Heritage studies methods


In Chapter 3, I developed a holistic model of living heritage, based on a dialogical paradigm of heritage.

In this chapter, I will describe the methodological process and approach for this research, following from the conceptual framework.

First, I will explain how the conceptual framework has influenced the research questions, paradigm, and methodology.

I will then focus on my choice of research methods, based on the research questions, practical considerations and validity issues.

In the rest of this chapter, I will cover:

  • the three research methods I adopted
  • ethical issues
  • data analysis and presentation
  • reflexivity
  • validity and reliability and judgment criteria

Methodological Framework

The conceptual framework of living heritage has been a sensitizing heuristic tool to guide my interpretation.

Because of the holistic, dialogic, and people-centered nature of this framework, the resulting research framework is based on a:

Choosing a Qualitative Methodology

Theoretically, the living heritage model is grounded in humanistic disciplines, such as sociology, anthropology and philosophy.

As a result, the most appropriate research methodology is qualitative.

Many research scholars (Maykut and Morehouse, 1994; Mason, 2002; Marshall and Rossman, 2010; Hammersley, 2013; Sparkes and Smith, 2014) posit that qualitative methodology is:

  • based around people
  • flexible and exploratory as data emerge as the research progresses
  • inductive, meaning that, rather than trying to prove a general theory it builds a view of the phenomenon under scrutiny starting from the data
  • interested in the social context from which the data emerge and it focuses on a few individuals, rather than a big number of participants.

Because people are central in living heritage, qualitative research is appropriate because it is, as Marshall and Rossman (2010, p. 2) posit, ‘pragmatic, interpretive, and grounded in the lived experiences of people’.

Sensitising Conceptual Framework

In this research, although I followed a sensitizing conceptual framework, which was deductive in the sense that it guided my gaze, the analysis (in particular the way I decided to structure and present the data through timeframes of transition) was inductive as it was guided by the data as they emerged, primarily from the video analysis (see footnote one at the bottom).

According to Sparkes and Smith (2014), qualitative methodology is based on a relativist ontology; subjectivist, transactional, and constructionist epistemology and has a hermeneutical and dialectic approach.

Relativist Ontology and Constructionist epistemology

This research, in line with its qualitative methodological approach, is based on a relativist ontology, as opposed to a realist one.

A realist ontology is based on the assumption that social reality exists outside of social agents (Bilgrami, 2002; Smith, 2008; King and Horrocks, 2010).

For instance, a positivist paradigm is based on a realist ontology, as Sparkes (1992a, p. 20) notes, ‘positivism postulates that the social world external to individual cognition is a real-world made up of hard, tangible and relatively immutable facts’.

As my conceptual framework revolves around people, I am more interested in the discourse that these social agents create in relation to heritage, rather than any possible social reality.

Hence, I have adopted a relativist ontology, which, as Bilgrami (2002, p. 21) explains, is ‘unperturbed by the disagreement over truth between two believers, relativizing the truth of the disagreed upon belief to each of their points of view’.

As a result, I have adopted a constructionist epistemology, according to which knowledge is constructed from the interaction between ‘the investigator and the object of investigation’ (Guba and Lincoln, 1994, p. 114) in a transactional and subjectivist way.

According to Mason, (2002, p. 3) qualitative research is ‘grounded in a philosophical position which is broadly ‘interpretivist’ . . . concerned with how the social world is interpreted, understood, experienced, produced or constituted’.

Interpretive Paradigm

Consequently, I have adopted an interpretive paradigm. Mason (2002) and Hammersley (2013) suggest that an interpretivist paradigm revolves around how people see the world they live in and how they interpret it.

The focus is idiographic, meaning ‘trying to understand particular people and events in specific socio-historical circumstances’ (Hammersley, 2013, p. 27).

Mason states that researchers who employ the interpretive paradigm can use texts, interviews or objects as sources of data, but all approaches see people as ‘social actors, or active social agents’ (Mason, 2002, p. 56).

According to Sparkes (1992b, p. 24), ‘a range of research traditions can be located within the interpretive paradigm that go under various names including: . . . qualitative research’.

I chose the research methods based on research questions that emerged from the literature review and the conceptual framework (as mentioned in 3.8), following a qualitative methodology and an interpretive paradigm.

Choice of Research Methods

I linked the research questions to the methods following Mason (2002, p. 30), who posits that ‘your methodological strategy is the logic by which you go about answering your research questions’.

Table 7 – Illustrates my choice of research methods, according to the questions.
From the research of Dr Valeria Lo Iacono (2019)

I chose to select more than one research method, in order to capture the complexity of the phenomenon of raqs sharqi heritage from different angles, to understand, as Maykut and Morehouse state (1994, p. 146), ‘the phenomenon of interest . . . from various points of view and ways of knowing’.

Also, the idea was to give ‘strong credibility to the findings’ (Maykut and Morehouse, 1994, p. 146), in the event of convergence of themes emerging from the different methods and, as Mason maintains (2002, p. 33), to ‘enhance the quality of the data through some non-realist form of ‘triangulation’ of method’.

In the following section, I will delve deeper into each method, the reasons for choosing them, and the sampling process.


1 – As Elo and Kyngäs (2008, p. 109) explain, ‘an approach based on inductive data moves from the specific to the general, so that particular instances are observed and then combined into a larger whole or general statement . . . A deductive approach is based on an earlier theory or model and therefore it moves from the general to the specific’.

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