Volume 13, No. 1, Art. 23 – January 2012

On Transparency, Epistemologies, and Positioning in Writing Introductory Qualitative Research Texts

Audra Skukauskaitė & Judith Green

Review Essay:

Carol Grbich (2007). Qualitative Data Analysis: An Introduction. London: SAGE Publications Ltd. ISBN 978-1-4129-2143-5, 258 pages, $53.95/£22.99

Abstract: Building on Günter MEY's (2000, para. 2) argument that "reviews should help to promote additional perspectives … and to open up new scientific discourses," in this essay review of Carol GRBICH's (2007) "Qualitative Data Analysis," we present an approach to reading texts ethnographically that enabled us to uncover how the choices GRBICH makes in positioning readers and in choosing particular ways of representing select qualitative approaches inscribes particular worlds and possibilities for qualitative research. In her text GRBICH argues that authors position readers through the ways in which they report and write about their work. In this review essay we use this argument as a basis to uncover how GRBICH positions readers, researchers, those researched, different qualitative traditions and perspectives as well as herself as an author of the text, to lay a foundation for engaging readers of FQS in a hermeneutic dialogue (KELLY, 2006) about the authoring and reviewing processes and their inter-relationships. Through this dialogue, we seek to develop with readers of FQS a new discourse about the necessity of transparency in the position that authors and reviewers take in reporting/reviewing of research, and in representing the traditions that differ from the author's/reviewer's own tradition(s). Our goal in framing this essay review as a hermeneutical dialogue is to identify previously unexamined issues of how the writing of introductory texts is shaped by the often invisible perspectives of authors, which in turn leads to a particular inscription of what counts as qualitative research.

Key words: transparency in reporting research; positioning; writing research texts; ethnographic reading; logic of inquiry; languaculture

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

1.1 Reading GRBICH's "Qualitative Data Analysis" ethnographically

1.2 Reading texts ethnographically: Making transparent author-reviewer positions

2. Structure and Content of "Qualitative Data Analysis: An Introduction"

2.1 GRBICH's rhetorical approach: A dialogue with the readers

2.2 Synopsis of the book: What counts as "Qualitative Data Analysis" as presented through the structure and content of the book

3. Discussion

3.1 Toward a dialogue on issues of positioning traditions, authors, and reviewers

3.2 Toward understanding the nature of differences across traditions and what difference the differences make

4. Some Closing Thoughts





1. Introduction

1.1 Reading GRBICH's "Qualitative Data Analysis" ethnographically

In an editorial entitled "Reevaluating Book Reviews: As Scientific Contributions," FQS reviews editor Günter MEY (2000, para. 2) states that "reviews should help to promote additional perspectives … and to open up new scientific discourses." MEY's directive framed the way in which we approached our review of GRBICH's volume, the questions we asked, and challenges we faced as we explored the scientific contributions and the scientific discourses in GRBICH's introduction to "Qualitative Data Analysis." In this review essay we take up MEY's challenge to reviewers by presenting an approach to reading texts ethnographically to uncover insider meanings and perspectives, and to identify points of difference between GRBICH's and our understandings of the particular traditions and approaches she represents. This ethnographic reading led to the discovery of a relatively unexamined issue in the "scientific discourses" on qualitative inquiry—the relationships and positionings among author, reviewer, and reader. As we uncover how GRBICH positions readers, researchers, those researched, and herself as an author of the text, we seek to engage readers of FQS in both a traditional review of her text and in a hermeneutic dialogue (KELLY, 2006) about the authoring and reviewing processes and their inter-relationships. [1]

To accomplish our goals of creating a dialogue within FQS, we present this review in three parts. The first presents an overview of the conceptual basis for reading the text ethnographically. In the second part, we review GRBICH's ways of structuring and inscribing the goals of the text, the rhetorical style adopted, and how she bounds what counts as qualitative data analysis. In this part we seek to construct evidence for an emic (insider) perspective. In the third part, we raise a series of issues that we call rich points (AGAR, 2006a) that serve as anchors for the dialogue with GRBICH and FQS readers. The rich points arose from frame clashes (AGAR, 2006a; TANNEN, 1993) that made us question the claims about what counts as qualitative data analysis proposed to readers of this text. These frame clashes served as anchors for exploring missing perspectives and issues of positioning of traditions and approaches within introductory texts. The three parts of our review serve as different angles of analysis (reading) necessary to make informed decisions (GRBICH's argument) about the volume's potential use with beginning researchers in our courses and the challenges faced by instructors using this text. [2]

1.2 Reading texts ethnographically: Making transparent author-reviewer positions

In approaching the task of reviewing "Qualitative Data Analysis: An Introduction" using our ethnographic approach, we make visible the basis for framing the argument that the position of authors and reviewers requires transparency for the logic they use to approach not only reporting of research but also writing and reviewing books on research methods. We view this argument as building on GRBICH's claims about how authors (researchers) position readers in reporting their research. By extending GRBICH's argument to include authors (writers) of introductory texts or edited volumes that define what counts as qualitative inquiry, we frame an area that has to date received little direct discussion in the field of research methodology: How are research traditions and perspectives of others (re)presented by authors who are, or are not, part of developing (or historical) research traditions? [3]

