Reflections on my Unconventional Method – at the end of my 2nd year (after data collection)

I have recently finished the majority of my primary data collection and thought it would be useful to reflect on what I have experienced and learned from the process. I am also nearly at the end of my 2nd year and this feels like an opportune time to consider my journey so far as I anticipate final year analysis and write-up.

Design

I started my interview process with a sense of how I wanted to conduct myself and the type conversations I hoped to facilitate. I developed a protocol based on very open questions including image elicitation before and at the start of the interview. I also had a bank of potential questions I could ask depending on whether I felt my participant had already offered during the image elicitation.

The image elicitation was a really exciting process for me. I started this journey at a conference session at which two colleague, Russell Warhurst and Kate Black were sharing their research using image elicitation. I realised during their session how that approach would be consistent with my methodology in that it uses abstract ideas, encourages narratives and personal tangential connections, and allows the participant to take greater control of the interview discussion. From my coaching experiences, I also wanted to incorporate the pre-interview task to encourage the interviewees to reflect on their choices and prepare themselves for the interview themes before they arrived in the interview. My hope was that this may have helped them to feel more comfortable in the interview and to be more reflective in their responses.

Reflecting on my early stage interviews in comparison to my most recent interviews, I believe I have grown in confidence in adapting to the variances and unpredictability of participant contributions. I have also allowed myself to incorporate ideas from my literature review which felt pertinent to my research, but this did cause some issues. I think it is important to acknowledge my challenges throughout this process as I am not presenting myself as a fully polished and expert researcher, rather as someone who has stayed true to the ethical principles of critical ethics and my methodology of Critical Discourse Analysis which emphasises my researcher intention to problematise the social problem and seek meaningful pathways to enact change. The reason it is important to discuss my issues is that I want to explore my relationship with theoretical constructs of masculinity and specifically re-embodied and caring masculinity. Both facets of these forms of masculinity promote the nurturing, caring and involved masculinity that accepts failure and the issues of everyday working life.

Issues

Some of the early issues I encountered included my ‘ideals’ question; introduced after about 4-5 interviews. It has gone through a few rounds of changes before I have arrived at the optimal version, which presents four ideals in no particular order (parent, father, mother, worker) while attempting to limit my influence on the participant’s response. I have used my intuition to introduce this question at points in the protocol that fit with the flow of the conversation. I have increasingly found that this question fits nicely towards the start of the interview, just after the images, as this encourages my participants to think philosophically about what their ideals are. Earlier in my process, I was not as adepts at formulating this question as my earliest example proved when I limited my participant’s responses to two possibilities ‘Ideal father and Ideal worker’. This example highlighted my culpability for succumbing to gendered assumptions of the ideals of parenting and predated my refined perspective that we should all be aspiring to the shared language of parenting, not mother and fathers as separate roles. I acknowledge that this means some of my data is inconsistent, which is why my analysis and discussion phase will greatly benefit from fictionalisation to amalgamate my data into characters.

Consistencies

One aspect of my questioning which has remained fairly consistent is my integration of personal reflections and collegiality with my participants. I have tried to maintain this dynamic as consistent with my subjective position on research data and my desire to deconstruct the research process which places the researcher (me) in a position of authority. I did this for a couple of reasons: one, to encourage my participants to trust me as an interviewer and therefore potentially share more in-depth stories; two I wanted to democratise the research interview to disrupt the typical paradigm of researcher impartiality. I am not impartial in this discourse, nor do I intend to present an argument that balances the debate for and against parental rights in the workplace. My methodology is clear in it’s social justice intent. That does not mean I will obscure the truth to fit my narrative as I am happy to be proven wrong if my expectations are disproved, but my initial perceptions of my data do support my assertion of a gender imbalance in the way parental decisions are discussed and discoursal influences on an individual and organisational level. Therefore, my personal interjections remain an important way for me to show collegiality as a peer and parent as well as interviewer for a topic that is personally important to me.

Transcription

Transcription is a very odd process. I am using dictation software to listen and dictate my interviews (to speed up the laborious process). I find that as I transcribe, I apply my critical lens (imbued with my theoretical underpinnings of masculinities theory and ideology) to immediately highlight passages that jump out at me from first listen. This process is valuable as my initial stage coding, but is does undermine my ability to review all interviews in a systematic process. I intend to apply a critical discourse analysis (CDA) method to my transcribed interviews. I have submitted a revised draft (with my supervisor) for a methods text book which outline my general approach, which is inspired by dystopian fiction (DF) tropes (see examples in Claeys, 2018) and a Fairclough’s (2013) conceptualisation of CDA (see model below).

