ACHIEVING REFLEXIVITY: MOVING RESEARCHERS FROM ANALYSIS TO INTERPRETATION IN COLLABORATIVE INQUIRY

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Liverpool]On: 03 October 2014, At: 05:44Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Journal of Social Work Practice:Psychotherapeutic Approaches inHealth, Welfare and the CommunityPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cjsw20

    ACHIEVING REFLEXIVITY: MOVINGRESEARCHERS FROM ANALYSIS TOINTERPRETATION IN COLLABORATIVEINQUIRYMaggi SavinBaden aa is Principal Lecturer at Coventry University , Charles WardBuilding, HSS, Coventry University , Priory Street, Coventry CV15FB, UK E-mail:Published online: 20 Aug 2006.

    To cite this article: Maggi SavinBaden (2004) ACHIEVING REFLEXIVITY: MOVING RESEARCHERSFROM ANALYSIS TO INTERPRETATION IN COLLABORATIVE INQUIRY, Journal of Social Work Practice:Psychotherapeutic Approaches in Health, Welfare and the Community, 18:3, 365-378, DOI:10.1080/0265053042000314438

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    http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionshttp://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions

  • Maggi Savin-Baden

    ACHIEVING REFLEXIVITY: MOVING

    RESEARCHERS FROM ANALYSIS TO

    INTERPRETATION IN COLLABORATIVE

    INQUIRY

    The idea of teaching reflexivity might seem to some to be a nonsense but manystudents, both undergraduate and postgraduate, struggle with it as a concept, a processand as a means of moving away from simplistic themed research categories towardsin-depth interpretation. This paper will examine the nature of reflexivity from theperspective of a personal stance and suggest the use of particular strategies forinterpreting data reflexively. Such strategies include the use of biographical accounts andorganising principles, the exploration of metaphor and metonymy and the utilisation ofpoetry as an interpretative device. It will offer particular ways of undertaking reflexiveinterpretation that have been used successfully with many postgraduate students andresearchers.

    Keywords reflexivity; analysis; interpretation; interpretative; discourse;disjunction; biography; narrative; subtext; personal stance

    Introduction

    It seems to me that one of the greatest difficulties people have when examiningqualitative data is how to actually make sense of the data. There are texts that offeruseful guidance about different ways of managing data (Burgess, 1985; Denzin,1989a, 1989b; Wollcott, 1994; Hollway & Jefferson, 2000) but this is an area withwhich many researchers continue to have difficulty. In this paper I will explore theplace of personal stance in reflexivity and help the reader to consider where theyhave placed themselves in the data analysis and interpretation process. Teachingreflexivity demands that we try to understand how people see themselves in relationto their contexts. We need to explore how peoples perspectives of themselves andothers shape the contexts in which they live and work and ensure that we situateourselves in relation to the related but different accounts. I do not mean the notionof situating oneself to be as formulaic as pronouncing a particular positionedidentity connected with class, gender, race but rather situating oneself in orderto interpret data demands that we engage with questions about .

    . What is being realised through this research, by whom, for whom?

    . What is being argued for in the interpretation of these data?

    Journal of Social Work Practice Vol. 18, No. 3, November 2004, pp. 365378

    ISSN 0265-0533 print/ISSN 1465-3885 online # 2004 GAPS

    http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/0265053042000314438

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  • . How are peoples biographies being taken account of in the arguments of thetext?

    This paper is not presented as an all-embracing solution, but rather as a practicalguide that may help researchers, of whatever level, to shift from lists and codes tounderstanding the subtext of data.

    Reflexivity as personal stance

    One of the difficulties with the conception of reflexivity is that how you see itdepends upon where you are coming from. In social research and in our work aseducationalists, social workers or therapists we are conscious of our identity and ourposition in relation to our clients and our students but we sometimes leave this out ofour research. It seems to me that it is a concept that is deeply embedded in both ourperceptions of self and our perspectives of the world, which ultimately is connected toour personal stance. My use of the term, personal stance, follows Salmon:

    Taking the metaphor of personal stance gives a different meaning, not just tolearning, but also to teaching, which, as teachers, we think about less often thanwe should. Because personal stance refers to the positions which each of us takesup in life, this metaphor emphasises aspects of experience which go deeper thanthe merely cognitive, and which reflect its essentially relational, social andagentic character.

