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ethnography and micro-arrays

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The ethnoarray!!!

A while back, I discussed a new technique for organizing and displaying information collected through qualitative methods like interviews and ethnography. The idea is simple: the rows are cases and the columns are themes. Then, you shade the matrix with color. More intense colors indicate that the case really matches the themes. Clustering of colors indicate clusters of similar cases.

Dan Dohan, who imported this technique in from the biomedical sciences, has a new article with Corey Abramson out that describes this process in detail. From Beyond Text: Using Arrays to Represent and Analyze Ethnographic Data in Sociological Methodology:

Recent methodological debates in sociology have focused on how data and analyses might be made more open and accessible, how the process of theorizing and knowledge production might be made more explicit, and how developing means of visualization can help address these issues. In ethnography, where scholars from various traditions do not necessarily share basic epistemological assumptions about the research enterprise with either their quantitative colleagues or one another, these issues are particularly complex. Nevertheless, ethnographers working within the field of sociology face a set of common pragmatic challenges related to managing, analyzing, and presenting the rich context-dependent data generated during fieldwork. Inspired by both ongoing discussions about how sociological research might be made more transparent, as well as innovations in other data-centered fields, the authors developed an interactive visual approach that provides tools for addressing these shared pragmatic challenges. They label the approach “ethnoarray” analysis. This article introduces this approach and explains how it can help scholars address widely shared logistical and technical complexities, while remaining sensitive to both ethnography’s epistemic diversity and its practitioners shared commitment to depth, context, and interpretation. The authors use data from an ethnographic study of serious illness to construct a model of an ethnoarray and explain how such an array might be linked to data repositories to facilitate new forms of analysis, interpretation, and sharing within scholarly and lay communities. They conclude by discussing some potential implications of the ethnoarray and related approaches for the scope, practice, and forms of ethnography.

Recommended.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 7, 2015 at 12:01 am

5 Responses

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  1. I don’t really see the upside to this approach. Is there any amount of fancy looking tables and graphs that is going to persuade a die-hard quantitative methodologist to believe the claims from a qualitative N=20 study? I understand the reasoning behind these kinds of visual representations (and they are pretty), but I think the end result will be findings that neither quant or qual folks take seriuosly.

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    kenkolb

    May 7, 2015 at 1:40 pm

  2. @Ken Kolb: I see a number of advantages.

    1. Aside from photography, visualization of data is almost completely absent in ethnography. This is a step in the right direction.

    2. Similarity of cases is important. At the very least, this is a tool for diagnostics and developing intuition about your data. If you have many cases in the data, the ethnoarray can motivate a quantitative test of association.

    3. Replication. You can hand over field notes or interviews to another person and have them reproduce the array.

    One of these is good. That we can now do all three is cause for optimism.

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    fabiorojas

    May 7, 2015 at 4:50 pm

  3. Don’t other social science disciplines call these heatmaps?

    http://pareonline.net/pdf/v15n7.pdf

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    LKT

    May 7, 2015 at 4:58 pm

  4. LKT: Yes, I believe it is essentially a heat map. What is important is that the input is qualitative data. In other words, the message is “let’s heatmap ethnography.”

    Like

    fabiorojas

    May 7, 2015 at 5:00 pm

  5. Heatmapping the Qualitative is an awesome journal article title.

    Like

    fabiorojas

    May 7, 2015 at 5:03 pm


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