Encountering “Problematizing Transcriptions”

Having finished my transcriptions last night, I can now focus on interpreting what I have to move my paper forward. At the same time, I just read Judith C. Lapadat’s article, Problematizing transcriptions: Purpose, paradigm and quality, which once again leaves me with more questions than answers.

She raises some of the myriad of issues in her research early on (p. 204) in her paper:

Verbatim transcription serves the purpose of taking speech, which is fleeting, aural, performative, and heavily contexualized within its situational and social context of use, and freezing it into a static, permanent, and manipulable form.

The implications of this include:

  • Positivism (do the spoken words really capture the entire observable event?)
  • Transcription conventions (there really is not a single, universal convention for doing this)
  • Interpretivism (talk is situated, so the relationship between language and meaning can be challenging)

She concludes that rigor in the process must be accounted for, and while this can be done in research courses and with oversight (e.g., let’s be consistent with marks for pauses, laughter, and the like), I have not seen very much of this happen. I wonder to what extent it happens and I have just missed it or have never been able to avail myself to these opportunities?

Thinking about this from a self-directed and adult learning perspective, would it have been valuable enough for me to sit through formalized instruction, practice, and skill development, or is doing what I have been doing, namely getting stuck then researching then reading then considering then implementing (now repeat!) a better learning experience? I am already highly sensitive to the challenges in capuring meaning in language, so am almost naturally exploring these issues and moving my own learning forward. I wonder how my colleagues are struggling with these issues, or if some of them are uncritically (perhaps by accident or wherewithal) avoiding these tensions completely?

3 thoughts on “Encountering “Problematizing Transcriptions”

  1. I have been thinking about the questions you raise here and in other posts in your admirable attempt to ‘dive in’ the deep end with qualitative research and it’s peculiarities. I think what may be missing or skipped somewhat is the reflective period of thinking about ‘why qualitative’ in the first place. It is a certain ‘mind set’ that we come to qual work with, whether that is from more formal learning or from experience and being immersed in the process.

    These blog posts are themselves good places for reflection and you have been doing that. Perhaps wrongly, I sometime sense that you are trying too hard to get it down and get it right rather than use qual work as a process in itself which will reveal your own particular ways and peculiarities of dealing with the complexities and depth of qual data.

    I am known for saying, ‘swim in the data’. By this I mean do not be too quick to jump to catagorisation, labelling, etc of your data. This approach in itself may reveal answers to some of the very questions that you pose above.

  2. Some thoughts that I wrote down some time ago:
    In qualitative research, the tyranny of numbers is abandoned for the enigma of words. It is often seen as rooted in a non-tangible domain, fundamentally experiential and intuitive.

    Qualitative work is in constant, dynamic flux, but moving toward some end-point in an evolutionary way. There are efforts by the mind to concretise meaning and the qualitative dimension has an integrative function for the researcher. Unity provides context and meaning and it is toward such unity that the researcher is striving. Qualitative efforts make use of that part of the person concerned with meaning, truth, purpose or reality—the ultimate significance of things (paraphrasing Hiatt 1986, p. 737).

    Not mere exercises in truth or falsehood, however, these investigations are polyvocal attempts at interfacing with cultural/relational/linguistic accounts of the real. They are, therefore, interpretations and not truths in the positivistic sense. The potential of intuition is ultimately a great advantage to this very process (See Scheff 1997, pp. 33-36).

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