An Interdisciplinary Network on the Methodology and
Applications of Integrative Research Methods
Videos of selected conference presentations will soon be available here.
On May 23rd to 25th 2019 the fourth workshop of the research network MMMR took place at Goettingen University with an overall thematic focus on “Methods for Integrative Data Analysis”. The event was organized in cooperation with the Sociological Research Institute Goettingen (SOFI) and the Goettingen Graduate School of Social Sciences (GGG). Sarah Irwin (University of Leeds) and Pat Bazeley (Western Sydney University) joined the network as international guest experts and provided keynote presentations. The program of the meeting was also complemented by a pre-conference on May 23rd, at which researchers from Universities Freiburg, Kassel, Giessen, and Goettingen presented their MMMR-related work in the areas of education, organizational, and biographical research. Presentations ranged from multimethod combinations of several qualitative approaches (Sylvia Nienhaus, Maria Pohn-Lauggas, Lisa Gromala, Ina Alber-Armenat) to mixed methods designs discussing the integration of qualitative and quantitative methods (Nicolai Götze & Christian Schneijderberg, Lena Wegener & Veronika Philipps). A round of expert consultations concluded the pre-conference program, in which five doctoral students had the opportunity to discuss their MMMR-projects with senior researchers from the network.
The second conference day started with Pat Bazeley’s (Western Sydney University) keynote presentation on mixed methods data analysis. Bazeley presented a comprehensive framework for integrated analysis, which revolves around the notion of “purposeful interdependence” of combined methods. According to this concept, MMMR ideally synthesizes a research perspective that goes beyond a mere combination or convergence of different methods’ results, and rather creates a functional reciprocity substantively connecting one mode of analysis to another. Among the methods to achieve such interdependence, Bazeley discussed the possibilities of joint displays, but also highlighted the importance of an ongoing iterative switching between qualitative and quantitative perspectives. Most MMMR-designs contain a series of mutually dependent steps of data collection, transformation, e.g. in the quantitizing and statistical analysis of unstandardized interview data which are subsequently augmented by interpretive analyses of the initial transcripts. Such iterative sequences of data analysis depend on the systematic organization of their underlying structure or ‘narrative’, which, as Bazeley pointed out, also concerns the process of writing up results: The conventional format for research reports and articles usually separates different methods approaches and theoretical perspectives, which may impede a close integration of methods and results. Bazeley instead argued for a primary orientation by substantive aspects of a given research question to facilitate a more profound connection.
In her keynote presentation Sarah Irwin (University of Leeds) used an array of research examples to show how MMMR can serve to solve ‚puzzles‘ of data-analysis and interpretation, while at the same time addressing threats to validity. As Irwin pointed out, mixed approaches not only often provide solutions for puzzling research questions, but make possible the discovery of such issues in the first place. This plays an especially important role in addressing the often subtle and unanticipated differences between everyday language and sense making and the concepts and terminology applied by social scientists. Using an example from social stratification research, she showed how standardized research instruments employing the notion of ‘class’ showed a decreasing salience of socioeconomic classification in participants self-descriptions, while qualitative data revealed that such classifications did in fact play a central role, but were conceived through different everyday concepts. In cases like this, method integration can play a decisive role in reflecting the theory-laden character of ordinary language as well as scientific concepts and operationalizations, helping researchers to discover systematic ambiguities in ostensibly unproblematic everyday concepts and avoiding the danger of distorting the social phenomena under study by superimposing scientific concepts on emic sense making.
Keynote speaker Susanne Vogl (University of Vienna) focused on a cetral challenge of integrated data-analysis: how can the combination of different analysis perspectives and techniques create ‘surplus’ knowledge that goes beyond a mere summing up of partial results? Two main processes were highlighted in Vogl’s presentation, namely the discovery of multidimensionality of empirical material and the subsequent ‘consolidation’ of discovered structures and patterns into new analytical categories and concepts. These basic analytical strategies, argued Vogl, cannot only be applied when combining multiple data sets, but instead can be highly relevant for deconstructing the and appreciating the complexity in a single data source. As an example, Vogl presented a study on the cognitive capabilities and communicative styles of school children, which was build around non-standardized material from group discussions. The analysis showed a complex interplay of quantitative (word counts, turn taking, etc.) and qualitative (analysis of speech content and interaction patterns) methods, resulting in a detailed analysis of age-specific differences and especially highlighted the interactions between individual- and group-level phenomena. As Vogl pointed out, such strategies for mixed analysis may also help to create a more nuanced and reflexive use of the distinction between qualitative and quantitative data, which is often applied in a reductionist manner.
On May 25th, Johannes Schmitt of the German Institute for Development Evaluation (DEval) presented current methodological developments in the area of evaluation research and method integration. His presentation focused on the concept of ‘causal mechanisms’ and its importance in theory-based impact-evaluations. According to this concept, the quality and explanatory power of causal analyses depends heavily on the inclusion of detailed investigation of causal processes, beyond a mere input-output-oriented assessment of effects. This is especially true, argued Schmitt, in cases where experimental designs are not an option for practical and or ethical reasons, as is often the case with international development cooperation. The combination of methods for causal mechanism analysis is currently mainly discussed in comparative political science under the label of ‘multimethod’ research, while the ‘mixed methods’ literature focused around education and health research seems less interested in the concept, despite considerable commonalities in the methodological issues discussed. Thus, Schmitt’s talk also provided an opportunity to discuss differences and similarities between different conceptualizations of method integration. An evaluation project, currently in its planning- and design-stage at DEval, served as an illustrative example to discuss the strengths and limitations of different qualitative and quantitative approaches in the evaluation and impact-assessment of international development programs.
In addition to the keynote and pre-conference presentations, the network meeting was used for discussing current publications and projects among the network members. The prospective founding of a working group on method integration within the German Sociological Association, as currently in preparation by several network members, was among the core topics of the meeting.
Letzte Änderung: 5. June 2019