Table extracted from Interpellating with dystopian fiction: A critical discourse analysis technique to disrupt hegemonic masculinity (revised draft under review for publication in Handbook of Research Methods on Gender and Management – Edward Elgar Publishing – if accepted to be published 2020-2021)

Transcribing with my analysis in mind is a clear example of the messiness of research. I am sure that the ‘ideal’ researcher would dispassionately detach themselves from the data during initial transcription. In principle, this is to limit biases and the potential to corrupt your data analysis through incremental coding and themes emerging prior to the official analysis phase. However, I am conducting subjective research and cannot detach myself from my research, not do I espouse virtuosity in my methodological approach. Rather, I attempt, by taking personal responsibility, and in line with my personal values of trust, fairness and honesty, to follow my method in a manner consistent with ethical research. I therefore must embrace my idiosyncrasies and accept that I am feeling my way through this process on a journey from relative novice to relative expert (I do not expect to ever achieve actual expertise, nor do I think anyone should ever dub themselves as such).

Through serendipity, a colleague has recommended an AI transcription service online, which may address my primary data analysis delay. It is called Otter and I am currently trialling the service to see if it meets my needs. My initial impressions are very positive. it is not 100% accurate, but it does produce a very helpful baseline of transcription which I can refine by listening to the recording and download as a word document. Based on this promising development, I may be in a position to start my formal analysis very soon!

Social Justice (before analysis)

I will write a further blog update on my analysis progress at a later date, but I am already applying my learning from the literature and my wider engagement with parenting and masculinity discourses to contribute towards social justice agendas. I have started a parenting network at Northumbria University for staff and students, I have contributed significantly to the UCU (trade union) parental leave conditions claim, and I am continuing to disseminate my research through conferences and seminars where appropriate. Additionally, I am attempting to live as an ally as much as possible through my action and words in the public workplace. This is my active attempt to present a caring version of masculinity and re-embodied masculinity (see Connell, 2005) to my colleagues and students in my here and now.

I believe (based on my experiences on the Equity Challenge Project) that aspects my social justice output can be achieved through prefigurative social action (see example definition in Leach, 2013). Prefigurative action represents social interventions and actions implemented in my here and now, not planned or desired actions or recommendations to potentially pursue in the future. This is the basis of a paper I am co-author on with my supervisor and colleague to show how we can affect our current reality towards the future we hope to achieve, by creating opportunities to engage and structures to support different approaches to engagement and discourse with staff and students. One example of this is the parenting network, which I initiated as a focused space for parental discourse and potential action. The network provides a place where interested parties can congregate and share ideas and resources. It is in its infancy, but it is the type of bottom up approach I hope can illustrate my social justice intent through my research method. Another example was the student led poster competition which took an existing problem and worked with our students to generate new, creative and exciting outputs to literally change the visual appearance of out building as a more inclusive and diverse space.

Summary

I believe my methodology, through its unconventional use of dystopian fiction as a critical inspiration and data source, alongside my use of critical discourse analysis method, can generate social justice (SJ) outputs. The nature of my present prefigurative SJ actions, though relatively light touch, demonstrates the potential impact on local people-powered initiatives to affect our here and now. I also believe the same principle can have a meaningful impact on our workplace parental policies and cultures. This is an aspect of the social justice, I intend to further explore in my method and incorporating my own autoethnographic experiences. I also hope that, through my analysis and discussion chapters, presented fictionally, I can demonstrate a critical counter-narrative (Frandsen, Kuhn & Wolff Lundholt, 2016) to present a viable array of alternatives to the dominant model of parental decisions in the workplace.

References

Claeys, G. (2018). Dystopia: A Natural History: Oxford University Press.

Connell, R. W. (2005). Masculinities. Polity.

Fairclough, N. (2013). Critical discourse analysis: The critical study of language: Routledge.

Frandsen, S., Kuhn, T., & Wolff Lundholt, M. (2016). Counter-Narratives and Organization. London, UNITED KINGDOM: Routledge.

Leach, D. K. (2013). Prefigurative politics. The Wiley‐Blackwell encyclopedia of social and political movements.