Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Found Poems, Member Checking and Crises of Representation

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Found Poems, Member Checking and Crises of Representation

Article excerpt

In my training as a qualitative researcher, I was schooled in the "traditional" assumptions, approaches, and methods of conducting interpretive qualitative inquiry. I was trained to perform the methodological procedures designed to insure trustworthiness, the goal of significant and "believable" research. Trustworthiness, despite the eight plus historical moments within the evolutionary path of the field of qualitative methodology (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005), is still the most often cited standard of truthfulness and authenticity for qualitative research across numerous and varied disciplines.

Trustworthiness: The Original Gold Standard

In order to establish that qualitative findings were worthy of attention, Lincoln and Guba (1985) first put forth the notion of trustworthiness to replace the quantitative criteria of validity, reliability, and objectivity. Conceived as parallel to empiricist concepts, trustworthiness determined the degree to which researchers' claims about knowledge corresponded to the reality (or the research participants' construction of reality) being studied (Manning, 1997). Its aim was to achieve a relatively high degree of accuracy and consensus by means of revisiting facts, feelings, experiences, and values or beliefs collected and interpreted (Cho & Trent, 2006). Concerned with safeguarding consistency and the validity of findings, trustworthiness includes:

* credibility (in place of internal validity), that is, the extent that the constructions adequately represent the participant's reality;

* transferability (in place of external validity), that is, an adequately and thickly described account so that those who wish to transfer the implications to another context can do so with an adequate data base;

* dependability (in place of reliability), that is, the data is internally coherent; and

* confirmability (in place of objectivity), that is, the extent to which the theoretical implications are grounded in the data.

These criteria were seen as particularly vital if the purpose of the inquiry was to describe or understand the experiences of the researched, and not to predict or control those experiences. In order to promote the trustworthiness of the data, several safeguards were customarily built into projects in order to provide a series of checks and balances (Erlandson, Harris, Skipper, & Allen, 1993; Lincoln & Guba, 1985).

Member checks, or respondent validation, involve testing the data, analytic categories, interpretations and conclusions with participants from whom the data were originally gathered as an important and preeminent way to insure truthfulness and authenticity. Member checks give participants opportunities to correct errors and challenge what they perceive as erroneous interpretations. They provide participants with an occasion to volunteer additional or clarifying information, which may be stimulated by reviewing their contributions. These additions may deepen and extend the researcher's understanding and analysis. Member checks also afford participants the opportunity to assess the adequacy of the data and the preliminary results, as well as to confirm or disconfirm particular aspects of the data. This safeguard still forms the foundation for many qualitative claims of veracity.

The Need for Different Standards

Since my early experiences in learning and becoming a qualitative researcher, the field has undergone a profound philosophical evolution (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005). It is an evolution which questions the fundamental underlying assumptions of the gold standard of trustworthiness and therefore, the utility of member checks.

The Critique of Trustworthiness

The notion of trustworthiness has been the subject of critique within the past twenty- five years. In later writings, Guba and Lincoln (1989) noted that using procedures to attempt to establish accurate correspondence carried too positivist an implication, in that there was an underlying assumption that an unchanging phenomena exists, and can, therefore, be logically and methodically checked and verified. …

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