This post is in the Method category

The Method ©Colin Webber 2009

"The Method" ©Colin Webber 2009

The method adopted in this research uses a combination of techniques focussed on drawing out observation and perception of my own experience, and assessing these in relation to the world around me.  In short there were four main elements feeding into autoethnography as the central mode of exploration.

1. Observations were made of interactions between myself and those with whom I work musically, in situ and in stimulated recall or interview situations. This allowed me to see the social structures of musical “work” interactions as they occurred, but one step removed via video recordings.  Observations of verbal and non-verbal language were key to this method as they exposed differences between my own use and understanding, and that of those around me.

2. Participants completed self-report tests to ascertain their levels of autistic traits (Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, Skinner, Martin & Clubley, 2001) and empathy (Baron-Cohen & Wheelwright, 2004), as compared to my own.  This gave me an indication of the “control” levels of those around me, and assisted in my own understanding of the traits as they manifest in myself.

3. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with participants to discuss the interactions that we shared and to seek their observations of working methods and communications. Some of these were video taped, others yielded immediate written observations or blogs.

4. The literature on autism and music composition, cognition and perception was under constant scrutiny, both explaining and stimulating the observation processes.  For example a reference to alexithymia in the literature explained an observation of a difference of emotive response to music, which in turn prompted further interviews, surveys and autoethnographic exploration.

Autoethnographic writing, in the form of blogs, emails and “notes to self” was occurring throughout the process,written somewhat in the form of a diary, dealing with both musical and personal events, as they were in many instances difficult to separate.  As these, many of which became the black pages, were placed within the Wordpress system, links began to form via the the YARPP plugin and a second set of blog posts with primarily analytical writing was begun.

These data have been placed into categories through thematic analysis, resulting in both reflective and analytical perspectives and insights.  The “pool” of data, analysis and reflection contains complex interrelated threads eventually leading to multiple exit points or Implications for various interested parties.

Note that the modes of exploration indicated above all involve observations of others, despite the central approach being autoethnographic.  This includes the autism literature, which frequently compares diagnosed with undiagnosed subjects.  A key point to me understood is that my diagnosis is recent.  I did not know what “being autistic” means, and finding ways to compare myself to others has been important in coming to terms with a “different me”.  This process, which was a times traumatic, is described in a previous post, Designer Labels.

Feyerabend advocates the view that there is no infallible methodology in research (Berg, 2000) and, while I do not wish to begin with an apologia, this has been a comforting thought in the face of a vast literature on “how to do it and how not to do it”. The methodologies I have selected for this research have been chosen because of their potential to generate both highly relevant and specific questions and to provide converging evidence in response to them. Janesick (2000, p. 379) uses the term “credibility” rather than validity in the context of qualitative research and promotes the concept of crystallization instead of triangulation, which itself has been described as an alternative to validation. Other researchers also advocate the use of multiple methodologies of data collection to improve the internal validity and reliability of the data (Heath & Hindmarsh, 2002, p. 109; Maykut & Morehouse, 1994, pp. 62-66). The methods in use, with their basis in first person observation, are strongly aimed at developing that credibility and multi-angled reflection on personal truth that can be read in a societal context.

Autoethnography is rapidly developing and changing. Review of recent journals indicates an extremely diverse, and in some cases controversial, range of styles, and there would appear to be a degree of polarisation occurring between “evoking” and “analysing”. This is reflected in Leon Anderson’s 2006 paper Analytic Autoethnography (Anderson, 2006a) and the responses it generated (Anderson, 2006b; Denzin, 2007; Ellis & Bochner, 2006). Ubiquitous to the method however, is the explicit acknowledgement of the researcher’s story, not as an apology for researcher bias, but celebrating the intrinsic value of the individual storyteller’s experience (Muncey, 2005). While a wide variety of styles and creative techniques are currently being employed in this approach, I consider it most appropriate to adopt a style of expression that perhaps may assist the reader to relate on a personal level but still position the individual experience within a social context.

Etherington (2004) discusses a number of traps and pitfalls in the methodologies of autoethnography that have been addressed in consultation with supervisors, ethics advisors and other research practitioners. Not least among these are issues concerning the anonymity and protection of the “characters” within an author’s stories, and possible risks to career advancement or professional standing associated with self-disclosure.

Further details of the method and reference to the literature have been given in the Methodology section of this document which follows, however a specific issue of researcher bias is dealt with here. Concerns have been raised in various forums regarding the cognitive sensitivity and objectivity of a researcher with a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome observing behaviour, particularly non-verbal and cognitive behaviour. This, in terms of the reflection of a researcher’s subjective disposition (King & Tuckwell, 1983, p. 5) has been of prime consideration within the conduct of the research. The selection of methods that involve pre-validated tools and an assisted observation including video based analysis of interactions, separates the observing/transcribing process from the analysing/interpreting process (ten Have, 1999) both in time and observational method. The generation of video records for analysis, along with the attention to detail that is a recognised trait of Asperger’s Syndrome (Baron-Cohen, 2002; Gray & Attwood, 1999) has created an environment that is well suited to a critical observation process. It is not expected that the interpretation of these observations will be free of researcher bias nor that it should be so, however the researcher’s access to empirical, referential data in the form of the video recording and the opportunity for transcriptions does assist in the parallel between the experiential and analytical.

Leave a Reply