Today’s session, which focused on writing about our data in new ways, generated such wonderful collective insights into some of the approaches, assumptions and anxieties that we bring (often unconsciously) to the process of writing with our data. Fascinatingly, for each of us this meant something different: some of us had ‘forgotten’ to bring our data; some had deliberately left them behind; others had beside them tomes of neatly typed pages of transcriptions or screeds of handwritten notes, drawings and scribbles (either their own of those of research participants).
One of the really interesting aspects of writing with our data (in mind) was how despite our different disciplines, topics, approaches to data, and stages of analysis and academic journeys, so many of us came to very similar places when we began to work with our data ‘freely.’ Central to this was drawing on the awareness of the relevance of ourselves to our writing, and our endeavour to free ourselves from fears of critical imagined audiences and being sufficiently academic/intellectual/scientific. Having written independently on our own (with the focus on writing with our data in mind) for five minutes or so, we each shared this experience with a partner. Mine bravely revealed that she had not brought data, had been terrified of her data since returning from the field as an ethnographer, and was actively avoiding ‘confronting’ her data. However, she described just how ‘freeing’ was the experience of writing with her data in mind without its overbearing physical presence. This resonated with me. I had no data with me. I found myself writing about what it meant not to have data physically, materially, beside me as I wrote. Did this mean that I had no data? What is the part of imagining, of recollection, of re-representation freed from the tangible, tactile presence of data? Like my partner, I experienced this ‘setting to oneside’ as freeing, liberating, energizing: an engagement with unknowing and all the possibilities that that can present.
We hope that group members will add their own thoughts from this week’s session to the blog, in their own words, capturing the flavour, the pooled collective insights into theorising the data analysis process and our own positionalities. Some of these drew on rich concepts from Maggie Maclure’s ‘shiny data’, for example, as that which glows out at us, demanding to be written about, to the non-shining but nevertheless equally important ‘dormant data’ which one group member referred to.. We pondered the importance to our data writing of finding reflective space, or even paradoxical ‘fertile voids’, expressed fears about ‘killing’ or ‘flattening’ participants’ stories/voices through too sanitised re-tellings in the dominant voice of the researcher/writer.. We loved the allusion to the analogy of writing about our data as akin to wrestling with an octopus.
Several of us identified that in writing about our data, some of the same old anxieties emerge concerning what is legitimate. One group member expressed beautifully his worries about ‘crossing the boundaries’ from the spaces of irrationalized illegitimacy of recollection back to spaces of phenomenological and hermeneutic rigour…We want to hear more!
What we have written here is just a ‘plagiarized’ snap shot of some of our recollections from this fabulous session. There was so much more from everyone else. Please do share your insights in the ‘comments’ section below or feel free to start a new blog post. Whatever you call the post, do refer to it also as ‘Session 5’ so that we keep some sense of a chronological narrative to this blogspace.
Thank-you all for expressing – in different ways – your acute felt senses of the ethical responsibility of the almighty power of the researcher/writer in weaving data into writerly text whether as the teller of stories, or as the decider of knowledges. Whatever approach we take to our data we clearly engage with this as serious business…
Tamsin Hinton-Smith and Rebecca Webb
Activities for Peer-Led session next week:
We have suggested two readings – an article by Maggie MacLure on ‘‘The Wonder of Data’‘, and an article by our very own Rebecca on ‘What is Data?’?’ to help you think about processes of writing your data into meaning. If it is helpful to do so, the discussion could be themed around the questions:
What possibilities emerge by conceptualising writing as a method of (not simply a tool for) analysis?
What is it that the writing process ‘does’ to data?
What space is there (or could there be) in the thesis for using this ‘writing about data’?
We look forward to seeing you and your reflections and writing in the next session!