Academic journal article Composition Studies

Adding the Field to the Work: A Dramatic Re-Enactment of a Qualitative Research Seminar

Academic journal article Composition Studies

Adding the Field to the Work: A Dramatic Re-Enactment of a Qualitative Research Seminar

Article excerpt

Newcomers to qualitative research soon encounter its fundamental paradox: to learn how to do it, one has to do it. For designers of qualitative practice seminars, this is an even more stubborn paradox. In a semester's time, such a fieldwork course must provide a manageable yet meaningful experience in what has been broadly and variously termed (among many other names) "qualitative-descriptive" (Lauer and Asher), "ethnographic" (Calkins; Bishop "I-Witnessing"), or "naturalistic" (Denzin and Lincoln 4, 9; Lincoln and Guba) inquiry. Although these adjectival designations do denote some methodological differences, these research modes all privilege the researcher's personal experience with certain individuals (as in case studies) or a given context (as in ethnographies or teacher-research). Without exception, these forms of qualitative research rely on some combination of context-sensitive interviewing, observing, interpreting of texts, and other time- and energyintensive, rigorously subjective means of collecting-and understanding-- information. In addition to exploring the theoretical frames that warrant such modes of research, a practice-oriented seminar on these methods must also respond to some basic challenges faced by novice researchers as they conduct "personal experience" field research for the first time.

In the following written construction, four graduate students and two faculty members attempt to represent the dilemmas, practicalities, tensions, and rewards encountered through participation in a seminar in qualitative methods and practice, a course that involved student-researchers in reading, reflection, and five weeks of fieldwork. Our non-traditional polylogue blends our personal anecdotes, quotations from course readings, excerpts from field process writing, and reflective commentary on what we learned from first-time fieldworking. This text serves, as well, as one artifact from our collective and individual experiences. As with any singular piece of data, it does not represent the entire experience. However, we hope this format helps readers explore the issues impinging on field research with novice researchers; we trust that this multi-voiced narrative reveals an argument, as well, about the complex rewards of qualitative research.

Six main voices have been woven through the polylogue. For each graduate student researcher, issues surfaced particular to her or his research project. Thus, what follow are the four main scenes, in which, for actual dramatization at the CCCC 2000 meeting, the other graduate students and two professors filled several roles: themselves, subjects in research studies, and published voices on qualitative research. For clarity in this version, we have simply entered names for speakers other than the writers, knowing that readers interested in their own re-enactment will find ways to fill parts. All names used here for participants are pseudonyms, research participants' actual words are clearly marked with quotation marks, and other, unmarked scripting is close but creative paraphrase based on the researcher's memories, notes, and transcripts.

In both form and content-though these obviously cannot be divided-this polylogue attempts to address some of the complications that still face us as researchers who describe the literate lives of other people, and those of us who educate new researchers to do so. During the year that we six ventured out into the risky mutual endeavor of learning qualitative research (but, alas, too late for us to include them in the course syllabus), several substantial publications emerged that underscore the centrality of critical narrative and reflective research practice in composition studies (e.g., Bishop Ethnographic, Kirsch Ethical, Addison and McGee Feminist, among others). With the writers of and in these volumes, we would point to the necessity of telling the halting, often amusing, sometimes painful stories of research as practice, stubbornly local and ultimately, a key source of self-- shaping knowledge for the novice and point of reflection for the experienced researcher. …

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