Thursday, September 2, 2010

Research Update

Ange and I had a discussion the other day about my research progress and it made me realize that many people don't understand what it is I am doing here and how to gauge my progress. This is not an attack on Ange (or anyone) but just an attempt to help my readers understand what I'm doing and how my research might be very different than what you are used to or what it is you think research is all about. I know it might seem like I'm goofing around a lot but I assure you, I am doing a lot of work in the mix of being goofy.

First of all, a quick and dirty reminder (or intro) to what I'm doing in the "big picture" way. I am doing qualitative research, which basically means I want to talk to individuals and understand their thoughts on my topic and then after I've talked to a lot of people I'll sum up what I find and say this research will tell you about this specific population. Quantitative research is often done with surveys or questionnaires and tries to talk to large groups of people in an attempt to generalize the info you find to large groups of people. Generally qualitative research has a smaller sample (e.g. people you interview) than quantitative. Many, many people (scientist/researcher people even) mistakenly have the impression that quantitative research is "better," "more true," and preferable. Often these people are stupid. Hahaha. Ok, just kidding. Just narrow minded. Qualitative research usually has a much different goal than quantitative research. They each have their value; they are just better suited to different projects. Quantitative is best when you want to know basically the who, what, when and where. Qualitative is best when you want to know WHY. I think you can't really understand the complex reasons people do things by asking yes or no questions, asking them to fill out scales, or check boxes. So my research, basically why and how people make decisions to enter relationships and have sex can only be justifiably answered by qualitative research.

Another thing that is equally important to me, and to my research, is context. Going back to the old "I am coming" phrase, if you don't know the context in which someone says it you will have very different interpretations of what that phrase means. If you were in America and someone said it you would say "Oh they will be here soon." But if you were in Nigeria you know that means "That person will be back sometime in the future, who knows when really." Same is the context of my research. Without knowing how the person I am interviewing currently lives and has likely lived their whole life I might not understand completely when they tell me something. Or I might miss a key idea because I am not in-tune with the hidden meanings of what they are saying. For example, people here often use "sweet" to describe something "sexy" or to imply sexual undertones. If someone told me "Oh, that girl, she is so sweet" I would think, "Oh that is a nice girl, she probably helps old ladies cross the street," rather than "Oh, I need to ask how she is sweet...does she dress sexy? is she known as a loose girl?" Context can be everything.

So I've now been here almost 7 weeks. What have I been doing in 7 weeks? I have first and foremost been establishing context. How do I do this? The easy part, is listening and participating in everything that's going on around me. This is called "participant observation" in researcher lingo. Basically I am living the life of an Evangelical Christian living in Nigeria. Now I can't completely be zen with the culture since a) I am not Nigerian b) I am a white woman from America and c) My living situation is unusual and not comparable to the "average" Nigerian. I recognize this, but it doesn't mean that I can't get a better idea of what my participants' context is like to better prepare me for my interviews.

The second way I have been establishing context is by talking to people who might have an interesting perspective on my research topic. These are called "key informant interviews." I have been talking to different staff at the University, different religious leaders, and a variety of other people who don't fit into neat categories. Every time I talk to someone I get new information that sparks my thinking and understanding on the topic. This helps me to better shape the questions I will be asking in my interviews with students.

Now my interviews with students seem like the "research" part of my study, but it is actually only one part. The above stuff is all data or research and believe me I've been doing a lot of it. I use a very cool iphone app called Momonote to keep my notes on my observations and interviews. I've made 97 notes on my project in the past 7 weeks. The interviews are more concrete so people tend to focus on those the most. I am working on getting approval from the University to start my interviewing (which is another part of my research, but I'll give you a break and talk about that later) and as soon as I have it I'll be able to add that into the mix of the other two parts I've mentioned.

Hopefully this gave you a little insight into what I've been doing, and given you some reassurance I'm not just goofing around over here. I am hard at work everyday and very much on schedule (if not a little ahead!). And of course I'll keep you updated!

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