One way of viewing the importance of this direction can be found in arguments by folklorist Daphne PATAI (1993), who asserts that the choices the researcher makes in transcribing the discourse of others constructs a self for the person whose discourse is being transcribed and analyzed. From this perspective, the author of an introductory text can be viewed as inscribing a form of self for the tradition or approach represented; that is, what the author writes about the particular tradition is not "the tradition" but a (re)presentation through the author's own understanding of the perspective. By extension, this argument does not rest with the author of an introductory text alone; it also extends to reviewers, who in authoring the review, also position author(s) and what the authors present within the text being reviewed in particular ways, thus creating a self for the author of the text being reviewed as well as for the traditions within the text. This argument is particularly consequential when the authors of the text under review do not disclose their background or the traditions guiding their work, thus leaving the inscription to the reviewer, as was the case of GRBICH. [4]

Another way of understanding the consequences of the issue of (re)presenting (presenting again) a tradition or approach is through the argument by anthropologist and ethnographer Michael AGAR (1994, 2006b) and his conceptualization of languaculture. Building on AGAR, we view the reviewer as assessing (reading) the author's text from the languaculture of the reviewer (an outsider to the text, and possibly the traditions of the author/s) and not from the languaculture of the author(s) who are the insiders to the text construction. AGAR argues that the goal of the ethnographer is to gain emic or insider understanding of what is being constructed or happening at points of interaction. In seeking to read the text ethnographically, as reviewers we faced the challenge of uncovering GRBICH's perspective, while simultaneously exploring our own frame clashes and what they made visible about both her representations and our expectations on what would be represented. [5]

The conceptualization of languacultures as guiding the work of self and others, when added to the argument about constructing a self by PATAI, frames the basis for our call, in the essay part of this review, for a discussion in FQS about the need for transparency in the position of authors and reviewers, as well as the position of authors and readers and researchers and researched. We argue that this issue requires a new dialogue about the need for transparency of the logic-in-use (KAPLAN, 1998 [1964]), not only in reporting of research as GRBICH argues, but also in writing and reviewing books on research methods. In this way, we seek to bring a hermeneutical dialogue forward to explore whether guidelines for reviewing need to include a statement of the perspective(s) reviewers bring to their work in the social sciences. [6]

We conclude this section by identifying the guiding questions that enabled us to read this text ethnographically and by making visible the particular tradition of ethnography, interactional ethnography, that served as an orienting perspective for this reviewing process (GREEN, SKUKAUSKAITE & BAKER, in press; SANTA BARBARA CLASSROOM DISCOURSE GROUP, 1992). The questions that we used to approach the review are: If this is an introduction to qualitative data analysis, then what is being introduced? How, and in what ways, does GRBICH inscribe different traditions, approaches and practices? What counts as data analysis as presented to readers? What will we, as readers, be able to learn about something called qualitative data analysis by reading this book? In what ways are GRBICH's own theoretical and analytic traditions visible in the text? And, what is present as well as missing from the discussion, given our own orientations and theoretical grounding in discourse analysis and anthropological approaches to the study of everyday life through ethnography? [7]

From this perspective, we view GRBICH's text as an artifact that inscribes particular worlds of qualitative research, membership within those worlds, as well as her own position in selecting and representing the worlds inscribed (IVANIČ, 1994; LAKOFF & JOHNSON, 1980). This ethnographic approach to reading often involved non-linear queries across chapters to investigate and develop grounds for interpreting and understanding what GRBICH proposes to readers as definitions of qualitative research traditions and approaches to analysis and writing. This non-linear reading is grounded in AGAR's (2004, 2006a) argument that when an ethnographer (or, in this case, reader) does not understand what is happening or has a different interpretation, the ethnographer traces the pathways leading to, or from the rich point in order to locate evidence of emic or insider meanings and knowledge. When this process is undertaken, the ethnographer/reader is able to juxtapose languacultures that can serve as rich points for posing areas for further dialogue with readers of FQS as well as with GRBICH about what counts as qualitative research within and across disciplines as well as traditions. [8]

2. Structure and Content of "Qualitative Data Analysis: An Introduction"

2.1 GRBICH's rhetorical approach: A dialogue with the readers

In "Qualitative Data Analysis: An Introduction," GRBICH takes a unique approach to introducing ways of engaging in qualitative data analysis. Rather than focus on methods and differences among methods, GRBICH seeks to take the reader on a journey to understanding epistemological underpinnings of qualitative research. She proposes to readers actions that they need to take to make informed decisions about which traditions and analytic approaches best enable them to address their research questions. GRBICH uses a series of parallel structures to present each tradition, including when to use, types of questions the approach is best suited to address, strengths, and weaknesses. She also provides a brief summary of criticisms of each approach, an issue rarely presented in related volumes. [9]

