During our last class meeting, John mentioned that the
excuse reason most give as a response in reference to their inability to calculate numbers is that they just kind of don’t think in that special, uniquely logical way that lends itself to crunching numbers. Never have. And never will think in that way. John noted that this is a pure fallacy; if you can set up a microwave you too can calculate. But would you believe that last week I tried to set up a newly Best Bought microwave which had the most unnerving, bite-your-fingernails-in frustration kind of directions? (I also am utterly unable to perform any kind of math that transcends algebra– so go figure.)
BUT: Our readings this week (viz. Charney) have done an exquisite job unpacking the bad rap qualitative methods have received in academia. Especially as they are treated in the explicitly unscientific realms. While this demystification of qualitative studies was elucidating, I found Sullivan and Porter’s attempt to give a phronetic and heuristic treatment to theory, practice, and method a little less thoroughgoing. Especially when it came to their discussion of method.
Prior to this post I was really only (consciously) aware of two research methods: ethnography and census. Sullivan spends a lot time writing about the lofty multimodality method, method-driven research, and problem-driven research, which, of course, also involves the opportunity to appropriate a kind of method, but spends little time discussing the actual method of choosing a method. She writes, “…Methods are given procedures, well-established and trustworthy bases for observing practice, and that properly applying method to practice can help us verify or generate models and theories” (307). Yes, methods complicate theories, test their limits, and help us to easier gain access to knowledge that would otherwise be unavailable through theory, but how do we know exactly which method to apply? In other words, is there a theory that helps deduce which method to choose, or is the choice really only a matter of sheer common sense?
If I had to take a stab at guessing, I’d say the first question to help refine the choice is qualitative vs. quantitative question. Common sense reigns here: If there are numbers involved, quantitative, if you’re interested in researching non-numeric data, qualitative. (This all sounds base, but I’m trying to think/write through this). After this front of questioning, I’m a bit hazy. I think as students with substantial backgrounds in all things literary, qualitative research seems completely innocuous. Methodology re quantitative certainly seems a bit more intimidating. I found here and here an aesthetically amateurish, but informative glossary of research methods that has helped clarify, for me at least, what options are available (And with our research proposals due early next month it might not be a bad idea to brush up on some of these methods– for me, at least).
Maybe critiquing this essay, griping that Sullivan, in an effort to exact some heuristic humanity to research, doesn’t closely examine which methods lend themselves to phronetic study is unfair. That wishing her to do so distastefully expects the essay to transcend the scope to which it has been re(de)fined. But deciding to include choice, as a heuristic element, as a serious determiner of how to establish and exercise a successful praxis via research should include what choices we should make as researchers in regards to how to choose a method. To make this even more complicated, Sullivan quotes E. W Eisner and A. Peshkin as they write that, “What constitutes a problem is not independent of the methods one knows how to use. Few of us seek problems we have no skill in addressing. What we know how to do is what we usually try to do” (308). Does this mean that the more methods we’re aware of means the more problems we’d be not only more likely to address, but to recognize in the first place? If so, and in the meantime until our proposals, I’ll be brushing up on the
quality quantity of my methods.
Sullivan, Patricia and James E. Porter. “On Theory, Practice and Method: Toward a Heuristic Research Methodology for Professional Writing” Central Works in Technical Communication. Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Stuart A. Selber, eds. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. 300-13. Print.