CHAPTER 4 RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODOLOGY
This chapter outlines the ontological and epistemological framework of and the research methodology chosen for this study. Firstly, postmodernism as ontology is discussed. Thereafter, the chosen epistemology of social constructionism and its congruence with this study is described. The qualitative research approach will subsequently be discussed as it pertains to reliability, validity, the roles of the researcher and participants, sampling and selection, data collection and data analysis in the study.
Ontology can be defined as follows: it “…specifies the nature of reality that is to be studied, and what can be known about it” (Terre Blanche & Durrheim, 1999, p. 6). In other words, the researcher’s ontology determines how he/she sees reality and what he/she believes can be known about that reality. The ontology underlying this study is that of postmodernism. In order to understand postmodernism better, a brief reflection on modernism is necessary.
Modernism denotes an era of major developments in science and technology in the Western world, through which it was believed that human beings were on the verge of mastering and controlling the universe. From a modernistic perspective the world is viewed as understandable, controllable and predictable. Thus, at the core of modernism lies the belief in a knowable world (Kvale, 1992). It is furthermore accepted that there is one objective truth or reality, which can be discovered, studied and understood through the application of objective scientific methods and also that this reality can be accurately represented (Becvar & Becvar, 2003). Therefore, it is believed that it is possible for the researcher to remain objective or to have no impact on the subject under study. Science is regarded as providing answers to society’s problems and therefore plays a hugely important role, being placed in a very powerful position, due to confidence in the objective knowledge of experts who apparently possess the truth of the “reality out there”. Thus, there is a belief in the existence of universal truths and language is regarded as being faithful, unbiased and descriptive of this reality or truth (Fuks, 1998).
Often postmodernism is understood as the opposite of modernism; however, Kvale (1992) argued that it should rather be viewed as a descriptive term which depicts what follows or comes after modernism. First of all, postmodernism rejects the notion of a universal and objective knowledge and furthermore also contends that the world is not controllable, that there is no cause and effect and that there is also no certainty (Lynch, 1997). Postmodernism’s rejection of objective knowledge implies wariness of the ultimate singular explanation or interpretation, and therefore allows for the existence of many alternative accounts, meanings and descriptions, or a multiverse of realities (Doan, 1997). Furthermore, postmodernism also contends that knowledge can never be fully known. Knowledge on any subject is always only one part, or only one, of many possible perspectives and is therefore regarded as ambiguous and perspectival (Rapmund, 2005). In this way each one of us creates his or her reality and these realities are inevitably subjective.
The postmodern philosophy furthermore involves a movement from the intrapsychic self to the person in a network of social relations, or a relational self. This is also sometimes referred to as movement from the inside of the psyche to the text of the world (Kvale, 1992). The self is no longer considered as an isolated or autonomous human being with fixed characteristics, but as a participant in multiple relationships and as varying from context to context. In addition, the “self” and “problems” take shape, and have meaning, only in a specific relational context and are expressed through language (Becvar & Becvar, 2003). Thus, “problems” are only perceived as problems because of the way they are constructed or defined in a specific relationship. In this regard postmodernism takes into account the fact that people and “problems” are imbedded in a particular historical and cultural context and focuses on the interrelatedness between this context and the social and linguistic manner in which people co-construct a perspectival reality.
It is, however, important to note that in postmodernism, the self is not eradicated, but is rather enriched through acknowledgement of the “reality of relatedness” (Becvar & Becvar, 2003). Disregard of the self would imply disregard of individual realities and would also imply that the “reality of relatedness” has become the new ultimate or singular reality. Thus, it is equally impossible to understand an individual outside the context of a relationship, or to understand the relationship or relatedness if the individual’s subjective reality is not considered. From a postmodern point of view then, it is not a matter of either/or, but of both-and, namely consideration of both the individual’s subjective reality and his or her reality of relatedness.
Given the understanding that people construct a perspectival reality through language, both language and discourse have assumed a central role in a postmodern world. From such a viewpoint, language acquires meaning through social practice, rather than through a referential base (Becvar & Becvar, 2003). Thus, people use a language system to experience and express their knowledge and through this knowing and expression, they simultaneously construct their world and realities. Inherent in the acknowledgement of the central role of language is the cautioning against assuming that a community’s or society’s language is true for anyone other than members of that community or society.