In directly addressing readers across the different chapters of this volume, GRBICH focuses readers not only on what they need to know or how to do qualitative research but also on the importance of how to think in ways grounded in particular epistemic and intellectual communities. In using this rhetorical approach, she simultaneously positions readers as outsiders to historically constructed communities of qualitative researchers, and as actors who need to seek knowledge inscribed in these different communities, what she refers to in multiple ways—as traditions, approaches, and epistemological positions. In taking this position, GRBICH makes visible that to think qualitatively is a philosophical and epistemological stance, which entails conceptual understanding of the traditions the researcher is drawing on as well as the critiques of those traditions. GRBICH's approach to introducing "Qualitative Data Analysis" as grounded in epistemology is a contribution to conceptual dialogues about ways of engaging in hermeneutical conversations among epistemological traditions that have been called for in issues on complementary and multidisciplinary research approaches in Education (GREEN, CAMILLI & ELMORE, 2006; GREEN & HARKER, 1988; KELLY, 2006; KOSCHMANN, 1999; MOSS et al., 2009). The volume also ties to recent arguments about ethnography as a philosophy of inquiry, and as epistemology, not method (AGAR, 2006a; ANDERSON-LEVITT, 2006, 2011; GREEN et al., in press). [10]

2.2 Synopsis of the book: What counts as "Qualitative Data Analysis" as presented through the structure and content of the book

The first part, The State of the Art, includes two chapters on the conceptual foundations for qualitative data analysis. Chapter One, Epistemological Changes and their Impact on the Field, provides a guide to epistemological influences on qualitative research and presents the "major characteristics" and "issues of contention" within each epistemological position: positivism/empiricism; critical emancipatory positions; constructivism/interpretivism; and postmodern and poststructural positions. The second chapter, General Approaches to Designing and Analyzing Data, proposes ways of clustering research approaches into iterative, subjective, investigative and enumerative traditions of inquiry, which guide ways of designing research and analyzing data. [11]

The Second Part of the volume, Specific Analytic Approaches, introduces five qualitative traditions, their foci, strengths, weaknesses, and analytic techniques common within each perspective. The approaches presented are Classical Ethnographic Approaches, which include classical ethnography and critical ethnography (Chapter 3); Newer Ethnographic Approaches, consisting of autoethnography, ethno drama, and cyber ethnography (Chapter 4); Grounded Theory, foregrounding two branches: Glasserian and Straussian (Chapter 5); Phenomenology and its three varieties: classical/realist/transcendental, existential, and hermeneutic (Chapter 6); and Feminist research, with its focus on memory work (Chapter 7). [12]

In Part Three, Analysis of Documentation, GRBICH includes six chapters focusing on specific methods of analysis. In the chapter on Content Analysis of Texts (Chapter 8) GRBICH presents content analysis purposes, processes, and tools, while in the chapter on Narrative Analysis (Chapter 9) she reviews historical definitions and changes, narrative genres, and "two main versions" of narrative analysis: socio-linguistic and socio-cultural. In the next chapter on Conversation Analysis (Chapter 10) she reviews the grounding of CA in ethnomethodology, identifies five "speech acts" as "recognized patterns of interactions or devices" (p.138), and presents a model of CA's research practices and the notation system. GRBICH starts the next chapter on Discourse Analysis (Chapter 11) with an acknowledgment that "discourse analysis spans a broad field from formal linguistic approaches through Foucauldian analyses to cultural communication studies approaches, and has been used in many disciplines" (p.146), but in the chapter presents only the Foucauldian approach to discourse analysis. The following chapter focuses on Visual Interpretation (Chapter 12), including analytic approaches of ethnographic content analysis; historical analysis: iconology and iconography; structural analysis; and poststructural analysis. In the last chapter of Part Three, GRBICH presents Semiotic Structural and Poststructural Analyses and grounds structuralism in the work of de SAUSSURE, with DERRIDA's deconstruction and critique of de SAUSSURE as forming the basis for poststructuralism. In each of the chapters in Part Three GRBICH also provides examples of the approach and its criticisms. [13]

Her approach to presenting the eleven chapters of Parts Two and Three is similar to that of Part One, and focuses on the "epistemological and conceptual or theoretical underpinnings" (p.37) of the traditions that she presents. As GRBICH progresses across the chapters, she repositions readers by shifting the discourse about their actions from one of knowing about epistemological bases for qualitative traditions and their histories to a position of adapting particular qualitative traditions and approaches to their own questions. As part of the process of adapting, she asks the researcher to consider what a reader will need to know about the rationale for the adaptations made to the original approach. [14]