    (Salmon, 1989, p. 231)

    My own stance is that of an occupational therapist, educationalist, educationalresearcher and consultant in problem-based learning who spends her timemanaging these often-colliding worlds. As a therapist and educator I seek to enablepeople to reach their desired potential, yet the notion of helping gets clouded byconflicting notions of self-direction and autonomy and the relationship betweenfacilitation and didactic forms of training. What all these issues have in common isthe need for a recognition of the influence of my personal stance on the people andcontext in which I am workinghence my interest in reflexivity. Thus reflexivityfor me is about situating my/self in the research and the processes of research inways that acknowledge and do justice to my personal stance and to the personalstances of those involved in the research. What I mean is that at one level we tendto see research as something that is formalised and connected with protocols,methodological choices, findings and publications. This conception of research,which is largely necessary to maintain and sustain our place in academe, is differentfrom the processes in research that we actually experience. It is in dealing with theseprocesses that the issue of values emerges. For me reflexivity is about disclosing myvalue-base to those who participate in research. It is about working with people,doing research that is collaborative and sharing perspectives in the process of doingresearch. Yet it is also about being cynical about what is possible in terms of thiskind of research. I often speculate as to whether collaborative forms of research areidealised. For example, I have been influenced by the work of Carr and Kemmis

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  • (1986), Reason (1994), Weil (1989), Barnett (1997) and more recently Niemi andKemmis (1999) in terms of focussing on research being participatory andcollaborative in nature. The emphasis in this kind of research is on the researchercontinually reflecting on her behaviour whilst at the same time inviting participantsto be co-inquirers. It seems to me that this kind of research is not easy and I oftenwonder whether being a collaborative inquirer is really a possibility. For example, isit really possible to be collaborative in the context of doing research when issues ofpower and voice are at stake, and how is it possible to ensure that our data really arepresented honestly and credibly? These are just a few of the challenges I haveencountered when trying to take a collaborative stance in research. This is wherereflexivity becomes part of the ongoing challenge of being the kind of researcherwho really does negotiate description and interpretation of data with participants, andwho reflects upon the experience of the research process for those involved.Reflexivity in collaborative inquiry involves explicit shared reflection about theresearch process and findings, rather than the masking of the kinds of paradox andconflict that emerge at almost every stage of the research. I find that too often weconcentrate on research methods, ways of doing interviews, types of sampling,forms of credibility and sometimes even ways of being reflexive so that rather thanour values becoming explicit, instead they become obscured by a sort ofproceduralness that creeps into the research process.

    Situating ones self in relation to the data

    Situating our self in research is always a complex activity, partly because our perspectiveschange and move as we undertake the research and partly because of the way we interpretdata and make sense of people and their contexts. This kind of reflexive interpretationinvolves situating ourselves not just in the stages of the research but also in relation to thedata we have collected. This may sound obvious, but too often we ignore our own stancesand perspectives and act as if we are sitting outside the transcriptions looking in on theperspectives of participants. It is often easier to adopt complicated coding strategies thanto engage with the messiness, self-critique and pain that is required if we are to interpretdata. Analysing them in a simplistic way just leaves lists and codes that seem to bearlittle relation to the biographies of those we have spoken with. Too often it seems thatwhat is missing in the accounts of research in dissertations, text books and research papersis about the ways we manage the complexity and the multidimensionality of beingreflexive when undertaking analysis and interpretation. In one of my research studies thatexplored tutors experiences of becoming a facilitator (rather than lecturer) in the contextof a new problem-based learning curriculum, I situated my self in several ways. Firstly, Iwas a researcher, someone who sought to hear and interpret participants stories as theygrappled with this role change. Secondly I was a co-inquirer I was learning with themabout the impact of problem-based learning on their lives as teachers. Finally I wasconfidante and sympathiser, as I too had had to make the shift from lecturer to facilitator.It was in this latter position that my own biography connected with participants. My pastand current selves collided as I reflected on the challenge and discomfort I had experiencedwhilst at the same time seeking to understand participants experiences that resonated

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  • with my own, but were also different. To situate ourselves in relation to the data we needto ask ourselves, and our participants, questions that not only rest on a desire tounderstand peoples experiences of the issues under study, but also explore the ways inwhich these experiences do and do not relate to the broader context of past, present andfuture selves. There needs to be an acknowledgement that

    The self today is for everyone a reflexive project a more or less continuousinterrogation of past present and future.