Therefore, language is no longer viewed as unbiased or as a mere tool which is representative and descriptive of an external reality. As Foucault (cited in Kvale, 1992) made clear, matters of description cannot be separated from issues of power. Perspectives develop through descriptions and are integrated into society, while simultaneously constructing that society. In this fashion certain discourses, texts or narratives (descriptions) become reified and established as truths. According to postmodernism, these established discourses, texts and narratives have the power to oppress or enable people. Through its wariness towards singular and totalising truths or stories, postmodernism focuses on the deconstruction of oppressing discourses and narratives in order to reconstruct them in a new way which is hopefully more enabling, or at least provides alternatives (Lynch, 1997). This process of deconstruction and reconstruction largely occurs through language.
Thus, from the above it is also clear that postmodernism implies a move towards knowledge which is socially useful (Rapmund, 2005). In this perspective, postmodern researchers, therapists and clinicians are not merely passive reflectors of a universal truth but, rather, active participants attempting to contribute to the transformation of oppressing or marginalising narratives or discourses. Thus, despite the fact that postmodernism acknowledges the existence of a multiverse of realities, it does not postulate that all realities are created equal, or that they are equally valid and coherent (Doan, 1997). Inherent in the message of postmodernism is not the equality of all realities, but rather the inherent danger in any reality, discourse or story that does not allow room for, or does not acknowledge, alternative or marginalised accounts.
Consequently it should be evident that postmodernism implies quite a different view of the world when compared to modernism. The focus is placed on a multiverse of realities, the importance of language both within particular social and relational contexts and also in constructing those contexts. As such, postmodernism, as ontology, converges with a social constructionistic epistemology on various viewpoints. This issue is now explained.
Terre Blanche and Durrheim defined epistemology as specifying “the nature of the relationship between the researcher (knower) and what can be known” (1999, p. 6). From this position one can say that a researcher’s epistemology determines the way in which he/she understands and views his/her relationship with that which he/she believes can be known or what he/she is attempting to know or understand. Defining epistemology slightly differently, Bateson (cited in Amatea & Sherrard, 1994) argued that basic to, and implicitly contained in, every description is a “theory of how to describe”. According to Bateson this theory constitutes an epistemology; he further described epistemology as “…always and inevitably personal. The point of the probe is always in the heart of the explorer; what is my answer to the question of knowing?” (cited in Amatea & Sherrard, 1994, p. 2). He furthermore stated that the fundamental act of epistemology is drawing a distinction, in other words distinguishing an “it” from a background that is “not it”. This activity is also referred to as “punctuation”. Everyone distinguishes or punctuates, and by performing this action we simultaneously construct and describe what we see. Thus, following Bateson’s definition, it is possible to see that a researcher can never be separate or objective from that which he/she is researching, because his/her searching, seeing and findings will always be subject to the distinctions he/she draws, or the punctuations he/she makes, as well as how he/she thinks about describing these.
Referring to a level extending beyond the individual, Auerswald (1985, p. 1) defined epistemology as “…a set of immanent rules used in thought by large groups of people to define reality”. According to this definition, the way in which we understand, think and define reality is essentially constructed by the context and society in which we live. The epistemology underlying this study is that of social constructionism. Social constructionism as an epistemology adheres very closely to Auerswald’s definition and is defined as: “…the claim that the content of our consciousness, and the mode of relating we have to others, is taught by our culture and society: all the metaphysical qualities we take for granted are learned from others around us” (Owen, 1992, p. 386). Thus, social constructionism fundamentally postulates that our beliefs about the world are social conventions.
Furthermore, essential to this epistemology is the view that our realities are socially constructed through the use of shared or agreed-upon meanings and that these meanings are communicated via language (Berger & Luckman cited in Speed, 1991). Therefore, social constructionism locates meaning in an understanding of how ideas, attitudes, beliefs and constructs are developed and conversed or discoursed over time, within a social or community context. Looking at and understanding the world in this way, social constructionism posits an evolving set of meanings that emerge constantly from the interactions between people (Hoffman, 1990). For example, in Western society the belief developed that success is measured by material wealth such as a person’s car, possessions, house and type of career. However, this belief does not exist in an objective sense and furthermore, looking at other cultures, such as that of the Eskimo, one quickly realises that success can also constitute something completely different. It thus becomes possible to see how the understanding of, or the idea of, success in a Western society is socially constructed through the agreed-upon meanings such a society has come to attach to aspects such as material possessions. When considering other cultures, it also becomes clear that this idea of success is not universal. Thus, meanings do not exist within people, but between them as part of the constantly changing stories and narratives which they tell themselves and each other.
