Understanding What People Say

Qualitative Analysis and The Immigrant Experience

Arent Greve and Janet W. Salaff study Chinese immigrants in Hong Kong and Vancouver, exploring how people adapt to new times and new cultures, and how they use emerging technology to improve their lives. This research requires many interviews, spanning many years. A key challenge is simply to hear what people say to discover and understand patterns of thought that recur in different interviews, and to understand how attitudes and practices change over time.

Arent Greve (Norwegian School of Economics and Business) explains that

This work entails transcribing interviews and establishing a case card for each respondent. Then reading throughthe interviews, text is coded for underlying concepts (variables) and their values. Some of these are general concepts or data on respondents and their responses to questions during interviews or focus groups, some are secondary materials.

Analysis begins as the researchers create links between notes that represent the respondents, notes that represent concepts that appear in the interviews, and notes that represent research questions. Some questions were anticipated from the beginning, others might emerge in the course of the research.

Analyzing these materials I usethe powerful searches that can be set up in Agents. These searches can test relations between concepts and also test questions aboutrespondents by classifying them into different types of classes based on the concepts. Since agents can be set up in advance, they can also contain searches that testhypotheses, then I can watch them grow as I analyze the data.

Greve and Salaff use Tinderbox in conjunction with specialized software dedicated to sociological research. They find that "Tinderbox is more flexible than specialized programs for qualitative data analysis," chiefly because Tinderbox does not start from a fixed conception of how your data ought to be analyzed.

Tinderbox requires you to a larger extent to design your own analysis, which may be a little more demanding inthe beginning. However, once a design is set up, the execution is much more efficient and the flexibility enables analyses that are either impossible, or very cumbersome using these other programs.

Tinderbox also plays a role in the early stages of research planning. "When I set up a new project," Greve explains, "I use Tinderbox for all kinds of notes and background material that may enter the project later. These include notes at meetings, secondary on-line materialsand references, notes on organizing the project, tasks that should be done." Here, as in the research itself, flexibility is essential. New funding opportunities arise unexpectedly. World events intervene in long-term research, closing off avenues that once seemed straightforward while presenting new and unexpected opportunities. You can't organize everything in advance; Tinderbox's adaptability is critical.

Also of interest: Social Inquiry

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