    (Giddens, 1992, p. 30)

    It is only in situating ourselves in the research that we can begin the process ofreflexive interpretation. Participants reflections on transcripts of data then become vitalto this reflexive process. For example, I interviewed staff about their experiences ofproblem-based learning three times over three years with much discussion in between.Reading and reflecting on transcripts helped them to connect and reconnect with theirjourney, whilst at the same time enabled me to question and challenge the values Ibrought to the research, such as my values about the importance of problem-basedlearning to developing criticality in students in higher education and about the need forfacilitators to develop an emancipatory style in running their groups. It was not just thedata that was discussed but the type and style of the interviews, the ways I had chosen tocreate the data to form a story, and even the use of pseudonyms I had chosen that cameunder scrutiny. Unpacking the research process in such detail means the cycles ofreflexivity force us, as researchers, co-inquirers and participants to be open about thenature of honesty in our research.

    From analysis to interpretation

    The shift between analysis and interpretation is a complex one that is oftenoverlooked, yet there is something of a personal epiphany for many of us about thetransition made from analysing data to interpreting them. A personal epiphany is aninteractional moment (Denzin, 1989a, p. 70) which occurs when a challenge or setof challenges result in a crisis or change to someones meaning perspective. Denzin(1989b) has distinguished four forms of epiphany:

    . cumulative epiphany: an event that is symbolic of profound changes that mayhave been going on for a number of years or be a turning point in ones lifecaused by the accumulation of numerous related experiences;

    . illuminative epiphany: a point in time or particular experience that revealsinsights, or an event that raises issues that are problematic;

    . major epiphany: such as an event or experience that is so traumatic orchallenging that its meanings or consequences are immediate; and

    . relived epiphany: an event or issue that has to be relived in order to beunderstood.

    All epiphanies are transformational; that is, they significantly change peopleslives. However, Denzin has not discussed the transitional process of shifting into,through, and out of the epiphany, yet this would seem to be a vital component of

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  • shifting from analysis to interpretation. For example, many researchers experiencedisjunction in the research process, they become swamped by the data or voicelesswhen trying to portray meaning and this is largely because most researchersundertake research that is, in some way, connected to their biography. Disjunction,used here to refer to a sense of fragmentation of part of or all of the self, ischaracterised by frustration and confusion and often results in anger and the need forright answers (Savin-Baden, 2000). The very nature of disjunction means thatmanaging it presents a challenge to the individual and it often occurs as theresearcher attempts to shift from analysis to interpretation. For example, I kept adetailed field diary over the course of undertaking my PhD and this is an excerptfrom this that demonstrates my own experience of disjunction. It also captures someof the difficulties many researchers encounter in the research process:

    I undertook a multisite study that sought to understand staff and researchersexperience of problem-based learning at four universities and in four differentprofessions. Throughout this study I used a series of feedback loops and tried toanalyse data within sites, rather than across them. Although I knew at one levelmaking the shift (from analysis to interpretation) was my responsibility there werepoints where I blamed my supervisor for not knowing how to help me. It was onlywhen I realised that I was not being reflexive, I was not exploring the connectionbetween my own story and those with whom I spoke, that I understood that I couldbegin to move away from superficial lists and into deeper perspectives of the issues.This disjunction emerged from my becoming too compartmentalised when in fact Ineeded to put people and their contexts back into the centre of the study. Yetalthough I felt that context was vital to the research process, dealing with issuesrelating to context was something which was problematic throughout the study. Itwas as if issues relating to context slipped in and out of focus so that I often couldonly see parts of the picture and not the whole. It was only later, during datainterpretation, that I began to make sense of interwoven themes and issues relatingto context which occurred across the sites.

