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.

“She breasted boobiliy to the stairs, and titted downwards” my voice in the gendered paradigm – Weeks 4 & 5

The main quote of this blog is inspired by the twitter sensation this week which sparked the prompt: #describe yourself the way a male author would.

The origin of this topic was a male author’s claim that he had proven that ‘it’s possible for a male author to write an authentic female protagonist’. What was shared on twitter this week by his peer reviewer was a sample of his work with a female protagonist voice which was anything but authentically female (even from my white, male perspective). I believe that men can write a well rounded female character, just as a woman can write a well rounded male character, furthermore, I worry about the delineation that is naturally caused by this debate. It leads me to ask the following questions:

  • What is ‘female’ and what is ‘male’ and how can we recognise it without lowering ourselves to well trodden stereotypes?
  • Should we appreciate our differences or aspire to a blurring of boundaries between gender, ethnicity, sexuality and disability, after all, we are all people aren’t we?
  • Why do we limit our understanding of each other’s consciousness to base labels of gender or other protected characteristics?
  • How can we hope to understand each other if we immediately draw upon conscious and unconscious biases of what defines each others’ character? 

In terms of leadership, I believe it is important that we evaluate leaders according to what we view as common attributes and values. A recent Harvard Business Review student surveyed ‘195 leaders in 15 countries over 30 global organizations’ to ask for their top 15 leadership competencies.

W160302_GILES_TOPTEN1-1200x800 HBR Leadership competencies

We can see from this list that none of these ‘competencies’ should be viewed as exclusive to men, women, ethnic groups, LGBTQ or disabled people. These are recognisable qualities that I agree with, though I may reconsider the order of priority for some. What was not considered with this study was whether respondents were envisaging a model leader when describing competencies and this unconscious bias may have affected the choices made.

Unconscious bias can have a major impact, as I have previously alluded to, in terms of the ‘leaky pipeline’ for female academia. A recent CIPD, People Management article discussed it’s impact across a range of protected characteristics:

 

What is worrying from these statistics is that Academia features prominently in gender, ethnicity and disability bias. It certainly feeds into my underlying assumptions that there is a culture of sameness (white male) that pervades academic institutions. It concerns me that places of learning and academic development, where we espouse noble values and promote our leadership role within our communities, cannot lead in our approach to equitable career progression and bias.  I do not want to tarnish all institutions in this way, but I also do not feel the observations and the discussions I have had are unique and limited to one organisation. We all have a part to play in changing this and the Equality Challenge Unit and the Athena SWAN charter is a great step in the right direction.

A test that I have taken recently on the recommendation of my supervisor is the Harvard Implicit Bias test: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ Using a word association method, this test is rally illuminating as a means of uncovering your unconscious associations for gender and other characteristics and careers etc. Before we can act collectively, we must assess and become aware of our own individual biases and mitigate for them.

Certainly, the naive male author quoted on twitter had succumbed to imposing his unconsciously biased version of the female voice without consideration of each individuals’ independent consciousness. It is an absolute failure of characterisation to impose your perceptions of a character’s individuality (be that gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability etc.) without serious and dedicated time and effort to engage with, interrogate and understand what it is to be that person. I expect this author has attempted to embody someone (and a gender) he thinks he knows and has focused on the external projected personality he has observed without contemplating the internal, intrinsic personality he has neglected.

My reading over the last two weeks has centred on my sociological alignment, or where I see myself relative to theoretical schools of thought. As I have alluded to in previous posts, I am focused on my contribution working to disrupt the gender imbalance in organisational reality I personally perceive and encountered through discussions with peers. From my exploration of the four paradigms, I have placed myself within the Radical Humanism quadrant which is formulated on my belief in subjective truth, not objective certainty, conscious individual freedom and a desire to enact change. I am critical of the systems and structures that are in place and the effect they have upon individual liberty and our conscious selves. I am particularly critical of organisations which promote collective values (granted these may be consulted with its employees), but are ultimately imposed as core to the operation of the organisation and with a range of influences including market forces.

