Complex Teams and Qualitative Research

 

There were many pathways that led me to Qualitative Research Reconstructed (QR-R?). Certainly one was my recent project examining the issues of complex teams and qualitative research. The outcome of this work is a book that will be published by Oxford University Press sometime in the near future, but more to the point of this blog—identifying and raising to the fore my concerns about complex teams and qualitative research was yet another way I became aware of my interests in reconstructing qualitative research at its roots.

One of the great things about taking on a new project is the way it sometimes focuses light on earlier thinking that was lost in the someplace in the scuffle of other work. Although my meandering into this area was sparked by work on multiple experiences with teams, I was half way through the manuscript when I suddenly connected the dots in a new and deeper way through making connections to “the interpretive zone”, writing I had done at the end of graduate school with friend and mentor Liora Bresler (Wasser & Bresler, 1996).

In this piece, “Working in the Interpretive Zone: Conceptualizing Collaboration in Qualitative Research Teams”, we examined the interpretive processes of a qualitative research team of which Bresler was the leader and I was a member. We identified the “interpretive zone” as a place where the team negotiated meaning in that study of arts education in elementary schools. The interpretive zone, as we described it, was a place where contradictions abounded and contextual were variables were often in flux. Constructing meaning in the zone required conversation that worked down through multiple inhibiting frameworks. That work published in 1996 had pretty much stayed in the background of my life until now as I thought about complex teams in qualitative research.

Ironically, it was new distant friends I was meeting in my literature search on team issues that turned me back in this direction. Three pieces in particular, re-introduced me to my own work and showed me how it was being extended. Let me introduce you to these three distant friends (in the backwards order I discovered there work):

First there was Mauthner and Doucet (2008), ‘Knowledge Once Divided Can be Hard to Put Together Again’: An Epistemological Critique of Collaborative and Team-Based Research Practices, published in Sociology in 2008 (Mauthner & Doucet, 2008). This intriguing article pointed out how “normative team-based research practices embody foundational principles” that are often at odds with the “postfoundational epistemological practices” (p. 971).

Proceeding this unique piece was Elizabeth Creamer from Virginia Tech who discussed “Interpretive Processes in Collaborative Research (2002). She conducted a content analysis of four accounts in the literature of collaborative team processes, ours being one in this group, to create a model of collaborative interpretive processes. The four steps of her model included: 1) dialogue; 2) familiarity; 3) collective consciousness; and 4) engaging differences in perspectives (Creamer, 2003).

Finally, in this process I also discovered Gerstl-Pepin and Gunzenhauser (2002). They described the group processes of a team studying the North Carolina A+ Schools Program. This was a highly complicated qualitative research team process composed of multiple layers. The many layers of interaction and the many kinds of players created inherent contradictions that were explored in dialogic manner.

This handful of three articles by authors who followed the interpretive zone helped me to see how that piece began a conversation that I was now returning to through the continuing study of complex teams. In that earlier piece I had focused in on one section of the work a team does, whereas now I was considering the whole of team work from initiation of a project to completion. The three articles here do not in any way constitute the whole of authors one can consider when thinking about qualitative research and team work, but they were important re-beginning points for me. I hope someday to meet them in person! Thank you for your work.

 

Creamer, E. (2003). Interpretive processes in collaborative research. Academic Exchange Quarterly(3), 179.

Gerstl-Pepin, C. I., & Gunzenhauser, M. G. (2002). Collaborative team ethnography and the paradoxes of interpretation. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education (QSE), 15(2), 137.

Mauthner, N. S., & Doucet, A. (2008). ‘Knowledge Once Divided Can Be Hard to Put Together Again’: An Epistemological Critique of Collaborative and Team-Based Research Practices. Sociology, 42(5), 971.

Wasser, J. D., & Bresler, L. (1996). Working in the Interpretive Zone: Conceptualizing Collaboration in Qualitative Research Teams. Educational Researcher, 25(5), 5-15.