Making it Easier to Interpret and Understand Multiple Realities
The purpose of this 10-hour course is to:
Introduce participants to the concept of a "qualitative model" in
order to facilitate interpretation of multiple sources of narrative,
visual, and numeric information; Provide examples of numerous kinds
of qualitative models for study and critique; Present a heuristic
for designing qualitative models so as to better understand the theories
revealed in the study of a given culture and to represent the emergent
theory in new ways.
A qualitative model is the synthetic visualization of a process (e.g.
communication, teaching) or a system (e.g. a culture, a political
structure) theorized on the basis of data from social science research.
This broad definition encompasses many things, including, for example:
business organizational charts, economic systems, and political maps
showing army movements or exports. In this course, however, we focus
particularly on qualitative models based on grounded theories which
seek to account for and explicate complex, chaotic, or elusive phenomena.
A fundamental understanding of the tenets of qualitative research
is a prerequisite for this course. Experience in the gathering, organizing,
and analysis of ethnographic data is strongly recommended, though
Qualitative modeling is important because, during the latter part
of the 20th century, the social sciences have undergone a paradigmatic
shift from the purely positivistic (where verification of existing
theory was considered the only responsibility of research) to include
and even favor, the naturalistic (where the emergence of new theory
is considered the most valuable discovery of research). Books and
articles reporting these new grounded theories have devoted thousands
of pages to their descriptions --- and rightly so. Yet having been
so deeply involved with the linguistic and statistical forms of data,
we have limited our ways of thinking about the phenomena we study;
consequently, we have also limited ourselves to conceiving certain
The value in visualizing concepts is that we are able to take a global
view of them, prompting new ideas and questions about the ideas therein,
encouraging different examinations of old concepts, drawing our attention
to multiple realities otherwise not considered, and possibly identifying
Participants in this course will be required to develop flexible thinking
approaches to complex problems and seemingly chaotic environments
in order to try to make sense of them, and to express them in visual
representations. They will also be required to construct and present
at least one individual and one group model, both of which seek to
meet general criteria for excellence, and which demonstrate an understanding
of the various kinds of qualitative models discussed. Although published
and presented models may be sketched by hand, made with draw programs
and clip-art, constructed out of small objects, stand free, hang from
the ceiling, be dynamic, etc., no sophisticated or expensive equipment
and supplies will be required for this course. While a clear and aesthetically-pleasing
model is likely to be better than a rough drawing, the effectiveness
of the model depends in large part upon its conceptual base, not its
slick look. We are interested in contributing to our understanding
of a process or a system, not in selling the latest gimmick to a consumer.
Session 1 - Introduction: What is
- Examples, Working Definition:
A "sign complex" whose purpose is to allow the creator or
viewer to think about the concepts in different ways than linguistically
or mathematically. Activities to develop flexible thinking and
to heighten powers of observation.
- Metaphoric Thinking Through Literal
And Figurative Imagery: Tap into processes which
involve imagination, creativity, and innovative problem-solving,
appealing to other intelligences. Examples: science; dealing with
personal relationships; politics; police work; learning a foreign
language; hospital cultures; an elementary school; the army, etc.
How do these metaphors contribute to our understanding of
- Kinds And Purposes Of Qualitative
Models: Models may use a mode of representation
that is either iconic (based on resemblance) or symbolic (based
on purely conventional signification). They may be seen as denotative,
where there is a single, direct relationship of signification
between signifier and meaning; connotative models show an indirect
relationship of signification where one signifier stands for another,
while still referring back to a same concept (the signified).
Consider models literally or figuratively.
- Dissecting Qualitative Models:
Identify their characteristics, their seemingly intentional design
strategies and any unintended connotations they may have.
Session 2 - Standards of Excellence for Qualitative
- Provide a synthesis of a complex reality or multiple realities.
- Cause the viewer to consider both the substance and construction
process of the model.
- Ensure that every constitutive element actually carries meaning,
- Resist depending upon unnecessary gimmicks which distract the
viewer from the substance or metacognitive study of the model.
- Train the eye on different pieces and different levels of information
in the model.
- Use color, shading and spatial arrangement in relevant rather
than arbitrary ways, etc.
While either text or image may be independently comprehensible,
together they offer a potential for greater understanding of the
phenomena being studied.
Heuristic for Developing Qualitative Models
- Initial Data Analyses Category Juxtaposition
- Conceptualization and Development of a Literal Model Metaphoric
- Considering Intentional and Unintentional Connotations Challenging
- Refining the Models Judge the Image/Text Balance
Atkinson, P. (1990). The ethnographic imagination. New York: Routledge.
Eisner, E. (1991). The enlightened eye. New York: Macmillan.
Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (1981) Metaphors We Live By. Chicago:
Univ. of Chicago Press
Nöth, W. (1995). Handbook of Semiotics. Bloomington: Indiana
Tufte, Edward R. (1983). The visual display of quantitative information.
Cheshire, CN: Graphics Press.
Tufte, Edward R. (1990). Envisioning information. Cheshire, CN: