CHAPTER THREE Research Design and Methodology
All research is founded on underlying philosophical assumptions regarding what comprises acceptable research and determines appropriate methods for developing knowledge in a chosen research field. It is crucial for a researcher to explore these assumptions so as to conduct any research. This chapter presents the qualitative research and its assumptions and the narrative inquiry design that underpins this study. The social constructivist paradigm, which forms the framework of this study, is also explained in this chapter.
The narrative design is presented in relation to understanding and obtaining knowledge with regard to how principals manage sensitive issues surrounding HIV/AIDS amongst their teaching staff. The chapter also discusses sampling and site selection, which are connected to data gathering via narrative interviews. I also discuss the qualitative content analysis method through which the findings will be described and interpreted. Methodological criteria, including trustworthiness, are also described. A statement of subjectivity is given and I also outline my own predispositions as a researcher.
Qualitative Research and its Assumptions
Although several researchers have attempted to define qualitative research, I prefer the particularly comprehensive definition offered by Creswell (2007: 37):
Qualitative research begins with assumptions, a worldview, the possible use of a theoretical lens, and the study of research problems inquiring into the meaning individuals or groups ascribe to a social or human problem. To study this problem, qualitative researchers use an emerging qualitative approach to inquiry, the collection of data in a natural setting sensitive to the people and places under study, and data analysis that is inductive and establishes patterns of themes. The final written report or presentation includes the voices of participants, the reflectivity of the researcher, and a complex description and interpretation of the problem.
Qualitative research seeks to inquire, via social channels, about the way in which people interpret and derive sense out of what they have experienced and the world in which they live. In research, qualitative approaches are used to explore how people behave, their perspectives and feelings about and experiences of other people, and what lies at the innermost core of their lives (Creswell, 2012: 37). Qualitative research originates from social science and is primarily concerned with understanding why people behave as they do as it seeks to uncover their knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, fears and more. In an endeavour to explain the assumptions of the qualitative research approach, I quote McMillan and Schumacher (2010: 321), who outline the following characteristics of qualitative research:
Direct data collection;
Rich narrative description;
Inductive data analysis;
Complexity of understanding and explanation.
Qualitative research is naturalistic, as it studies people in their own environments, within naturally occurring settings such as the school, home, the street (Willig, 2008: 9). Qualitative research methods are developed in the social sciences to enable researchers to study social and cultural phenomena. Qualitative research is based on the assumption that multiple realities are socially constructed by the individual and by society. To reinforce this idea, Denzin and Lincoln (2011: 3) make the following assertion:
Qualitative research consists of a set of interpretive, material practices that make the world visible. [Qualitative researchers] study things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of or interpret phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them.
The natural setting is the source of data. Researchers study behaviour as it occurs naturally because they believe that behaviour is best understood as it occurs in the absence of artificial constraints (McMillan and Schumacher, 2010: 321). Researchers spend a great deal of time out in the field collecting data and they neither influence the occurrence of behaviour nor bring in external restrictions. Qualitative researchers are opposed, for instance, to the quantitative method of issuing questionnaires to participants, arguing that this creates an artificial environment in which participants will not behave as they normally do (Harding, 2013: 10). They therefore focus on understanding behaviour occurring in specific settings.
Being aware of the context within which behaviour occurs is fundamental to understanding that behaviour in qualitative research. Social interaction takes place within social contexts and people within those specific contexts assign unique meanings and interpretations to their own and others’ behaviour. This is why this study has taken a constructivist approach, since, according to Given (2008: 821):
Constructivism argues for research that is context sensitive, engaged with the practical needs of the subjects of research, and committed to supporting resistance to power and authority.
For qualitative researchers to interpret meaning in those social contexts, they need to understand that they cannot separate socially constructed knowledge from the social contexts from which it is derived. Meaning is interpreted from the knowledge and behaviour of participants in the settings. I therefore interviewed my participants at the schools where they work. As noted by Matthews and Ross (2010: 25), knowledge is acquired by people within specific contexts and researchers need to gather that knowledge. This idea is strongly based on the assumption that human action is influenced by the settings in which it occurs and that any understanding of meaning is bound by politics, gender, race, class and social factors (McMillan and Schumacher, 2010: 324). In reality, this is where the lens through which researchers interpret behaviour is formed.
Direct Data Collection
The researcher is immersed in the social situation. In this research study, I conducted narrative interviews with 10 school principals and eight teachers living with HIV/AIDS, with the aim of obtaining information directly from the source. As Tracy (2013: 6) emphasises, qualitative research is relational in that data are collected by using one-to-one interactions between researcher and participants. I spent a considerable amount of time with my participants so as to gain a fuller understanding of them.
In qualitative research, the researcher is usually the main instrument of data collection and endeavours to understand and empathise with participants (Matthews and Ross, 2010: 51). However, Rubin and Rubin (2012: 19) caution that seeing things from someone else’s perspective requires one to suspend one’s own cultural assumptions for long enough to see and understand those of another. The researcher interacts with participants in a relationship within which s/he extracts data from the participants by virtue of their shared humanity. Field research enhances the establishment of trust and rapport that encourages a level of disclosure unparalleled by self-reports or snapshot examinations of a scene (Tracy, 2013: 6). The aim of qualitative research is to describe and explain experiences, as opposed to predicting outcomes. Qualitative research can uncover salient issues that can later be studied.
Rich Narrative Descriptions
Rich description is directly linked to the social context in which researchers immerse themselves. Meaning cannot be made without a rich contextual description. With qualitative research, as Tracy (2013: 4) explains:
The aim is to draw large conclusions from small but very densely textured facts to support broad assertions about the role of culture in the construction of collective life by engaging them exactly with complex specifics.
The qualitative researcher’s approach is based on the assumption that every behaviour or action is important and that observing it enhances the researcher’s understanding of phenomena. Geertz (1973: 5, in Tracy, 2013: 3) refers to researchers as cultural interpreters who bring to the fore vivid descriptions that unpack values, beliefs and actions in groups and societies. They seek to explain what they have seen. Qualitative research is judged by its ability to discover new themes and explanations, rather than by its generalizability, as well as its density, vividness and accuracy in describing complex situations (Rubin and Rubin, 2012: 64). It is known for its in-depth exploration of phenomena and potential to elicit rich and voluminous data.
The aim of qualitative research is to enable rich descriptions that cannot be represented by numerical data. As such, McMillan and Schumacher (2010: 326) hold that nothing escapes scrutiny or is taken for granted in the qualitative researcher’s detailed approach to description, which is necessary to get a total understanding of events and correctly reflect the complexity of human behaviour. Tracy (2013: 5) lauds this sort of research, remarking that:
Such work has potential to provide insight about marginalised, stereotyped or unknown populations – a peek into regularly guarded worlds, and an opportunity to tell a story that few know about.
All of this is held up as evidence that the qualitative research method is the most appropriate for exploring the sensitive issues surrounding teachers living with HIV/AIDS.
Qualitative researchers seek to establish why behaviour occurs and, as a result, they investigate the processes by which behaviour occurs. This emphasis on process allows for conclusions that explain the reasons for results (McMillan and Schumacher, 2010: 332). Harding (2013: 10) refines this point:
Qualitative research often wishes to consider the series of events that lead to the action that they are studying to describe a scene in order to understand the human behaviour within it or to study every part.
Researchers keep record of the whole chronological flow, exploring why events occur and explaining the causes of particular events. The use of a variety of methods and perspectives provides flexibility to envision new possibilities (Cooper and White, 2012: 6). Engaging participants in narrative interviews has allowed me to gain a greater understanding of how school principals are managing the sensitive issues surrounding HIV/AIDS amongst their teaching staff.
Inductive Data Analysis
An obvious distinction that lies at the heart of the assumptions of qualitative versus quantitative research is that the former implies inductive reasoning to understand a particular situation, whilst the latter does not. According to Bryman (2012: 690), qualitative research predominantly emphasises an inductive approach to the relationship between theory and research, in which the emphasis is placed on the generation of theories. Researchers select sites and populations and then develop meaning from the data collected from the field (Myers, 2012: 56; Parker, 2011: 67). Explanations are built from the ground up. In contrast, quantitative research tests hypotheses. Collected data are synthesised inductively to generate findings. In qualitative research, inquirers present data as descriptive narration in words and findings are progressively generated from the data.
