Good things come in threes

Today I have been writing research memos. I am trying to get a bit of clarity on my research methodology, and on the early emerging themes that are swimming around in my head, before I have made any proper analysis efforts.

First, an admission – I am doing all this in the wrong order. I should have had my research methodology well and truly decided at the time of putting the ethics application in. And I did have it decided, but since then, the more I read, the more I have been feeling that what I have proposed is not quite right. My research project doesn’t seem to neatly fit in one methodology.

A second admission – I’d like to use a bit of a pick’n’mix approach. A bit of this for the data collection, a bit of that for the analysis, yet another approach for interpreting… I suspect this is unorthdox at best, messy and potentially incoherent at worst.

You see, to me, research projects feel like arts projects. Someone said to me on the weekend, as I described my project, that he didn’t envy me… to have to ensure an objective position on all this data that I am so close to and so entwined with… but this feels natural and ideal to me. In a devised project – whether it be theatre (like Hunger last year) or music, or another discipline – one of the most important things is to let the show reveal itself to you. You keep asking questions – setting up possibilities that feel like that might reveal something new or exciting or unexpected, or beautiful – and remain open to the outcomes. Gradually the links and connections, and the natural narrative that is the result of this combination of people and events, at this particular time, will emerge.

I feel very at home with this kind of approach to work, and have developed an instinctive style. This instinct keeps kicking in in my research project, and I don’t know how much to pay attention to it. Maybe it is sloppy and immature of me. The methodology books I read (on case study, grounded theory, and phenomenology, mainly) give me little thrills as they spell out the necessary steps to ensure good research practice. I like the idea of following something to the letter. But at the same time, my instincts also keep jumping in, with their own take on how I should respond to the data I have collected.

Speaking of which, at this post-transcription, pre-analysis stage, as I let the phrases and ideas from the interviews marinate in my mind, all together, I feel like what I write is ultimately going to move through three stages – kind of like concentric circles, with no. 1 on the inside, no. 2 around it, and no. 3 the outer ring:

  1. Firstly, there will be the students’ perceptions of the music program – what sense they make of it, what they feel takes place, and what they feel they learn.
  2. Then, this will move into a broader discussion of the experience of ‘transition’ and the impact this has on students of this age, in how they communicate, use language, respond and perceive their new surroundings. In particular, I wonder how appropriate this research question is for students of this age, when they are in the midst of such a confusing time, trying to make sense of so many new things.
  3. Thirdly, I think this will lead to a discussion on research methods appropriate to this age group, when ina time of transition. How do you elicit responses from someone when any perceptions they have are infused with the newness and unfamiliarity of their situation? How much can they articulate (in any language) at this stage? What effect does learning a new language at school have on their first language, in terms of effective communication? What kinds of research approaches are effective in this kind of environment?

I think I will probably present each of the students as individual case studies, then look for convergent themes between them.


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