    The challenges that emerge from managing complex and often competingperspectives seem to be among the components that push researchers away fromcoded categories and encourage them to engage with the relationship betweenthemselves and their stories, and those of the participants. For some researchers,analysis is very much bound up with extracting a clear set of (sometimesquantifiable) themes. For other researchers, analysis is part of the journey on theroad to interpretation. Whatever view we take, analysis of data invariably involvessome kind of structuring of data, so that the notion of analysis is often related towords like lists, codes, facts, memos and indexes. This kind of process is often atime of sense-making where we begin to see how peoples perspectives overlap, webegin to see issues and themes that are shared by participants. We often beginanalysing data by trying to establish patterns and themes arising from data. It seemsto be a process of structuring the messiness of data so that data seem, at least for awhile, manageable. The danger, however, with analysis is to over simplify, todevelop bland categories that are a catchall for most of the issues that people raise.

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  • This oversimplification can be compounded by the use of computer packages thattend to break things down into detailed themes and words that result in deconstructionrather than reconstruction of the data. By listing themes we then tend to fit what peoplesaid to these, rather than actually letting complexity emerge. What happens to many newresearchers when trying to analyse data is that they become stuck in long lists ofcategories, data seem disparate and unconnected and then there becomes a hugereluctance to let go of initial categories because somehow they seem safe and logical.Managing such unwieldy themes, helped along by bumper packs of felt tip pens, issomething many of us have tried, often. In the process of data analysis we try to round offthe rough edges of data, resisting material that will not fit into neat categories andignoring the issues that we do not understand. In the process of data analysis there is atendency to want everything to be tidy, when it is not, whereas interpretation appears tobe a position where the researcher begins to embrace the complexities in the data. Thereis a sense of a shift away from categorisation of various sorts towards a different andoverarching perspective that can take account of multidimensionality. Often such shiftsrequire reconfigurations of our meaning perspectives in the research process. Thismight be why transitions from data analysis to interpretation result, for manyresearchers, in an illuminative epiphany. Data interpretation seems to be associatedwith activities such as those given below.

    Interpreting discourse our own and those ofparticipants in the study

    When interpreting data it is vital to keep participants at the centre of datainterpretation. Data interpretation needs to be based predominantly in theexperience and perspectives of the participants we are seeking to represent andunderstand. For example, there is often a temptation to impose frameworks,categories or ideas on the data instead of unravelling multiple meanings and engagingwith the biographical and emotional meanings of data. People may speak aboutthe same issue but the underlying meanings may be different. Take the exampleof physiotherapists and occupational therapists teaching on a shared learningprogramme. Both groups will talk about assessment of clients but both will meanvery different things. Similarly, if we ask people about their perspectives oncommunity their interpretation of community will be different but systematicallyrelated to their biographical experiences of community. Thus we need to move awayfrom constructing categories because this tends to decontextualise participantsperspectives from the conversational context. There are several ways to undertakethis but a useful beginning is though a detailed exploration of the subtext.

    Understanding subtext

    We often assume that the people we interview and observe in the research processknow and understand their lives and that in sharing their perspectives they knowwhat it is that they are saying. Yet to assume that people know their lives in relationto the research topic is nave; few of us really do know and understand our positionon issues about which we may be being interviewed. In the process of discussing

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  • their perspectives our participants often experience a kind of sense making whilstthey answer questions and share views. So often it is in arguing for themselves tothemselves as they construct the interview data with us that they come tounderstand and realise their perspectives. It is also as participants read transcriptions,reflect upon what they have said and feedback further stories and reflections thatthey see themselves clearly in relation to the research. Thus research that seeks to dojustice to peoples lives demands that we help our participants/co-researchers tocome to know their own perspectives. This is where the whole issue of subtextcomes in. Subtext is often regarded as something that exists, as if it is sort of sittingthere waiting to be discovered, but this is not the case. Subtext is aboutunderstanding the language participants are using in order to understand what isbeing said. Thus understanding the subtext requires that we help our participants tobe reflexive and then that we tell their stories interpretatively as a snapshot of amoment in their lives. Helping participants to become reflexive means not justretuning the transcripts for validation but constructing the data interpretatively andasking for them to examine not just the construction but also where they feel theyare in relation to the interpretations. For example, I interviewed 10 students atone research site, collated emergent themes and then spent time with themdeconstructing and reconstructing the data in order to help them to be reflexive andto critique my interpretations. The starting point for this is by acknowledging thatmultiple meanings exist in any situation and that meaning is different for researcherand participant. It is easy to misconstrue what has been said in an interview aboutthe meaning of a word or phrase or even about the way something has been said.Take for example the phrase I cant do that here. Where the emphasis is dependson the meaning: I cant do that here as opposed to I cant do that here or even Icant do that here. Subtext often emerges as we ask ourselves: What is this personarguing for in the text? What do they actually believe about the issue under study?However, interpreting subtext also requires that we negotiate the meanings we seein data with our participants.

