The Dance of Qualitative Research Design

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Page 35 The Dance of Qualitative Research Design Metaphor, Methodolatry, and Meaning Valerie J. Janesick Every dance is to some greater or lesser extent a kind of fever chart, a graph of the heart. Martha Graham When Martha Graham, the dance world's at once most famous and infamous dancer and dance maker, was asked to describe dance, she said these words to capture the essence of dance. In this chapter, I would like to discuss the essence of qualitative research design. I have selected the metaphor of dance for two reasons. First, dance is the art form to which I am most devoted, having been a dancer and choreographer for more than 25 years. I began dance classes as a child. My mother was a dancer in USO shows, and she had a strong influence on me. I became a choreographer as a natural evolution, following in the footsteps of many of my adored and influential teachers. In dance, a vibrant mentor-protg system is in place. Page 36 I have choreographed modern dance, ballet, ethnic and folk dances, and dances for musicals for the Ann Arbor Civic Theater and for various university and regional dance companies. Because I was a teacher, I also did choreography for various school districts in Michigan and Ohio. I directed my own dance company, in Ann Arbor, East Lansing, and Bowling Green, Ohio. In Ohio, I received grants, along with the Bowling Green University Dancers, from the Ohio Council for the Arts, to bring dance in the schools' programs into Ohio. I spent summers in New York City, studying technique at the schools of Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Alvin Ailey, and Erick Hawkins.1 While studying at Michigan State University, at the Institute for Research on Teaching, I taught all levels of modern dance, choreography, dance history, and anatomy for the dancers at Lansing Community College in addition to my research internship. In fact, it was this simultaneous experience in dance and research studies that prepared me for my academic career as an ethnographic researcher and teacher of qualitative research methods. A second reason I have selected the metaphor of dance is simply because of its power. Metaphor in general creeps up on you and surprises. It defies the boilerplate approach to a topic. I can only wholeheartedly agree with Eisner (1991) when the discusses metaphor: What is ironic is that in the professional socialization of educational researchers, the use of metaphor is regarded as a sign of imprecision; yet, for making public the ineffable, nothing is more precise than the artistic use of language. Metaphoric precision is the central vehicle for revealing the qualitative aspects of life. (p. 227)

Consequently, I invite the reader to embrace this metaphor of dance, often called the mother of the arts. Dance, as a true art form, is a useful reference point for recalling Dewey's (1934/1958) notion that there is no work of art apart from human experience. For Dewey, the work of art is an event. He sees art as engaging and developing experience with a sense of meaning. Even in the art world, meaning can be lost in the event of objectification of the art. For example, the dance world is filled with wheelers and dealers, aestheticians, foot doctors, managers, advertisers, promoters, and charming eccentrics. At any intersection of the work of art with some individuals, the work of art can be decontextualized and objectified. But it is in the Deweyan sense that I speak of dance. Because dance is about lived Page 37 experience, it seems to me the perfect metaphor for qualitative research design. In addition, the qualitative researcher is very much like an artist at various stages in the design process, in terms of situating and recontextualizing the research project within the shared experience of the researcher and the participants in the study. Dewey sees art as the bridge between the experience of individuals and the community. In other words, art forces us to think about how human beings are related to each other in their respective worlds. How appropriate to view dance as an expressively dynamic art form that connects the cultural meanings of dancers, choreographer, and community. Like Dewey (1934/1958), who notes that the actual work of art is what the product does with and in experience, the qualitative researcher, as designer of a project, recognizes the potential of design. The design serves as a foundation for the understanding of the participants' worlds and the meaning of shared experience between the researcher and participants in a given social context. Dance is an interpretive art form, and I see qualitative research design as interpretive as well. Qualitative Research Design as Choreography All dances make a statement and begin with the question, What do I want to say in this dance? In much the same way, the qualitative researcher begins with a similar question: What do I want to know in this study? This is a critical beginning point. Regardless of point of view, and quite often because of our point of view, we construct and frame a question for inquiry. After this question is clear, we select the most appropriate methodology to proceed with the research project. I am always surprised by doctoral students and colleagues who forthrightly state that they wish to do a qualitative study without any question in mind. They ask about books and references to learn all the steps. They are taken aback when I give them a reading list, because over the past 25 years or so, in education alone, there has been published quite an

impressive and lengthy list of methods texts and articles in journals with illustrative studies using qualitative methods. The next question becomes, Yes, but which one tells me exactly what to do, step by step? You see the point. They are not ready to design qualitative projects, for they have no research question from which to choose appropriate methods. Some go even further, saying, I have pages of data from Page 38 teachers, how do I make this into a qualitative study? Again, there is no question to guide the inquiry. It is difficult to take such an approach seriously. Qualitative research design begins with a question. Of course, qualitative researchers design a study with real individuals in mind, and with the intent of living in that social setting over time. They study a social setting to understand the meaning of participants' lives in the participants' own terms. I mention this to contrast it to the quantitative paradigm, which is perfectly comfortable with aggregating large numbers of people without communicating with them face to face. So the questions of the qualitative researcher are quite different from those of the quantitative researcher. Elsewhere in the literature, the reader may find information on the kinds of questions suited to qualitative methods (Erickson, 1986; Janesick, 1983). In general, questions that are suited to qualitative inquiry have long been the questions of many curriculum researchers and theorists. For example: 1. questions concerning the quality of a given curriculum, innovation, or program 2. questions regarding meaning or interpretation about some component of curriculum 3. questions that relate to curriculum in terms of its sociolinguistic aspects 4. questions related to the whole system, as in a classroom, school, or school district 5. questions regarding the political, economic, or sociopsychological aspects of schooling 6. questions regarding the hidden curriculum 7. questions pertaining to the social context of schooling 8. questions pertaining to teachers' implicit theories about teaching and curriculum

This list is not meant to be exhaustive; it serves only to illustrate the basic areas where research has been completed in the field of education and has employed qualitative techniques because of, among other things, the suitability of the technique and the question. Just as the dancer begins with a warm-up of the body, follows through with floor exercises, and then moves to a cool-down period, I like to think of qualitative design as made up of three stages. First there is the warm-up stage, or design decisions made at the beginning of the study; second is the total workout stage, during which design decisions are made throughout Page 39 the study; and third is the cool-down stage, when design decisions are made at the end of the study. Just as the dancer relies on the spine for the power and coherence of the dance, so the qualitative researcher relies on the design of the study. Both are elastic. Like the dancer who finds her center from the base of the spine and the connection between the spine and the body, the qualitative researcher is centered by a series of design decisions. A dancer who is centered may tilt forward and backward and from side to side, yet always returns to the center, the core of the dancer's strength. If one thinks of the design of the study as the spine and the base of the spine as the beginning of the warm-up in dance, the beginning decisions in a study are very much like the lower-spine warm-up, the beginning warm-up for the dancer. Warming Up: Design Decisions at the Beginning of the Study The first set of design decisions have to do with what is studied, under what circumstances, for what duration of time, and with whom. I always start with a question. For example, when I studied deaf culture in Washington, D.C., over a four-year period (Janesick, 1990), my basic question was, How do some deaf adults manage to succeed academically and in the workplace given the stigma of deafness in our society? This basic question informed all my observations and interviews, and led me to use focus groups and oral history techniques later in the study. Both the focus groups and oral histories evolved after I came to know the perspectives on deafness of the twelve individuals in my study. I then used theoretical sampling techniques to select three individuals to participate in an oral history com