Remembering My Hat

30th September 2010

Crunching, playing, digging and swimming.

Filed under: Uncategorized — rememberingmyhat @ 17:52
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I’ve been thinking about the words academics use to describe what they’re doing when they’re working with research data. (this is so not the sort of data I’m talking about!)

I guess the commonest over-arching term is ‘analysing’. I quite like ‘analysing’ because it makes it clear that my job (as I conceive it) is not just to re-present the data but to do something with it. To pull it to pieces and put it back together again (what’s that analogy? A jigsaw? I loathe jigsaws. And also the whole point of a jigsaw is that you put it back into the one true, correct, same shape, whereas the whole point of analysing data is that you don’t and, within my paradigms, you couldn’t).

Discursive psychology has a very clear conception of what it means to analyse data, rather that simply to explain or summarise it, e.g.  I still find those useful ideas, even though I’m no longer doing discursive psychology.

Analysing data is probably my default term, although it does always conjour up an image of my data lying on a couch while I ask it about its mother.

I also use ‘crunching’ for the stage when you’re not really thinking about it yet, you’re just organising it and getting it into a shape where you can start thinking about it. So I’ve spent the last 2 days crunching the data from my Imagining Bi Futures research. That was fun – it re-enthuses me about the richness and interest of the data, and it’s satisfying to feel I’m getting a sense of what the data’s like. It’s as if the data is a lot of laundry strewn all over the house which I have collected together into a large bundle. It’s not yet folded and sorted, but the folding and sorting is now possible.

Actually, of course, data crunching is not really separable from the analytic process because the way you organise the data affects the way you analyse it. For the Imagining Bi Futures data I’ve ended up organising it by research participant, so for each person I have stapled together a scan of their drawing, their written description of what their drawing shows and then anything they said during the workshop. This would be pretty inimical to many discursive approaches because ‘the unit of analysis is the discursive feature, not the person’. The argument is that if you organise your data by participants, you tend to think about it in terms of people. Hardliners would extend this to not giving participants person-like pseudonyms but codes like ‘FG1:3’ (Focus Group 1: participant no. 3)

In this case, I think my unit of analysis is the narrative feature. I’m not interested in the people (analytically speaking. Some of them are good friends so I’m very interested in them and I’m generally interested in people), I’m interested in the future autobiographies they happened to produce in my workshop. But organising the data by participants has made what was previously an amorphous mass of different kinds of data feel manageable and grokable.  I’m human, I think about humans, so sue me. And the names they chose for themselves as their pseudonyms are another part of the data.

Another term I use is ‘playing’ as in ‘I’m just playing with the data, to see what comes up’. I use this partly without thinking because I do enjoy it and it does feel a bit like play (I get paid to do something that feels like play! How lucky am I?). And also because I get most of my best ideas when I feel as if I’m just playing or when I’m having a conversation with someone else that is fun. But I also use it in more of a self-management way to get me over the fear of starting – I’m not really analysing at the moment, I’m just playing with it.

A colleague who just gave me a cup of tea (thanks, Sam Murphy!) suggested ‘excavating’ or ‘digging down’ for the later stage when you are really properly analysing. I’m surprised I don’t use this one, as it’s quite common and I can see how it would work. I think perhaps ‘excavating’ sounds too much to me as if there is something there waiting to be found, which, as a social constructionist, isn’t how I conceive of what I’m doing. But that doesn’t apply to simply ‘digging down’. Maybe it sounds a bit too much like hard work? Mostly, I think I don’t experience working with data as hard work. Writing up is hard work, for sure, but thinking about data mostly isn’t, for me.

I do occasionally use ‘immersed’ as in ‘that great feeling when you’re really immersed in your data’. Being immersed isn’t so much something you are doing with your data, it’s more something that happens to you. I suppose I could say I was swimming in my data, but I don’t think I ever have.

This was meant to be a brief introductory paragraph to presenting some old data that I’ve been playing with as diagrams, but I seem to have got carried away. Will stop now and post the other stuff another day.


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