    Negotiation and renegotiation of meaning

    When we, as researchers, write accounts of the settings and people who are part ofthe research there is a need to negotiate meaning. After we have begun to get at thesubtext we then need to share our interpretations with those involved. This is oftenwhere data interpretation feels messier and less organised than perhaps we wouldlike. Part of the process of interpretation demands that as we begin to make sense ofthe language used by participants and engage with the subtext, we begin to see thegaps in our interpretation and the flaws in what we are seeking to present. It is oftenthe case that our accounts do not coincide with the perspectives of our participants.For some researchers it seems acceptable to censor their own interpretations ifparticipants do not agree with them. For other researchers, reaching some kind ofagreement is seen as a vital part of the reflexive process. Yet the options about howinterpretations are managed are complex and multifaceted so that decisions aboutpower over, and ownership of, data (and interpretation thereof) tends to relate tothe nature of the research topic, the type of data as well as those involved. It is

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  • through negotiation of what would count as a more honest account that we begin tomake the shift away from description and analysis towards an interpretative account.Yet with some topics the nature of honesties and truths may remain contestedground. It is only by realising that both researcher and participant perspectives arecomplex and contested that we can come to know our own shifting stances andrealise that our beliefs and values are relative. Thus, for me, shared truths areachieved most often through dialogue.

    Recognising oppositional talk

    Participants in research often share their perspectives in ways that are mecha-nisms for explaining and justifying their conduct and values. By exploring suchperspectives it becomes possible to see how participants see and define themselves.The most obvious example of this is when people speak oppositionally in orderto define themselves in terms of what they are not. The aim of this device is toprevent the listener interpreting the talk in terms of this noxious identity byacknowledging the possible interpretation and then denying it (Potter & Wetherell,1987, p. 77). As Potter and Wetherell have argued, the most explicit disclaimerwould be Im no sexist but . However, in data interpretation we oftensee oppositional talk more subtly in terms of participants defining themselves inopposition to others and their stances. For example, you might hear someone sayIm not an evangelist for problem-based learning like Charles and Howardwho believe it should be done only one way, only in certain programmes and thatthere is one right way of doing it, so that in this situation the participant defines anddefends his position in relation to others. In using this kind of interpretation it ispossible to see how participants in research make sense of themselves, what they layclaim to and how they see other personal stances in relation to their own.Recognising oppositional talk can promote reflexivity in us as researchers in anumber of ways. For example, being aware in interviews of the ways that we uselanguage can heighten our awareness of our own stances. Thus to be researchingyoung peoples experiences of psychosis as a therapist but then to say to theparticipants Im no expert in this but may result in discomfort and alienationfor the participant. Participants may believe they are in fact talking to an expert oractually being lied to for the sake of attempting to gain some kind of equity in theresearch process. Being aware of language, posture, types of questions, the contextof the interview are all choices, and awareness of such choices can help us to bereflexive about our situatedness.

    Realising the role of self in interpretation

    So often we forget the ways in which we choose to position our self as a resear-cher, and where we have positioned ourselves at one point can affect laterinterpretation, as the following illustration shows. This except from my field diaryshows the confusion and dilemmas I experienced about being a researcher in acutephysical pain:

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  • Only days before I was due to go to one of my research sites I strained aligament in my back, could barely sit and was unable to drive. It had takenalmost 18 months to obtain access to the site, so despite the pain I decided togo, without realising how much this pain might affect the people with whom Iworked. A fundamental tension emerged between my role as researcher and myself that was in acute physical pain. During in-depth interviews I becameirritated and often lost the thread of the conversations through poorconcentration, which had detrimental effects on the interviews. I saw this asa challenge. The discovery of what I was bringing to the research site became anincreasingly prominent issue for me and this challenge helped me to push myown boundaries and revisit my biases.

