Qualitative Research Methodology Notes from Underground


I want to scream. I want to cry. I am so frustrated, maybe it makes sense that I am dreaming of my house burning down and all my notes lost, all the computers melted, all information worthless, worthless, worthless. Futile. All attempts futile.

Well, maybe I don't belong here. Plato says that art is anathema in a Republic. What about in a democracy? What place does art have in a democracy? What if I decide that exclusion is more poetic than inclusion? What if I stay an outsider? Refuse the challenge to participate in the sturm und drang of democratic action, theory and praxis? What if I choose to express what I know "they" want to hear? Well, first of all, I know perfectly well that there is no "they" any more than there exist any "normal" persons. And, I don't remember how to pretend to be someone else even if I wanted to try and ape the behaviour of a fantasy called "the normal teacher." I am stuck with me. Stuck. With me.

Conversational reality is the fundamental theory I have been working with for four years. I remember the day and the way Diane Schallert, PhD, handed me her book to borrow. When I returned it, I bought my own copy and read it again. It didn't seem like any big deal, people are always giving each other books.

Conversational reality bases itself on a variety of fundamental philosophical positions: post-modernist relativism, a hermeneutic appreciation of the text's ability to create relationship (and perhaps even realities), Gestalt psychology and Third Force psychology (Maslow, Rogers et. al.) and feminist relational epistemologies. I see conversational reality in everything.

Perhaps it's partly that my favorite thing in the world is conversation. Sex runs a close second but I consider sex a subset of conversation and even found a linguistic proof of this in The Oxford English Dictionary (italics theirs): "Frequent use or abode .. the action of living or having one's being in or among; the action of consorting with others; living together.. .intimacy." This is a history of language issue; what a word meant might not be relevant in daily life, in Durkheim's lifeworld. There, a word means whatever whatever it is being used for at the time. This is Shakespeare's oft used premise in both his comedic and tragic fiascos. Then, as misunderstanding piles upon misunderstanding, ill will enters in and the conversation becomes argument, dispute and even murder.

The etymology of conversation is "turning with," and it starts off meaning turning with, the people you turn with all the time, the ones you know in the biblical sense. Intercourse doesn't enter into our language until well into the age of international business. The middle ages and commerce well advanced, commercialism and the renaissance rearing their elitist head, intercourse starts off meaning a business interchange; an exchange of goods. I really hate conversations that are mere intercourse and I don't like that kind of sex either, not at all. Here, I give you two and I expect two of equal or greater value. Sigh. I prefer conversation, turning and living with and seeing what comes up, or doesn't, where we go, or where we can't seem to get to, making a life. That is my life, making conversations. Truly. So I enter into this discussion of narrative and qualitative research with these particularities of purpose and meaning as fundamental to every intellectual breath I take. Breathe in, breathe out.

A research technique does not constitute a research method. (1) The way we research, the technique, is not all that is required of us. We must use a method as well as a technique. A method is the philosophically articulated purpose of the techniques we utilize.
The way educators have been socialized. (2) Our educational systems have opened up a lot, but for Eisner's generation, education was perhaps a more unified concept, at least in his social class.
Curiosity, as an instance, that most fundamental of all scholarly traits, is of little value in responding to the demands of conformity. (3) This statement pinpoints a critical polarity in educational institutions: curiosity has to pit itself against conformity. This is a Scylla and Charybdis any participatory research methodology must negotiate.
If we are researching things that defy categorization, how do we constitute data. (4) The more I read this statement, the more tempted I am to substitute "people" for "things." Then it will read, " If we are researching people that defy categorization, how do we constitute data?" And then my answer would be: we replace categories with narratives and data with details.
Research isn’t life. It looks like life, but it’s misleading. But there are different rules and roles. (5) I think about this a lot and though I agree with the second half of the statement, that there are specific and unique rules and roles involved in research, I do not agree that it's not life; nor would I agree that there is a dichotomy between work and life. I think different action domains require different communication types and therefore generate different meanings. But no action or thought can release itself from its responsibility to life because of its dependence upon life for its existence.
What isn’t assessed tends to disappear from the curriculum, then we need to find ways to document the validity of assessments that support a wider range of valued educational goals. (6) For instance, could process be assessed in its entirety? What if students have a different but effective way of generating thought and answers? Ways that are unfamiliar, processes that are new to us are not genuinely assessable although they may generate reactions from appreciative to appalled. Assessment requires criteria which presupposes prior investigation and agreed upon categorizations.
A scientific theoretical view, according to Kuhn, becomes in practical usage an ontology. (7) And vice versa: ontologies find it practicable to generate scientific, theoretical epistemologies.


