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Archive for October 2012

Understanding the role of Peer Reviewer


Tuesday, October 30, 2012 by

When we are searching library databases, we can limit our results to peer reviewed articles only in order to retrieve high quality articles. At that time, I had no idea how peer review process works and how many people work behind the publication. Most of time I only read peer reviewed articles because I think it has more authority.  After today’s class, I have more understanding about the peer review process. Peer review is playing a big role in publication process that it has a great impact on authors who wish to get their works published. As a peer reviewer, they should stand in the shoe of the author, making effort to read the articles to understand the author’s point of view. It would be helpful if peer reviewers can make concrete suggestion, giving the citations of literature when they think it is important to supplement the author’s point.  The peer reviewers also need to make sure they make consistent comments, not contradicting to each other. I think the most important thing is to provide the reviews that you would like to receive.  On the other hand, as an author who wants to publish, do not be discouraged by the process. To work collaboratively with peer reviewer will help you to improve your works and get it published eventually.


Peer reviews


Monday, October 29, 2012 by

With no readings and the Peer Review assignment due next week, I’m sure most of us are pretty focused on the peer review process right now. Other than “oh man, I’m so glad I’m not dealing with that yet”, I’ve never really put much thought into it before. So I did what any good librarian would do and I looked in the library catalogue for something that might give me some more insight into the peer review process. What I found (which comes as much less of a surprise after discussing this a little in the lecture) is that this process is very tailored to particular subject, and even journal specific areas. So while I wasn’t able to find a book on ‘how to write a good peer review’, I think that acknowledging this will be helpful in itself.  I will most likely have to remind myself a few times that we are reviewing the research methods used, not the topic of the paper itself.

 Following my unsuccessful catalogue search, I looked online and found the following article posted on a site called PhD2Published that is aimed at novice peer reviewers:
I thought I’d share this because it gives a few tips on how to actually go about the process of reviewing an article.

Although I’m feeling much better about all of this since the workshop in class today, it still feels like stepping into unfamiliar territory. A different way of reading articles. A different way of critiquing them. What does everyone else think?

Sampling in Social Science



I am thinking about the topics we were talking about previoulsy. I am interested in samping which may sound different in different research background.

In Luker’s  Salsa Dancing into the Social Science, she wants to distinguish two different kind of samples. One “sample” defined by canonical social scientist as” systematic random probability sample”,  which means it is drawn from a population where each and every element has statistically equal chance of being chosen.  The national probability survey is expensive to conduct so those surveys are undertaken by the federal government. Many sociologists only perform secondary analysis using the dataset from the government.  When we mention sample, people take for granted that we means probability sample.  But when we perform field research, such as case –oriented research, we are trying to discover the relevant categories, not the distribution from the population. The way the field researcher sampling is to find a case or a set of cases that represents large phenomenon. There are two different sampling among field studies, one is theoretical case of one social process. Another sampling in field study is to keep on finding cases to prove what have found.

Peer Review Assignment and Surveys



For the Peer Review assignment I have chosen to look at Harkness's "A Pocket Full of Learning: Podcasting in American Colleges and Universities". Harkness used survey methods in order to gain a basic understanding of the ways in which higher education institutions use podcasts to enhance teaching and learning. One thing that interests me is her sampling method; she chose a purposeful sample of 254 respondents using media press releases and institutional web pages. From this list she emailed people using addresses found online; I wonder how she went about doing this, and what kind of letter was sent along with her survey in order to convince people to take time to fill it out. Indeed, she seems to have had a fairly low response rate (30%?).

Furthermore, I wonder about the purposeful sampling method; as she writes, "the search for evidence of podcast use should not be considered exhaustive or complete" (pg. 9).  Was it right to email only  people at institutions that had seen relative success with podcast use? Luker would argue that yes, this was appropriate, since salsa-dancing researchers want to "discover the relevant categories at work" (pg. 102). Harkness chose a data outcropping of higher education institutions that was known to have used podcasts, which is what her research is primarily interested in; her sample is representative of the larger phenomenon, as Luker writes, and not the larger population. Harkness insists that her findings "cannot be generalized across all institutions of higher learning in the United States" (pg. 10).

Consequently, her findings don't seem to say anything too conclusive about podcast use, and I am interested to know the reason for this. Is it because of the small sample? What questions were included in her survey? Is it because podcast use is relatively new and hasn't been appropriately studied before? Or because best practices for podcast use have yet to be developed? A better understanding of survey methods will hopefully shed some light on this. 

Focus Groups


Sunday, October 28, 2012 by

I wasn’t sure if we were required to blog this week, but all the same I thought I would take this opportunity to start and discuss the Peer Review Assignment.  After perusing through the article options, I have chosen the paper entitled ‘An Insight into the Networking Approaches of Women Entrepreneurs in Mauritius’ which involves the use of focus groups.  I turned to both Luker and Knight to brush up on this methodological approach.  I find it interesting that Luker mentions that mainstream social scientists tend to view focus groups as unscientific and that journals generally do not publish articles where the data is derived from them (p. 183).  Luker does not really explain as to why that is but Knight states that the data from focus groups prove nothing because the number of informants are usually small and dominant individuals can overpower the opinions of others resulting in some issues only receiving brief attention (p. 70-71).  Both Luker and Knight, however, support the use of focus groups for multi-method approaches, to jump-start and refine research instruments and to explore provisional findings (Luker, p. 183-184) (Knight, p. 71).  After reading both Luker and Knight’s views on focus groups, I can already see where my Peer Review on my chosen article is headed.

Luker on Content Analysis



In preparation for our peer review workshop tomorrow and our peer review assignment due next next Monday, I have been giving myself a little crash course in content analysis. I want to examine the article on American newspaper coverage of Cuba and Fidel Castro, but after finding only a brief mention of content analysis in Luker's chapter "Field (and Other) Methods," I had to look elsewhere for more discussion of content analysis, and after reading further on the topic, it is a lot more interesting and varied than Luker would lead us to believe. Perhaps, despite her claims to be non-canonical and flexible in her mixed method salsa dancing approach to research, she has a blind spot when it comes to the richness and potential advantages of content analysis as a research method. Perhaps her canonical background is a stumbling block to being more open to how this method can be incorporated with other methodologies. For example, for my mock SSHRC proposal I would like to do a combination of discourse and content analysis of information literacy standards and pedagogical literature in combination with focus groups and interviews. I also believe there needs to be an acknowledgement and valuation of the different personalities and styles a research may have-- some researchers may feel more comfortable with unobtrusive research methods-- and the value of  those unobtrusive methods. I would recommend reading Earl Babbie's chapter on unobtrusive research methods in his book The Practice of Social Research and W.Lawrence Neuman's chapter on nonreactive research in Social Research Methods: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches.

Presentation of the researcher


Monday, October 22, 2012 by

A common theme in the readings is how researcher should present themselves to the participants. Although I can see how delicate a balancing act it is between being accepted into a group and being a strict observer, some of the discussion about the presentation of the researcher in ethnographic encounters troubled me. I think this is because "immersing in another culture" is such a messy business with no easy solution. For example, Stebbins describes the appropriate role of the researcher as a participant. His suggestions that researcher can perform the role of the helper, while not spending too much time on this task. This role seems a bit arbitrary and additionally, the relationship that it creates (of reciprocity) presents the researcher in the role of giving something back to the community rather their true role, which is to gather data for a specific purpose. Shaffir reiterates the theme of self presentation and I thought one of his most important insights in this discussion is that participants will tend to forget why the researcher is there, but the researcher will always remember their purpose. Therefore in long term ethnographic studies it seems most important to re-iterate the aims of the researcher throughout the process so that participants do not lose sight of the nature of their relationship with the researcher. He also found that in his ethnographic work he presented a particular image of himself. While in a professional role people do present a particular image, this is generally known and people in the work place are aware of this distinction. When a person is conducing ethnography they are often in a position of power and as well are participants in a closed group; Because of this mix of professional and personal, the image they present may be taken as truth by members of that group.

Issues with Participant Observation



Juggling Immersion and Detachment in Participant Observation: a case study in Werner Herzog's documentary Encounters at the End of the World

Professor's Grimes lecture today ended with a discussion regarding the challenge of balancing immersion and detachment while practicing the ethnographic research method of participant observation. I commented in class what an impossible task this seems when the line between what is too much immersion and not enough seems to be moving from moment to moment and relationship to relationships. Then when another set of eyes examine your work, they may have an entirely different opinion on how well you did or did not balance immersion and detachment. It seems like an impossible task. It seems that Werner Herzog, perhaps in recognition of this fact, throws any attempt to be unbiased out the window. He puts himself front and center into his documentaries and becomes a character  in  his own films. It also seems like he is poking fun at the community that he is observing, but he also comes off as just as alien and odd as those he is filming. It creates a kind of repeating loop that the viewer becomes implicated in, as well, in the sense that we are participating in the viewing of the oddity of Werner Herzog himself, who is viewing the oddities of those who would choose to live in the strange place of Antarctica.

