Thursday, 23 April 2009

The good and the evil or Dichotomies down the river

When I started research on social construction of land abandonment I believed there would be a couple of key issues that would split my interviewees neatly into two categories: the Good and the Evil. The ones worried over land abandonment and wishing to keep farming in the mountain areas, and the ones who didn’t think agriculture had a role to play in mountain areas and other functions could substitute it without much loss. I started exploring the issue with qualitative interviews and soon felt that I was not prepared to immediately work out the key issues that would allow me to separate my sample into several sub-groups. Therefore I gave up the idea of designing a questionnaire to pursue that investigation; in a quetsionnaire I would have to force people into different categories, which I didn’t know yet, and address key issues, which I didn’t know either which they are. Therefore I continued with qualitative in-depth interviews.

I had some questions though that I thought would allow me to split my sample into categories. I believed there are some key issues, such as competitvity and self-suffciency that would probably not be supported together. My rationale: who thinks it is important that farming is competitive is an advocate of the theory of comparative advantage and hence against the core ideas of self-sufficiency. I think I managed to ask the questions in a non leading way, besides I had my own bias in favour of self-sufficiency and against the idea of competition in the agricultural sector.

The results were surprising! Some people advocated both, competitivity and self-sufficiency. Some people were in favour of competitivity for the right reasons. Some were against self-sufficiency for very good reasons indeed! I learned that everyone was very reasonable, and what really mattered were the commonalities of the various approaches. Trying to focus on differences and split the sample is definitely not a peace building exercise!

Thanks God I’m using Grounded Theory anyways, that will allow me to say what’s out there, and not force me into hypotheses testing of artificially split dichotomic variables. I don’t need to be saying “there is a statistical significant predominance of bastard type supporters of competitivity.” ;-)

It’s not that I’m starting to make compromises, it’s the evidences that show that a supposedly “radical” position is often not more than a fixed idea coupled with unwillingness to revise it.

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