By Madison Williams
Despite Mother Nature's best efforts in keeping us apart, we finally kicked off the Spring 2019 semester in English 713 on Monday, February 4th with our first face-to-face meeting. Adjusting to life after the polar vortex was difficult; we were faced with untangling the confusing mess our weekly schedule had become and catching up to where we hoped to be at this point in the course. Although we had all communicated in the preceding weeks, this would be the true inaugural class, thus, it began with an abridged introduction to the course.
This seminar, a.k.a. English 713: Research Methods in Rhetorics, Literacies, and Community Engagement, will be centered on the practice of methodological approaches to qualitative research, specifically in relation to the field of rhetoric, writing, and literacy studies. In order to achieve a practice-driven approach to studying research, we have the opportunity to collaboratively design, implement, and conduct a preliminary analysis of our own qualitative research project. The overarching goal of our research project will (hopefully) be to get a sense of the diverse languages, dialects, composing practices, and resources UWM students use in their daily lives and as they move across different academic and/or non-academic spaces.
Our objective for this class period was to discuss the readings we had completed over the past week and, more importantly, embark on the first steps of designing our Linguistic Landscape Project. We began by diving headfirst into a brainstorming session in an effort to come up with potential research questions we can spend this semester studying. Not only were we tasked with deciding on a research question, we also had to consider how we would conduct our study, what methods we would use, what population we would focus on as participants, and a number of other potential variables. Most importantly, we had to keep in mind, what would be realistic to complete within our class constraints?
This initial brainstorming session was supplemented by the week's readings in Qualitative Communication Research Methods (Lindolf and Taylor), which included Chapters 4-6 and focused on implementing research projects, studying social action, and qualitative interviewing. We considered how we would incorporate purposeful sampling, balancing research demands, and preparing for different variables or unknowns. Our discussion revolved around how to approach the basic questions that would serve as the foundation for our research project, such as what methods from our readings appeared the most useful and realistic for our data collection. The result of our time spent generating ideas and conceptualizing potential research questions was a labyrinth of interconnected and conflicting thoughts (pictured below). Although there was no clear focus in sight, we had an abundance of promising and creative material to work with as we forge ahead.
We also spent time exploring Kim Tallbear's article "Standing With and Speaking as Faith: A Feminist-Indigenous Approach to Inquiry", which introduced us to a new framework for thinking about Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) that advocated for "standing with" and opposed to "giving back". Tallbear proposed researchers think of the community they engage with as "colleagues" and not "subjects", focus on creating reciprocal relationships, study "the colonizers rather than the colonized", and demonstrate "objectivity in action" (Tallbear).
This article produced a lively discussion, but our class was left wondering about certain aspects of the "standing with" concept: who exactly was the author's intended audience? Is it possible for communities to really benefit from studies as much as researchers? How can we keep this critical lens in mind when conducting our own research? Ultimately, Tallbear offered a number of considerations our class found useful as we move forward, such as democratic knowledge production, negotiating risks and benefits, and opening own minds to working in non-standard ways.
In the end, after discussing all of the factors we must take into consideration, potential research questions, and our personal research interests, the class concluded without any clear answers. The monumental undertaking of creating an agreement on a singular research question between 11 headstrong graduate students proved to be too much for one day's work. Undeterred, we decided to spend the next week narrowing in on potential research questions and working on our class Collaboration Contract to come back together to negotiate a consensus during the following class period.
Join us this semester as we ride the roller coaster of conducting qualitative research on our fellow UWM students. What will our research project be? Will we ever agree on a research question? Will the stress of this massive endeavor tear us apart? Stay tuned to find out the answer to this sixty-four-thousand-dollar question, or at the very least, what our class comes up with next week - same place, same time.