Qualitative researchers seek to understand social situations from the participants’ perspectives. McMillan and Schumacher (2010: 331) allege that qualitative researchers try to reconstruct reality from the standpoint of participants’ perspectives and, therefore, their focus is on the meaning of actions expressed by participants. The purpose of this is to gain an understanding of the views of participants as expressed in their own voices. In this sense, qualitative research views reality as the subjective meanings constructed by the participants. Consequently, the final reports of qualitative research consist of the perspectives of participants. As Rubin and Rubin (2012: 15) affirm, both researchers and participants make interpretations and it is impossible to eliminate all bias. Since qualitative research acknowledges researchers’ influence on results, I have given a description of my role in this research study in the reflexivity and subjectivity sections. Furthermore, qualitative researchers believe that there are various truths to be discovered and that all perspectives have validity (Leedy and Ormrod, 2010: 135). As a result, qualitative research studies are able to illuminate the darker aspects – such as emotional abuse – of relationships.
One other strength of qualitative research is that it is flexible. Most qualitative researchers – for example, Creswell (2012: 37); Matthews and Ross (2010: 17); and McMillan and Schumacher (2010: 320) – agree that researchers have limited knowledge of their participants and must try to get past their own preconceptions before they can begin their research. In other words, researchers cannot begin the research study with an accurate design. They can only fully understand which research design a significant time after they have visited the sites and interacted with the participants. Thus, designs begin to emerge as the study unfolds and interview questions to be asked may change.
Complex Understanding and Explanation
According to McMillan and Schumacher (2010: 324), “central to qualitative research is the belief that the world is complex and that there are few simple explanations for human behaviour”. Qualitative research focuses on depth as opposed to breadth, which is the focus of quantitative research. Behaviour is a result of the interaction of multiple factors. Hence, the need for complex data-capturing tools. Although researchers seek to consider carefully those multiple perspectives, it is impossible to capture every complex behaviour that occurs. Consequently, researchers need to apply complex methods as well. I have utilised the narrative interview so as to allow participants to narrate their own stories fully. Issues under study often have many dimensions and layers and require the researcher to portray them in their multifaceted forms (Leedy and Ormrod, 2010: 145).
Qualitative researchers must therefore strive to examine the multiple complexities of particular phenomena. In elaboration, Wertz, Charmaz, McMullen, Josselson, Anderson & McSpaden (2011: 2) maintain that conceptualising the matter under investigation as a whole and in its parts, the way in which these parts are organised as a whole, and how the whole is similar to and different from others leads to better understanding of that particular phenomenon. Researchers aim to explain a complex situation without simplifying it.
Finally, qualitative research assists researchers to understand complex issues and achieve a variety of research goals. Qualitative methodology brings to the fore knowledge about issues that serves humankind. The next section looks at the social constructivist paradigm.
All research is guided by ways of interpreting the world, referred to as theoretical orientations. The principles of ontology and epistemology differentiate research methods and guide work in different paradigms. This research study is guided by the social constructivist paradigm, fundamentally to which is the assumption that human beings create knowledge through social interactions (Denzin and Lincoln, 2011: 19). Individuals strive to understand the world in which they live and subjectively develop meaning out of their experiences. The meaning created varies greatly from person to person so that the researcher must unpack a complex multiplicity of views (Creswell, 2009: 8). The use of open-ended questions in narrative interviews in this study facilitated participants’ expression of their views. As Given (2008: 116) asserts:
Ontological and epistemological views in the constructivism paradigm disallow the existence of an external objective reality independent of an individual from which knowledge may be collected and gained, instead each individual constructs knowledge and his/ her experience through social interaction.
Therefore, the researcher gains a greater understanding of phenomena through detailed description. More importantly, qualitative researchers attempt to understand the complex world of lived experiences from the point of view of those who live it (Guba and Lincoln, 1989: 7). Moreover, realities are constantly changing. Researchers gain insights upon which they describe different perspectives of the unique realities and identities of participants. Research studies seek to reveal the multiple perspectives, each of which has equal validity, of different people (Leedy and Ormrod, 2010: 94).
