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THE MAN WHO WOULD NOT DIE: CASE STUDIES AND FIELD RESEARCH: INTERPRETATION AND ANALYSIS Interpretative explanation is more than just a fancy list of typological terms or labels that we impose on the data so that it "makes sense" to us. It requires attending to institutions, actions, images, utterances, events, customs, and all the usual objects of scientific interest, as well as to those on whom these objects of interest bear most heavily (Geertz, 1980: 167): As Van Maanen (1979: 549) has argued: The results of ethnographic study are thus mediated several times over--first, by the fieldworker's own standards of relevance as to what is and what is not worthy of observation; second, by the historically situated questions that are put to the people in the setting; third, by the self-reflection demanded of an informant; and fourth, by the intentional and unintentional ways the produced data are misleading (Van Maanen, 1979: 549). Interpretation of data is the DEFAMILIARIZATION PROCESS in which we revise what we have seen and translate it into something new. We bring the tentative insights we have gained back to the center of our attention "to raise havoc with our settled ways of thinking and conceptualization" (Marcus and Fischer, 1986: 138). Defamiliarization is a way of distancing ourselves from the taken-for-granted aspect of what we see and allows us to view what we have seen more critically. We take the collection of observations, anecdotes, impressions, documents, and other symbolic re-presentations of the culture we studied that seem depressingly mundane and common, and re-frame them into something new. An Example: "The Man Who Would Not Die." Let's take an example. My uncle died. He was on in a hospital hooked up to life support wires, tubes, and other gizmos. There were tubes for breathing, tubes for feeding, tubes to cleanse, tubes to administer drugs and more tubes to administer drugs to counter the drugs. In a rare lucid moment, he decided to yank all support systems and go home to die with dignity, a process that was expected to occur when he slipped into a diabetic coma, which might take erupt within a few hours or in a day or two. Family, friends, clergy--all were present on the day death was expected. To assure a coma would come, my uncle requested that each meal be rich, sugary, and generally as nutritionally deadly as it could be. He requested ham and eggs for his final breakfast that day. Noon came, and he, being still alive, requested pastries and snacks for his lunch, which he knew would be his final meal. He was wrong. For the last supper? Greasy pork chops. The next morning, his wife approached the lifeless bed with an odd feeling--the bed was lifeless because there was no body in it. Disgruntled with others' attempt to fix the fatal meal properly, my uncle was hopping about the kitchen fixing his own. So passed the second day and another a series of final meals, each as unsuccessful as the previous, and the mourners were beginning to fidget. How do you mourn a guy's death when he won't die? After nearly two weeks of "final meals," he finally departed, but so had family and friends. Dying is hard work, especially for the living, and death-managing departure rituals cannot be sustained indefinitely. Through interpretive analysis, the "familiar" aspects of dying become an icon for the deeper insights we glean as we pour over the data--informed by the literature that we read to sharpen our concepts--and transform it into an exciting new vision of unordinary consequence. Death is more than a permanent exit, and includes what Linda Misek-Falkoff (1991, personal communication) has called "goodbye scripts," which are pre-patterned roles and lines prepared for ritual performances during exiting events. Goodbye scripts of death are shaped by class, wealth, and other factors that interweave with emotive expressions, and goodbye scripts for dying patients can reveal much about cynicism, emotional manipulation, status and privilege. When we defamiliarize our world, Stairwells are no longer just avenues for moving between floors, but may be gender battle fields where women protect their space, bodies, composure, status, and identity; or, classrooms are no longer a congregation of learners receiving information from a teacher, but a microcosm of discrete and overlapping interpersonal struggles for status, respect, sexual conquest, ethnic hostility, degradation rituals, facework contests, and power-domination games. Interpretation invokes and challenges the researcher's sociological imagination by requiring continual reflection and the data and a constant search for images and metaphors that re-orient familiar objects and frame them in a new light. In this sense, our "results" are never final, but only partial, and are always subject to subsequent rethinking as our intellectual maturity creates new ways of thinking. What examples can you give from your own life that seem "silly," but, on closer analysis, tell us a lot about our social world? ***************************************************************** In both, we do NATURALISTIC INQUIRY (as opposed to OBJECTIVISTIC INQUIRY): Objectivistic: Associated with positivism, assumes a "reality" out there that can be uncovered and interpreted in ways in which "meaning" do not intervene; Naturalistic: Digging below SURFACE appearances to the "nature" of what we're studying, to the meanings for the "actors," to the processes, to a THICK DESCRIPTION of what goes on. Field work and case studies are usually IDEOGRAPHIC (as opposed to NOMOTHETIC). We paint WORD PICTURES instead of talk with NUMBERS. But are "word pictures" science? ******************************************************************* So, how can we CHOSE a topic and a method?
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