A Worldview, as a researcher
- Core Research Methods
A 1000-word commentary on research methods and my worldview - critically reflect on research paradigms and strategies of inquiry I align, while offering evidence of my work, with the aim to logically relate Practice and Research.
Introduction: Where I situate myself
The concept of global outlook proposes an important idea – the understanding of the surrounding environment as a world where it presents itself to a human being (Ingold, 2000). The human being, ontologically, means being-in-the-world (Heidegger, 1962). These views provide an insight for me as a researcher into the perception of the world; the world I understand is a lifeworld, sphere of lived experience, rather than a globe confronted by life (Figure 1).
With this outlook, it is proper to discuss qualitative research that explores people’s lived experiences to help them understand their perceptions and behaviour. This essay is going to critically reflect on the qualitative research methods used for my design innovation practice, considering the research paradigm and strategy I align, followed by an annotated portfolio as evidence of its validity. It will also comment on the ethical challenges found.
‘Meaning is immanent in the relational contexts of people’s practical engagement with their lived-in environments.’ (Ingold, 2000, p.168) With regards to the intersubjective social communication, there is a research paradigm to which Constructivism aligns. That is, the view that meaningful reality and knowledge of social world are constructed from experience through interaction. (Crotty, 1998) These two important notions by Ingold and Crotty could have been mutually complementary if the ideas of ‘shaping Individual knowledge through experience’ and ‘its collectivity within the lived environment’ had been integrated. Figure 2 below is my suggestion.
‘Thinking and doing are inseparable’ (Lave, 1988, p.171). And I consider, there is sensory experience in between, which affects ‘doing – behavioural output’. These may be the key parts where design innovation practice can intervene to help people shape their own perception of the social world. It could be seeing, hearing, touching… any form of experiencing – since ‘Our knowledge of the world can only come through some form of perception’ (2000, p.243).
As we choose to opt in certain type of knowledge and out others, our perception of the world becomes more solid as we go through the process of constant self-reflection i.e. the stages of ‘thinking-experiencing-doing’. The collective representation of such experiences, on the social level, an important aspect of involving social actors in a shared environment, underpinned by the idea, ‘Social knowledge is acquired through particular patterns of connection’ (Johnson-Laird, 1988).
Given experience is the valuable object within most ethnography practice, (Silverman, 2004), I started with ethnographic approach as it seemed the most appropriate strategy to utilise. To begin with, I compared relevant research strategies for deeper understanding – Table 1 shows my analysis.
Through the analysis, I found myself as a researcher aligned with phenomenological ethnographic point of view for the following three reasons. First, it concerns Constructivism that allows different ways of looking at reality. Second, therefore, it enables me to step aside from presumption and appreciate the differences and similarities between the views of mine and others. Lastly, through such phases, I can acquire insights into other people’s experiences by questioning and comparing them with my own experiences - it concerns objectivity, yet still not losing the empathetic self (Atkinson, 2007).
Given phenomenological ethnography is a part of co-design (Table 1), the interview method has been carefully adapted since ‘its data collection can be a co-production between interviewer and interviewee’ (Heyl, 2001). Also, obtaining further in-depth information is another major advantage of the interview method. Alongside this, the method of observation was also employed for two reasons. First, interview itself could possibly be only partial knowledge, and in this regard, observation, inseparable from interview (Gray, 2014), could help complement the interview method. Two, contrary to other research approaches, observation is practically an ongoing process from the first place (Gray, 2014).
However, while carrying out interviews and observation, one ethical concern emerged – to what extend should, or can, I objectify myself in this research process? Also called confirmation bias, I found in my practice, that the data interpretation influenced by researcher’s mental constructs is widely considered a limitation of observation (Gray, 2014).
However, I challenge this notion on the basis of the fact that it cannot be a limitation if we take account of what Berger (1972) noted: ‘The way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe … we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves.’ In this sense, the validity and subtlety of research works can be determined by the researchers’ positioning, which can serve as a tool itself, to reflect on practice to tackle the ethical challenges.
Conclusion: Researcher’s mindset
Returning to the question posed at the beginning of this essay, the concept of ‘where I situate myself’ can be summarised as below. As Allen (1997) noted, ‘we are part of the social world that we study’ and thus for qualitative researchers, constant recognition of their own global outlook in lived-in environment is required to acknowledge themselves, reflexive in response to the interaction between themselves with others. In this regard, establishing the researcher’s own mindset is critically important as it helps them recognise the ways in which they may amend their own experiences. Figure 3 displays an overview.
As shown above, researcher’s assumptions and people’s experiences exist individually, and there may be differences or similarities between these two. Therefore, efforts must be made to find the gap between these two, so we can discover potential true values in between them through unprejudiced approach and constant self-reflection.
Keeping this in mind, it should also be noted that when we say self-reflection here, it should include two meanings: 1. interpreting my own lifeworld as we experience it and, 2. thinking the relationship between our self and those being studied.
In conclusion, this mindset can be a platform where the valuable mutual understanding can happen, and in turn, healthier and richer research practice can be disseminated.