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Writing Ethnographic and Other Qualitative/Interpretive Research: An Inductive Approach

Dvora Yanow
Dvora.Yanow.prof@gmail.com

Wageningen University and Research Center

Dvora Yanow is a political/policy/organisational ethnographer and interpretive methodologist. Her research and teaching are shaped by an overall interest in the generation and communication of knowing and meaning in organisational and policy settings.

Current research engages state-created categories for immigrant groups, citizen-making, and race-ethnic identity; research regulation (ethics board) policies; practice studies; science/technology museums and the idea of science; and built space/place analysis. 

Her most recent book, Interpretive Research Design: Concepts and Processes (Routledge 2012), written with Peregrine Schwartz-Shea, is the first volume in their co-edited Routledge Series on Interpretive Methods. A second edition of their co-edited Interpretation and Method was published by ME Sharpe/Routledge in 2014.

As part of a new podcast series, New Books in Interpretive Social Science, hosted by Nick Cheesman (Australian National University), Dvora and Peri talk about their book and discuss what interpretive methods are and why they matter. Listen to the podcast here

Course Dates and Times

Monday 6 to Friday 10 March 2017
Generally classes are either 09:00-12:30 or 14:00-17:30
15 hours over 5 days

Prerequisite Knowledge

An advanced course in interpretive and qualitative methodologies and methods, this seminar has been designed for those interested in these sorts of methods, at whatever level (doctoral student, post-docs, Assistant Professors, …), who are engaged in writing scientific papers, articles, chapters or books presenting their empirical research. Those who have field data in hand and are engaged in writing up their research are likely to gain the most from this course and to have the most to contribute to the discussion.  If you are not yet at that stage, I suggest you consider waiting for another time to take the course.

I will assume that participants are familiar with field research methods and interpretive-qualitative methodological presuppositions, and why it is that a field researcher does what s/he does.  This includes having a basic knowledge of interpretive methodologies and methods; a suggested list of background readings follows below. (For courses on those topics, please see the list of courses offered by the ECPR Methods School.)

The course is not appropriate for those writing up quantitative research:  that writing has very specific characteristics which are different from those of interpretive-qualitative research, and we will not have time to engage those or the differences between them.


Short Outline

This seminar explores issues in one of the ‘genres’ of academic writing:  ethnographic and other forms of interpretive-qualitative empirical research.  The course will proceed inductively, studying the structure and components of empirical research that has already been published and working from those observed ‘data’ to examine how texts convince (or fail to convince!). We will focus on journal articles rather than monographs due to time constraints governing both preparing for the course and discussing issues in the sessions; but what we can learn from reading research articles in this way translates to book-length manuscripts. With occasional exceptions, selected for teaching purposes, the articles selected for reading appear in leading journals, demonstrating that interpretive-qualitative research, when ‘appropriately’ written—i.e., in keeping with the evaluative standards of that epistemic methodological community, in a transparent, persuasive fashion—can be accepted for publication in top tier outlets.


Long Course Outline

Have you wondered how, out of all those manuscripts presenting empirical, fieldwork-based research submitted to peer-reviewed journals, some get selected for publication, and why? Have you pondered the things that authors might do to enhance their chances of getting their work published? Or even more basically, emerging from having been immersed in your field research setting, have you found yourself facing mounds and mounds of field notes, transcripts, and other forms of data and wondering where to start—how you might possibly organize them into a research paper, article or book?

This seminar explores issues in one ‘genre’ of academic writing:  ethnographic and other forms of interpretive-qualitative empirical research.  The course will proceed inductively, studying the structure and components of empirical research that has already been published and working from those observed ‘data’ to examine how texts convince. We will focus on journal articles rather than monographs due to time constraints that govern both preparing for the course and discussion in the sessions; but what we can learn from reading research articles in this way translates to book-length manuscripts. With occasional exceptions, chosen for teaching purposes, the articles selected for reading appear in leading journals, demonstrating that interpretive-qualitative research, when ‘appropriately’ written—i.e., in keeping with the evaluative standards of that epistemic methodological community, in a transparent, persuasive fashion—can be accepted for publication in top tier outlets.

