THE SITUATEDNESS OF QUALITATIVE RESEARCH AND THE SPACE BETWEEN DATA
I find it difficult to start writing from an individual concept in such a rich and dense two-day conference. Therefore I suppose it could be useful to think through issues discussed via the lens of what I got from it. I have noticed from the different papers presented that the longitudinality of qualitative research expresses its presence through the emergence of such concepts as “timescape” and “revisit” and their coexistence with the “situatedness” and the “localness” of ethnographic practice. This creates a link between the popular and the academic by embedding the researcher in the culture she aims to explore, beyond her fieldwork.
This specifically raises ethical questions around the role of the researcher, both in the micro-context of the field which passes through a process of change through and beyond the presence of the researcher and the global macro-context which not only filters and impacts the field but it is vice versa influenced by the ways the researcher feeds back her research to the world, via more and more globally-concerned academic milieus and policy-making projects.
The ways the research is then received depends on the same issues the researcher concentrates on, while analysing her findings: this does not elude such intersections as the ones between class, race, gender and sexuality which have increasingly entered the picture of a collective consciousness in qualitative research and its reflections. This brings us though to the importance of theorising around data and not forcing them to meaning through theorisations.
Data are nevertheless “nested” in social structures that longitudinal research aims to reveal through a reinvestment in time and its processes. Every culture, notwithstanding its “out-of-this-worldiness”, cannot then be de-classed, de-gendered, de-raced and de-sexualised in the process of qualitative research, without doing a bigger violence to the subjects who engage in it. At the same time, every culture has a different capital of values which makes itself intelligible through the encounter with another view of the world. This does not mean that the above capital is somewhat stable and fixed; to the contrary, it is re-worked all the time through a “tournament” of values, occurring both via external, hegemonic processes filtering in or via internal counter-hegemonic practices of struggle, self-determination and affect.
A phase following participant observation, or re-visit as I intend it, is then carried out by the participants’ memory, as they are positioned toward reconstruction or retrospective. This gets to emerge though, only through a qualitative attention to detail of the researcher, via significant moments as well as cyclic processes, which converge into the messiness of her research.
Nevertheless, the process through which the researcher visualises the field is not to be undermined. The data generate questions but also silences, or the space between “data”. Questions can be theoretical but the silences are “real” and they are usually made of “short temporalities”. I see the ethical focus of qualitative research in capturing the combination of the two: the answers to research questions emerging from the encounter between data and macro-contexts and the “silences” between the data, which potentially disconfirm the evidence.