Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Research perspectives

Here's my justification for the perspective I'm taking. How does it read?

Research approaches require beliefs and perspectives of understanding how things are connected, and so the researcher’s ontological position determines what the researcher can claim to be valid evidence for the assertions the researcher makes about the world. The researcher needs to surface those assumptions about reality in order to understand the appropriate methods to acquire knowledge of the phenomenon being investigated. The best way to grasp that the researcher has an ontological position, to recognise it and its implications for the research, is to consider some different ontological perspectives (Mason, 2002: 14).

Ontology is the study of the nature of reality (Guba and Lincoln, 1989: 83), which means studying being; ontology informs the theoretical perspective for studying the nature of existence. Two ends of the ontological spectrum of ontological belief are represented by the positivist and the interpretivist perspectives. The positivist perspective has a conventional scientific belief system. Epistemologically, the approach assumes knowledge is only of significance if it is based on observation and reality.

IS research has been dominated by the realist perspective (Orlikowski and Baroudi, 1991). The realist perspective takes the stance that things exist independent of human consciousness. An advantage of a realist perspective is that it fits well with the reality of an applied discipline (Mingers and Willcocks, 2004). A disadvantage is that different people make meaning together and separately, realising different and subjective realities that realism cannot mirror or analyse; realism cannot begin to explain these human situations.

The interpretivist perspective sees people and their interpretations as primary data sources (Mason, 2002: 56). An epistemological approach within the interpretivist perspective is constructivism, which asserts that the only world we can study is “a semiotic world of meaning” with symbols such as language that people use to think and communicate (Potter, 2006: 79). Rather than recognising an objective reality, constructivism perspective believes that a person subjectively understands the world, and has mentally constructed meanings of reality. People have signs and symbols for understanding what each is doing and use rich forms of conversations that are adequate for dealing with the complexity of social relationships. Thus, the relativist ontological position of constructivism provides the warrant to consider the views of project participants, as legitimate emic constructions not biased perceptions (Guba and Lincoln, 1989: 185). The relativist position assumes different observers may have different viewpoints (Easterby-Smith M et al., 2002: 32). A variant of the realist position is critical realism, which starts with realist ontology and incorporates an interpretivist thread (Easterby-Smith M et al., 2002: 33), thus by combining realist ontology with interpretivist epistemology (Crotty, 1998: 11) provides a compromise between positivism and interpretivism.

Crotty, M. (1998) 'Introduction: The Research Process'. The Foundations of Social Research: Meaning and Perspective in the Research Process, Sage, London.
Czarniawska, B. (2001) 'Is It Possible to Be a Constructionist Consultant?', Management Learning, 32 (2), pp. 253.
Easterby-Smith M, Thorpe R and Lowe A (2002) Management Research: An Introduction. , Sage.
Guba, E. G. and Lincoln, Y. S. (1989) Fourth Generation Evaluation, Sage, Newbury Park, CA; London.
Mason, J. (2002) Qualitative Researching, (2nd ed Edn), Sage, London.
Mingers, J. and Willcocks, L. P. (Eds.) (2004) Social Theory and Philosophy for Information Systems, John Wiley.
Orlikowski, W. J. and Baroudi, J. J. (1991) 'Studying Information Technology in Organizations: Research Approaches and Assumptions', Information Systems Research, 2 (1), pp. 1-28.
Potter, S. (2006) Doing Postgraduate Research, (2nd Edn), Open University in association with SAGE Publications, Milton Keynes.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Qualitative analysis

Not much gets written on how to do qualitative analysis, though there's plenty of people who write on the topic. Doing it is hard to explain. Miles and Guberman's text is helpful for its tables and overview of a lot of techniques, but as you get further into analysis, you need to know more. This web page explains something of content analysis. Braun and Clarke explain thematic analysis. Miles and Guberman touch on template analysis but you have to read King to know more about it.

Hence, not appreciating my explanation of my qualitative data analysis, supervisor #1 has pointed me at Dey's Qualitative Analysis for a discussion on linking, and connecting coded textual data. It would have been useful to have read it earlier, in my second year!

Braun, V. and Clarke, V. (2006) 'Using Thematic Analysis in Psychology', Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3 (2), pp. 77-101.
Dey, I. (1993) Qualitative Data Analysis : A User-Friendly Guide for Social Scientists, Routledge, London.
King, N. (2004) 'Using Templates in the Thematic Analysis of Text'. In Cassell, C. and Symon, G. (Eds.), Essential Guide to Qualitative Methods in Organizational Research, Sage, London, pp. 256-270.
King, N. (2008) What Is Template Analysis?, University of Huddersfield, School of Human & Health Sciences Available from: http://www.hud.ac.uk/hhs/research/template_analysis/whatis.htm [Accessed 18 December 2010].
Miles, M. B. and Huberman, A. M. (1994) Qualitative Data Analysis : An Expanded Sourcebook, (2nd Edn), Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks.

Monday, 20 December 2010


I note that whatever you conclude, there's likely to be more that you can draw out later. Supervisors agree, and advise that over the next couple of years' research as you write papers that "you distill and distill". I hope so because I want to write a couple of papers to present at conferences after I've submitted.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Not sociologically critical

Supervisor #2 reminds me about the Masters in Research Methods, course B852, where we studied a discussion of critical realism by Ackroyd and Fleetwood. I don't remember, then I realise that they published that difficult article on a metatheory of management by Tsoukas. My notes on it indicate how difficult I found it then.

