Nov 08

Research team blog 4: Approaches to Analysing Qualitative Data: Archaeology as a Metaphor for Method, 18th October 2016

Today we would like to share the videos from our NCRM seminar on Approaches to Analysing Qualitative Data, where we presented our ongoing work alongside Professor Emeritus Clive Seale and Professor Maria Tamboukou. In the seminar we used the metaphor of archaeology to think about how can we ‘dig down’, and where do we dig, to get an analytic grip when working with large and complex bodies of qualitative data. It was a great event, and we learnt a lot from our co-presenters and audience on how to develop our approach to analysing large volume of qualitative data.

Professor Seale provided a fantastic overview of how to use computer-assisted text analysis when working with a corpus of qualitative data that is too large to be analysed using conventional analytical approaches. He used two packages – Wordsmith and Wordstat – to demonstrate the ways comparative keyword analysis can reliably analyse large amounts of text, providing a picture that is ‘less biased’ by the researchers’ own subjectivity. This big ‘aerial’ view can then be combined with more in-depth qualitative analysis to facilitate an approach which bridges the quan-qual divide.

Professor Maria Tamboukou’s presentation brought together the theory and method of archival research, particularly in the context Foucault’s archaeological framework. She notes that Foucault, despite being an ‘archive’ addict, wrote little about the ‘nuts and bolts’ of ‘doing’ archival research. Drawing on her own research, Professor Tamboukou provided insight into the working practices of archival research. As researchers we come to the archive with specific questions, and as such have a role in defining the archive and the knowledge that comes from it. But the fragments and traces in the archive, she noted, should also surprise us and challenge our pre-existing judgements and prejudices.

The presentations looked at very different methodological approaches, but both have helped us develop our own project. We are drawing on data from an archive: this not only holds the stories of the research participants, but also traces of the original researchers and archivists. In accessing the data, manipulating it and asking our questions of interest, we are making our own trace. Yet we also want to be surprised by our data, and are seeking to use keyword analysis in a way that allows us to excavate new layers of understanding and meaning from the data. We see potential in conceptualising our approach as one which employs theoretical and empirical investigation, using both as a means of moving between the stages of our own archaeological metaphor.

Continue to follow our website for more information on our project as it progresses. In the meantime, you will find references to Professor Seale’s work within his presentation. You may also like to look at the chapter he wrote with Jonathan Charteris-Black for the The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Methods in Health Research, ‘Keyword Analysis: A New Tool for Qualitative Research’.

Please also look at Professor Tamboukou’s wonderful new book ‘The Archive Project‘, which is co-written with Niamh Moore, Andrea Salter and Liz Stanley. You can visit the project’s website here.

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