flexible coding for field notes

As I tell my grad students, almost no one does “pure” grounded theory. It’s technically impossible (we can’t forget everything we’ve read before going into the field). And, as Nicole Deterding and Mary Waters explain in their recent Sociological Research & Methods article, it’s a poor fit for twenty-first century qualitative research (often large-scale projects with fixed protocols, as required by IRBs and grant funding agencies).

Given the limitations of grounded theory, Deterding and Waters offer a different approach, which they call “flexible coding.” I won’t go through their method in detail, but the basic approach has a couple of steps:

  1. Organization
  2. Indexing
  3. Memoing
  4. Data Reduction

The whole point of this approach is to allow for a more systematic analysis of qualitative data. And Deterding and Waters lay out what these three steps can look like with semi-structured interview data. It’s a terrific, hands-on guide to qualitative methods. But it left me wondering – what does flexible coding look like with ethnographic data, instead?

Reflecting on that question, I realized that I actually did a version of “flexible coding” with my research for Negotiating Opportunities. So I thought I’d share here in case it’s useful for other students and scholars embarking on ethnographic projects (or trying to climb their way up the mountain of ethnographic data they’ve already produced).

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remembering devah pager: the mark of a mentor

Last November, sociologist Devah Pager passed away. At the Eastern Sociological Society meetings this past weekend, a group of her former students, colleagues, and mentors came together to celebrate her life and her work. These comments, by Michelle Phelps, were delivered as part of the event, which was organized by Jessica Simes, and also featured Robert Hauser and Bruce Western as speakers and Monica Bell as moderator.

We encourage you to contribute your own reflections in the comments.

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“it’s not fair”

“It’s not fair.”

If you spend time with kids, you probably hear those words a lot. And for adults, it’s easy to respond with “Life isn’t fair.” But if your kid is growing up with privilege, that response is problematic.

It’s problematic because when a privileged kid says “it’s not fair,” what they almost always mean is “I’m not getting what I want.” So if an adult responds with “life’s not fair,” what the kid hears is “You’re not getting what you want, and that’s not fair.”

That response teaches privileged kids to see fairness only through their own eyes. To ignore the real injustices that exist in the world, or, maybe worse, to see their own inconveniences as equally “unfair.”

So if your privileged kid says “it’s not fair,” acknowledge what they’re feeling, but challenge their meaning of “fair.”

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