For our last week’s reading we checked out a comparative model between Grounded Theory, Phenomenology, and Discourse Analysis. This semester has gone in a direction I doubt any of us could have anticipated so it was nice to read this article, being able to pick up some threads from when we initially looked into these methods. But specifically the main purpose of this article, as stated by the authors, was to compare three different qualitative research methods as they were utilized for the case of health research. More specifically, though I will get more into this as the article does, health research into how physicians deal with decision making regarding prostate cancer screenings.
The article opens with an interesting diagram, detailing the similarities and differences between the three methods. The two important things to note about this diagram for me were its shape constituting more dissimilarities at the top and bottom, and a narrowing towards the center where the three methods became more closely resembling of each other. More or less, it gave it an interesting aesthetic. The other thing of interest for me in this diagram was the separation of the three methods with dotted instead of solid lines, depicting their “porous” boundaries as the authors state. Throughout this class it has become obvious that in using maybe some generalities, though here too some specifics, these methods, though they may not be interchangeable, may go hand-in-hand to really give a dynamic and full picture to a research question. At the very center of the diagram is the category of “Analytic Methods” in which the three methods are not even separated, and it expands outward to Sampling, Goals, History, etc.
There is then a short breakdown of each of the three methods. I enjoyed the inclusion of the Sokolowski quote to speak to Phenomenology which concluded with, “…They are not new information,but even if not new, they can still be important and illuminating, because we often are very confused about just such trivialities and necessities.” Similarly, and I am a sucker for a good quotation, the section itself concluded with Einstein’s remark on Relativity and despite being an article on the comparative qualities of research methods, I found myself smiling.
The Discourse Analysis introduction then followed. Discourse Analysis was labeled as having its roots in linguistic studies, literary criticisms, and semiotics. Its researcher utilize a careful study of language and as Gee attributes to it, the “seven ‘building tasks’ of language” to do achieve success with the method. The main idea, then, of the method is to see how language is affected by and itself alters cultural practices and norms.
Lastly, Grounded Theory was introduced. The article placed its roots in sociology, wherein the idea is that of meaning being derived through continual social interactions. Grounded Theory does not come into a research question with a theory in hand, but rather a question to which a theory emerges based solely, as much as possible, on the data collected for that research. Much like Discourse Analysis’s seven building tasks for language, Grounded Theory has “‘six C’s'” to help codify social processes to develop theories.
Once the three methods have been given brief, individual, introductions, Starks opens up the comparisons. This being an actual comparative study, the posing of the research into how physicians respond to a particular issue gave all of the conceptual nature of this article some solidity. The nature of the sampling choices between the three methods was initially discussed. Phenomenology, despite the potential for further and more broadly recognized data, chooses to suffice with up to only 10 participants. Discourse Analysis could use not only any particular sample size to fit the needs of the prompt, but also interestingly any particular sample population. As the article points out, it could be one person compared to multiple written sources, or it could be a large body of individuals. Of Grounded Theory, the sample size is entirely dependent on simply whether the study has concluded or not. Until GT’s data saturation has taken place in which the researcher can take nothing more from new subjects toward the research question, the number of participants will continue to increase.
The next section was Data Collection. The article’s actual discussion centered around doctors and patients, and utilized interviews with the doctors to fill out each research method. It stands to reason, then, that the mode for all three methods and largely that of qualitative research in general, is the interview. The difference is then in the approach to language. With DA, it is about parsing out the meaning of the words themselves and neither the interviewer or the interviewee are seen as being on the same page. With the other two it is about parsing out the experience, and understanding that the words speak for themselves. Further sections on Coding and Process were discussed.
Lastly, the authors tie the article together and convert the conceptual into the practical by comparing the methods against the physician-based research question. Each method’s section began with a qualifying factor to its approach. The phenomenological approach sought to contextualize the physician’s experience with something difficult and uncertain like prostate cancer screenings within the larger realm of doctor-patient relationship. Within Discourse Analysis the language between doctor and patient helped to clarify on a physician’s roles as they are constructed socially in those spaces. Lastly, Grounded Theory was used to create a theory based on these cancer screenings to determine what leads patients to discuss them with the doctors, as well as why. Although the purpose of the article is not to try to get any single researcher to approach the same research question three different ways, it does lay out how any gap in research up to that point may be filled with any of these three methods.
As someone coming from a comparative literature undergrad, I enjoyed this article. For one thing, as I mentioned previously, parts of this material came some time ago, and as I was interested in it then it was nice now to be reminded of some of the finer details. But more generally, I’ve always thought that through careful and intentional comparisons can we really better understand things. This is just one flushed out example, and I would not expect to find a nice selection of research methods practiced on a particular research question like this again, but having something like this at least allows one to see in what ways any question may be answered using different methods. The differences in approach, from what purpose they arose, who they choose to study and why, these are all things which honestly may differ, or they may not, as we saw how closely related these methods can be. Their proximity to each other in some areas and lack thereof in others does only serve to bolster my understanding and appreciation of these methods, as these were among some of my favorite of this semester.