Transcripts of “Qualitative data analysis” course introduction.

[Qualitative data analysis course as part of Economic Analysis program at Faculty of Economics of Gdansk University of Technology]

12764571_10153333146992021_2104970449827120271_o

Good, so! This is qualitative data analysis class. My name is Xaquín Pérez-Sindín López. The first thing I want to do is invite you to call me Xaquín. In class, during office hours, whenever, this is name I respond to. I will eventually respond to Pérez, López, professor López, but the truth is that those are not the names I immediately recognise.
Well, I will structure the class in three simple questions, WHO I am? WHY Qualitative data analysis course and WHAT does it consist of?
WHO
The first thing I want to talk is to do a thorough introduction of myself. I want basically to invite you for a ride over my last decade of life, a kind of time space trip, like gravitational waves recently discovered. Believe me or not, there is a connection between qualitative research gravitational waves.
I like to begin with my own presentation because one´s background is probably a way you to see what to expect from this course.
First of all, I come from Spain, particularly from the Autonomous Community of Galicia. Let me draw first a map. I love maps. Could someone tell me where is Galicia… All of them are part of a peripheral region in relation to the main economic centres, that is, Barcelona. It means that Galicia is probably sharing certain economic aspects with other peripheral regions in Europe, for instance Pomerania voivodship.
Madrid is here, Barcelona here, do you know what the Spain´s capital is? Have you ever been to Galicia? Well if you have, this is just because of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Well apart from Santiago de Compostela there are two other main cities, Vigo and A Coruña.
However, none of them is the place I was born. I was born in a midsize town in the North, called As Pontes de García Rodríguez. So my second life category, the second category that defines me as person is the fact I was born in a midsize town. This is not a banal issues, I am talking about the categories that define us because they are usually crucial when choosing a research topic. So let me tell you beforehand that one of the requisites to pass this course is to write a paper and to do so you should have a good research topic. And I will put special emphasis on how you all focus a good research topic.
I will tell you a little bit about the As Pontes economies, the economy of my hometown. Until seventies As Pontes used to be an agriculture and trade oriented town but, since the localization of a huge deposit of coal nearby, an energy mining comparing invested in the town to produce energy out of coal-fired. That meant the construction of a huge power plant, as the one can find in such places as Konin, in the south of Poland. That fact supposed the creation of thousand well paid jobs in a rather quiet and rural place. Most of the new jobs were covered by outsiders since the company needed skilled workers. In conclusion, this physical investment caused a so called boom effect. The town exploited in economic and demographic terms. I am telling you that because that was precisely the topic of my most recent investigation which was my thesis dissertation too. Socio-economic impact of big industries. I did analysed such indicators as unemployment rate before and after the boom; GDP, income. This is not a banal issue in contemporary world. What about other kind of developments? What is the socioeconomic impact of the new metropolitan train? What about Riviera in Gdynia or the new train station in Sopot? How local economy has changed? How does it affect the local economy, the local business around? Answer these kind of questions requires economics analysis and, in a great extent, qualitative analysis.
So, the second step took me to A Coruña, where I attended university. I graduated in Sociology in 2003 having got pretty specialized in local development field. Soon after I joined a consulting company. There I was pretty much engaged in conducing qualitative research by mean the use of some of the techniques we´ll cover in this course such as semi-structure interview, focus group etc. The company, by the way, was located in Ferrol. Do you know Ferrol? Well, it is a shipbuilding city. It means that if in my hometown the main economic and employment driver was mining industry, here was shipbuilding. A huge part of local labour force is still employed on shipyard.
Next stop would already be Poland, particularly Gdynia. Here I joined Thomson Reuter in 2010, being part of a financial data analysis team centred in Portuguese speaking markets, mainly Brazil. My role there was basically report the main developments that were taking place in Brazil, for instance, whenever a two listed companies merged we were supposed to report this fact and translate it into English. Nothing special to be honest but I get something very important for my current position. I now have an inside perspective of the local economy.
Let me ask you something, what are the main economic drivers of Trojmiasto economy?
WHY
This is course on qualitative data analysis, but it is course on economics too, since it is part of a broader program on economics analysis. If we look back primitive societies, qualitative data analysis did not exist probably because they weren´t a necessity, neither economics nor probably science as we know understand it. Well, I don´t want to elaborate on this point but I just want you to see the point of why we need qualitative analysis nowadays.
The primitive society was simply organized: tribes, low ranking (hierarchical), barter base economies and perhaps some differences regarding gender and age; but above all, much less interdependent than nowadays, I mean relationship between different communities were lower. States did not exist and even less globalization. Hence local communities were the only socioeconomic organization. What is more, most of the members of such communities had face-to-face contacts so whatever they wanted to communicate they just need to go there and tell something. In this societies, in the pre-industrial societies. People needed a dwelling and they build it. They needed a path to carry out goods and they build it. Hence, there was a direct relation between the individuals and the territory, i.e. the resources. We can say that urban and economics problems were solved by mean a unidirectional relationship. I am hungry I plant potatoes; I need a house I build it. In these societies, the traditional societies, everything is solved in a relatively easy way. When you need a dwelling you build a hut or even a cave.
