Trajectories of Persons and Practices: Sociohistoric Perspectives of Disciplinary Development. The Case Study of Terri Ulmer

Chapter 2 | Theoretical Perspectives and Methodological Approaches

Data Analysis

Analysis of the data was oriented toward understanding the histories of co-researchers' practices across time, space, and multiple representational media.

To develop a sense of co-researchers’ histories of acting with particular practices, we analyzed these data interpretively and holistically (Miller, Hengst, & Wang, 2003). We first arranged data inscriptions (i.e., sample texts, sections of interview transcripts, interpretive notes, copies of images, printed versions of digital photographs and still images captured from video, etc.) chronologically in the order in which co-researchers engaged with them. Those data inscriptions were examined for instances where we sensed that co-researchers were acting with particular practices. Sometimes the co-researchers themselves indicated that they were engaged with what they regarded as the same practices across multiple activities.

Mediated discourse theory’s emphasis on practice being reworked across different activities and taking different semiotic forms was crucial to generating these histories.

This analysis of the data collected for each case generated a large number of histories reaching across seemingly different literate activities, many of which did not intersect with co-researchers’ focal disciplinary activities, but which nonetheless linked together multiple literate engagements. The analysis for Charles’s case, for example, revealed continuities among the textual practices he employed for the stand-up comedy routine he wrote and performed and the poetry he wrote. The analysis of the data for Kate’s case revealed continuities among the practices Kate employed in her fan art and later in some illustrations she created for a biology lab manual. The analysis of data for Lindsey’s case indicated continuities among the practices Lindsey used for the various kinds of journaling she participated in.

Based on those analyses, we constructed brief initial narratives of co-researchers’ histories with practice across multiple engagements (e.g., an initial drawing of a flow chart that included brief written analytic notes in paragraph form supplemented with copies of the materials the co-researchers had provided or had with them during interviews). Those initial narratives were reviewed and modified by checking and re-checking those constructions against the data inscriptions (to ensure accuracy and also to seek counter instances) and by submitting them to co-researchers for their examination. At these times we often requested additional texts from co-researchers, and frequently co-researchers volunteered to provide additional materials and insights that they thought might be useful in further detailing the re-use and resemiotization of discursive practices across different sites of engagement. It was frequently the case that our understanding of the use of practices for these different literate activities needed significant modification as a result of closer inspection of the data, identification of additional relevant data, or discussions with co-researchers during interviews or via email. Accounts of these interactions were modified according to co-researchers’ feedback. Finally, co-researchers were invited to member check (Lather, 1991; Stake, 1995, 2000) final versions of the documented narratives in order to determine if they seemed valid from their perspectives. These analyses produced a number of interesting narratives elaborating historical trajectories of practice-in-use across engagements.

To represent co-researchers’ histories of acting with practices along trajectories that flow into and emanate from their focal disciplinary engagements, and also to make our own analytic practices more visible, we present the results of the analysis as a documented narrative rather than as a structuralist analysis, as Becker (2000) and Prior (1998) have suggested. In addition to following the reuse of practice across activities, the use of documented narratives allow us to present these repurposings in a coherent fashion without flattening out the richness, complexity, and dynamics of how practices are reused and transformed across contexts.

The visual images and video clips we offer throughout this book are vital in this regard. In addition to representing the methods of inquiry used to inquire into the practices co-researchers employed to create a variety of texts for a variety of purposes, the images and video clips we offer are meant to help readers visualize how those practices animated the production of those texts. Working in conjunction with our prose descriptions, the images and video excerpts we offer are meant to help readers understand the practices of the co-researchers and also to provide viewers with a concrete sense of these co-researchers’ richly textual lives. In this regard, our use of visuals is in keeping with other scholars who provide visual images as a means of illuminating the discursive practices that mediate the textual action animating a number of disciplinary worlds (Goodwin, 1994; Hutchins, 1995; Latour, 1987; Medway, 1996; Prior, 2010).

We selected the documented narratives offered in Chapters 3 through 7 for a number of reasons. First, these narratives—these histories—flow into and emanate from different focal disciplines. Second, these histories run through very differently variegated literate landscapes, and in doing so allow us to highlight the richness and variety of people’s literate lifeworlds. Third, these histories involve a wide array of representational media as they are deployed both simultaneously within situated action and across chains of activity. Fourth, these histories address different periods of time in people’s lives; they unfold across very different timescales. Finally, these narratives illuminate the lengthy and complex histories of persons and practices that weave activities together.

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