There are as few concepts I feel drive my process as a qualitative social researcher immersed in the goings-on at Hospice Grahamstown. Based on Steinar Kvale’s (1996) work, I found some to be very specific to the field I found myself in. I looked for terms that caused me to think not just sensitively, but critically of my own work. Also, to pursue the notion of qualitative research as understanding people in the course of their daily lives. Seeing as my topic is such a sensitive one, I also looked for concepts that represent the ethics behind it. Each is described briefly:
Kvale points out that this term originates from Latin, meaning ‘wandering together with’. I found the notion of conversation very profoundly relevant to my work, and what I learnt, or had the opportunity to learn from some of the people I worked with. The idea of being in a conversation is deeply rooted in the work I have been doing. As a basic mode of interaction between humans, it touches down with the loving and caring theme that underlies all my fieldwork, and the everyday work of Hospice (Kvale, 1996). It is the sheer simplicity of a conversation with a stranger that I find to be a lost cause, but an important one for the processes I have undertaken.
• Interviewer as a Miner
In this metaphor for the qualitative researcher, Kvale (1996) speaks of the interviewer is a miner who unearths valuable metal. “The knowledge is waiting in the subjects’ interior to be uncovered, uncontaminated by the miner. The interviewer digs nuggets of data or meanings out of a subject’s pure experiences”. The two italicised terms are relevant because they specifically point to the ideas of qualitative research and participatory production.
• Interviewer as a Traveller
Kvale’s (1996) second analogy sees the interviewer as a traveller on a journey that leads to a tale to be told upon returning home. “The interviewer-traveller wanders through the landscape and enters into conversations with people encountered. The interviewer wanders along with the local inhabitants, asks questions that lead the subjects to tell their own stories of their lived world” (Kvale, 1996: 4). Also within this analogy, the interviewer doesn’t just pick up knowledge, but, might change too; “The journey might instigate a process of reflection that leads the interviewer to new ways of self-understanding, as well as uncovering previously taken-for-granted values and customs in the traveller’s home country” (Kvale, 1996: 4). This is relevant to my experience as a qualitative interviewer.
• Subjects’ life worlds
The notion of a subject’s life-world is important in the research I did. Edmund Husserl was one of the first to conceptualise this term: “All of us together, belong to the world as living with one another in the world; and the world is our world, valid for our consciousness as existing precisely through this ‘living together’” (1970: 108-109). Kvale (1996: 11) notes that subjects themselves formulate dialogue around their own conceptions of their lived world; “The sensitivity of the interview and its closeness to the subject’s lived world can lead to knowledge that can be used to enhance the human condition.” The key phrase ‘human condition’ draws especially near to Hospice, and the very sensitive life world’s I have so far been introduced to.
An issue that takes up most of my work due to the often encountered sensitive subject of death and dying. In terms of qualitative research and interviewing, I found two of Kvale’s (1996) terms to be specifically worth incorporating. See below:
• Informed Consent
Having gone through Grahamstown Hospice in the planning and pitching of this project, through the national representative or ‘Hospice Palliative Care Association of South Africa’ (HPCA), as well as having asked each contributor for consent to their contribution, I believe I have stayed true to this ethical framework. Keeping the subjects in mind during each phase of the fieldwork is what keeps the integrity of the entire procedure intact, as they have “the right to withdraw from the study at any time” (Kvale, 1996: 112).
“Confidentiality in research implies that private data identifying the subjects will not be reported. If a study involves publishing information potentially recognisable to others, the subjects need to agree to the release of identifiable information” (Kvale, 1996: 114). This is an imperative note in the work I am, and have been, doing. Many of the patients [in the study] are HIV positive, and do not want their status known by people in the community; their neighbours, and in some cases, their families. Similarly, as Kvale (1996: 114) notes, the protection of identities through name-changes is important in publishing or producing. This notion of confidentiality, consent and ethics is perhaps the most important guideline in the line of work I am participating.
Qualitative researchers aim to gather in-depth understanding into human behaviour, and the reasons for that behaviour (Adler, 1987). They attempt to understand the world sociologically, through the eyes of their subjects. The aim is to explore deeper social meanings, and understand people in the course of their daily lives. The qualitative method investigates the why and how of decision making, not just the what, when, and where (Adler, 1987).
Ethnography represents a research strategy that is of particular interest both to the qualitative social researcher and the audio documentarist. It is the collecting of data through participant observation, interviews and questionnaires, etc. It aims to describe the nature of the people it studies. Through such participation and observation, a researcher gains understanding and knowledge of a subject, his or her circumstances and life-story. The audio documentarist can be seen in a similar right. Matthew Erlich (2003: 4) talks about David Isay, a radio documentary producer, in a way that feeds this point: “His chosen medium is radio, which he says is ideal for ‘people who can’t necessarily communicate through writing to tell their stories’ and for telling ‘intimate, emotional’ tales aimed at ‘introducing people to people’.”Ethnography and qualitative research is in essence about people and the story they have to tell about themselves.
In all these processes, the audio documentarist (which is me), is also the social researcher in the field immersing himself in the life-world of the subject. The next step forward from philosophy and theory is the fact that the audio journalist seeking to do a documentary uses his research to script a narrative. By using the tools of ethnography and qualitative research, researchers and documentarists alike can uncover in depth issues, stories and ultimately content for social change.
The key research tool of qualitative social research generally, and ethnography more particularly, is the qualitative interview. In ‘ InterViews’, Steinar Kvale argues that the main purpose of the qualitative interview is to “… gather descriptions of the life-world of the interviewee with respect to interpretation of the meaning of the described phenomena” (Kvale, 1996: 174). Interviews are thus the mainstay of the audio documentarist, as he or she goes about a qualitative process for a better chance at social change.
• Adler, P. A. & Adler, P. (1987). Membership roles in field research. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
• Ehrlich, Matthew. (2003). Poetry on the margins: Ghetto Life 101, Remorse and the new radio documentary. Sage Publications: London.
• Husserl, Edmund. (1970). The Crisis of the European Sciences. pp. 108-109
• Kvale, Steinar. 1996. InterViews: An Introduction to Qualitative Research Interviewing. Sage Publications, Inc. California
Helluva fortunate to have grown up living in some of Southern Africa’s most beautiful places; from Cape Town, where I was born, and sandy Arniston Bay, to the shores of the great Zambezi, the Okavango, and Namibia, with a stopover in Jo’burg for some big city life, and boarding school in the hills of KwaZulu Natal. After a year of making beds and cleaning toilets in Scotland, scoffing one pound noodles on the streets of London, Swiss skiing, and Thai island-hopping, I set my sights on Rhodes University. Here I finished a Bachelor of Journalism & Media Studies while blissfully and barefootedly dwelling in the revelry of small town living, and learning to navigate the local Pick n Pay with my eyes closed. I have a deep love for this extraordinary country & continent, her people and her beautiful, fragile wilderness.