Apparently I'm taking a critical view of the social world, not being sociologically critical and the "critical" refers to an epistemological stance rather than a theoretical or political stance. So that's all right then. I've changed my methodology chapter paragraph to read:
However, this research takes a realist perspective because, although IS projects take place in real objective spaces, each individual participant constructs themselves in a particular way in relation to the project setting. An advantage of such an approach is that “it maintains reality whilst still recognizing the inherent meaningfulness of social interaction" {Mingers, 2004:99}. Hence, engagement can be explored as a real phenomenon, whilst still recognising that IT project participants may be unaware of the phenomenon.
So I think I've kept what I said before, and now managed to justify it too.

Tsoukas, H. (1994) 'What Is Management? An Outline of a Metatheory', British Journal of Management, 5 (4), pp. 289.

Critical realism pondered

I think the term 'critical' is about responding to criticisms. In IS philosophy, according to John Mingers (2004), critical realism seems to be a response to criticisms of an empirical and naturalist view of science. Mingers says that the original aims of critical realism were
"(i) to re-establish a realist view of being in the ontological domain whilst accepting the relativism of knowledge as socially and historically conditioned in the epistemological domain; and
(ii) to argue for a critical naturalism in social science."
In a context where research has been of machines, of software, of hard systems with less of a focus on people, I can see how there might be a realist approach that was closer to positivism, and I'm finding it a fine line to distinguish between positivism and realism. I had the impression that critical realism was a step further away from positivism, and a compromise between positivist and constructionist approaches. I find support in Mingers' statement
"The major advantage of a critical realist approach is that it maintains reality whilst still recognizing the inherent meaningfulness of social interaction."
I like the idea that critical realists "want to get beneath the surface to understand and explain why things are as they are, to hypothesise the structures and mechanisms that shape observable events. "(p100) because that's the way I thought I was working, so I thought I was using a critical realist approach.

Mingers, J. 2004. Real-Izing Information Systems: Critical Realism as an Underpinning Philosophy for Information Systems. Information and Organization, 14(2): 87-103. at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B6W7M-4C47BCF-4/2/873a061fe87e6979e71a48c3fe922ddd

Critical realist or realist?

Having pondered my methodological approach, supervisors are happier with this second attempt at the chapter. I've written:
A reason this research should use a constructivist approach is that project participants construct each other’s behaviours in the context of a project and shape each other’s understanding. Examples of this approach discussed in the literature review include Schein (Schein, 1997), Bovens’ (Bovens, 2007) constructions of client models, Wenger’s communities of practice (Wenger, 1998), the importance of space and time for understanding projects (Maaninen-Olsson & Müllern, 2009). However, this research takes a critical realist research perspective because, although organisations’ IS projects take place in real objective spaces, each individual participant constructs themselves in a particular way in relation to the project setting.
Supervisor #1 says that I should say it's a realist perspective, not a critical realist perspective. I'm not sure about this because I thought there was a difference that mattered, and isn't realism close to positivism? Or does the term 'critical' apply when research seeks to identify practices or structures in order to highlight inequalities or injustices, in which case, I should remove it, because I'm not attempting to highlight such inequalities. If I remove the word, then everything else I've written still holds, but if I leave it in, then I'm open to queries about my perspective.

I'll ponder.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Draft reviewed

Supervisors and I met to discuss my first full draft.

Apparently I'd written enough in my last two chapters for them to be able to tell me what my conclusions are. As they seem to be happy chappies, I'm happy. I'm surprised by their reaction because although I knew that I'd
  • written enough,
  • shown I'd done enough for a PhD,
  • got a contribution,
  • made a good start at integrating theoretical concepts and developing the model of engagement throughout the draft,
my usual experience of supervision is to feel good when I hand something in, and deflated after we meet. This time I feel something closer to elation than deflation. Yes, there's work to do yet, but I have a feasible submission date and we're talking examiners.

Minor problem now is my urge to work every moment available at it over the next three weeks and we've got b* Christmas in the way! Bah humbug!

For non-English culture readers - "Bah humbug!" is a reference to Dickens Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. Listen to it here, or read it here.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Ode to research

Supervisors, not impressed by my six minute presentation of my research in a pecha kucha, warned me last month that I should be able to summarise my thesis in a minute and a OUBS academic recently FaceBooked that you should be able to summarise your thesis in a limerick. I haven't had the time to try this yet, and my son has beaten me to it. He writes:
There was once a lady called Liz,
Who studied how people do biz.
With consultant's engagement,
...And client en-rage-ment,
It got everyone into a tiz.

Her persuasive persuading persuaded,
Case studies of projects created.
But when time came to publish,
Supervisors said, 'Rubbish!
'Your methodology's completely outdated!' (no they didn't!)

'Begin with some Adler & Kwon,
'They really are second to none.
And though you think 'finished!',
Your work's not diminished.
In fact you've only begun.'

So she read and she drafted and wrote,
And filled up the house with her notes.
On what kind of ontology
Made up her philosophy,
Until one day, her doctor said: 'Don't.'

'You've damaged your wrist!
'So I must insist
'That you sit still and not write or drive.
'Just give it a rest! You've now done your best.
'And you're beginning to break out in hives.' (No, I'm not)
There's more to add, but that'll do for now.

This is what I get for asking him to read my draft chapters. There was an old joke about teachers
If you promise not to believe everything your child says happens at school, I'll promise not to believe everything he says happens at home
So I hope you'll take what is written above as poetic licence.