In as much as social constructionism regards our realities and meaning as socially constructed, it also regards the idea of the self as socially constructed. The social construction of self implies that we can only know ourselves, our stories, our experience of our environment or contexts and our place in these, through sharing in, or co-constructing, meaning and social interaction with others (Hoffman, 1992). Only through these ongoing conversations with significant others can the individual develop an inner voice or sense of self (Hoffman, 1993). Thus, the individual identity is not within the person or within any other unit, such as a relationship, but it consists of temporal flows which can be simple or complex and is realised in the conversational context and through social interaction. It therefore follows that there is no “true self”, but rather that people are communities of selves with each person containing a multitude of voices with varying points of view (Burr, 1995).
Furthermore, following from the assumptions that reality and the self are socially constructed, knowledge is also regarded as socially constructed and as evolving in the space between people through conversation and interaction (Hoffman, 1993). Thus, knowledge is sustained by the social process, by how reality is understood at a given moment, determined by the social and communication conventions in force at the time. In addition, acknowledgement of multiple realities, together with wariness about the singular truth and the expert position, also shifted the focus from a preference for expert knowledge to a preference for stories and knowledge based on people’s lived experiences and how they construct meaning from these experiences and knowledge.
From the above remarks it should be clear that language is no longer regarded as a transparent medium for conveying thought or information, but as one constructing the world and the self through its use. Social constructionists are therefore especially interested in normative narratives or “Grand Narratives” and dominant discourses, which are formed by and in turn influence people and against which people measure themselves. These Grand Narratives are supported by firmly entrenched power structures (Doan, 1997). White and Epston (cited in Speed, 1991) also concur that the meanings we assign to behaviour are based on and determined by the specific dominant and interpretative frameworks that are available in our society at a given point in time. Social constructionism challenges these frameworks and suggests that they often form a context for the development of problems by pathologising those who do not meet or adhere to their expectations. People’s personal stories or voices are viewed as frequently silenced, suppressed or denied in favour of the dominant belief system (Coale, 1994). Thus, social constructionism questions the assumed values and morality of the day, and problems in relating are seen “…as being due to the lack of fit of any one person to the idealized roles which are open to them in society” (Owen, 1992, p. 388). As a consequence of these dominant narratives and discourses people begin to think of themselves and their relationships in ways which are consistent with problem-saturated stories (White & Epston, 1990). According to social constructionism, these problematic realities and stories can be deconstructed and reconstructed, or rather co-constructed, in the context of conversation or dialogue, so that meanings are transformed and alternatives are created or acknowledged.
Hence it follows that social constructionism, like postmodernism, does not regard all stories or realities as equally valid. Social constructionism especially holds the view that some stories are not respectful of differences such as gender, race, ethnicity or religion (Doan, 1997) and thereby contribute to problems in people’s lives by marginalising or silencing alternative voices or stories.
Social constructionism as epistemology is congruent with the present study, since the researcher is first of all interested in the stories of the participants, based on their personal lived experiences in the context of stranger rape-trauma. Furthermore, she is interested in how couples, dealing with stranger rape, experience and construct the trauma, how they understand its impact on their relationships and how they view, experience and understand their relationships before and after the trauma. Through reflecting on these aspects with the participants, the researcher intends to gain some insight into how the couple, and each individual, recreated meaning and reconstructed their individual and relational realities following the attack. Furthermore, through the participants’ descriptions and stories, the researcher hopes to gain a sense of their relationship dynamics and of how these were impacted by and impacted on the way the couple deal, or dealt, with the rape. In accordance with social constructionism, the researcher believes that this can be done in the context of a conversation.
Furthermore, the researcher is also interested in exploring how Grand Narratives and dominant discourses, and the acceptance or rejection of these, silence or marginalise the couple’s voice within their community or society and each person’s individual voice within their relationship. The researcher also believes that through the research interview, oppressing discourses or narratives can be deconstructed, and co-constructed in a different way which may contribute to a more enabling reality or at least a relationship reality more conducive to healing. The researcher furthermore contends that the participants may bring already deconstructed discourses or narratives to the interview context, and she intends to report on these so that the findings may be useful to other couples dealing with stranger rape, as well as to other researchers, clinicians and lay persons working with rape victims and their significant others.