Is this self-reflexivity and constant reminder of the observer a solution to the problems of participant observation? Or does it in fact raise more problems?  Is the discomfort the viewer feels participating with Herzog, sort of the point? We can't be passive voyeurs immune to the implications of watching from the privacy of the theatre or our computer screens. I am not sure, but the feelings that this film arouse are similar the uncomfortable feelings I have generally about participant observation.

Observation and Field Notes in Ethnograghy



In Sheffir’s article “Doing the Ethnography”, the author describes his personal experience while doing his graduate studies at in social science. He didn’t have much theoretical background about ethnography, but his graduate research idea came across Hasitic Jews . The best advice given by his advisor was to attend the religious service, observe it and record it. By adhering to the advice, the author obtained the value from doing it and started to give the similar advice to his students.  Ethnography  is  commonly called field research by sociologists. The main process of ethnographic research is to observe what people are doing, how they do it and why they do it. The researchers need to describe what they have observed. Field notes accounts for huge importance in ethnographical research.  The researchers need to make notes about what people say and what people. Also they need to write down their own thoughts, questions and things to follow up, etc. The researchers need to transcribe those note in timely fashion in order to make it clear and complete when the memory is still fresh. All those descriptions are valuable when the researcher need to make comparisons.


Covert ethnography??



It’s been touched on a little bit already in class and couple of the posts for this week, but I’m still having a hard time coming to terms with the idea of covert ethnographic studies.

I really enjoyed reading Doing Ethnography by Shaffir. The paper gave a clear and engaging introduction to a topic that I’m not all that familiar with. But…I have to admit that a couple of times throughout the reading I had to stop and re-read a section, just to make sure that I was following correctly. For example, on page 681 Shaffir says, “[b]ecause, by nature, I find outright dissimulation morally distasteful and difficult to execute, I was generally up-front with the Hasidim about my research interests”.  What this seems to imply to me is that if Shaffir was a) less against dissimulation, or b) if it was easier to execute, he would have considered being less upfront with the Hasidim about his research. Am I reading that correctly? That is the implication here, right?

We discussed in class the idea that participants might get used to the researcher, and the ethical implications of reminding them that you are performing research. I can see how there may be room for debate there. This idea of never being upfront with participants sounds like outright deception though. And this concept is repeated more than once in the paper. Shaffir discusses the idea that deception may be inherent in the ethnographic encounter (p. 682).  Is this a common assumption? I wonder how other ethnographers feel about the subject. Later in the paper, Shaffir casually mentions, “unless the field worker has used a covert approach, he or she always remains an outsider” (p.683).  I have personally always just assumed that the idea of ‘covert’ research – at least on the level where you are directly interacting with participants (telling an outright lie to them about your intentions), is just not something that is done. Now I’m wondering if it is simply a matter of the researcher’s thoughts on the subjects. Can something like this get funding? Is there a line? If so, where is it drawn?

Field Research


Sunday, October 21, 2012 by

It was really interesting to read Shaffir’s thoughts on ethnographic research.  As he initially points out, it is not a hard science that has the ability to perform controlled experiments but is a flexible approach that can be conducted in a number of ways which is influenced by our personal qualities, the particular research problem and setting.  The experience of practitioners and teachers in ethnography have confirmed this as Shaffir states that there is no formula to follow that will provide the best results (p. 3).  He puts forward the simple advice, which he had received himself, which is to hang around, observe and record observations (p. 3).

I am intrigued by Shaffir’s statement that ethnographic research requires some role-playing and acting on the part of the researcher and that deception is inherent no matter how honest your approach is (p. 6-7).  Through self-presentation, a researcher can be as honest about his academic and personal interests but ultimately the individuals being studied eventually let their guard down although the researcher remains sound to his objectives.  In this way, I can see how a researcher could feel he is being somewhat dissimulative and therefore morally incorrect, but after reading this article I can also understand that it may not be avoidable.

Eliminating boundaries, furthermore, may also not be avoidable despite the researcher’s interests in building a rapport and enhancing the research of the group he is studying.  Boundaries may change and become narrower overtime, but they will always exist and that a successful field researcher respects those boundaries and understands that they are inevitable (p. 9).

Thus, as stated above, Shaffir declares that there is no formula to follow to provide the best results in ethnographic research (p. 3) but he does provide some sound insight for students embarking on field research for the first time.

