Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

"The Times They Are a Changing" (1): Undertaking Qualitative Research in Ambiguous, Conflictual, and Changing Contexts

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

"The Times They Are a Changing" (1): Undertaking Qualitative Research in Ambiguous, Conflictual, and Changing Contexts

Article excerpt

This article explores qualitative research issues that arise when researchers engage in study within their own ambiguous, unstable, conflictual, and rapidly changing society. We explore the topics of the relationship between the researcher and the context, the difficulty in choosing relevant research questions under such conditions, and the relevance of generalizing or transferring findings from such contexts to other sites and populations. We present two research cases from the Israeli context: one that demonstrates an external conflict (between Israelis and Palestinians) and one that demonstrates an internal conflict (between Israelis and Israelis), analyzing them according to these three main issues. Our conclusions focus on the methodological implications that researching one's ambiguous and conflictual "backyard" have for qualitative researchers. Key Words: Research and Context, Reflexivity, Researcher as Instrument, Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, and Generalizability and Transferability


... Despite our recent attempts to historicize what we write about, our choices tend to settle on relatively stable objects of study: objects that will look more or less the same at least from the time of the ethnographic encounter until the time of its publication and a few years beyond. What needs to be acknowledged, however, is that what really matters to the anthropologist-ethnographer is not the relative stability of the ethnographic object but rather the relative stability of the theoretical claims made upon the object of study. Can our ... ways of seeing an object survive into a second edition? Will our books be read for more than their value as period pieces? These are the questions which seek for a response that assures relative stability ... In the Sri Lankan situation, events have changed and continue to change so rapidly that one does not need a span of fifty or even twenty-five years to relegate something to "history". Concerns and issues that were characterized as burning become irrelevant within months or even weeks ...

E. V. Daniel (1996, p. 11-12), an anthropologist and Sri Lankan who has studied the violence in his homeland.


Traditionally, social science research has explored phenomena that stand the (relative) test of time. That is, as a rule, researchers choose to reserve their limited resources of time, energy, and money for the study of social phenomena that appear to be a "lasting" part and parcel of the society and culture under study, and that also appear to have important implications for their sites of inquiry. Therefore, researchers tend not to engage in the study of "passing," one-time episodes: While they may be interesting, they are not generally considered as "worthy" of in-depth study.

This state of affairs is especially true of qualitative research, which by its nature, a long-term endeavor, one that often involves prolonged immersion in the field and reflective and complex processes of data collection, interpretation, and representation. However, how does the researcher know what events are "worthy" of study when the context in which s/he is working is uncertain, ambiguous, and constantly changing? Also, once a topic of inquiry is chosen, and the field abruptly and significantly changes on the researcher, how s/he deals with these rapid changes; changes which might result in a severe revision, or even worse, the end of the planned research. In this article, we will address these issues, by looking at methodological topics central to qualitative research and by demonstrating their problematics through examples from one such dynamic context--Israel.

Israel can be characterized as a society in which change and uncertainty are the norm and stability remains an oft-dreamt of ideal. The country is distinguished by on-again-off-again wars and peace initiatives and relations with her neighbors (Bickerton & Klausner, 2002), frequent elections, and the establishment and disruption of fragile coalition governments that are built on often-changing relationships between the political left and right, and secular and religious parties ("Political Forces. …

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