The diagram below is taken from Burrell, G., & Morgan, G. (2017) and shows a range of theoretical stances within the Radical Humanism paradigm. I am exploring French Existentialism as a possible fit to my approach. I have identified Jean-Paul Sartre as a potentially useful theorist and thinker. His three concepts of being ‘in-itself’, ‘for self’ and ‘for others’ identifies the intersection of and concept of  ‘nothingness’ where the gap between the real world and the consciousness of individuals enables the space for individual liberty, freedom and creativity. I am excited by this concept as it aligns with my proposed use of fiction and dystopia to disturb the reality and raise the consciousness of my readers to new possibilities and the nightmarish reality that we may all be inhabiting already.

 

Sociological Paradigms

When considering the other options, and having read about solipsism, I cannot find myself in this ultra subjective theoretical framework. I believe that humans have conscious, subjective selves, but our actions and perceptions of reality have a real and tangible impact on what I see as out shared reality. For me this shared reality includes community and our environment (global sustainability and shared responsibility). Conversely, the functionalist and structuralist quadrants strike me as too dependent on a predominant assumption of shared understanding of objective reality and the ability of actions to uniformly work within this framework; grounded in a reality that is independent of subjective differences. In my view subjective truth can be recognised and appreciated and by respecting each other’s truths we can find common ground for meaningful understanding.

There is one question has been nagging at me as I have started to position myself and it is something I need to spend a lot more time to figure out:

How can I be credible as a privileged, white male within the paradigm of gendered leadership I wish to disrupt?

I believe, and share this view with others, that we cannot achieve any meaningful change if we work in silos (be that gendered or other interest groups). If we invert the imbalance, we create a new problem and a new conflict, not a joint solution. I believe I can position myself as a self aware and humble practitioner within the gender movement, but I hope I will not be as naive as the male author quoted on twitter. I know my task will be challenging and I am sure I will encounter sceptical views from my peers. I accepts this reality, strive to unburden myself of latent biases that may taint my authorial voice and continue on my journey to learn more, respect my subject and value each individual as a conscious and free person.

References

Burrell, G., & Morgan, G. (2017). Sociological paradigms and organisational analysis: Elements of the sociology of corporate life. Routledge.

https://www.ecu.ac.uk/

https://hbr.org/2016/03/the-most-important-leadership-competencies-according-to-leaders-around-the-world

https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/long-reads/articles/beyond-bias

 

 

Legally Blonde paradigms and dystopian inspirations: Resilience and identity in Gendered Leadership: – Week two

My eye was drawn to the BBC article this week relaying an encounter between a film journalist and Legally Blonde star, Reese Witherspoon. On the surface, this encounter described a wonderful opportunity for a fan to share something meaningful and inspirational with an iconic female star who inspired her. The fact that her dissertation was enthusiastically received is also a positive angle that we can all appreciate and dream for with our icons. Looking deeper, the themes of female identity and resilience are admired qualities present in the film and its lead and these qualities appear frequently in dystopia.

Theoretical readings of Dystopia and Young Adult Dystopia have often returned to the idea of resilience and the ability to take action (Mallan, 2017) as a critical contributor to success. We can look to the example of Katniss Everdene in ‘The Hunger Games’ (Collins, 2013) and countless others who transcend their reality to walk a new path. The idea of resilience conjures up thoughts of strong characters who ‘bounce back’ despite a series of potentially detrimental circumstances. It is sometimes predicated on a context whereby oppressed actors are unable to express themselves fully and must therefore exhibit resilience to cope with the challenges of these negative forces to retain their purpose and identity. In the case of Elle Woods, her resilience is founded in an unerring desire to practice law in her way in spite of a tirade of judgemental and conservative principles which exclude her ‘type’ from participation in such noble professions. It is her personalised approach, coupled with some required conformity to the learning practices of her Law school, that enables her to achieve the respect and admiration of her peers in academic and legal practice. In organisations, two of the phenomena I am interested in are conformity and resilience for female leaders. One of the questions I want to explore is how do women succeed in this masculine paradigm with rules created by and for masculine leaders?