Discovery through writing



Thoughts on writing a mock SSHRC proposal

I think I remember Luker discussing in one of the early chapters of her book about using writing to discover your research interests and questions. In my experience, I need to know what I am going to do before I start researching and writing. However, working on the mock SSHRC proposal was completely different.  I still had not completely formulated by research questions or methods when I sat down to write the SSHRC, but as I worked on it the threads of my interests started to come together and eventually and idea for a research project emerged.  I also found that it made more sense to draw on academic areas that I have already explored in other classes, rather than starting from scratch with a new idea. I felt like the amount of new research and literature review that would be necessary to be able to speak knowledgeably enough in the SSHRC proposal would be daunting. The more I worked on the SSHRC proposal the more enthusiasm I felt and the more significant and worthwhile the research proposal felt.  I also started to feel a lot more focused. I guess sometimes, you just have to jump in and start doing it, learning and discovering as you go.

Readings Week 7


Wednesday, October 17, 2012 by

Trust and Observer Partiality in Ethnographic Research - Responses to Week 7's Readings
In order for Ethnographic research to be of any significance, the Ethnographer must gain the trust of those under study.  Why is gaining trust so important?  Because once those under study recognize that the observer is not a threat, they are more inclined to act more naturally or normally as if they are not under a microscope.  Thinking about this truism, I am reminded of how trust is so important in any type of observer – participant interaction.  In the medical field, trust is paramount if Doctors or Psychologists are to identify a physical or mental illness, and its causation.  A patient, who doesn’t trust a physician, will not feel inclined to reveal personal information necessary for the diagnosis of an illness or disorder.  Information withheld could lead the physician to misdiagnose a patient.  Likewise in Ethnographic Research, if the partipants under study do not trust the Ethnographer, the behaviour they exhibit might not be representative of how they "normally" act.

This brings to light another point in Ethnographic research: The Ethnographer has to be very careful in drawing conclusions based upon their observations.  The Ethnographer's  mere presence could serve to alter the “normal” everyday interactions of the people or phenomena they are observing.  For example, I remember watching a nature documentary about a Zoologist observing the behaviour of a certain species of monkey.  Given her observations of how the monkeys moved from one area of the jungle to the other by swinging from tree branches, the Zoologist was initially led to believe that these monkeys travelled mainly by trees.  However, the Zoologist intuitively grasped that the behaviour exhibited by the monkeys was not typical.  Eventually, after many more days observing the monkeys, the monkeys exhibited a change in behaviour and started travelling on the ground by foot.   After observing this behaviour and how natural it appeared to the monkeys, the Zoologist then came to the understanding that these monkeys spent the vast majority of their time travelling along the jungle floor by foot and only when they felt threatened, they sought to travel the jungle canopy via treetop branches.  Inadvertently by her mere presence, the Zoologist was affecting the normal behaviour of the monkeys and only when the monkeys felt that the Zoologist was no longer a threat, did they resume their normal behaviour.  Similarily, the Ethnographer is not a neutral observer.  Given that they are forced to gain the trust of those they seek to study, at times they are forced to adopt a persona or image.  By doing so, they could be inadvertently shaping the behaviour of those under study. 

Sampling and Methodology- Oct 15, 2012


Monday, October 15, 2012 by

For the past few weeks I struggled to narrow down a research interest into a research question. However, after re-framing my research interest into a question and completing the SSHRC research proposal I am excited to find that the readings are becoming less fuzzy and more applicable to my own research proposal. Without this focus, the readings almost became a theoretical menu. I found myself picking and choosing between methods which I for one reason or another related. Now that I am reading Luker’s chapter on sampling, operationalization and generalization I can pick out certain elements that justify how I chose my methodology and at the same time illuminate the areas where I missed important elements.  The four steps to frame a research sample also highlight a confusion I made between defining a sample population and random sampling. I originally assumed these two things were mutually exclusive. 




I find this week’s lecture and readings quite interesting as I have now formulated a research question and completed my Research Proposal (Assignment #2) which includes the use of quantitative methods, particularly questionnaires.  I really find Knight’s advice on formulating questionnaires helpful as he discusses aspects that I would never have thought of.  He advises, for example, that it is important to firstly think about why a questionnaire is appropriate for addressing your research questions (p. 92).  Secondly, the questionnaire should address exactly what should be investigated (the key areas) and carrying out a literature review can aid a researcher in discovering these key issues.  If these issues are not factored into the questionnaire then important questions do not get asked (p. 93).  Thirdly, technical skills are imperative, meaning the ways in which questions and statements are formulated.  Knight advises to keep questionnaires short, in plain English, to keep the order of questions in mind (as they can have an effect on the answers) and to have plenty of white space on the page (p. 93-94).  Fourthly, and I think most importantly, questionnaires should be piloted which could even be done through enlisting the help of friends (p. 94).  All these aspects, and more, should be taken into consideration to prevent a faulty questionnaire which, according to Knight, can be quite costly compared to a faulty interview (p. 87).

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