Begin with Form

I know that I am supposed to be making sense now and be all serious and profound but what I feel is sad, overwhelmed with the way we learn and teach, how alienated we are from each other and from even the things we hold most dear. My story is the story of failure after failure that somehow magically appears successful as time goes by. What is successful is the fact that I don't give up. Last night I dreamed that my house burned down, we were all out, all that was destroyed was my papers, my computers, my plays, my novels, everything I have tried so hard for so long to create. And then I quit. I quit my PhD program. I left it all behind. Wishful thinking? Fear? Both?

Few people realize how badly they write.(8) Oh, he is so wrong. We know how badly we write. How badly we write words on paper, how badly we write our relationships, how badly we write our lives. Oh, no, Mr. Zinsser, I won't beg to differ, I will simply differ: we do know. But we all would like to write better and I don't think it's going to happen your way, by stripping ourselves down and getting rid of all extraneous verbiage. That stripped down perfectionism is too much a part of the modernist, bauhausian virtue; clean, white, dry, purism. I don't want to be pure, well, even if I did want to be, it's too late now. But if I can't write as if I were stripped down pure, I can write stripped down raped, oh yes, I can certainly identify with the bulldozed. Hey, Zinsser! Eisner says: Pay attention not only to the outcomes of teaching and learning but also to the processes.(9) And my mommy ontology says, "Mind your manners."

Weaving a story. (10) A feel-good phrase. I think what it means is plan ahead because there is an awful lot of stuff to coordinate into a pattern for perusal by strangers. (BTW - by the way - this statement inspired the design of this text.)
Human adaptation helped by weaving of narrative. (11) Once the fabric, or story, is woven, we can use it as a blanket, a rug, a wall hanging. We live our lives cozy with it. Stories that comfort and teach, terrify and abjure, help us on our way.
Have we really heard from the children? What stories can they tell about moral meanings? My contribution to the dialogue of moral education/development is to extend the story-based research. (12) It's hard to listen. And once we manage to listen, we have to express what we heard and that act of expression immediately compromises the endeavor- unless we remember the weave: some threads go one way, many go another and all are needed to hold a fabric together.
Narrative discourse… uses the full range of speech acts as its keyboard. (13) In theory, writing can be as varied and complex as speech. But I don't believe, at this point, that it is. Speech acts are research categories that exist as written conceptualizations so within that framework, Bruner's statement can be true. But, in the lifeworld of schools, speech is far richer than any text because it is multi-dimensional, multi-faceted and encompasses far more than the speech acts that are used to analyze its elements.
Paradigmatic discourse narrows increasingly as it develops toward pre expression of analytically and empirically verifiable propositions. (14) In this article, Bruner wants the reader to agree that narrative is not a paradigm. This is a fallacy. Narrative discourse is a paradigm and it has many strengths. But it also has limitations and weaknesses and does not contain within itself every truth. Narratives are tools. Statistics are tools. They do different work. They have their own purposes. And they both narrow appreciably as they develop analytically verifiable propositions.
Envisioning scenes as written can make the researcher a better observer. (15) If you edit while you are living, watching, participating, if you are writing in your mind, you will get in your own way. And, if you limit your field notes to what you assume you are going to write about, as awareness dawns, you won't be able to use your notes to examine how your awareness came about.
There are other ways of reducing social discourse to written form. (16) I am searching for these "other ways." But I am trying not to "reduce" it too much because social discourse tastes better fat and yeasty.
Social research is both a process and a product. (17) Because social research takes place within relationships it is a process. Because we value realtionships we commemorate them through representations.