In Part Four, GRBICH guides the readers to an exploration of ways of Writing Up Data, presenting issues and practices of writing in three chapters. Theorizing from Data (Chapter 14) presents the role of theories in select approaches from Parts Two and Three: classical ethnographic approaches; new ethnographic approaches; grounded theory; phenomenology; feminist research; content analysis; conversation analysis: chat-rooms; semiotic analysis of visual images; hermeneutic approach; and theory building through metaphor. Chapter 15, Incorporating Data from Multiple Sources, focuses on "the mix of qualitative and quantitative data in terms of management and presentation" (p.195) and includes a brief history of qualitative and quantitative approaches, their major differences, advantages of combining qualitative and quantitative results, and maximizing the impact of combining different data sets through various combination techniques. GRBICH ends this chapter with a review of "Problems in attempting to combine data sets" and "Presentation of dual results." The last chapter of Part Four focuses on Writing Up and Data Display, in which she reviews issues of audience, format of the text, and researcher position, followed by a half-page section on "research approaches," stating that overall "there are no rules which suggest that one form of display is more appropriate to any particular approach than another" (p.208). The major part of the chapter is then devoted to providing examples of various Display options, including graphic summaries, quotes, case studies, interactive approaches, hyperlinks, vignettes, anecdotes, layers, pastiche, juxtaposition, parody and irony, fiction, poetry, narrative, drama, and aural and visual displays. [15]

The final part, Part Five, includes one chapter on Qualitative Computer Programs, in which GRBICH provides a history of development and an overview of "some of the many qualitative computing packages on the market" (p.223). She also documents continuing concerns: the framing tools of computer programs, framing of knowledge, texturing of reality, impact on knowledge, communication, reification, and quantitative interfaces. She ends the chapter with users' comments which point to additional dangers of using computing packages. The chapter, and thus the book, ends with a summary stating that:

"The way knowledge is constructed in our society is important, as is the hegemony of logic which determines which statements become knowledge. As human beings we have the capacity to create an inner representation of life which is multidimensional, complex and characterized by spontaneous reflexive actions. Processes involving segmenting and ordering data have the capacity to distance us as researchers, to limit perspectives, and to favour outcomes of homogenisation and standardisation. The tyranny of a system, however useful, which has the capacity to direct and simplify the construction of the views of researchers and ultimately those of readers, will thus always be problematic" (p.234). [16]

A brief glossary and references by chapter are provided at the end of the book. [17]

This volume, with its scope and discourse about the nature of qualitative work and the cautions for qualitative researchers, provides a potentially unique contribution to introductory texts to qualitative research. GRBICH's articulation of a broad range of traditions and approaches to data analysis provides a sketch map of traditions and their grounding in different disciplines and epistemological stances. This scope of work, however, also raises challenges for readers, both those familiar with and those new to qualitative traditions of research. Although we view GRBICH's volume as a contribution to volumes introducing qualitative data analysis, we also understand that it brings to the fore limits to certainty (BAKER & GREEN, 2007; HEAP, 1980) for readers and instructors considering using this text. We view this text as an anchor for dialogues with students and others about what counts as qualitative research, whether qualitative research is a field, and how representing approaches to data analysis, without making visible the historical contexts that gave rise to the approach, poses challenges for utilizing this text in introductory courses. Therefore, in the next part of this review, we present an illustrative case that raised the question of the limits to certainty we identified related to the ways in which GRBICH positioned particular traditions and approaches to analysis. [18]

3. Discussion

3.1 Toward a dialogue on issues of positioning traditions, authors, and reviewers

The overview of the structuring and the content of the volume constituted our initial reading of what GRBICH selected to inscribe as worlds of qualitative data analysis. Through this reading, we uncovered key rhetorical arguments that GRBICH proposed to readers and identified how she bounded the field of qualitative research and what readers new to the field need to think about, understand and know to make informed decisions about which traditions and approaches to use to analyze their data. In examining GRBICH's arguments about criticisms of particular perspectives, we came to understand that GRBICH was not advocating for a particular tradition or epistemological stance but rather was also concerned about understanding the dialogues about what counts as qualitative research. [19]

However, in reading across chapters and noting the structuring of the presentation of different qualitative approaches, we faced a number of frame clashes in which our way of understanding particular traditions presented differed from that of GRBICH, given our theoretical grounding. Although we faced a range of frame clashes, we elected to focus on one to initiate a conversation with both GRBICH and FQS readers—the way in which GRBICH positioned a tradition, which in the field of linguistics is inscribed as sociolinguistics, but which GRBICH spells out as socio-linguistics, and which she positions as a version of narrative analysis. In selecting sociolinguistics as a rich point, we create an illustrative case to foreground issues of positioning of traditions, inscribing a definition of other, and the rhetorical impact of the inscription of different traditions. The choice of this rich point was purposeful given that our work is grounded in part in interactional sociolinguistics (CASTANHEIRA, CRAWFORD, DIXON & GREEN, 2000; GUMPERZ, 1982, 1986; GUMPERZ & LEVINSON, 1996) and therefore her positioning of sociolinguistics in particular ways posed problems for us. [20]

By placing sociolinguistics within narrative analysis, GRBICH redefined it as a method, not a discipline with a range of theoretical perspectives and disciplinary homes (anthropology, education, linguistics, sociology), including interactional sociolinguistics, ethnography of communication, variational sociolinguistics, systemic functional linguistics, sociology of language, and pragmatics, among others. Each of these traditions share a common focus on language-in-use within cultural and social groups and view language as local, situated within, and constructed by members of social groups within and across times and events (GREEN & STEWART, in press; HEATH, 2000). From this perspective, language is also a material resource through which everyday life is constituted (GEE & GREEN, 1998; MEHAN, 1979). An illustrative example of the conceptual issues framed by sociolinguists can be seen in a distinction HYMES (1977) makes about ways of asking questions regarding language use and social life.

"The principle of the linguistic ethnography that is needed can be put in terms of complementary perspectives. If one starts from social life in one's study, then the linguistic aspect of the ethnography requires one to ask:

  • What are the communicative means, verbal and other, by which this bit of social life is conducted and interpreted?

  • What is their mode of organization from the standpoint of verbal repertoires or codes?

  • Can one speak of appropriate and inappropriate, better and worse, uses of these means?

  • How are the skills entailed by the means acquired, and to whom are they accessible?

These questions lead into the territory of the other starting point. If one starts from language in one's study, the ethnography of the linguistic work requires one to ask:

  • Who employs these verbal means, to what ends, when and where and how?

  • What organization do they have from the standpoint of the patterns of social life?" (p.93, bullets for questions added) [21]

These questions define the boundaries of different units of analysis, different angles of sociolinguistic and ethnographic studies, and different forms of evidence in ethnographic studies of language and social life. In his distinction of two approaches to the study of social life HYMES makes visible how everyday life can be studied in different ways through a focus on language. [22]

In framing these dimensions of sociolinguistics as ethnographic, HYMES also makes visible the range of questions that this form on inquiry addresses, and inscribes a language or discourse about this approach. The roots of this approach to sociolinguistics can be traced to work in linguistics within anthropology in the 1960's (GUMPERZ & HYMES, 1972) and to the linguistic turn in philosophy (RORTY, 1992 [1967]). This turn toward language and ethnography of communication was taken up by researchers across disciplines, including education, medicine, and law (CAZDEN, JOHN & HYMES, 1972; CORSON, 1997; GREEN, 1983; GREEN & STEWART, in press; HORNBERGER, 2008; SPOLSKY & HULT, 2008). At the center of this approach is a concern for issues of how people learn the social, cultural and linguistic processes and practices of their local communities and how such knowledge can be problematic in intercultural communication and different social spaces. [23]

By bringing HYMES' argument about sociolinguistics to the fore, we show how GRBICH's representation of this tradition, as a method of narrative analysis called socio-linguistics, marked her as an outsider to sociolinguistics and related traditions focused on language-in-use. Furthermore, in positioning sociolinguistics this way, GRBICH missed its contributions to ethnographic approaches to the study of everyday life and language as a social process and discourse practice. Ethnography of Communication and related ethnographic approaches (e.g., ethnography of speaking, interactional ethnography, and microethnography) with roots in sociolinguistics were not included in chapters on Classical and Newer Ethnographic Approaches (Chapters 3 and 4). By tracing the historical roots of sociolinguistics in the turn toward natural language, we also identified a missing perspective within the chapter on Epistemological Changes and Their Impact on the Field (Chapter 1). Although GRBICH included approaches that resulted from this linguistic turn in later chapters (e.g., discourse analysis, conversation analysis, narrative analysis), the omission of this philosophical turn in the opening chapter masked its contribution to the development of different traditions that have contributed to qualitative research as a way of knowing about the social world (DELAMONT, in press; GREEN & STEWART, in press; JANESICK, 2009). This omission, when combined with the naming and positioning of sociolinguistics within narrative analysis, led us to conclude that there was a need for further dialogues about what counts as qualitative research and its roots, and how authors make decisions about what to include when writing introductory texts about the range of approaches to analysis of qualitative data. [24]

By exploring how GRBICH inscribed sociolinguistics in the text and how she positioned herself through these representations, we uncovered challenges facing authors of introductory texts in reading across, and in (re) presenting traditions that have different philosophical grounding from the author's own approach. The authors and the readers of introductory texts face the challenge of understanding the languaculture of a particular tradition, as well as the challenge of understanding the history that gave rise to the tradition. We argue that understanding the historical developments of particular traditions is critical to (re)presenting the tradition and its contributions to qualitative social research. [25]

3.2 Toward understanding the nature of differences across traditions and what difference the differences make

In the previous section, we raised a number of issues related to positioning of traditions and posed questions about representing different traditions in introductory texts. In this section, we build on the challenges identified to explore ways of uncovering the roots of different traditions. We also discuss the issue of transparency in representing, reviewing and reporting research as a key to new dialogues in FQS and across fields of study in which qualitative social research is being undertaken. In this section, therefore, rather than focus on methods of analysis or representation, we seek to make visible conceptual arguments that may help promote further dialogues. [26]

To frame the issues we raise, we return to a key argument in GRBICH's volume—that beginning researchers need to know qualitative traditions in seeking to adopt or adapt a tradition they choose. This rhetorical argument raises two central questions—what does it means to know a tradition? And, if one is to adapt the tradition from another field of study or research perspective, what principles might be framed to guide those seeking such knowledge? We view these questions as central to being able to examine the contributions of different traditions, whose theories and epistemological bases may have a range of relationships, as BLOOME, CARTER, CHRISTIAN, OTTO and SHUART-FARIS (2005) argue—these relationships may be complementary, null, antagonistic, or parallel. BLOOME and colleagues (2005) further argue that once we engage in an exploration of such relationships among theoretical perspectives, we may find that the process is more complex than choosing among traditions and that the juxtaposition of traditions may lead to new areas of inquiry and to new understandings of phenomena of interest. [27]

To explore different traditions is not easy, as indicated previously. However, in this review essay we have attempted to show how reading a text ethnographically can provide a foundation for identifying the author(s)' arguments and logic of inquiry, while at the same time pointing to areas of frame clash, areas in need of further inquiry to gain an emic perspective. In this section, we seek to make transparent conceptual arguments that support this goal and provide a means of making transparent guidelines that we draw on as we engage in this process of reading the work of others and reviewing how authors represent the work of others. [28]

One set of conceptual arguments that guides our analysis of research is grounded in work in Sociology of Knowledge and Philosophy of Science, particularly arguments about research programs proposed by American Philosopher of Education Kenneth STRIKE (1974, 1989). STRIKE (1974) proposed a set of principles to guide the analysis of what he called programs of research (e.g., behaviorism, constructivism) and their expressive potential. He argued that each program of research has an "expressive potential" which:

  • specifies a problem that requires solution or investigation;

  • provides a theoretical and empirical context for definitions of terms;

  • delineates relevant from non-relevant questions and aspects of the phenomenon;

  • provides a lens to view phenomena;

  • provides standards for judging warrants for claims;

  • provides ways to link individual research studies and demonstrate cumulative knowledge. [29]

In drawing on STRIKE's principles, we (re)formulate the challenge of learning how to engage in qualitative social research as one that involves more than knowing a tradition in order to adapt it or use a particular analytic approach. Rather, qualitative social inquiry requires understanding the logic-in-use (GREEN, DIXON & ZAHARLICK, 2003; KAPLAN, 1998 [1964]); that is, the chain of reasoning and decision making that constitutes the work of qualitative social researchers grounded in particular theoretical and philosophical traditions. [30]

This argument, if taken up, will address a concern that has been raised by researchers across traditions over the past five decades that is captured in the following quotation by Anthropologist Raymond BIRDWHISTELL (1977) in a book "About Bateson":

"I tried to make clear what was involved in the use of the phrase 'a methodology' when talking about ethnography. I tried to clarify the idea that methodology, at least as taught and practiced by the ethnographers I have known best, is not merely a technique for eliciting information related to closed and immutable questions. Nor is it a bundle of techniques; some kind of handy-dandy tool kit prepacked for field use. [...] I have come to the conclusion that the past twenty-five years have seen a separation of theory from methods of research procedure. This tendency becomes manifest in the choice and analysis of import of problem, in the location of observational site, in the preliminary isolation of data, in the development of relevant, consistent and explicit techniques of observation, in the recording and storage of data, in the orientation of rules of evidence, and, finally, in the methods of data and evidence assessment and presentation that permit and assist in ordering reexamination, and research" (pp.104-105). [31]

As BIRDWHISTELL argues, knowledge of the theory-method relationships is central to understanding as well as engaging in all aspects of ethnography and other forms of qualitative social research. The decisions a researcher makes contribute to developing a coherent logic-in-use, needed to create the basis for warranting claims developed through the research study. Without understanding theory-method relationships and the way they shape the logic-in-use within individual research studies or in larger programs of research, researchers may separate theory and method in favor on focusing one or the other dimension. BIRDWHISTELL (1977) writes:

"The interdependence of theory and methodology can be hidden by exclusive focus upon either philosophy or technique. Once separated, only the most sophisticated can reconstitute them into investigatory practice. [...] There seems to have been a growing tendency, particularly among those disciplines concerned with what is termed 'direct observation,' for a number of investigators to reject the use of theory except as a device for the interpretation of data" (p.104). [32]

The challenge of not considering theory-method relationships and the logic-in-use is visible in the ways in which GRBICH seeks to address some of these issues in the State of the Art part of the book. In that section, she brings to the fore a series of movements across the philosophic traditions that she identifies as influences for qualitative inquiry. However, how these epistemological influences relate to, or frame the analytic traditions is not visible in later chapters, thus making invisible the theoretical and conceptual roots that ground particular analytic approaches. Leaving epistemological influences to the first chapter creates an impression for the reader that data analysis can be separate, or removed from, the overall logic of inquiry guiding the research. [33]

This argument about theory-method relationships raises questions about writing and reporting of research in international and interdisciplinary contexts. One of the venues for discussions about the need for transparency in reporting the logic of inquiry was the American Educational Research Association (AERA), whose interdisciplinary and international membership was faced with challenges in contributing, reading, and assessing research published in AERA journals. Given that authors, readers, and peer reviewers came to education research from different disciplinary, epistemological, theoretical, methodological, and national backgrounds, their work represented different languacultures, making reading across disciplines difficult when articles were written with unexamined assumptions that readers would be members of the same research program and would understand the text in the way the author intended. The AERA Standards for Reporting on Empirical Social Science Research in AERA Publications (2006) and Standards for Reporting on Humanities-Oriented Research in AERA Publications (2009) called for transparency in framing the statement of the problem, in how literature reviews were conducted, in reporting on the processes of data collection and analysis, and in warranting of claims, among other guidelines. The purpose in calling for transparency at every point in a research report was to make visible to readers, both those within the tradition and those from other traditions, the coherence in logic of inquiry, for without that information readers were unable to assess work across traditions. The standards, therefore, provided guidelines for authors, readers, and reviewers for accessing and evaluating research reports by focusing on the transparency of the logic of inquiry represented, rather than on method use. [34]

Our goal in bringing the standards forward is not to promote them as guidelines everyone should use, but rather to point to the need for a dialogue about transparency in reporting research, and by extension in writing introductory texts or edited volumes designed for an international and interdisciplinary audience. We raise the issue of the challenge facing international audience and why this brings a particular need for transparency in a journal such as FQS, given that there are different intellectual traditions and schools of thought in each country. This issue is well-recognized within philosophic circles but has been lost in recent work focusing on qualitative "method." Such differences have been addressed recently by education researchers grounded in different ethnographic traditions in both individual longitudinal studies (ANDERSON-LEVITT, 2002) and in edited collections (ANDERSON-LEVITT, 2003, 2011; KALMAN & STREET, 2010; KUMPULAINEN, HMELO-SILVER & CÉSAR, 2009; LÓPEZ-BONILLA & ENGLANDER, 2011; LÓPEZ-BONILLA & PÉREZ FRAGOSO, 2011; STEVICK & LEVINSON, 2007; STREET, 2005). [35]

These cross-national volumes make visible the need to bring to the fore the contributions of different social, cultural, and philosophical groundings of research on phenomena, such as what counts as literacy, inclusive practices, language differences, learning, and identities, among other questions central to education research. They also make visible different theoretical traditions and epistemological approaches guiding the research processes and how each approach constitutes a particular logic-in-use. The importance of contributions from different countries and different traditions as well as discussions about transparency and what difference the differences in research traditions make, is visible in FQS, particularly in its thematic issues and debate columns. [36]

We conclude this section, therefore, by foregrounding one thematic issue we identified from FQS archives that invited dialogue about the importance of international contributions and epistemological groundings. This thematic issue complements issues we have raised in this essay review and enables us to contribute to the dialogue available in FQS by adding new perspectives. In an FQS thematic issue on Intercultural Communication, OTTEN et al. (2009) focus on issues related to what counts as intercultural communication and ways of studying this phenomenon. The authors of this thematic issue demonstrate how different epistemological lenses grounded in linguistic, anthropological, sociological, and/or communications perspectives enable them to uncover particular aspects of intercultural communication across national boundaries. In the abstract to the editorial introduction, they frame their goals as seeking to explore the complexity of ways of studying intercultural communication qualitatively:

"This article introduces to the thematic scope and the articles of this special issue and it explains some important terminological distinctions of the intercultural research field. The overall aim of this issue is to explore the manifold ways to apply and to reflect upon qualitative research methods in the context of intercultural communication. This implies both a discussion of genuine characteristics of intercultural qualitative research as well as attempts to identify common features and linkages of this special area with more general interpretative research traditions under the "umbrella" of qualitative social research" (from the abstract). [37]

By bringing together different traditions and authors from different countries, the editors of this special issue (OTTEN et al., 2009) demonstrate to readers of FQS ways in which common theoretical arguments can be taken up uncommonly to address local and situated areas of interest, and how across studies convergent findings are possible. This volume lays a foundation for a potential rich and productive dialogue on the contributions of different theoretical traditions grounded in particular national contexts, and how these create particular ways of studying intercultural communication. [38]

Additionally, the goal of these authors makes visible the need for transparency as well as the need for exploring how qualitative inquiry traditions are material resources for the study of particular social phenomena across national contexts. Furthermore, their discussion of caveats about the scope of this work supports our argument about the need for international perspectives in discussions of qualitative social research and how the inclusion of cross-national studies is important to gaining new insights into the phenomena of interest to particular research communities. OTTEN et al. (2009, para. 23) state:

