ED 221G

Week 2 Supplemental Reading

Atkinson, P. & Coffey, A. (1997). Analysing documentary realities. In David Silverman (Ed.), Qualitative research: Theory, method, and practice (pp. 45-62). Thousand Oaks: Sage. Introduction: Documentary Realities a. Problem: Many contemporary social organizations engage in some form of documentary work (institutional - record-keeping, filing, archiving, reports, etc.; records of person-person encounters ² inform future decisions) i. Problem in the field of qualitative & ethnographic research: Many researchers omit study of documentary activities, instead focusing on wholly oral aspects of a group/organization. This omission implies a void in such (literate) practices, rendering the research incomplete. ii. Purpose of this chapter: The authors intend to offer methods for conducting qualitative research in contemporary social settings where the documentary activity embodies many functions of an organization·s social life. b. Thesis: Inquiry must consider ´how documents are produced, circulated, read, stored, and used for a wide variety of purposesµ (p. 46). i. Such documents are NOT ´transparent representations of organizational routines, decision-making processes, or professional diagnosesµ (p. 47). ii. Therefore, focus on: role in the organization, cultural values attached to the doc, distinct genre. c. Methodology i. Documents are distinctive items for analysis because they offer a specific version of social life; not intended to validate or support other data. ii. Ethnographic approach with semiotic perspective: ´documents can be examined of systems of conventional signs and modes of representationµ (p. 48). Consideration of: 1) form of textual materials; 2) uses of language in text; 3) relationships between texts; 4) genre conventions. Note: Authors demonstrate analytical techniques on account audits and institutional/academic audits. Documentary Language and Form a. Genre ² documents depend on language and form common to people within the organizational culture. The result is a construction/representation of the organization. i. ´Such codes of practice reflect and prescribe the kinds of assumptions and conventions that are used to generate and interpret such representationsµ (p. 49). ii. Register ² common vernacular familiar to people within the business culture. iii. Example: account audit ´Statement of Source and Application of Fundsµ. The document does not indicate either action in its title, except to someone familiar with this business practice because the genre is common across business types. iv. Example: Teaching Quality Assessment (TQA) self-assessment of a department in a UK educational institution. 1. Form: bullet-point layout = important document; ideas are marked as deserving attention; list implies order and importance Note: On one document, individuals collectively communicated shared understanding of cultural assumptions. This is a particular version of reality. II. I.


Intertextuality ² relationships between documents a. Principle: ´documents do not exist in isolationµ (p. 55). They refer to other documents and realities. b. Examples (accounts & academic): Audit trails refer to other documents, and auditors are trained to look back at these other records and texts, using principles of sequence and hierarchy. Some texts reflect and others refer to other texts. i. ´We can therefore analyse texts in terms of these intertextual relationships, tracing the dimensions of similarity or differenceµ (p. 57). c. Temporality: Notice conventions shared between documents, links to series, sequences of decisions, suppression of time, movement through social networks, identification of roles and positions within social settings. i. Documents decontextualize events & create ´their own versions of hierarchy and legitimate authorityµ (p. 58). Authorship and Readership (actual or implied) a. WRITER ²Just because someone writes a document does not equal authorship, but there may be ownership (e.g. an administration) i. Notice in what ways documents claim authority ii. Absence of implied personal author can be a rhetorical movement to construct official/authoritative voice. b. READER ²implied reader can be restricted to certain groups. ´Reading is an activity, not the passive receipt of informationµ (p. 60). Readers bring schema/background knowledge to the reading. i. People with context-specific information can interpret a text differently (e.g. medical notes understood by workplace colleagues). Conclusion Methodological Points: a. Texts are constructed as part of a social reality. b. Examine texts for formal properties: rhetorical features, language, genre conventions c. Authorship/production & readership/consumption d. Intertextuality of documents ² links to other texts, sequence & hierarchy, decontextualization of events



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