The theoretical foundation of participatory action research is conversational reality. Meaning is co-constructed in the context of collaborative activity. I am experimenting with structures. I want to understand how specific structures affect the content and meaning. I am hoping to find that some structures support and nurture people. I am hoping that these relational structures can be described. I am finding that there seems to be something more organic to layering and iterative planning rather than imposing abstractly conceived designs onto living systems.

Post-modernism began as a de-construction but I am involved in a later part of the movement. I am of an intellectual persuasion that believes in conscious co-evolution. A premise of conversational reality is that we all participate in creating the world together. Co-constructivist research perspectives require us to become aware enough to describe the process and the products of our co-constructions.

Wash me in this water: Using as a basic validity criterion the immediate and local meanings of actions, as defined from the actors’ point of view. (18)


Relational rules don’t get talked about much. (19) Relationships exist because I need them. I can't imagine myself outside of these relationships. This dependency is a curse, and a great blessing.

It seems likely that there are patterns in the process of collaborative work. Learning to recognize when our work together is creative and when it is destructive; learning to articulate the values underlying various forms of relationship; learning how to teach the elements supporting nurturance; these are the goals of Third Force psychology. I am one of many qualitative researchers who share these goals.

Risking an engagement with the difference of the other, acknowledging the counter argument (20) Creative conflict is a technique that requires both an internal emotional stability and a willingness to change.
Teachers already too isolated from one another to create the kind of environment that breeds trust and respect. (21) As a researcher, I can choose to be isolated or to create an atmosphere of trust. Often there are pockets of trust operating within schools. As a coordinator I can occasionally help create bridges to expand the reach of these positive places of the heart. But I have also to know when to leave well enough alone. It is hypocritical to force people to collaborate.
Discursive and non-discursive knowledge. (22) I carry my tutu with me in my purse so I can be ready to dance at a moment's notice.
Education is a normative enterprise. (23) Though educational bureaucracy is dedicated to normative exercise, schools, thank god/dess, are still crazy with all kinds of eccentricity.
Not whether it is really true but whether it is useful. (24) In coordinating collaboration, the useful is often the best criteria of success. In writing up research I think we want to include, and then go beyond, the merely useful.
Structural corroboration. (25) The proof is in the pudding.
Is it possible to have a truly collaborative relationship between researcher and researched? (26) Yes. If there is mutual learning, there is collaboration. Can the document, dissertation, article, be truly collaborative? I doubt it. Certainly I have not managed that. But there are degrees here. I can work towards equality and I will get as far as the weave will allow.
Ruddick’s discussion of mothering... Her analysis of a deep contradiction, within maternal practice, between the goals of growth and acceptability. (27) For over 40 years, mothers of various counter cultures have been avidly working to undermine the validity of a conformity that limits genuine growth.



Ethics means that you think before you speak and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is a lot harder than it sounds.

My professor has a way of making us confront ourselves. It is the example she sets. It's not easy to follow her example but I am convinced. I see her working towards a mastery of self-reflection. I see her working to be in synchrony with the world as it manifests through the people she is with. She sees the culture in every culture. Her vision supports diversity in the most fundamental way. She teaches us that self-knowledge achieved through self-reflection is a fundament of the ethic of care. Self-knowledge makes it possible for us to enter into relationships and know that even if we may exploit, there will be intelligent limits set on that exploitation. Self-knowledge makes it possible to be humble because, once engaged in trying to know ourselves, it is all too apparent that we never will reach that infinity. Self-knowledge gives rigor to a narrative. Self-knowledge ameliorates the tendency to blame and victimize.

Is this strictly a feminist problem? .. Does a commitment to sustaining interpersonal connection, what I have labeled "maintenance work," hinder professional growth and development? (28) No! Our lives are the centrality. The meaningfulness of work degenerates to pure oppression