As I began reading Konopasek I was skeptical: How is he going to show that grounded theory is compatible with more constructivist or post-structural frameworks? To break down the barrier between post-positivism and constructivism, I suppose the place to start would be by lowering the position of the researcher from objective observer to co-creator of knowledge. I think Konopasek works towards that when he talks about how the superiority of the researcher comes from intensive study of the phenomenon through the experiences of many participants, whereas the participants tend to only have their own set of experiences. Some folks would probably have problems with him calling the researcher superior in any way, but if the researcher isn’t superior in at least some way, then I’m just going to read the memoir of a participant rather than the results of the qual study.
What I was not skeptical of was the idea that using Atlas can make thinking visible. The visibility of thinking not only gives a paper trail of thoughts, but he says it can make qual research easier to teach. I really liked the metaphor of science and how he used it to de-mystify the processes of qual research. In science, particularly field biology, there are a series of approximations from the primary set of interactions to the journal article in Nature (If all goes really well, haha). The primary interactions are of course more powerful–they are the substance and inspiration of the scientist’s career. But scientists can’t just study all day. Just like the rest of us, thoughts spurred by amazing experiences (like observing the interplay between savannah and jungle) must be shared. And, again, there is a difference between a memoir and a research report. Supposedly scientists and researchers have a kind of training that will separate their reports from those of the layman. If they are trained in a certain way, they can provide a quite different set of insights from that of the casual observer. Or at least they can if they are trained properly. And Konopasek says it will be easier to train qual researchers properly if we take out the mentalistic part of qual research instruction. And that’s where Atlas comes in.
With the memos, links, codes, and so on, Konopasek argues, essentially, that through our work, the material processes carried out, we can in fact see what is most important (to us) through our use of Atlas. He says that what is most relevant will be what we have commented most on. Why would we comment on it if it wasn’t relevant? And this commenting is an extension (and a new knowledge) constructed by the (visible, instructable) process of research. Atlas won’t do the work for us, he says, but it sure makes it easy to see where we have done the most work within our data set. And in effect, that facilitation (remember that facilis in Latin means easy) does some of the work that we would have had to do by arranging and shuffling and so on.
A question for discussion perhaps might be, if Atlas is all about making visible our thinking, and the material processes are so important, what is lost when the material process goes from arranging and shuffling to clicking? What physical investment is lost, and what is gained in return? Will I get scissors and notecards for my dissertation? No way. I’ll be using Atlas or NVivo. But I’m interested in what is lost and gained.
Guests were there sharing some advice Thursday. They were quite dynamic as a whole and there were a few stand-out snippets: read a lot within your content specialty and see what methodologies make the most sense; write responses to readings in the moment, otherwise you’ll forget; email Ann for help :).