    My assumptions were challenged through such an experience because I had toexamine what reflexivity meant in a situation where I imposed my pain on participants.Being irritated meant that I kept shifting my body position; nodding vigorously andasking closed questions in an attempt to hurry the interview along. I was so aware andalert to my pain level I could think of little else. I should have been more honest aboutmy position and pain (and consequent assumptions) than I in fact was.

    Strategies for moving towards interpretation

    Some people seem to be able to shift straight into interpretation and the abilityto do this seems to be connected with the kinds of strategies that are adopted forengaging with the data, strategies such as narrative accounts, biography andmetaphor. Yet for many of us, going through the process of indexing andcategorising data is part of realising the process of interpretation. This sectionpresents some of the strategies that I, and many of the researchers with whom Iwork, have used to progress the interpretation process.

    Using biographical and narrative accounts

    Writing a biographical account enables us to interpret the data through focussing onan individual in context. This process demands that we locate the person in acontext and community, describe what they do and how they see themselves. Inorder to help researchers begin the process of interpretation I often ask them towrite the stories of their participants. At this point I do not ask them to include databut just to write a biography two pages long. This mechanism helps researchers bothto begin to see how they view the participants and to engage with the judgementsand perspectives they have brought to the research. This facilitates reflexivity, by notonly enabling researchers to see how they have come to know their participants butalso to review their own biases to see how they have imposed value judgementsupon participants. Thus it is through examining such biases that they learn, throughself-critique, to develop a better set of biases. It also helps researchers to see thatthey have already begun interpreting data: that they know about the participants andtheir contexts.

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  • By encouraging researchers to write in the first person I believe they alsolearn to speak for themselves and this helps them break through one of the barriersin qualitative interpretation, that of voicelessness. What I mean here is thatmany of us do not know how to begin to place ourselves as researchers andthus how to speak when presenting data. The result is that we try to attribute ourperspectives and views to the participants, instead of making it clear what istheir interpretation and what is our reflection upon that interpretation. Throughwriting in the first person it becomes possible to see ones own interpretationsand personal stances. However, it is important to acknowledge and recognise thatwe use multiple voices and hold multiple perspectives and that we and our stanceschange and move over time. Managing such shifts can become somewhatcomplicated when writing up our research, remembering how we position(ed)ourselves then, as we write and as we rewrite and reflect. As our personal,professional and researcher identities change, so does our data interpretation andof how honest we have been in the research process. Many students new toresearch have shied away from this approach believing they have no right toundertake this kind of interpretation. However, once they have realised theshortcomings of lists and codes they often take up this approach. After they havewritten a short biography I then ask them to reread transcripts and re-listen to theaudiotapes in the light of the biography in order to defend it. This process demandsreflexive interpretation and from here it is possible for most researchers to write aninterpretative biographical account that they can discuss with the relevantparticipant. From here it is possible to begin to explore how participants storiesoverlap and interlock and examine the ways in which such accounts relate to theoverarching issue under study. For example, Robs experience of problem-basedlearning is presented interpretatively below:

    My description and interpretation, what I believed Rob was arguing

    Rob was an English graduate who had then worked as a residential workerbefore deciding to train to be a qualified social worker. He argued that therewas a credibility gap between, on the one hand, the theoretical model ofproblem-based learning, which was presented to the researchers in the initialstages of the course and the role tutors played within that theoretical model,and, on the other, the realities of their practice as tutors, facilitators andpossibly even as social workers. Rob believed that even though tutors spoke ofwanting to devolve power to the researchers, that in practice they were eithernot prepared to or not capable of doing so. He explained:

    Quotation that I believe represents his perspective and my interpretation

    to my mind it feels there is an element of hanging on to power because todevolve it to the researchers is like were baiting them kind of. Its a bitlike residential workers saying to kids Who are you to know?. The chances arethey know very well how it feels like and what they need to grow and developand move on The academic staff have certain things they need to ensurehappen, but there feels to me as a researcher an assumption we know and they

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  • dont what is best for us and thats the bit that makes me feel I sometimeswonder whether we are mature researchers or not. Im 36 years of age,Ive been working in the social work field for 10 years, I feel like Ive someexperience and some knowledge and yet that doesnt feel valued in termsof how I use it here or any changes thatre made. Its almost as if I have no voicein that.

    My reflection on the interpretation and a further interpretation of the issuesfor Rob in the broader context of his relationship with staff and researchers

    Not feeling valued and not being heard on a course that he initially believedpromoted collaboration and valued prior experience was a huge contradiction.Rob challenged this contradiction. Learning for Rob was seen as an area ofcommonality where staffresearcher and researcherresearcher relationshipswere central to an individuals personal stance. His ability to ground his learningin the context of his lived experience and to know the world differently wasdependent upon the personal stances of the staff and researchers with whom heworked and learned.

    Here we see how my values about Rob and his position resulted in thisparticular interpretation. In this example as a researcher you see me siding with Robbecause I felt students needed to have their voices heard. Staff, I assumed, werepatronising students and students were voiceless in the face of powerful staff. Laterreflections show that in many areas of this research I tended to side with the studentsbecause of my then belief in student empowerment at any price a viewmodified as I researched staff perspectives in problem-based learning.

    Recognising organising principles

    Organising principles are defined here as the categories used by people to justify,explain, defend and define themselves. So another way of interpreting data is toexplore how people choose to categorise themselves, how they talk about themselvesin relation to the issues under study. Take for example a group of lecturers in ahealth sciences faculty: some will define themselves as physiotherapists or nurses, butothers will define themselves instead as teachers, lecturers or researchers. The waysin which people talk about themselves or how they define themselves, can help us tosee their values, how they see themselves in relation to one another and in relationto the organisation and profession. Thus interpreting data would occur by movingaway from themes about learning or assessment in an interview, or trying toidentify the common meanings in these categories across all participants. Instead, theuse of organising principles would explore how notions of learning and assessmentare used by different participants, in different contexts, to argue a point or take up aparticular stance. The categories people use to define themselves invariably affect theconstruction of their personal stance. Thus it would be possible to use personalstance as an overarching organising principle and then explore how other issues suchas gender, class and pedagogy formed a dimension of the meaning of personal stancefor different participants within the study.

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  • Exploring metonymy and metaphor

    The use of figurative terms and imagery is something that is also a useful means ofinterpreting data. Both metonymy and metaphor are often found in data andunpacking what is meant by their use is a source of exploring the subtext.Metonymy is where someone substitutes for the name of the thing the name of anattribute of it. An obvious example of metonymy would be that we refer to theAmerican presidency as The White House or the stage for the theatre. We tend tobe relatively unaware of the use of metonymy in speech and often adopt new formsthrough the power of media such as the press and radio. Exploring the ways inwhich metonymy is used is often an effective means of understanding howparticipants see and theorise about their world and can help us see the influences ofclass and culture in their lives. Metaphor, the use of figurative terms, not literallytrue, is a mechanism that has been used often in the process of writing up qualitativedata, but for some this approach is seen as rather passe. The kinds of metaphor wecan use are phrases or words that give symbolic meaning to data no smokewithout fire, throwing the baby out with the bath water. Thus examiningmetonymy and metaphor can, like oppositional talk, promote insight intoresearchers and participants tacit assumptions by exploring how such figurativeterms are used. For example, I referred to one university where I was undertakingresearch as a sausage factory because I perceived that it just filled students withheaps of propositional knowledge and turned them out at the end of three years. Are-examination of this indicated my prejudice against lecture-based forms of teachingthat I perceived to be mechanistic and outmoded which in many cases it is not.

    The use of poetry for interpretation is an emerging trend and it is being used tounderstand not only the data but also the place of the researcher in relation to thedata. As much of what is researched is linked to peoples biography, the use ofpoetry as a vehicle for reflexive interpretation becomes a means of juxtaposing theresearchers autobiography with the biographical accounts of the participants. Thishas been used in particular by Harvey (2004) in his exploration of the impact oforganisations on the work life of employees. By juxtaposing a poem he has writtenabout his own experience within an organisation with those he has written on behalfof participants, he has been able to explore the ways in which different conceptionsof organisation impact on organisational behaviour and notions of life-long learning.For example, Harveys poem Lifeskills depicts the clash of personal andorganisational values.

