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Qualitative Methodology; Computer-Mediated Communication; Biographical Methods; Reflexivity

Content, Context, Reflexivity and the Qualitative Research Encounter: Telling Stories in the Virtual Realm

Nicola Illingworth
Sociological Research Online 11 (1) illingworth

Keywords: Qualitative Methodology; Computer-Mediated Communication; Biographical Methods; Reflexivity
Abstract: The arrival of the virtual realm and computer-mediated communication (CMC) has attracted considerable interest within the discipline. However, the full potential of computer-mediated conversation as both a research resource and medium of communication within the qualitative research encounter awaits further exploration. In this paper, I discuss the dimensions of the qualitative 'tradition', the recent burgeoning interest in biographical methods shaping the research agenda and the significance of the virtual realm as a locus of communication. In so doing, I draw from my recent research exploring 15 women's accounts of their experiences of infertility and assisted reproductive procedures. Often, the qualitative encounter becomes a shared medium of trust, reciprocity and revelation. This research highlights the importance of not just making 'space' for participants voices and words but of acknowledging the significance of the context of communication itself – paying attention to 'where' and 'how' we speak is as critical as paying attention to what might be said. Participants within this study used and translated virtual text and virtual participation into a sense-making vehicle. In this respect, the virtual space offers a new dimension to the qualitative research encounter and we need to remain aware of the opportunities this affords.