Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

The Journal Project and the I in Qualitative Research: Three Theoretical Lenses on Subjectivity and Self

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

The Journal Project and the I in Qualitative Research: Three Theoretical Lenses on Subjectivity and Self

Article excerpt

It was the search for I--personal and professional--that led me to undertake the Journal Project, a study of 18 months of my personal journals written between the years 2006-2008. I studied I because I had gone missing (emotionally and spiritually) in 2006, about the time I was awarded tenure from my university. Instead of sailing ahead with my life--affirmed, confirmed, and safe in my feeling of personal and professional direction, I was riddled with angst, depressed, anxious, and lost. My response to this dilemma was to study the period of personal angst post-tenure, seeking to learn more about the I that had left the premises. The Journal Project is composed of some 300 textual entries that I analyzed in NVivo (Qualitative Data Analysis Software or QDAS) and using various arts-based techniques.

In this piece, I reflect upon three distinct notions of the I that consciously and unconsciously shaped my personal and professional perspectives as a qualitative researcher studying the self through the Journal Project: (a) the post-colonial I; (b) the I of solidifying post-modern subjectivity; and (c) the I of currere (Pinar, 1975). In conclusion, I consider the implications of these I's for my own work and for current discussions in qualitative research methodology.

Background

At the time I undertook the Journal Project (2008), I was in desperate need of my own I--What was it? Where was it? Why couldn't I find it/identify it/live with it? Who am I--the person, qualitative researcher, faculty member, teacher, and middle-aged female? Oddly, this cacophony rose in volume when I received academic tenure in 2006. Passing this academic milestone should have proved to me that my I was secure--and yet the very opposite was the truth. I felt anything but secure. I felt I was dissolving or dissolved.

In some cases my angst seemed like one of invisibility--as a qualitative researcher in my institution, I often felt challenged about my field, its relevance, purpose, and worth. This created a kind of professional invisibility for me.

As a qualitative researcher with a strange attraction to qualitative data analysis software, a technological innovation that was a very hard sell to many in this field, I often felt like I spoke a different language from the qualitative research peers I most admired.

As a woman in middle age, childless, and distant from my family, I felt not only invisible but incoherent--as if my pieces had not coalesced. As a teacher, I loved my students and the work we created together, but I feared I was doing them harm by leading them into the thickets of subjectivity and qualitative data analysis software. Were we going unsafe places? Was this a fair thing to do to them?

The I has been a moving target in qualitative research ever since post-modernism and the reflexive turn (Denzin & Lincoln, 2008). I/you; me/them; us/you--Who are the subjects of our research? How do we construct them in relationship to ourselves? How do we position the self and the other within the changing discussions of paradigm, epistemology, and ontology? Of what relevance is the self for deciphering truth in qualitative research? Decade by decade, the perspectives of the I have changed within qualitative research--reshaping the genre of our products from classical accounts of tribal culture to insider accounts of urban life. As the I pressed forward in qualitative research, so, too, did the form of the accounts--from absent self to present self, from a self that learned from observation to selves that learned from interaction and transaction. In my personal case, although the I that was suffering seemed somewhat removed from this I that haunted the methodological literature, there was a link that I would uncover as I worked my way through the Journal Project.

It was in the midst of this post-tenure maelstrom (two years past the awarding of tenure) that I decided to undertake the Journal Project, a study of 18 months of my personal journals. …

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