Sunday, January 30, 2011

Qualitative research-what is this animal?

Mostly I'm confused about what qualitative research is and how it is supposed to function.  For our readings this week, we have a little information about Pledged, a book whose cover boasts the chests of three coeds.
 OK, I'll buy that these girls went to college, but what this has to do with rhet/comp from there eludes me.  Wat this book written from a scholarly point of view? (I don't think so.) My impression is that the author, Alexandra Robbins, has found a niche that she can exploit--but not in a scholarly way. 
Then there is Storm in the Mountains by James Moffett.  While this book at least obliquely deals with the teaching of language arts, again, I don't see it as research into composition.  It is a case study of community reaction against a textbook series, written by the author of the textbook series. 

What's going on here?  My suspicion:  Writing instructors are, I believe, lovers of the book, of reading, of language.  I'll bet most of us read a lot.  We love a good story, and we have chosen a discipline in which we can try to pass that love on to our students.  Then we read to keep up in our discipline-- and we are confronted by the stereotypical bad academic writing: nominalizations, passive tense, obfuscation, the use of big words for the sake of sounding profound, etc. etc.  So what are we to do?  We've fallen into our own trap of bad writing in order to get published in order to get promotions or tenure.  So we look to other disciplines (anthropology?) for help, and find the qualitative study.  At its best, the qualitative study is a well-told story that also sheds some light on the discipline.  At its not-so-great, the qualitative study has bad metaphors, disconnected narrative, and very little scholarly insight. 

I don't have a solution to this dilemma.  I think that scholarly writing should have a point, should advance thinking in the discipline, should be, at least to some extent, verifiable.  If it tells a story, so much the better.


  1. Moffett's book shows an historical approach to qualitative study in literacy studies in general, not composition. I suggested Pledged to show a journalistic style in contrast to My Freshman Year.

  2. Got it. Finishing the Stake book (i.e. the last third) really helped me to pull together the aims and technique of qualitative research.