One of the key questions we will explore is how writing presents data in ways that are more (or less) likely to convince readers of the trustworthiness of research insights or findings, as well as of the researcher her- or himself. Central to this is the role of transparency in interpretive-qualitative research writing. We will also tie this to interpretive-qualitative responses to the movement in the US political scientific academy known as DA-RT (Data Access and Research Transparency), as it potentially impacts those submitting to US-based and some ‘international’ journals, touching also on some of the ethical concerns that arise in interpretive-qualitative research practices, including in writing and publishing one’s research.

Course readings, which should be done before the start of the course, lay out the methodological issues entailed in (re)presenting the subjects of our studies in written form.  These are listed in section 10 of this outline. The daily readings (section 8)—those we will use to generate our ‘data’ inductively for talking about writing—will focus on presenting empirical research, which typically follows a different writing logic from writing that develops theoretical arguments: the writing strategy changes, specifically with regard to the logic of the relationship between the theorizing and the empirical material. Similarly, the logics of writing quantitative research are commonly different from the logic of interpretive-qualitative research, but we will not have time during this course to delve into these matters.

We will spend a bit of time on the journal submission process, including how to think about choosing a journal, and we will also consider the trajectory of a writing ‘career’ around the question of a publishing strategy. Because many of these questions entail personal choices on the part of an author, we may also explore a selection of publications from the instructor’s own research stream, the better to interrogate her strategies, rather than trying to second-guess an absent author’s choices.

Depending on how many students enroll in the course, we may have the possibility of workshopping students’ own writings during class sessions. Students registering for the course who wish to have their work discussed during class time are invited to contact the instructor no later than one month prior to the start of the course to discuss this possibility.  In any event, small working groups will be formed for daily ‘labs’, enabling the application of course concepts to members’ work outside of class.

In short, this course aims to help you:

1. Understand what is central in presenting ethnographic and other forms of interpretive-qualitative research in writing;

2. Learn how to read an article for its writing logic and style, in addition to reading for its content;

3. Have an enhanced ability to assess your own writing as well as others’ work.

 

Day Topic Details
1 Metaphor analysis Class: 09.00-12.30 each day. Lab: afternoon or evening.
2 Category analysis Class: 09.00-12.30 each day. Lab: afternoon or evening.
3 Narrative and storytelling analysis Class: 09.00-12.30 each day. Lab: afternoon or evening.
4 Framing analysis Class: 09.00-12.30 each day. Lab: afternoon or evening.
5 Visual analysis Class: 09.00-12.30 each day. Lab: afternoon or evening.
1 On writing for Aunt Molly and others: Anticipating readers, publishing outlets, and journal, ‘disciplinary’, and ‘national’ styles, and positioning ethnography.

In class

09:00-12:30 each day with a 30-minute break mid-way through

In lab

Afternoon or evening times (to be determined by group members)

2 Comparative writing analysis I.

In class

09:00-12:30 each day with a 30-minute break mid-way through

In lab

Afternoon or evening times (to be determined by group members)

3 Comparative writing analysis II: Responding to reviewers. Interpretive-qualitative approaches to transparency and research-writing ethics.

In class

09:00-12:30 each day with a 30-minute break mid-way through

In lab

Afternoon or evening times (to be determined by group members)

4 Working with your own field and its journals. Researching a prospective journal outlet. Should I tell them I’m doing ethnographic research? Am I...???

In class

09:00-12:30 each day with a 30-minute break mid-way through

In lab

Afternoon or evening times (to be determined by group members)

5 Developing a ‘writing career’: Positioning one’s work; moving from substance to method; review articles? new field settings?

In class

09:00-12:30 each day with a 30-minute break mid-way through

In lab

Afternoon or evening times (to be determined by group members)

Day Readings
Detailed reading assignments will be provided to registered participants. The following are intended as suggestive; actual readings will be drawn from these and others
1: metaphor Donald Schon, Donald Miller, chapters in two edited collections (Terrell Carver and Jernej Pikalo, Political language and metaphor; Alan Cienki and Dvora Yanow, ‘Politics and language’, Journal of International Relations and Development special issue)
2: categories Ian Hacking, George Lakoff, Ralph Hummel, Patrick Simon, Dvora Yanow
3: narrative-stories Shaul Shenhav, Joseph Gusfield, Deborah Stone, Merlijn van Hulst, and others
4: framing Donald Schön, Martin Rein, Carol Bacchi, and other scholars writing in the public policy tradition (as distinct from social movement frame analysis)
5: visual Mary Bellhouse (on paintings), Ilan Danjoux (on cartoons), Dvora Yanow (on built spaces)
1

A basic field research presentation, which we will read together, line by line, to illustrate the main argument.