As time passes, human settlements are getting complex, communities become proper societies. Spinning jenny, steam engine and many other inventions encouraged strong changes. Industrial revolution affected greatly European and American society. Well, you know all this story, don´t you? The rapidness of the changes over the last two centuries has increased exponentially.
But in the complex, industrial, urban and capitalist societies this isn’t it. You live in a dense city so we need to agree where one or another build their home and you can´t no longer plant potatoes or hunt beers. But the question is that now we still need to eat potatoes and houses but now it depends on macro factors due to the introduction of a monetary system, political system, media system etc. and, particularly, over the last decades global institutions. What is more, we do now belong to one state, as Poland, Spain, supranational organizations as European Union. They are our community, but the difference is that we don’t know each other. It means that you share many things with people you will never see each other; you share a language, costumes, cultures, etc. Benedict Anderson coined the concept of imagined communities in reference to, for instance, states. So you can imagine the community you are part of, let’s say Poland or European Union but at the difference of primitive communities you can´t have face-to-face interactions with most of the people. In a primitive community doing an economic analysis means how many plantations and how many houses you have in your community. So you don´t even need to write a report.
But it does not work out in complex societies. We still need to count economic activities but we now need more sophisticated analysis. And the more complex society is, the more sophisticate. Here show up social science and economic analysis in particular to understand reality beyond human eye. And here comes the problem, how to draw a reliable depiction of the local economy in Trojmiasto? (Reliable in a sense of not being subjected to our individual judgment but objective) That is an accurate and not biased depiction. An analysis that match reality as much as possible. Here, statistics play a crucial role. We now have countless instruments to quantify the reality. How many new foreign outsourcing companies are settled down right now in Gdansk? But of course, we humans evolve and we are able to raise more complex question since reality is also complex. So, we can ask what is the relationship between economic growths and demography?. You will hear about this from Piotr Dominiak because, correct me if I am wrong, you have a course on this topic with him. Or what are the drivers of socioeconomic development in Trojmiasto?
As you can imagine many of these questions may be answered by mean quantitative analysis and statistical proofs, particularly, those head by how many, how much? But whenever you want to inquiry more hidden elements of the reality, and this is something we will cover next week when talking about the essentials of qualitative research, for instance, why some regions attract foreign investment? Why do some regions grow economically and others not? What does working in a corporation in Gdansk mean? We can imagine what is working in shipyards in Poland. I guess that some of your parents or grandparents worked at Gdansk port, so many of you know what it means. For instance, there is a very interesting question I hope some of you will choose as research topic. How new corporation are impacting local economy? Are small and medium size companies in Trojmiasto benefiting from it? Well we could for sure undertake a quantitative analysis, but we first need to inquiry with interviews to managers or employees, decision makers or stakeholders.
So to answer this question from a qualitative point of view, we need, paradoxically, to return to primitive societies interactions, we need to look for face-to-face interactions or simply observe the reality. We need to interview people, ask questions. They might not represent the majority of the people, but still, we sometimes need primary data to dig into a priori very complex issues.
Global village: there is another concept you may be familiar with and I want to highlight to explain why we need qualitative data analysis. The concept of global village, associated with the Canadian-born Marshall McLuhan, which at the same time is connected to globalization. According to McLuhan globe has been contracted into a village by electric technology and the instantaneous movement of information from every quarter to every point at the same time. In other words, all the historical processes I have described before, the pass from traditional to modern societies, from agriculture oriented to industry oriented societies are usually the result of new technology. As you know the printing machine or the steam engine triggered, induced many of these changes. In this sense, communication technologies, first printing machine, radio, television and more recently internet are in the base of many changes. What Mcluhan comes to say with this concept is that these technologies allow humans from all over the world share information instantaneously. We are bombarded with information, sometimes with origin in Poland, other times in Japan or US. So we live in the so called information society. [Speech began 30,000 years ago, but alphabetic-written communication is just about four millennia old #McLuhan]
It means that the traditional face-to-face interactions are now converted into alphabetic-written communication and more and more via online tools. Hence, addressing contemporary phenomena usually lead us to deal with text based interactions. Newspapers, online communities, new social media etc. Might perfectly the top source of primary information to, for instance, understand how decisions makers and stakeholders treat the economic changes experienced right now in Trojmiasto. And that´s why I also want to introduce in this course a very well known research technique: content analysis. Although it is often associated with quantitative approach, I really want to slightly show how useful this kind of a