In the South African context with its unusually high incidence of rape, one may expect to find discourses and narratives regarding aspects such as “proper or responsible behaviour” for women which, according to societal beliefs, will supposedly minimise a woman’s chances of being raped, such as not wearing provocative clothing, not going out alone at night and adhering to conservative moral standards (Connop & Petrak, 2004). In this regard, rape myths seem to have taken on a life of their own and have become Grand Narratives and dominant discourses in their own right. Furthermore, from the literature review it also seemed that women, although marginalised by these accounts, also strongly believe in their so-called truth and correctness. As a result, women are expected to behave differently from men, their freedom is restricted by society and they are marginalised as a group. Paradoxically and ironically men are also marginalised by these accounts, as men are constructed as almost animalistic and as unable to control their urges. These generally dominant discourses also bring to mind the prevailing discourses in research regarding the origin of or reason for rape, namely the well-known sexual desire versus aggression-control debate (Archer & Vaughan, 2001; Groth et al., 1977).
One may also expect to find narratives centring on power relations between women and men. Closely related to discourses concerning such power relations are the dominant discourses or narratives relating to roles, responsibilities and functions in couples, and the acceptance or rejection by the couple of traditional, societal roles, or their development of alternative roles and alternative divisions of responsibilities and functions. Social constructionism holds that people who do not fit into or adhere to these societal prescriptions are often pathologised and it is possible that the occurrence of the rape may then exacerbate a pre-existing non-fit with these roles, or that it may impact on those concerned in a way that brings about such a non-fit.
Finally, in viewing the topic through a social constructionistic lens, the researcher also understands the research process as a collaboration where both the participants and the researcher take part in the co-construction of a research reality and meanings specific to the context of each interview and to the context of this study. Thus, the researcher does not view herself as impartial or objective towards the research subject, and believes that her own lived experiences also colour the lens with which she looks at the world, this research study, the participants and their stories and experiences. Therefore, the researcher’s gender, her own experience with and understanding of traumatic events, her understanding of the relationship between men and women, as well as her chosen theoretical framework, are likely to impact on how she describes or punctuates her findings.
By clarifying the ontology and epistemology underlying this study the researcher attempted to create a context for the participants’ stories, as well as her interpretations and findings. In the next section the methodology used in the study is set out and explained.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION
1.1 GENERAL INTRODUCTION
1.2 RATIONALE OF THE STUDY
1.3 RESEARCH DESIGN OF THE STUDY
1.4 CHAPTER OUTLINE
CHAPTER 2: RAPE IN CONTEXT
2.1 DEVELOPMENT OF THE TRAUMA CONCEPT
2.2. RAPE AS AN EVOLVING CONCEPT
CHAPTER 3: A SYSTEMIC FRAMEWORK
3.1 GENERAL SYSTEMS THEORY
3.2 FAMILY SYSTEMS THEORY
3.3 FAMILY SYSTEMS THEORY AND STRANGER RAPE.
CHAPTER 4: RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODOLOGY
4.3 SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONISM
4.4 QUALITATIVE RESEARCH
4.5 RESEARCH DESIGN
CHAPTER 5: BELINDA AND JANDRE: TRANSFORMING THEIR DANCE AS A COUPLE
5.1 THE CONTEXT
5.2 INITIAL IMPRESSIONS
CHAPTER 6: LIESEL AND CORNE: OUT OF MUSIC AND OUT OF RHYTHM – A DANCE COMING UNDONE
6.1 THE CONTEXT
6.2 INITIAL IMPRESSIONS
CHAPTER 7: CHRISTELLE AND BRIAN: FROM DANCING THEIR DANCE THE SUN EMERGES
7.1 THE CONTEXT
7.2 INITIAL IMPRESSIONS
CHAPTER 8: CONCLUSION
8.2 REFLECTION ON THE RESEARCH PROCESS
8.3 A META-VIEW OF THE THREE DANCES
8.4 STRENGTHS OF THE STUDY
8.5 LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY
8.6 RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH
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