    LifeskillsHideboundLocked-inGot to developThat second skinDrop the lotShut up shopPump up the musclePrepare to fight

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  • WeariedSpentIn the redOf the mental tankLost the battleOdds too tightTaken to the cleanersBy the corporate might.

    Seeing it portrayed through sharp imagery in poetic form helped participantsto share their narratives and images. The poems too have been used as a form ofself-critique, as he re-examined his own position as researcher, consultant toorganisations and lecturer in strategy while he wrote up his thesis.

    Credibility and ownership in interpretation

    Credibility in reflexive interpretation is about how we can have communitas, a notionof shared meaning and discourse particularly across diverse life-worlds. The conceptof life-world is taken from Habermas (1989) and represents the idea that as humanbeings we have a culturally transmitted stock of taken-for-granted perspectives andinterpretations that are organised in a communicative way. Thus challenges to ourlife-world(s) may be at odds with, or bear little relationship to, our current meaningsystems, so ultimately prompting transitions in our lives. Ensuring credibility ininterpretation means that the negotiation of meaning must go beyond the mererecycling of transcription and description. Meaning should be negotiated beyond justchecking that my interpretation as researcher coincides with participants intentionsand actions; instead it is a more complex process that involves:

    the ability to unfocus from the person or group or data we are studying and toallow a kind of communion to emerge .

    (Reason & Rowan, 1981, p. 113)

    Thus meaning has to be negotiated through discussion of concepts, language,understandings and experience. Kushner and Norris (198081) have argued that theattractiveness of maximising reciprocity in research design is that all participants areallowed both a role in negotiating meaning in the research, and the opportunity ofcontributing to the theorising about their worlds. Credibility in interpretation alsodemands that we engage with the issue of ownership of interpretation, so there is asense that what we are presenting are shared truths and shared values so thatpeoples norms and values, including our own, are always evident in the way dataare presented and portrayed.

    Conclusion

    This paper has outlined some of the approaches that may be used in order tointerpret data in ways that do justice to the stories of the participants in a study.

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  • I have suggested it is important to make the distinction between analysis andinterpretation and that the ways in which people situate themselves, and the conflictsthey often experience in shifting from analysis to interpretation, are vital to beingreflexive in this process. Whilst I have suggested a number of approaches tointerpretation, there are many others that can be adopted and this may depend to a largeextent on the methodological approach adopted by the researcher. However, it must beremembered that the truth-value of the data rests upon its credibility with those involvedin the study, and since there is no such thing as an unmediated text the negotiation ofshared meanings becomes the touchstone of reflexive interpretation.

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    Burgess, R. (1985) Issues in Educational Research, Falmer Press, London.Carr, W. & Kemmis, S. (1986) Becoming Critical: Education, Knowledge and Action Research,

    3rd edn, Falmer Press, London.Denzin, N. (1989a) Interpretative Biography, Sage, London.Denzin, N. (1989b) Interpretive Interactionism, Sage, London.Giddens, A. (1992) The Transformation of Intimacy, Polity Press, Cambridge.Habermas, J. (1989) The Theory of Communicative Action, Vol. 2, Polity Press, Cambridge.Harvey, B. (2004) The Impact of the Commodification of Relationship on Lifelong Learning,

    unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Leicester.Hollway, J. & Jefferson, T. (2000) Doing Qualitative Research Differently: Free Association

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    naturalistic research, Interchange, vol. 11, no. 4, pp. 2636.Niemi, H. & Kemmis, S. (1999) Communicative evaluation, Lifelong Learning in Europe,

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    Research, eds N. Denzin &Y. Lincoln, Sage, London.Reason, P. & Rowan, J. (eds) (1981) Human Inquiry a Sourcebook of New Paradigm

    Research, John Wiley and Sons Ltd, New York.Salmon, P. (1989) Personal stances in learning, in Making Sense of Experiential Learning,

    eds S. Weil & I. McGill, Open University Press/SRHE, Buckingham.Savin-Baden, M. (2000) Problem-based Learning in Higher Education: Untold Stories, SRHE/

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    Maggi Savin-Baden is Principal Lecturer at Coventry University. Address: Charles

    Ward Building, HSS, Coventry University, Priory Street, Coventry CV1 5FB, UK.

    [email: m.savinbaden@coventry.ac.uk]

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