The substantive methodological reading for this course, which should be done prior to arrival in Bamberg, is listed below in the 'Literature' list the section headed Writing as ‘world-making’:  The rhetorics of science.

Daily readings are the articles we will discuss, at length, in class, paying attention to the details of their composition. Those reading assignments will be provided to registered and paid participants.

2

Two field research articles for comparative analysis: One from sociology, the other in political science from an overseas setting, both engaging organizational practices.

3

Two more for comparative analysis, focusing on responding to methodological challenges from reviewers: one from Organization Studies, one from the  American Political Science Review.

4

Students’ papers OR articles from students’ own fields OR instructor’s articles. TBD based on class size.

5

Example of a ‘writing career’

Literature

Writing as ‘world-making’:  The rhetorics of science

(Science = persuasion = rhetoric)

The following readings reflect the general approach to social science writing on which this course rests and the theoretical background that informs it. These are the readings that should be done prior to arrival in Bamberg

Brown, Richard H.  1976.  Social theory as metaphor.  Theory and Society 3: 169-97.

Clifford, James and Marcus, George E., eds. 1986. Writing culture: The poetics and politics of ethnography. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Golden-Biddle, Karen and Locke, Karen.  1993. Appealing work: An investigation of how ethnographic texts convince. Organization Science 4/4: 595-616.

Gusfield, Joseph. 1976. The literary rhetoric of science: Comedy and pathos in drinking driver research. American Sociological Review 41: 16-34.

McCloskey, Donald N. 1994.  How to do a rhetorical analysis of economics, and why.  In Roger Backhouse, ed., Economic methodology, 319-42.  London: Routledge.

Richardson, Laurel. 1994. Writing: A method of inquiry. In Handbook of qualitative research, ed. Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln, 516–29. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. [or see version in the 2nd edition, 2000]

Schwartz-Shea, Peregrine and Yanow, Dvora. 2002. ‘Reading’ ‘methods’ ‘texts’:  How research methods texts construct political science.  Political Research Quarterly 55, 457-86.

Schwartz-Shea, Peregrine and Yanow, Dvora.  2009. Reading and writing as method:  In search of trustworthy texts. In Sierk Ybema, Dvora Yanow, Harry Wels, Frans Kamsteeg, eds., Organizational ethnography: Studying the complexities of everyday life, 56-82.  London:  Sage.

Watson, Tony J. 1995. Shaping the story: Rhetoric, persuasion and creative writing in organisational ethnography.  Studies in Cultures, Organizations and Societies 1:2, 301-311.

Yanow, Dvora.  2009. Dear author, dear reader:  The third hermeneutic in writing and reviewing ethnography.  In Edward Schatz, ed., Political ethnography:  What immersion brings to the study of power, 275-302.  Chicago:  University of Chicago Press.

 

And here are some additional readings you might peruse:

Atkinson, Paul.  1992.  Understanding ethnographic texts.  Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Brower, Ralph, Abolafia, Mitchell Y., and Carr, Jered B. 2000. On improving qualitative methods in public administration research.  Administration & Society 32/4: 363-97.

Cummings, L. L. and Frost, Peter J., eds. 1995.  Publishing in the organizational sciences, 2nd ed.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Sage.  [The first edition (Homewood, IL: R.D. Irwin, 1985) has an excellent example of a manuscript going through the journal review and revision process.]

Fineman, Stephen and Gabriel, Yiannis. 1994. Paradigms of organizations: An exploration in textbook rhetorics.  Organization 1/2: 375-99.

Gay y Blasco, Paloma and Wardle, Huon.  2007. How to read ethnography. London:  Routledge.