nalysis might be to enrich the research process. But not only alphabetic-written or verbal communication. Non verbal or image-based cultural production may be also a great source of information. Imagine for a second we analyse all graphitise in Trojmiasto, you divide all the text in categories-topics. This might be giving us relevant information to understand hidden values of youth in the city, if we assume that they are written by young population. Or someone, anonymously, spend one month working in a company as a regular worker when in reality is trying to observe workers behaviour in informal settings. We will have the opportunity to go into real cases in future lectures, now I want you to review the syllabus of the subject and the requirements to pass the course…see syllabus

Top Eight Reasons To Go To College

1620357_10151954999057021_652218548_n
This is me, during a class on Research Methods at Faculty of Economics of Gdansk University of Technology (december 2013)

In the so called Internet society, access to all kind of information is available to all or almost all, at least in western economies. A simple search on the web allows us to enjoy eyes-cutting materials on a specific field of knowledge. Should you be interested on marketing, for instance, out there you will find the best speakers and gurus able to illuminate your path via YouTube, twitter, blogs, etc. TED talks are perhaps a very good example of how to enjoy the latest and most innovative findings on different fields from all over the world.

Innovative and astonishing talks, they are. The strong communication skills often exhibited by the invited speakers leave one with the impression of having attended his/her long life conference. I have recently noticed an increasing attention on this from my students. Many of them comment to me directly. I also bet that many of those who sit in the bottom with computers are sometimes watching this kind of materials. I try to be comprehensive in that point. It is not easy for a regular professor tops such speakers. Needless to say that they are far more striking than reading and digesting the large volumes from one´s university library. So why should one go to college? This question has lately been swirling around in my head and I wanted to pose in class, with excellent results, by the way.

The truth is that one could stay at home watching online talks on the Internet, reading the best blogs and following the most influents thinkers of one´s specific discipline. Imagine you do that for as many years as a regular university degree lasts. Five hours a day from Monday to Friday. Would the results be the same? Would your personal development be the same? It seems difficult to answer such question positively. This is it because attending class is more than the above arguments. Here are the top eight reasons why you should attend class:

  1. To have a “paper”. Without beat around the bush, attending class is likely to be one of the requirements to obtain the desirable title of graduate. It is actually an essential for many professors. In other words, it will conduct you to obtain a paper that proof that you have indeed attended university. There is somehow a materialistic reason, after all.
  2. To acquire social skills. But it is not a materialist reason what makes attending class important. Taking part of discussions, the fact of stating your opinion, disagree or agree with your classmates, working in teams or paired off and listening other´s opinions are an essential part of any class session. Although it is true that this point strongly depend on how the classes are conducted by the professor.
  3. To acquire social capital. Gaining a paper proving that you are economist or sociologist or whatever may be important to getting a job after graduating. However, it is no longer a guarantee of that. What might be, on the other hand, is the so called social capital, i.e. the amount of people you know that may in the future be part of you network or even your future employer, as well as the quality of such social relations. Do not discard to cooperate with many of your class mates in the future. The fact of having experienced together the same period of live in the university it is sometimes the top reason to start up new projects. This is something unachievable when watching YouTube videos. Not even the more and more common online university programs can equalize the power of physical university in that sense.
  4. To acquire cultural capital. Strictly connected with social capital it is the so called cultural capital. The term was first introduced by the well know French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and refers to non-financial social assets. Examples can include education, the “university spirit”, intellect and style of speech, dress, body language or physical appearance. Attending university is more than acquiring new knowledge. It is a crucial period of life that shapes our identity as persons. Something that will distinguish you from other people and even from other faculties. It is well know the cultural difference between those who attend humanistic and technical degrees. All this things, in a long term, may make the difference in; for instance, promote yourself beyond economic means. In other words, your future employers may hire you not just thanks to your paper, but due to the fact that your way of behavior proof that indeed, you have attended university. This is especially true if we assume the increasing facility to obtain a “paper” nowadays. More and more non-conventional university degrees are proliferating all over the world. In two words, in occasions is just your bank account what separates you from having the “paper”. But this is not a guarantee of learning.
  5. To have a routine. The globalization has brought us major flexibility to our everyday life. At contrary to our parents’ generation, working hours are no longer shared by the majority of the people in the same city. Night shifts, half time contracts, weekend university programs, etc. make it possible. Having an everyday routine may be something truly difficult. You may be excited about that idea. Should you like living differently every week, this life style may be your ideal. However, it is not clear that the lack of routine is always desirable. What is more, it can make you less productive since you sometimes cannot even predict your working hours the next week. Hence you cannot do things in advance. You cannot have your own plan. Attending class every day allows you to better organize your own life. Not only your class hours but also your sport time, social life, commuting, etc. This point brings up another important affair that I hope to address in the future: the convenience of attending university during the weekend. Such advantages as having a half time jobs appears. But to what extend one is not missing many of the advantages of everyday interaction, as mention above, social capital, social skills, etc.?
  6. To be closely evaluated. New and moderns university formats, as online programs, have frankly improve in the way professors and students interact. Thouthough evaluations of students are also possible thanks to online platforms and chatting software. Skype is probably the best example. However, the distance between students and professors as well as among students makes the difference. It is especially true if we assume that the word evaluation is more than just grading students, but also remarking and commenting arguments and taking part of activities in class. As one of the students said in class, we all are mirrors of one another. Observing others is the best way to assess you.
  7. Because “the medium is the message”. This phrase, coined by Marshall McLuhan (1987), expresses very well the importance of class attendance. It means that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbolic relationship which the medium influences how the message is perceived. In that context, the universe around university is still a dominant medium in comparison to others. Even if the messages are apparently less revealing than, for instance, TED Talks, they will likely have more effect on you as person and professional.
  8. Because “too much information is nowadays worse than ignorance”. This idea, suggested by the well-known polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman tells us that nowadays accessing information is not a guarantee of wisdom. It was in the past, when knowledge was reserved to elites. But now, in the so called internet society, it does not make the difference anymore. At most you will be a “jack of all trades”. So what does now make the difference? Accessing the right knowledge. University programs are, somehow, a selection of the most relevant knowledge in a specific field. Everything cover in classes are somehow part of a whole designed by specialist in a given matter.

Are you perhaps thinking of more reasons? Let us know your opinion.

References

Marshal, McLuhan (1987). Understanding Media: The Extension of ManArk, London.

Bourdieu, P. (1998). The state nobility: elite schools in the field of power. Stanford University Press.