PhD: experiential research and everyday grounded theory

by Lilia Efimova on 16 May 2004

[This text was drafted a couple of weeks back, but I didn’t have time to finish it…]

Recent discussion on weblog research ethics made me thinking more about my own ways of researching weblogs.

The first thing is pretty obvious: I’m not an observer, I’m a participant. Not sure what would be the best “research methodology label” for it. I would think about action research, but I’m far from pushing any specific actions in my blogging community (or, may be, there is an element of provoking a bit more reflection :)

At OKLC I had an opportunity to talk with Jean Lave (she was giving a keynote). We talked about ways of studying practices and choices about degrees of a researcher involvement. I was sharing my concern of not being “objective” by being part of the community I study and then found out that we both appreciated how rich could be researchers’ understanding of a phenomenon if they experienced it. I feel more confident now trading objectivity for richness and depth :)

Talking about weblog research: I’m a bit sceptical reading research papers by people who are not blogging themselves. I value their contribution a lot, understanding that taking different approaches we are more likely to get a richer picture of this whole thing, but I’m still very happy being on another end. Some people would think I’m addicted so much that I can’t step out for my research. I think differently: I’m experiential learner (or experiential researcher, if you want).

Next point is about data collection and analysis. My main method of studying weblogs is not scientific at all. I call it “everyday grounded theory” (more on grounded theory):

  • I read weblogs from my usual reading list and spot interesting themes.
  • I start collecting examples or illustrations of these themes. Now I mainly use del.icio.us to collect relevant pieces and “code” them. For example, I pick up posts that indicate something about blog writing or blog reading.
  • I think of interpretations and connections between themes. Usually I think in public, so my interpretations end up as posts in my weblog.
  • Then collaborative part comes in. My interpretations are discussed (or not) and developed by others around me. They evolve and mature.
  • Once in a while a pick up the matured ones and I write a paper pretending to be a researcher :)

Of course I use more “traditional” data collection methods (e.g. interviews) as well, but sometimes I feel that this is just to confirm/clarify/develop ideas that I’ve got from my “everyday grounded theory”.

One thing that I like about my “everyday grounded theory” is that it’s effortless. Not that I don’t spend time doing it, but I don’t do that on purpose. It’s so much part of my everyday reading/thinking/writing routines that it doesn’t feel like work. I guess if I would structure it just a bit more (select proper sample, select more objective set of themes and not only those that interest me, clarify intermideate results of each iteration, etc.) it would be “scienfic” enough to present in papers. But I guess once I do it it will become “not so natural” and embedded anymore, so I’ll end up putting much less effort into it. I think Jill is right, blogging is researching, but we have to find a way to make it rigorous enough to pass in the academic world…

But even when rules change don’t think I’ll ever become proper academic. I guess I’ll end up doing reflective practice on the edge of research (you may ask – why do PhD then? – but this is another story :)))

PS Thought that I invented “experiential research”. Found, as usual, that there is difficult to invent something really new: Google on “experiential research”. And that grounded theory is pretty much grounded in everyday practices :)

This post also appears on channel weblog research

Archived version of this entry is available at http://blog.mathemagenic.com/2004/05/16.html#a1210; comments are here.

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