In addition, within the social constructivist paradigm, researchers are concerned with interpretation, illumination and meaning, through which they gain knowledge. As a result, Matthews and Ross (2010: 23) insist that all human action is meaningful and, hence, must be interpreted and understood within the context of social practices. The researcher’s purpose is to interpret the meanings others ascribe to the world. The research question is answered through the description and explanation of events and the collection of participants’ beliefs, experiences and understandings. Different perspectives are explored via the interpretation of the social world. The researcher generates theory by working with the collected data.
Since human beings create knowledge through social interactions, knowledge is continuously constructed and reconstructed, depending on different cultural contexts. People come up with common ways of judging things by routinely interacting in different places. Different concepts are entirely human creations, which are attached to different behaviours by different societies. Holstein and Gubrium (2008: 341) explain this concept in more detail:
Much of this has centred on the interactional constitution of meaning in everyday life, the leading principle being that the world we live in and our place in it are not simply evidently ‘there’ but rather variably brought into being.
The different forms of social interaction form a platform upon which everyday realities are constructed. Researchers gain knowledge through interacting with participants (Matthews and Ross, 2010: 51). From the social constructivist’s point of view, therefore:
Reality is not something “out there”, which a researcher can clearly explain, describe or translate into a research report… rather both reality and knowledge are constructed and reproduced through communication, interaction and practice. (Tracy, 2013: 4)
In qualitative research, social constructivism brings into being some significant relationships between the researcher, the participants, the audience, and society at large. It is within these relationships that knowledge resides, rather than in the
individuals’ minds. As Guba and Lincoln (1994: 111) allege:
The variable and personal nature of social constructions suggests that individual constructions can be elicited and refined only through interaction between and among investigator and respondents.
Then qualitative researcher’s goal in research is, to a large extent, to rely on the views of the participants about the studied situation.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER ONE Introduction, Background and Purpose of the Study
1.1 Introduction to the Study
1.2 Background of the Study
1.3 Theoretical Framework
1.4 Literature Study
1.6 Problem Statement and Research Questions
1.8 Aims and Objectives of the Study
1.9 Population and Sampling
1.10 Research Design
1.11 Data Collection
1.12 Data Analysis
1.13 Methodological Considerations regarding Trustworthiness of the Inquiry
1.14 Definition of Key Terms
1.15 Chapter Divisions
CHAPTER TWO School Leadership and Teachers with HIV/AIDS: Stigma and Discrimination in Gauteng Province Schools
2.2 Context and Background of the Study
2.3Understanding the Research Phenomenon from the Literature: Leading Schools in Sensitive Matters
2.4 The Impact of HIV/AIDS on Teachers
2.5HIV/AIDS Stigma and Discrimination in Schools
2.6 Theoretical Framework: Transformational Leadership Approach
2.7 Ethics of Care Theory
CHAPTER THREE Research Design and Methodology
3.2 Qualitative Research and its Assumptions
3.3 Research Design: Narrative Inquiry
3.4 Research Methodology
3.5 Rigour and Quality: Methodological Consideration
3.6 Researcher Subjectivity Statement: Matters of Reflexivity
3.7 Summary of the Chapter
CHAPTER FOUR Teacher and Principal Narratives
4.1 Introduction to Teacher Narratives
4.2 Themes of the Teacher Collective Narrative
4.3 Introduction to Principal Narratives
4.4 Themes of the Collective Principal Narrative
4.5 Similarities and Differences of Teacher and Principal Narratives
4.6 Concluding Thoughts
CHAPTER FIVE Data Interpretation and Discussion
5.2 School Leadership Challenges
5.3 Leadership Role Reflections
5.4 Continuous Absenteeism
5.5 Problems of Disclosing
5.6 Expectations of Teachers
5.7 Challenges faced by Teachers living with HIV/AIDS
5.8 Support and Acceptance
CHAPTER SIX Conclusions
6.4 Recommendations for Policy and Practice
6.5 Limitations of the Study
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT