the principal researcher to only view the edited data. BUT!…Then you start to increase the variables and influences in the process: and the researcher then includes the known unknowns of knowing that there is information they are not party to and cannot be adressed in the analysis (you could argue that there is always known and unknown unknowns restricted by what the researcher is aware and unaware that the data / interviewees do not communicate). The knowledge of the missing data may also influence the analysis in uknowable (and more knowable) ways. These considerations also require a number of epistemological assumptions (that there may be more to know, that all that is there to know: can be known etc).

How does the paradigmatical/ ethical standpoint of the researcher or the researched affect not just the post-hoc analysis once data collection has occured but methodological decisions and choices of the researcher? The process of negotiation between observer and the subject as to what can ethically be considered for publication (or before that to include in analysis) or negotiation between the observer and the necessary ethical considerations of the study, has its own effect on the way the study may progress.

But where does the story start: the story of a study? What is the background that had lead to the decisions to partake in the study, then to choose particular methodological approaches and how can those choices affect the direction, the stance, the content of the data and the conclusions of the analysis or the ideas presented or stimulated buy the data?

If we (ok, I!) accept (and I do) that a researcher cannot separate themselves from the research, that a study (as I have read authors of fiction describe) contains a substantial tangible element of the author (and their views) in its content (either in the choice of words/ methodology/ content/ analysis), we (I!…) aknowledge that we cannot say that there is such a thing as a practical, real-world objective truth in the written material we create or produce. Even if there is an objective truth to describe, in the describing we colour, we change, we mold and we filter. These ideas are a manifestation, for me, of previous discussions on the nature of of truth, reality and the importance and nature of language (based on the work of authors that I have recorded in my journal but will presently remain undesignated).

If a study is a story, does it start with the researcher? If I am part of the story and my current story is interacting with others’ during this process of knowing and learning through experience (collecting infomation) then surely my story is also important to the telling in the process of research?

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