Tuesday, November 19, 2002

On qualitative methods and textual analysis

After reading Christine A. Barry's Choosing Qualitative Data Analysis Software, I've been playing with ATLAS.ti, NVivo and N6 - software packages that allow you to code qualitative data into hermeneutic units.

I wanted to try it out on a small project of tangential interest before applying it in my PhD research - I guess I just want to have some idea of the limitations and implications for knowledge production. And coding information is never a value-free process. After all, we need to tell the software what to look for, and by asking some questions rather than others, I delineate boundaries of inquiry and interpretation. As Barry points out, "The main worries are: that it will distance people from their data; that it will lead to qualitative data being analysed quantitatively; that it will lead to increasing homogeneity in methods of data analysis; and that it might be a monster and hi-jack the analysis... [and some] features might indeed lead researchers to perform types of analysis more suited to quantitative data. Counting occurrences, giving more weight to more frequent events, ignoring isolated incidences, and formulating and testing out rigid hypotheses are not sensible ways to analyse qualitative data. This type of analysis would lead to clashes between method and approaches to epistemology and explanation favoured by qualitative researchers."

Already I am concerned with the inability to deal adequately with rhetorical or narrative analysis, and I might need to turn to a program like Ethno2 for event structure analysis - although I'm equally concerned with the limitations of any analysis that seeks to structure data sequentially, and suggest causal relationships...

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