QUALITATIVE METHODS: PART FIVE
 
C. George Boeree
 
Shippensburg University
 

 
EIGHTEEN
 
THE PERSONAL CONSTRUCTION OF REALITY
 

        It has been some time since we last looked at a particular  phenomenon, such as a particular experience with cranberry juice.  Yet one of the most interesting things to study is a particular phenomenon:  The individual human being, the person or personality or, as George Kelly puts it, the personal construction of reality.

        So, we have developed methods to get at that personal construction.  One common technique is testing.  Unfortunately, most testing involves the predetermination of the dimensions of measurement by the researcher.  We have tests that look for introversion- extraversion, for androgeny, for ego-strength, for stage of moral development, and so on.  These tests don't respect the person's unique point-of-view.

        (You can't help but notice this problem when you come across a "forced choice" question that you want a middle version for, or are asked to rate something on a five-point scale and notice that "I don't know"  and "moderately" are both scored as a three!)

        There have been a number of attempts to get a more "subjective" picture of the person:

         Semantic differential.   Osgood, Suci, and Tannenbaum (1957) invented the semantic differential with the idea that, by extracting the patterns in people's responses to large numbers of items with techniques such as factor analysis, we can avoid force-fitting them into our own favorite categories.  Essentially, people are asked to rate a concept -- father, ideal self, nation... -- on a long list of adjective pairs, using a seven-point scale.  Unfortunately, the research quickly came up with three dimensions that best accounted for the answers not of individuals, but of large masses of people.  We are then asked to rate individuals against these three dimensions.  This is simply a "democratic" way of arriving at the same predetermined categories that others derive by more dictatorial methods.  Similar techniques were developed by Eysenck and Cattell, and the same criticisms apply.

         Q-sort.   Invented by Stephenson (1953) and made famous by Carl Rogers, the Q-sort involves the use of 100 cards, each with a different statement about personality, attitudes, preferences and the like.  The client or subject is asked to sort these cards into piles ranging from "very characteristic of me" to "not characteristic of me."  The usual technique involves a forced sort, i.e. putting precisely so many cards into a pile so as to form a normal distribution:  Pile "0" gets 2 cards, "1" gets 4, "2" gets 6, "3" gets 12, "4" gets 16, "5" gets 20, "6" gets 16, "7" gets 12, "8" gets 6, "9" gets 4, and "10" gets 2.  The most common use is to compare distributions before and after therapy or experimental intervention.  But you see the criticisms coming:  Who wrote the 100 statements?  Do we think in 11 categories of evaluation?  Do we arrange our evaluations into normal curves?

         Twenty statements test.   "Twenty statements" (Kuhn and McPartland, 1954) was invented by Manfred Kuhn, a symbolic interactionist, and is probably the simplest technique in the history of testing:  Ask the person for twenty answers to the question "Who am I?"  This comes as close as we could want to a test that respects the person (especially considering that twenty does not seem a restrictive number -- most people stop short of that number!).  The problems are somewhat different from the ones we have been mentioning:  It is less useful for topics other than self-image; it is difficult to make comparisons between people; it changes each time we give it to the person.

         The role construct repertory test.  Also known as the rep grid, it was invented in the 1950's by George Kelly (1955).  It is a technique for discovering the way in which a person  interprets  (construes, constructs) his or her reality.  More specifically, it elicits the  constructs  --  contrasts, dimensions  --  with which the person "cuts up" the otherwise seamless world.  It is very respectful of the person's perspective.  But it is a technique which does not require the talent and experience that the phenomenological or hermeneutic methods require:  It is pleasantly egalitarian, and will be our topic for the next project.

THE REP GRID

        To make it "egalitarian," Kelly had to substitute technique (and later technology) for insight.  So the rep grid will require considerable explanation.

        Look at these three words:

                Cat     Wolf    Dog

Can you think of a way in which two of these are like each other and different from the third?  Try these three words:

                Mother  Father  Self

        This process of asking a person to look at a trio of words and pick out two which are similar and one which is different is called construct elicitation.  The words are called elements and should refer to unique individual events or simple classes of events.  The way in which two are similar and the other different is called the construct.   It does in fact include both ends of the dimension, i.e. the similarity and the difference.  Note that the constructs are provided by the "subject," not the researcher, i.e. the rep grid greatly respects the subject's understanding.

        Take a look at the grid on the next page.  First, write down your  elements:  Besides yourself, list eight people you know  --  half of them ones you like a bit, half ones you dislike a bit.  Make sure they are real people in your life, and don't use them more than once.  Don't be afraid to change your mind at this point -- you can't do it later!
 
 
Note that the elements can be almost anything.  However, things will work best if you stick to a few simple rules:

        1.  The elements should be concrete  --  people, objects, events, activities, etc., and not abstractions.

        2.  The elements should be discrete, not overlapping (as you would get if you used adjectives, for example).

        3.  The elements should be homogenous, i.e. within some broad category.  Don't, for example, mix up people with things.

        Then look below in the grid and you will see three circles in every row (left-to-right).  These are the three to "compare and contrast."  Put an x or check-mark in the two you feel are most similar and leave the third empty (or put some other mark there, if you prefer).  Then write how the two you x-ed are similar in the space next to that row, and write how the third person is different in the space next to that one.  This is your first construct.  Then do the same for the next set of three and so on.  You may repeat yourself when new constructs don't occur to you.  Try to avoid using the obvious,  physical characteristics (male-female, for example), as this example of the rep grid is intended to get at your  psychological constructs.

        One could stop at this point with a nice list of constructs to talk about.  One could also go a lot further:  Go back and place all the other elements (the ones not in circles) on one end or the other of each construct -- i.e. go across the first row and judge all the other elements against the first construct:  If they match the two x-ed ones, x them too; if they match the other one, leave them blank.

        Note:  Sometimes a construct is not relevant to an element.  For example, the construct "Protestant-Catholic" is not relevant to a Jewish element.  You may put "N.A." or "0" in the space.  However, you may want to ask yourself if you wouldn't like to split the construct -- for example, the "Protestant-Catholic" could be understood as an abbreviation for "Protestant-nonprotestant" and "Catholic-noncatholic."

        Another note:  Kelly started with a "two point" scale, that is, with x's and blanks.  You can use other degrees of discrimination:  three, five, seven, and nine points, even 100 points and line-division have been used -- especially in computer-assisted versions of the rep grid.  A number of researchers have come to feel that five is the most useful number.

        By looking over the grid, you may see that two constructs match up, that is, each person who is "x-ed" in one is "x-ed" in the other, and the same for the blanks.  This means that the two constructs are at least being used in a similar fashion, and may, in fact, be identical.  Likewise, if two constructs don't match in any case, that means that they are also possibly identical, but are reversed (the similarity pole on one being the contrast pole on the other, and vice versa).
 
GRID ANALYSIS

        Grid analysis, also called focussing, is the most time-consuming aspect of grid work.  Take the following full grid (examples adapted from Stewart, Stewart, and Fonda, 1981):
 
 
 

E1 E2 E3 E4 E5
C1 X X X
C2 X X X
C3 X X
C4 X X X X
C5 X
 
 
 

(E's represent the elements, and C's the constructs.)  First compare each column with each other column, e.g.:

 
 
 

E1 E2
C1 X 0
C2 X 0
C3 X 0
C4 X X MATCH
C5 MATCH
TOTAL: 2 MATCHES
 
 

Continue this with all other combinations and organize your totals into a matrix of element-similarities:
 
 
 

E2 E3 E4 E5
E1 2 2 2 5
E2 1 5 2
E3 1 2
E4 2
 
 

Now reorganize the grid by grouping together the columns by how similar they are:
 
 
 

E3 E1 E5 E2 E4
C1 X X X
C2 X X X
C3 X X
C4 X X X X
C5 X
 
 

Note that E1 and E5 are identical, as are E2 and E4; These two groups share two points of commonality;  E1 and E5 share two points with E3;  E2 and E4 share only one point with E3; hence the arrangement and the lines.  Now, repeat this whole process for the constructs!
 
 
 

C2 C3 C4 C5
C1 1 4 2 3
C2 0 2 3
C3 3 2
C4 0
 

        But notice the cases of zero overlap, for example:
 
 
 

E3 E1 E5 E2 E4
C2 X X X
C3 X X
 
 

If we had reversed one of the two constructs (for example, had phrased it as "bad-good" instead of "good-bad") we would have had a perfect match:
 
 
 

E3 E1 E5 E2 E4
C2-REV X X
C3 X X
 
 

(The REV stands for reversed.)  With five elements, a score of zero or one (two is borderline) would suggest reversal.  So:  C2 looks like it has collected some low scores (1, 0, 2, 3) and C4 is borderline (2, 2, 3, 0).  Let's try reversing them:
 
 
 

E3 E1 E5 E2 E4
C1 X X X
C2-REV X X
C3 X X
C4-REV X
C5 X
 
 

Now:
 
 

