CAQDAS AND SOCIAL SCIENCE

CAQDAS: Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software.

"The computer-based approaches of this sort depend on procedures for coding the text (interview transcripts, fieldnotes, transcribed recordings, documents). This means marking the text in order to tag particular chunks or segments of that text. Codewords are thus attached to discrete stretches of data. The purpose of the software is, at root, twofold. First, it facilitates the attachment of these codes to the strips of data. Second, it allows the researcher to retrieve all instances in the data that share a code. Such code-and-retrieve approaches are exemplified in programs such as The Ethnograph, one of the most widely used of all the applications. The underlying logic of coding and searching for coded segments differs little, if at all, from that of manual techniques. There is no great conceptual advance over the indexing of typed or even manuscript notes and transcripts, or of marking them physically with code-words, coloured inks and the like. 

"Many of the software packages allow the researcher to do more than just coding. Software such as The Ethnograph (version 4.0 and later), Kwalitan, NUD*IST, all permit the user to do things like attaching analytic or other memoranda to specific points in the text. The aim is to incorporate many of the key tasks of 'grounded theory' strategies within the software applications. There is, therefore, a close relationship between the processes of coding and the use of computers."  (Coffey, A., B. Holbrook and P. Atkinson (1996) 'Qualitative Data Analysis: Technologies and Representations', Sociological Research Online, 1.1 http://www.socresonline.org.uk/socresonline/1/1/4.html)

How can we use computers more creatively?

  • Quantitative Research: use of statistics to study society (“hard social science”)
  • Qualitative Research: use of interviews and observation to study society.  (“Soft social science")
  • Ethnography: practice of immersion within some society and use of interviews, participation and observation to study it.
Bella filming a guide with visitors
.Various CAQDAS programs exist, from the relatively simple "Ethnograph" to the more complex NUD*IST and variations such as ATLAS/ti and Nvivo which implement some basic hypertext functionality.

All these programs tend, however, to fall into the “code and retrieve paradigm” in which the computer becomes a particular type of tool that enables the ethnographer (qualitative researcher) to organise and analyse the data collected in attempt to build theories from it.  Essentially the computer is used as a data crunching device.

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