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Reliability Qualitative Research
According to Mason (2002, p. 39), in qualitative research:
Reliability involves the accuracy of your research methods and techniques . . . if your research is valid, it means that you are observing, identifying or ‘measuring’ what you say you are.Mason (2002)
Validity and reliability for qualitative research are intended differently from the way they are intended in quantitative research, where ‘facts’ can be measured and researchers hold onto the idea of a truth beyond individual subjectivities.
As mentioned at the beginning of this chapter (4.2), I adopted a relativist ontology, a constructionist epistemology and an interpretivist paradigm.
Hence, I cannot adhere to the quantitative idea of truth.
Coherence to Create a Reality
Instead, according to Sparkes (1992b, p. 31), truth for interpretivists is a matter of coherence, a matter of internal relations within the research process, rather than correspondence with an external reality, which is difficult to verify outside of human subjectivity. Sparkes states that:
truth . . . is what we make it to be based upon shared visions and common understandings that are socially constructed’.Sparkes (1992)
Is Validity Possible for Qualitative Research
Indeed, not everyone agrees on the idea of validity for qualitative research.
For instance, Wolcott (1994, p. 366) mentions the ‘absurdity of validity’ and argues that instead, he seeks:
A quality that points more to identifying critical elements and wringing plausible interpretations from them [rather than pursuing] . . . the Truth.Wolcott (1994)
Using Coherence as an Interpretivist
It is the internal coherence mentioned by Sparkes (1992b) that I sought for this project, rather than reliability and validity in a quantitative way.
By recording the steps of my research and analysis, I tried to build what Maykut and Morehouse (1994, p. 146) refer to as ‘an audit trail’, which shows accuracy and coherence in the methods chosen.
Moreover, I used more than one research method, to verify one set of data against another, in a process of triangulation.
In the context of this project, however, triangulation is not intended in the quantitative meaning of the word.
Indeed, I agree with Silverman (2013, p. 288) that triangulation is not satisfactory to establish validity in qualitative research because ‘a constructionist model is simply not compatible with the assumption that ‘true fixes on reality’ can be obtained separately from particular ways of looking at it’.
Instead, I use the term triangulation in its broadest sense of ‘a combination of methods to explore one set of research questions’ (Mason, 2002, p. 190), in order to have a more rounded view of a phenomenon, from the point of view of a relativist ontology and constructionist epistemology.
Analyzing Dance Videos for Research
In particular, I found helpful the comparison of my observations and analysis of the dance in the videos, with opinions held by other practitioners (gathered via interviews and by reading texts written by practitioners).
I first watched and analyzed the videos and then I read other practitioners’ opinions about the dance style of the dancers I had watched in those videos.
Finally, I compared my notes (a research diary I kept with the observations of the videos) with the opinions expressed in other texts, to see how my opinions compared with the ideas of others.
The aim of this comparison was to connect my observations with a shared discourse within the raqs sharqi community, the socially constructed understanding mentioned by Sparkes (1992).
Deviant Case Analysis
Another principle I used for validity is what Silverman (2013) refers to as ‘deviant case analysis’.
Initially, I tried to include in my list of participants practitioners who either do not care about the culture that the dance comes from, or who want to innovate completely without seeking any connections with the cultural roots of raqs sharqi.
The problem was, however, that I could not find anybody from this group who wanted to volunteer, for the very fact that they are not interested in the culture behind the dance and, therefore, they are not interested in being involved in a project about its cultural heritage either.
Similarly, people who are not interested in the culture of origin of raqs sharqi are unlikely to write anything about this aspect of the dance. So, all the texts I could find were from people who cared about the cultural background of raqs sharqi.
There are raqs sharqi students and practitioners who are only interested in the leisure and fitness aspects of this dance, but the fact that they could not be included in this research does not make it less valid.
Instead, I focused on those practitioners who are interested in the culture of raqs sharqi, to see if there are shared understandings within this group or a common discourse, relevant to living heritage.
I managed to find deviant cases though, during the video analysis.
These came in the form of Egyptian raqs sharqi dancers whose style is atypical and so unique that they can be considered deviant cases. In particular, they were of the type which, according to Silverman (2013, p. 293), supported my findings because they were identified as the exception to the ‘rule’.
The Issue of Generalizability in Research
Finally, another issue connected with validity and reliability is generalizability which, according to Mason (2002, p. 39):
Involves the extent to which you can make some form of wider claim on the basis of your research and analysis.Mason (2002)
In quantitative research, this concept is commonplace and is based on statistical sampling, such as random/probability, in which ‘each element in the population has an equal and independent chance of selection in the sample’ (Kumar 2011, p. 197).
Qualitative research instead, is inductive and based on a small number of samples so a statistical sampling is not possible. According to Sparkes and Smith (2014) though, it is possible to generalise case studies to theoretical propositions.
I have done so, by connecting the findings from the case study of raqs sharqi to the conceptual framework of living cultural heritage, which is derived from the literature.
Following the data collection and analysis, I have refined the conceptual framework and then proposed that this could be applied to investigate other forms of physical cultures from a cultural heritage perspective.
So, I have used the theory (or etic perspective) to inform the field (or emic perspective) and vice versa, and this relationship has helped me to cautiously generalize the findings from my research.
In this perspective, my research was guided by the theory, but the data that emerged shaped the way the data was presented and also began to inform the theory that initially influenced it.
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