C2-REV C3 C4-REV C5
C1 4 4 5 3
C2-REV 5 4 2
C3 4 2
C4-REV 3
 
 

And we could reorganize:
 
 
 

E3 E1 E5 E2 E4
C4-REV X
C5 X
C1 X X X
C2-REV X X
C3 X X
 

 
 
        Obviously, this quickly becomes unwieldy, especially with five-point scales -- though Kelly and his graduate students always did this by hand.  Today, we have computers!  What does this reorganizing do for you?  Well, let's give names to the constructs and elements:  The person whose grid this represents is looking at:

        E1 -- himself
        E2 -- his father
        E3 -- his sister
        E4 -- his brother
        E5 -- his mother

He clearly sees his father and brother as similar, and himself and his mother as similar, and his sister as rather different from everyone.  His constructs:

        C1 -- creative-ordinary
        C2 -- undisciplined-disciplined
        C3 -- hard-soft
        C4 -- sensible-not sensible
        C5 -- neurotic-relaxed

You can see that C2R and C3 (hard, disciplined versus soft, undisciplined) are rather synonymous within this range of elements, as are C1 and C4R (neurotic, not sensible versus relaxed, sensible).   By dis-covering the structure of this person's meanings, you have learned more than you knew at first (rather than less, as we see in averages and other statistical summaries of information).

        Go ahead and analyze your own grid.

        The potential of the rep grid is enormous.  It has been used in a large variety of settings, especially clinical and industrial.  There are also techniques by which we can compare two (or more!) people:  If you elicit constructs from two people using a common set of elements, and then analyse the grid together, you will get information on how similar their constructs are!
 

 



 
NINETEEN
 
PROJECTIVE TECHNIQUES
 

        It is clear that our personally experienced realities are not transparent, not open to others.  Hence, much of our personal realities, whether derived from our experience with the physical world or the social world, are quite idiosyncratic:  What I mean by shy, or animal, or anger, or love, or female, or house, or God, or humanity...can be significantly different from what you mean.

        Further, as we already noted earlier, not every aspect of our personal reality is even readily available for our own contemplation.

        This is where projective techniques come in.  The Rorschach or inkblot test, used mostly by Freudians, and the Thematic Apperception Test, invented by Henry Murray and Christina Morgan (Murray, 1938) and used to great advantage by David McClelland in his research on need for achievement, are the two most familiar examples.  They have the virtue of minimally directing the subject towards pre-conceived ends, hence allowing them to "project" their personal realities onto these ambiguous pictures.

        Used just this way, helping, perhaps, a clinician to get a fuller understanding of the client, is without reproach.  Unfortunately, when it comes to research (as well as assessment in institutions), the person's descriptions and stories are scored with carefully designed techniques, in a misguided effort to overcome the high susceptibility these techniques have to researcher or evaluator bias.

        Instead, the technique you will be using is called hermeneutics.   Meaning "interpretation," it is a form of phenomenology used especially when the "meaning-giver" is not available or is not able to bring those meanings to awareness.  For example, one might use hermeneutics to try to understand what the original authors of parts of the Bible meant, or what Shakespeare meant when he wrote Hamlet, or what a person who is showing symptoms of repressed impulses "means" by those symptoms, or what the people of a society unconsciously "mean" by their tolerance of evils they outwardly condemn.

        It sounds a bit like structural analysis, but isn't:  The artifacts studied with the structural method are cultural, i.e. their meanings are shared.  In fact, these artifacts are communications of meaning.  Hermeneutics tries to get at much more subtle, idiosyncratic, personal meanings.  For example, the traditional characters, settings, even themes of plays can be studied structurally, and we can compare, e.g., western plays with kabuki and no and indonesian drama....  The experiences and emotions the author or actor wishes to express are more appropriately studied by hermeneutics.  It's the difference between rules and expression, between "brain" and "heart."

        An older method, very similar, was Cooley's (1902)  sympathetic introspection  -- a phrase that could be a definition of hermeneutics.  It is not done "objectively" or "behaviorally" -- you use your own experiences and emotions to form a closer and closer approximation.

        An important part of hermeneutics is the hermeneutic cycle:  You read (for example) a piece of literature in its entirety to form an impression.  You then go back and look at the pieces, analyze it.  Then you relate the pieces back to the whole... back and forth from pieces to whole to pieces to whole.  This will lead you to alter your understanding of the pieces and the whole repeatedly.