It could be argued that they succeed through conformity to this paradigm, compromising their own identity to align with the expectations of the organisation and the broader perceptions of what a leader is.  Alternatively, it could be said that women channel remarkable reserves of resilience against wave after wave of mansplaining, hepeating and unequal reward. What we need to consider is how we channel this powerful resilience to harness the power of the repressed and take responsibility for change as per the young adult protagonists combating the adult power of their dystopias (Mallan, 2017). Certainly ‘collective unity’ (thanks to John Mabillard) and solidarity in pursuit of our cause are vital. My supervisor promotes the role of the ally in providing support for female (or minority) ideas that may otherwise be marginalised or re-framed by a dominant actor in the room without recognition for the originator. We can all become allies in our workplaces and lives by standing together on issues that we agree are important.

One damaging influence upon the goal of collective unity is trust. In our increasingly individualistic and fearful society, the circle of trust we can draw upon becomes smaller and smaller. If we are unable to open ourselves to the benefits of a wider network of trust, we may be fatally flawed in our journey towards equity. Power, in dystopia and reality, seeks to disrupt collective movements and dismantle collective unity. Beware the spectre of fear that drives a chasm into the collective visions we aspire to; it breeds distrust, betrayal and individualism – the enemies of collective unity.

Finally, I have been considering my philosophical approach in addressing my research question. One of the primary problems I face concerns the dominant paradigm of masculine power which has defined the business world and therefore the gender dynamics, rules and behaviour norms of organisations. As I have engaged with the scientific methodological approaches of Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper, I have begun to consider the problem of trying to answer a problem when the rules of the world you are trying to understand are stacked significantly in favour of the men who predominantly receive the lion’s share of the benefits.

It is human nature to protect what we have and to maintain our position of power when we achieve it. I am beginning to consider the falsification principle of Popper’s ‘refutation’, the subjectivity of knowledge and the absence of certainties in science as more philosophically aligned to my radical approach of disrupting the gendered organisational paradigm via dystopian trope analysis.  This challenges the Kuhnian approach of working within the paradigms to confirm and expand existing theories. I conceptualise the gender movement, at present, as constricted within the prevailing paradigm of masculinity. To achieve equity and parity for women and minority groups based on current rules, it is necessary to work within the system, not create a new system outside the existing parameters. If we live as hermits, we only impact our own lives, we don’t things for the better.

I am not dismissing Kuhn’s conceptualisation of scientific method as he also points to new paradigms as historical realities within scientific reasoning and methodology. I  argue that my research goals are centred on demonstrating a critical and robust argument against the current system and showing the ways to a new paradigm inspired by the lessons of dystopia. Popper’s insistence on validity of scientific theories only if they are refutable by testing to the degree of falsification may present a challenge to my approach. To build falsification measures into my paradigm for progressive action may weaken my argument for the inspirational influence of subjective hope which drives collective agency and is found in the Dystopian subversions of power.

I am concerned with highlighting the inherent flaws of the system and ‘breaking the box’ to create a space and opportunity to explore a new paradigm where the rules and principles are based in equitable shares in prosperity. If we can take inspiration from Elle Woods and her journey to ‘break the box’, we can see her resilience, identity and integrity never wavered. A character who has inspired millions should be taken seriously. She is an icon of female empowerment and someone whose approach subverted the dominant paradigm and redefined the rules of success. Progressive gender movements must draw strength and inspiration from these icons and remember their identity, resilience and power.

References

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-43399961

http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/article/ab1eaf4a-c794-420a-929f-253695ede704

Collins, S. (2013). The Hunger Games Complete Trilogy. Scholastic UK.

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/mar/15/hsbc-pay-gap-reveals-men-being-paid-twice-as-much-as-women

Kuhn, T. S. (2012). The structure of scientific revolutions. University of Chicago press.

Mallan, K. (2017). Dystopian fiction for young people: Instructive tales of resilience. Psychoanalytic Inquiry37(1), 16-24.

Popper, K. (2014). Conjectures and refutations: The growth of scientific knowledge. routledge.