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A methodological story, or how I planned to create a (metaphorical) chest of drawers and ended up with a bedside table

Author - Susan O'Shaughnessy


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Writing the story: analysing the data (cont)

Returning to the recursive analysis, the first two narrative layers, the second interview transcripts and the institutional informant interviews and secondary documentation were now used to begin to construct a further layer of analysis that would shed light on the structural background to the stories of my respondents. At this point it was necessary to consider how the thesis was going to be put together and how the different layers of analysis could be brought together in a way that would prove interesting and accessible for the reader. I began by separating out my own autobiography from that of other German lecturers. Using Bourdieu’s (2007) sociological approach to autobiography I wrote an account of my personal and professional trajectory and, employing the recursive methodology of Warren and Webb (2007b) I interwove my story with historical and structural accounts of the higher education field and the institutional field where I had spent a large part of my professional life and where my professional habitus had been formed. The personal and institutional changes that had taken place over the previous decade were analysed through the conceptual prism of habitus, capital and field, with reflexivity as the key analytical tool.

Having taken a similar approach to the large quantity of data produced from 24 interviews, nine re-interviews, email responses and a wide range of documentation, I was anxious to, in Bourdieu’s words (Bourdieu et al 1999, p. 624), ‘provide the reader with tools for a comprehensive reading, a reading capable of reproducing the stance that gave rise to the text’. In my autobiographical chapter I had started from myself and worked outwards so, to avoid a sense of repetition and predictability, I decided to approach the remaining data from the outside in. Looking at the fields within fields in which the professional habitus of my respondents was constructed I began with the largest field and worked my way in to the field closest to each individual habitus. Starting with the field of European language policy I moved on to the national higher education field and the sectoral field of the IoTs before coming to the institutional field itself.

When it came to the description and analysis of the individual stories of my respondents I divided these into four groups: those who were willing to change; those who were resistant to change but who eventually responded to institutional pressure; those who were not required to change their professional identities and, finally, those who had been part-time lecturers and who, on losing their jobs, had no choice but to change. These changes ranged from teaching English or other languages, communications, intercultural studies or computer applications to studying law or librarianship.  In transcribing, summarizing, commenting on and analysing my respondents’ accounts I concentrated on the content rather than the form or the performance of the interviews (Elliot 2005). While MacLure (2003)argues that literal quotations in texts are an attempt to imitate the ‘real’ (p. 159) and therefore a form of fabrication, I preferred to take on board Bourdieu’s view that using interviewees’ speech can ‘provide a more accessible equivalent of complex abstract conceptual analyses’ (Bourdieu et al 1999, p. 623) and therefore used many direct quotations. It was my view that, having taken the time to be interviewed, the respondents deserved to maintain the agency of their own voices. Even if the resulting account was ultimately my construction, it allowed in part for the articulation of a discourse ‘which might never have been spoken, but which was already there, merely awaiting the conditions for its actualization’ (ibid p. 614).

Finally, although I had set out on a project that would present a comparison between a number of institutions and show the influence of fields and social spaces on the habitus of individuals who were obliged to change, this was not exactly what was produced. The wish to find a way to explore the functioning of habitus caused me to include a chapter on myself and left insufficient room for all the data I had gathered from a number of institutions, although that information did inform my discussion of the IoT sectoral field. What I did produce, in the main, turned out to be a case study of one institution and the structural forces that had affected the professional lives of many of the German lecturers currently and previously employed there.

As defined by Stake (2005) case study research is ‘not a methodological choice but a choice of what is to be studied’ (p. 443) while Eisenhardt (1989) defines it as ‘a research strategy which focuses on understanding the dynamics present within single settings’ (p. 534). Case study research allows for a combined approach to data collection, taking in archival material, interviews and observation and for multiple levels of analysis (ibid). The historical, social, and cultural contexts are often taken into account and the multiplicity of sources and perceptions allows for triangulation of the case. Such research also facilitates the conveying of the experience of the actors involved because researchers concentrate on the subjective data of participants and witnesses (Stake 2005). All of these factors were present in my research but where mine differed from the case study research described by Stake is that my analysis was not bounded completely by the institutional setting. By looking at the policy fields beyond the IoT I focused on I was able to analyse where some of the structural forces at work there had their origins and what outside forces might cause future change in institutional language policy. On the other hand, my use of Bourdieu’s theory to explain the interaction of agents and institutional structures can be seen as a method of theory testing, with Bourdieu himself having employed a form of case study research to build the theory (Eisenhardt 1989) of habitus, capital and field that derived from his early study of the people of Algeria (Bourdieu 1990)

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