Tuesday, 17 March 2009

A slave to the methods

I had heard it, read it.
It is possible to become enslaved by methods.
I thought "Haha, those stupid people! It will never happen to me."
But before I truly realized I was running because methods asked me to run. Not my research question demanded running in order to be answered.

To clarify my point, here is the primeval situation:
I wanted to know about land-based livelihoods in my study-area.
How to find out about it in a systematic way?
Use an interview!
And to make data analysis really easy: make a simple interview. Make a questionnaire. Think in terms of your database!
Thinking in terms of database means you cannot think in terms of your research question anymore. As little as you can have two focusses for drawing one circle. Silly PhD's obviously can't think as if they were travelling through a tunnel from both extremes at the same time. Therefore the focus shifts from answering the research questions to ask things that can yield data that is easy to analyze. I've spend ages with it. First I made an interview based on my research question, then I wanted to improve it and thought in terms of database. I was encouraged to do so. In the end I have an interview that would yield a nice straight forward database but no results of interest to me. Should I proceed? I've been wrestling with that interview for months, why not wrestle a bit more? Everyone does it. You can always do some interesting stats with a nice database. You can compare variables you never ever wanted to compare. You can have statistically significant results (THE THING).
But it doesn't make sense anymore.
What really matters is that I am comfortable with my interview. That I can lean on it like others lean on their sofas. If I like it, if it makes sense to me, I will be able to deal with the results even if they crack the SPSS window. We have to recode anyways.
I worked so hard to develop that interview, read so much background stuff, even took 1 question from a WorldBank standardized interview. (It was the only question my supervisor said it was really silly.)
Falling slave to the methods and the catharsis of finding it out was a terrible experience. But it woke me up to the fact that all my stress comes from me not seeing the meaning, not from the amount of work ahead of me.

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