[but see review by Paul Atkinson in Qualitative Research 8: 260-1 (2008)]

Geertz, Clifford. 1988. Works and lives: The anthropologist as author.  Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Golden-Biddle, Karen and Locke, Karen. 1997. Composing Qualitative Research.  Beverly Hills, CA:  Sage.

Hammersley, Martyn.  1990.  Reading ethnographic research.  London:  Longman.

[but see review by Gideon Kunda, “Writing about reading,” Contemporary Sociology 22/1 (1993), 13-15.

Marcus, George E. and Fischer, Michael M. J.  1999.  Anthropology as cultural critique: An experimental moment in the human sciences.  Chicago:  University of Chicago Press.

McCloskey, Donald N.  1986. The rhetoric of economics.  Madison:  University of Wisconsin Press.

Van Maanen, John. 1988. Tales of the field:  On writing ethnography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.  [oft-cited taxonomy of genres:  realist, confessional, impressionist]

Van Maanen, John.  1995.  Style as theory.  Organization Science 6: 133-143.

Van Maanen, John, ed.  1995.  Representation in ethnography.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

 

Additional background readings

I. On interpretive methodologies and methods

Knowledge of interpretive methodological presuppositions is central background for this course. As there will not be time to cover this background in depth in this course, here are some useful readings on the topic, which is enormous:

Geertz, Clifford. 1973. The interpretation of cultures. NY: Basic Books, esp. ch. 1.

Hawkesworth, M.E. 1988. Theoretical issues in policy analysis. Albany: SUNY Press, chs. 1-4.

Hiley, David R., Bohman, James F., and Shusterman, Richard, eds. 1991. The interpretive turn. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Polkinghorne, Donald. 1983. Methodology for the human sciences. Albany: SUNY Press.

Rabinow, Paul and Sullivan, William M., eds. 1979, 1985. Interpretive social science, 1st and 2nd eds. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Rorty, Richard. 1979.  Philosophy and the mirror of nature.  Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Schwartz-Shea, Peregrine and Yanow, Dvora. 2012.  Interpretive research design:  Concepts and processes.  New York:  Routledge.

Yanow, Dvora and Schwartz-Shea, Peregrine, eds. 2014.  Interpretation and method:  Empirical research methods and the interpretive turn, 2nd ed.  Armonk, NY:  M E Sharpe, esp. introduction, chs. 1-5, 21, 22.  [see the reference list for additional readings]

IIA.  On writing, general

Booth, Wayne C., Colomb, Gregory G., and Williams, Joseph M.. 2008. The craft of research, 3rd ed. Chicago.

And this source:  http://www.dur.ac.uk/writingacrossboundaries/writingonwriting/ .  Many leading sociologists and anthropologists are included there; some of the essays are enlightening, a couple are amusing, and some contain what in my view is bad advice [e.g., to not split infinitives (as I’ve just done here, albeit yielding awkward phrasing that I would not myself use other than to provide an example!):  this is an old-wives’ tale]

IIB.  Critiques of present evaluation systems

Mingers, John and Willmott, Hugh. 2012. Taylorizing business school research:  On the ‘one best way’ performative effects of journal ranking lists.  Human Relations [online November 29, 2012, doi: 10.1177/0018726712467048].

 Willmott, Hugh. 2011.  Journal list fetishism and the perversion of scholarship:  Reactivity and the ABS list.  Organization 18/4: 429-42.

Recommended Courses to Cover Before this One

<p><strong>Summer School</strong></p> <p>Policy, Political, and Organizational Ethnography</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Winter School</strong></p> <p>Philosophy and Methodology of the Social Sciences: A Pluralistic Framework</p> <p>Working with Concepts in the Social Sciences</p> <p>Historical Methods for Social Scientists</p> <p>Analyzing Political Language</p>


Additional Information

Disclaimer

This course description may be subject to subsequent adaptations (e.g. taking into account new developments in the field, participant demands, group size, etc). Registered participants will be informed in due time.

Note from the Academic Conveners

By registering for this course, you confirm that you possess the knowledge required to follow it. The instructor will not teach these prerequisite items. If in doubt, contact the instructor before registering.