My doctoral thesis – ‘Moving Beyond Otherness: vealing, centring and inscribing the Polyvocal Subjectivities of African Caribbean Women Across the United Kingdom’ employed a range of innovative research methods and tools to bridge the gaps in existing empirical research about one group of Black women in Britain.
Specifically, I asserted that due to a complex array of factors, African Caribbean women in Britain both strategically and otherwise negotiate a set of highly racialised, gendered and nationalistic subjectivities and, that these subjectivities lie within, outside, and between the historically loaded and pre-coded meta-discourses of Otherness.
Indeed, the very fact that we have found spaces where we can maintain a largely positive sense of Self as Black, British, women, in spite of the pervading legacy of Otherness (spaces that are often ignored or silenced by conventional discourses), emphasises the need for more sophisticated forms of analyses.
Using an eclectic range of research methods to elicit an original set of data, SPSS and NUD*IST4 in particular, this study (re)vealed, (re)centred and (re)inscribed the multifaceted and often paradoxical nature of African Caribbean women's racialised, gendered and nationalistic subjectivities in Britain.
Methodologically then, this study involved a combination of both quantitative and qualitative research traditions, which enabled both the visibility and distinctive nature of British-born African Caribbean women's subjectivities to be documented and explored. NUD*IST4 proved to be a vital instrument to this study throughout the research collection and analysis stages.
Research Design and Collection
My research project involved a total of over one hundred and ten (110) African Caribbean women from six regions of the UK in a combination of research tools - namely, a postal survey, a video screening and a set of face-face group and individual interviews.
As a result, a wealth of data in a variety of forms was collected. In this regard, NUD*IST 4 was particularly useful as it assisted with the storage, management of this large and varied dataset and could cope with the use of SPSS formats. I thoroughly enjoyed doing my fieldwork and had hoped that the ensuing stages would also be enjoyable. In large part, they were - I even enjoyed doing the transcription from the interviews!
This sense of enjoyment carried through with the use of NUD*IST4, especially when the data was finally imported - seeing it set up for the first time as a fully-fledged NUD*IST4 project was an achievement (especially after mastering the setting up of command files!).
It was then relative easy to begin the process of asking questions about the data, finding themes and patterns that were obvious and being surprised at finding those that were not. In particular, I found that the NUD*IST4 program was a great tool for exploration as the searching and coding features provided a great way of scooping up the data for initial and later on for more specific filtering into key patterns and themes.
This stage represented a totally absorbing period where I was fully engaged with the data, reading, and rereading, interpreting, reinterpreting and analysing and reanalysing aspects of the data again and again. It was also a critical stage in the project as it enabled me to identify both the subtle and the explicit commentary by Black women about our varying and often contradictory locations - a key objective of the study.
By (re)vealing what I describe as articulations of Otherness, this study was able to demonstrate how Black women's sense of Self and belonging truly reflects a distinctive, and at times highly subjective, exclusive, provocative and often competing set of Black, British, and gendered discourses.
As a result, there was an array of reactions, which simultaneously elicit positive Self and group affirming attributes, but there were also divisive, contentious and contradictory ones. The sophisticated searching and coding features of NUD*IST4 helped me to tease out these contradictions.
As a result, the study was able to illustrate how Black women (and indeed, all others) have a much more complex set of realities than conventionally perceived and to argue that this demands not only more accurate but also more flexible and critical forms of analyses.
This was an important and successful outcome for this study, which needed to bridge empirical as well as theoretical gaps in the available literature. From my viewpoint, using NUD*IST4, particularly in the exploratory and analytical stages was one of the key factors to the methodological success of the study.
Now that I have successfully completed my thesis - I am working on a number of areas from the data, which I could not cover in my thesis and am in the process of fully updating my project data in NVivo version 2.
The latest generation of QSR products has made using qualitative software programs even easier. It is great to see the ease in which files can now be imported directly into programs and the rich-text format and interactive features of NVivo, such as the conceptual modelling features - though I must confess I still miss the trees in NUD*IST4.
Nonetheless, I would urge researchers to explore the range of qualitative programs offered by QSR as they offer, not only an effective management, storage and searching tool, but they also facilitate key parts of the qualitative enterprise, by enabling the researchers to get up close and personal with their data – the central raison d’être for doing qualitative research.
Just a few final words of advice that I usually give to postgraduate students when training or consulting on the QSR range of products – the most important is, to use the program effectively. By this statement, I mean that new users should first get some understanding of the field of qualitative methodology by reading introductory books and using the array of free demonstration software from QSR; to think long and hard about research design, analysis and presentation before choosing what product to use; to backup raw data files before importing; to ensure that your project is saved correctly and frequently; to utilize the document and the memo feature as a journal/diary and an extremely useful way of tracking and recording your immediate and emerging thoughts and finally, to be selective in use of features whatever program you choose to use - you do not have to use everything - you can and should try them out, but you must be selective and STOP – remember 'it's a PhD, not a Nobel Prize'.