"We are aware of the fact that the selection of articles in this issue is not representative. Many methods and approaches are not included and the themes and contexts presented are only examples. Some views and regions are still underrepresented and we have to confess, that the international scope of perspectives represented here is not as broad as we had hoped for in the beginning of the project. This is particularly unfortunate since the topic of intercultural communication is particularly requested to include 'other' and 'international' perspectives. Also we are lacking contributions from Asian, African and Latin American authors who surely would open our eyes wider for some shortcomings inherent to the so called 'western' tradition of intercultural communication (ASANTE, 2008; YOSHITAKA, 2008)." [39]

In making transparent their goals and the limits to what they represent, the team of editors make visible the importance of transparency in the authors' or editors' goals and how those shape what gets included. This rhetorical stance is one that we believe is central to understanding the claims made in any volume or research article. In making this statement, OTTEN et al. (2009) not only position their work as partial, and part of an ongoing dialogue, but they also make visible to researchers that there are further areas and perspectives for consideration. This rhetorical approach, therefore, invites response, and positions this community of scholars as open to new issues and participants. In taking this stance, OTTEN and colleagues move the argument in GRBICH's volume beyond just knowing and adapting to one that invites participation in larger communities of research. We look forward to engaging in a dialogue with this community. [40]

4. Some Closing Thoughts

In accepting the invitation to review GRBICH's volume, "Analyzing Qualitative Data: An Introduction," we did not anticipate the challenges that we would face, not only in reviewing this volume but also in taking up MEY's (2000) inscription about how book reviews are viewed in FQS. In thinking about what kinds of scientific discourses and what new perspectives we might add to the discussions in FQS, we were taken on a journey of discovery, reflection and reflexive inquiry. The genre of review essay is one with which we were familiar having conducted several in the past focusing on both articles (GREEN & SKUKAUSKAITE, 2008; SKUKAUSKAITE & GREEN, 2004) and research volumes (GREEN & LEE, 2006) as a basis of such review essays. However, this journey and dialogue with GRBICH and the issues she inscribed led us on pathways beyond GRBICH's volume to discoveries of new sources, insights, and issues crucial to our work as researchers, reviewers, and teachers of scholars entering educational research communities. [41]

The challenges that this review essay raised for us, as indicated in the previous sections, were multiple and complex, and that complexity led us to an appreciation of what GRBICH sought to achieve as well as to a new understandings about the challenges of reviewing itself. Although we have differences in interpretation and understandings of some of the traditions, we found that our dialogue with GRBICH through what she inscribed, and the rhetorical style she used to address readers, helped us to (re)envision what students in our introduction to qualitative research courses face as well as what we as instructors and readers faced as we read and analyzed this volume. [42]

No one author or book can introduce all of qualitative research, as the authors of the thematic issue on intercultural communication research articulated in the introduction to their volume (OTTEN et al., 2009). What we have come to understand further and to (re)formulate for ourselves and our students is that when one reads published work, whether an article or a book, what is needed is a dialogue with the author and an approach to reading the text ethnographically. By seeking the author's perspective, and engaging in this dialogue, we sought ways of uncovering arguments, with which we then engaged dialogically to frame a hermeneutic conversation. In this way, we sought to raise new questions for further inquiry and for, what we hope will be, future dialogues with GRBICH and others in FQS. [43]


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Audra SKUKAUSKAITE is an associate professor at the University of Texas, Brownsville. Her research and teaching interests focus on discourse and ethnographic research in education, open-ended interviewing methodology, impact of reforms on teachers, and student learning in diverse classrooms.


Audra Skukauskaite

Department of Teaching, Learning, and Innovation
The University of Texas, Brownsville
80 Fort Brown, EDBC 2.308, Brownsville, TX 78520

Tel.: 1-956-882-7674
Fax: 1-956-882-8929

E-mail: audra.skukauskaite@utb.edu
URL: http://utb.academia.edu/AudraSkukauskaite


Judith GREEN is a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research and teaching interests focus on teaching-learning relationships, disciplinary knowledge as socially constructed, and ethnographic research and discourse studies of the patterns of everyday life in classrooms.


Judith L. Green

Department of Education
The University of California, Santa Barbara
Education 3147, Santa Barbara, CA 93106

Tel.: 1-805-893-4781
Fax: 1-805-893-7264

E-mail: green@education.ucsb.edu
URL: http://education.ucsb.edu/Faculty-Research/Faculty-Listing/bio.php?first=Judith&last=Green


Skukauskaitė, Audra & Green, Judith (2011). Review Essay: On Transparency, Epistemologies, and Positioning in Writing Introductory Qualitative Research Texts [43 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 13(1), Art. 23,

Copyright (c) 2011 Audra Skukauskaite, Judith L. Green

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