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Library/pdf Sociological Practice Intervention And Social Change 2007
A rigid focus on the structure and definitions of family can belie personal meanings, experiences and practices, and as such normative typologies may well conceal more than they illuminate. However, any secondary analysis of historically located data is likely to be severely constrained by the narrow definitions that were at one time and sometimes still are applied to families. Previous studies were confined in the main to married, two-parent, heterosexual couples, although it might be possible to access wider material from oral histories in order to problematise simplified accounts of cohesive traditional versus fragmented contemporary family forms.
It is feasible that in the wealth of archived material that exists there might be evidence for more variability in the actual practice of family than the demographic statistics suggest. Clearly contemporary research findings are just as context-bound. Some barriers to historical comparison such as the expansion in family typologies might be read as self evident of change in themselves, but their impact on people's lives has only been assessed from a perspective in which demographic change is conflated with personal experience.
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Thus it is assumed that family life is different because statistics suggest change has occurred. A question remains as to whether these structural changes obscure enduring continuities in the way people actually live and interact with each other. In short, the issue of context represents an intractable obstacle to the simple measurement of historically situated data sets.
Nevertheless, re-analysis of elderly data from a contemporary frame of reference has the potential to change our understanding of the present by generating new perspectives on the past. A major methodological issue for us and others attempting to conduct a historical comparison centres on the relationship between the analyst and the data.
Many researchers have emphasised the significance of the contextual knowledge that can only be derived from involvement in the research at the time of its collection. This view is reflected in what Paul THOMPSON calls the "strange silence close to the heart of the qualitative research community" paragraph 1 , manifested in a general reluctance to draw on material created by other research teams. Louise CORTI argues that the notion of data not existing independently from the researcher has proved to be a serious barrier to the development of qualitative archives for the purposes of secondary analysis.
However, as she points out, "re-use" of data is in fact common practice where researchers are employed solely to conduct interviews, or where research teams share material.
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Re-analysis of data by researchers responsible for the primary study is a more established method HEATON , but as Natasha MAUTHNER and colleagues note, memories fade and personal perspectives change over time, drastically altering the researchers' relationship to the original data. They argue that concerns over the contextual substance of qualitative research masks more fundamental epistemological questions associated with secondary analysis.
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While it is commonly acknowledged that research findings are social constructions, with constituent interactions and interpretations mediated through culturally and historically specific frameworks, the attention given to the context of primary research suggests they exist as a discrete and somehow authentic entity. Having explored the conceptual and epistemological complexities associated with the comparative re-analysis of context-bound data, we sought to design an approach to our own reanalysis that would enable us to work within the limitations and affordances we have outlined.
This required us to make various decisions concerning the status we accord to the data, sampling rationales and analytical frameworks. Defining our research framework to take account of the demands of context was further complicated by the practical restrictions of dealing with elderly data.
The advent of word processing and availability of compact, efficient tape recorders have transformed the way qualitative data is collected.
In the s, transcripts and notes were predominantly hand written, although some of these were subsequently manually typed. Tape recordings, where they were made, have rarely survived. While ESDS Qualidata are currently attempting to categorise and digitalise this original data, lack of funding ensures this is a long and slow process. Thus while we are able to identify numerous potential sources for historical comparison of parenting resources, the most relevant archived studies for our proposed research are all paper-based, consisting of large, typed and sometimes barely legible handwritten, data sets, with no details provided about interviewee characteristics.
Consequently, identifying and selecting appropriate transcripts is a labour-intensive, time-consuming process corresponding to the time and effort involved in primary data collection.
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While we do not suggest that any objective measurement of social change is possible, we do believe that re-reflecting on markers of the past and the present through a common contemporary lens can broaden understandings, even if the result is to foreground the complexity of distinguishing then from now. It is from this critical perspective that we are seeking to identify data sets for comparison. As we have previously stated, early data on parenting resources and family is likely to be embedded in a range of themes and topic areas including class, social mobility, community and social relations.
As Mildred BLAXTER notes, historically specific understandings of social problems define research frameworks and, as such, studies are embedded in social trends that may themselves be representative of social change. In considering a potential sample framework we realised that efforts to exactly match contemporary and historical sample characteristics may be impossible or even counterproductive.
For example, the sharp rise in numbers of full time employed mothers suggests they are unlikely to be a well represented category in early studies. Consequently, a contextualisation of the data is required before a sampling frame can be constructed. This amounts to an initial level of analysis to thoroughly assess the relevant archived collections by categorising their contents and logging demographic details of interviewees. In terms of then generating an appropriate sample to act as a historical comparison, it is important to remain sensitive to the possibility that certain characteristics may constitute a marker of social change in themselves.
Once a sample for the historical comparison has been identified, the issue of how to deal with the socially embedded nature of particular research accounts must be addressed. We would argue that meaning is made rather than found. From this perspective any historical comparison has to include an analysis of the original material alongside the contemporary study as a socially produced, situated construction.
This involves careful analysis of the original researchers' questions, fieldnotes, letters, memos, reports, publications and any other related sources of information. Consultation with original researchers where possible would also generate crucial background information. This attention to context is not about filling "gaps" in the data, but rather illuminating the very particular perspectives knowledge was and is created from.
Finally, issues around context present the secondary analyst with a number of ethical decisions that require careful thought. Confidentiality and consent are of particular concern when dealing with qualitative accounts of family life. ESDS Qualidata presides over a number of procedures in order to enhance the protection of confidentiality for interviewees who have contributed to their collections, including the anonymisation of datasets and the issuing of user undertakings to guard against the dissemination of identifying information. However, while it is relatively simple to avoid actual personal names and geographical places, other aspects of an individual's life may be conspicuous such as an unusual job or experience.
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In addition, certain identifying details such as the names of towns or particular employers can sometimes provide a crucial context when presenting an analysis. In practice though, we would argue that there is a need to maintain a balance between including rich informative detail and disclosing information that might break original promises of privacy and anonymity. Questions are also raised as to whether renewed consent should be sought from research participants when conducting secondary analysis.
While early sociological researchers would have obtained permission from participants to conduct and disseminate the original research they were unlikely to have gained explicit consent for future re-use. However, it would be extremely time-consuming, and in many cases impossible, to trace those who were interviewed in the s in order to seek their explicit informed consent.
Further, this practice could be viewed as unethical in itself, given that interviewees were often told that no further contact would be made. In this paper we have sought to consider the role of context in containing and shaping the practice of secondary analysis. We have outlined our own attempts to grapple with epistemological and methodological problems associated with the re-use of contextually embedded qualitative data in planning towards an historical comparative analysis of resources in parenting.
We have focused in particular on the feasibility of drawing insights on family change from a comparative secondary analysis. Although we have deliberated on these issues to construct a research design that attempts to work within the constraints of context, we have yet to put it in to practice. We are aware that many more practical and conceptual problems are likely to emerge in the process of actually conducting this comparative secondary analysis.
The complex challenges associated with secondary analysis, combined with the shortage of empirical models exploring methods and practices, may partly explain this under use. However, if the issue of context can be addressed, secondary analysis of early data has the potential to generate crucial new perspectives to feed into wider sociological and theoretical debates. Social change in contemporary Britain. Cambridge: Polity. Adam, Barbara Detraditionalization and the certainty of uncertain futures. Oxford: Blackwell.
Piano in the parlour: methodological issues in the conduct of a restudy. Social capital: critical perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press. The normal chaos of love. Cambridge: Polity Press.
London: Sage. Beck-Gernsheim, Elisabeth On the way to a post-familiar family: from a community of need to elective affinities.