What is data?

What is data?  As qualitative researchers we spend our time collecting, interpreting, theorising and communicating data.  This straight-forward and linear process belies the complex, challenging and opaque processes by which researchers, for example, differentiate between and attend or ignore data, and decide which theoretical frames to apply.  Not to mention the political and ideological context in which qualitative research is conducted, communicated and assessed both in universities and in wider society, especially in relation to quantitative research. Indeed, despite the importance of data to qualitative research we rarely stop to consider what counts as data beyond any taken for granted notions.

To engage with this lack of discussion researchers at ESRI were joined by colleagues from around the world for a pre-BERA seminar on data in qualitative research, convened by Prof. Maggie MacLure.  In a series of broad-ranging discussions, the participants explored three key questions: What counts as data?  How does qualitative research relate to ‘the world’?  What is the appeal of qualitative research and how can we promote this? The event was very much a beginning of what we hope will be a long and productive process of reflection and discussion about the fundamental building blocks of qualitative research.

We at ESRI want to express our gratitude for those that attended and enriched the discussions.  Each of the participants brought data from his or her research, from traditional forms such as interview transcripts to more experimental engagements in relation to interpretations of dance and other more subjective and provocative data. We’re in the process of determining how we can share these forms of data and the perceptions and challenges they pose to research and how these are being approached. Watch this space for more information about this on-going exploration of data in qualitative research.


4 thoughts on “What is data?

  1. Another fine few days at MMU. The opportunity to grapple with others around how we do the work that we do is something I value immensely. Thanks Maggie and others for your work.

    • Thanks Lisa – it was a great seminar. I’m still buzzing with all the ideas and conversation, and so grateful for the enthusiasm and commitment of all the participants – many of whom must have been jet-lagged!

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