Interpretation interpretive studies are best

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Interpretation Interpretive studies are best understood as attempts to place yourself “in the other person’s shoes.” In other words, the researcher attempts to understand human communication from the point of view of the people doing it. For example, what does meeting with student colleagues to get coffee really mean for those doing it? Is this an opportunity to set up dates for the weekend, to engage in intimate conversation with significant others, to clarify a difficult concept in the communication theory, to get work organized, or some combination of these? Our interest as researchers is not to impose our own interpretation but to capture the interpretations of those involved in a way that our readers will get an accurate understanding. Almost by definition, this will mean reporting the results of your research in the language of your research participants.
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In the case of a student group working on a class project, the research interest thus becomes “What does the group mean by ‘meeting for coffee’?” Obviously, a campus coffee bar provides a common meeting place and the coffee provides a social lubricant, but tea, fruit juice, and soda will also be on the drinks list, so “meeting for coffee” is to be understood not literally as a thirst- quenching experience, but most likely as a metaphor for something else. What is that something else? Careful listening of the type discussed in Chapter 11 will tell us. In the interpretive frame of mind (see, for example, Fish, 1990), the researcher’s questions become more focused on language in use and its meaning and might include such research questions as these: RQ 1 : What metaphors and analogies are most commonly used by students to describe and explain classroom assignments? RQ 2 : What stories told by students about assignments have most credibility with other students? RQ 3 : How do students and instructors differ in their explanations of what assignments mean in the curriculum? Under the interpretive umbrella, we could write specific hypotheses but are more likely to write open-ended research questions because we need to be open to whatever our research participants may want to tell us rather than seeking a simple confirmation or disconfirmation of a hypothesis generated by the researcher. Criticism The basic quest of critical theorists is to understand and explain the way in which communication is used to exercise and maintain power in groups, organizations, and societies. To this end, critical researchers might look, for example, at the way in which organizational structures and processes prevent or facilitate the progress of certain groups within the organization. For example, in the case of our campus coffee bar, do coffee-drinking rituals perpetuate and reinforce class or gender distinctions? Can males join a female discussion group?
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