        Your project will involve each of you writing a response to the following "projective" question:  Describe an ideal life.  Write at least two pages  --  it should be easy!  Then exchange papers with a partner.  Each of you attempt to interpret the other's description silently, writing down what you believe might be the other's "deeper" wishes, fears, inferiorities, values, motivations, etc.  Then get back together and discuss your interpetations.

        Please understand that you are working with minimal information  --  no serious phenomenologist would risk going on so little!  A real hermeneutic case-study would involve a great deal of information from a great variety of sources  --  interviews, diaries, letters, various projectives, artwork, and so on, for example.

        Alternative exercises:  Do such an analysis on each other's dreams, or stories created from the T.A.T.-like children's drawings on the next few pages.

        An interesting suggested use for hermeneutics is psychobiography.  It is not unreasonable to view a personís life as a piece of literature or work of art, which can not be fully understood until it has been completed, so that the parts can be seen in terms of how they contributed to the whole.  This also points up the relationship of hermeneutics to psychoanalysis:  Hermeneutics is a psychoanalysis within which theory has been bracketed.
 



 
TWENTY
 
PHENOMENOLOGY AS A LIFE-STYLE
 

        So there you are.  Your next step is to begin reading the great examples of the techniques that interest you in the fields that interest you.  After that, it's time for you to try your own hand.  Only actual experience will lead to true proficiency.

        Before I let you go, though, perhaps you have noticed that qualitative methods are more than "just methods" to me; they are an important part of my life-philosophy.  It is not my intention to win you over to my philosophy  --  I believe we each need to develop our own  --  but I would like to explain myself:

        People are not rocks.  Our lives are infinitely varied and in constant motion.  No person is quite like any other person.  No moment is quite like any other moment.  We are more like whirlwinds.

        If we perceive the goal of the human sciences of to be the prediction and control of human lives, and the scientific method the means of accomplishing that goal, we are ignoring our natures.  We are trying to pin down the whirlwinds when without movement whirlwinds cease to exist.

        I believe the purpose of method in Psychology is not the improvement of theory, or the accumulation of facts, or the advancement of prediction and control.  I believe the purpose of method is the improvement of method itself:

         -- By looking carefully at our world and ourselves, we learn to see more clearly;

         -- By engaging reflective consciousness in the task of stilling its own persistent interference, we find ourselves dwelling more fully in immediate consciousness, in the "here-and-now;"

         -- By resisting deeply-engrained impulses to denigrate the subjective aspects of experience, we come to know our own feelings, needs, and desires;

         -- By becoming more aware of the richness of reality  --  inner and outer  --  we provide ourselves with alternatives, and build a foundation for freedom;

         -- By opening ourselves to the experiencing of others, we develop our capacity for empathy, love, and compassion.

        It is hard to be so insubstantial; it is easier to be a rock.  Perhaps the persistance of traditional methods reflects our discomfort at being whirlwinds.  But life is more complex than any theory  --  much more.  I suggest we start dealing with that complexity directly, by opening our eyes and our hearts.



 

APPENDIX:  ANSWER TO THE IROQUOIS KINSHIP PROBLEM

Are you older or younger than I am?
        +SENIOR  older than ego
        -SENIOR  younger than ego

Are you male or female?
        +MALE  male
        -MALE  female

What generation are you?
        >GENERATION  senior generation
        =GENERATION  same generation
        <GENERATION  junior generation

And the one that has no parallel in our culture, what "side" of the family are you?
        +PARALLEL  same
        -PARALLEL  different
If =GENERATION, compare gender of connecting parents of ego and alter;
If >GENERATION, compare gender of ego's connecting parent and alter;
If <GENERATION, compare gender of alter's connecting parent and ego.

So:

1.  KIN >GENERATION +PARALLEL +MALE
2.  KIN >GENERATION +PARALLEL -MALE

3.  KIN >GENERATION -PARALLEL +MALE
4.  KIN >GENERATION -PARALLEL -MALE
 

5.  KIN =GENERATION +PARALLEL +MALE +SENIOR
6.  KIN =GENERATION +PARALLEL +MALE -SENIOR
7.  KIN =GENERATION +PARALLEL -MALE +SENIOR
8.  KIN =GENERATION +PARALLEL -MALE -SENIOR

9.  KIN =GENERATION -PARALLEL
 

10. KIN <GENERATION +PARALLEL +MALE
11. KIN <GENERATION +PARALLEL -MALE

12. KIN <GENERATION -PARALLEL +MALE
13. KIN <GENERATION -PARALLEL +MALE
14. KIN <GENERATION -PARALLEL -MALE
15. KIN <GENERATION -PARALLEL -MALE
 



 
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Copyright 1998 by C. George Boeree