In less than 3 weeks I am setting out on my research trip to conduct an interpretive study of flood risk management policy at the local level in the city of Leicester, the UK. At the same time, I supervise three students who will conduct similar studies in three other cities, namely Roos Haasnoot in Jerusalem, Esme Arnott in Milton Keynes, and Rafaela Reznik in Sabadell.
All of these have to follow the same design and therefore some rigorous methodological work is necessary in order to come up with one approach which is straight-forward enough for students to follow and allows enough flexibility for an interpretive research. And in search of such an approach that is both flexible and internally consistent, this post is to provide a list of key readings which will help the students to get ready for their work. It may also be useful to others interested in interpretive research. Without further ado, here is the list.
1. Conducting Interpretive Policy Analysis by Dvora Yanow, 2001
A book which gives a short yet clear introduction to the theoretical underpinnings and practical suggestions in doing interpretive science. The chapters on symbolic spaces, acts and objects are perfect for clear guidance on what to research, and examples are illuminating and informative.
2. Interpretive Research Design by Peregrine Schwartz-Shea and Dvora Yanow, 2012
This recent book has already become a classic in offering advise to graduate and post-graduate students on how to conceptualize and implement an interpretive social science study. While its value is mostly in defending an interpretive design from attacks of scholars who do not share the same ideas and doubt the scientific value of this approach, it is a valuable source of knowledge and ideas for both a grad student and a more experienced researcher.
3. Participant Observations, James Spradley, 1980
One chapter of this book, recommended to me by a colleague and a neighbor — Merlijn van Hulst — is especially useful for beginning ethnographers or students with interest in using ethnography as a method or methodology. By outlining the categories which to look at during participant observations, Spradley provides a perfect guidelines for conducting basics of descriptive observations. I hope to see this to come out of the work of the students as well as my own work.
4. Deep Play: Notes on Balinese Cockfight, Gifford Geerts, 1972
A classical study in anthropology and ethnography which gave rise to the style of writing known as “thick description”. It is an example of good ethnography that is not only descriptive by analytical.
5. Every Twelve Seconds, Tim Pachirat, 2009
I have discussed this book earlier on this blog, the example of a strong and appealing ethnography that is both descriptive and unobtrusively analytical. An illustration of the power of careful and meticulous observation.
6. “Building a Theory of Learning in Collaboratives: Evidence from the Everglades Restoration Program” by Andrea Gerlak and Tanja Heikkila, 2001
This article does not have an overtly interpretive take on learning, although is acknowledges the ways of knowing, interpretation and subjectiveness that goes into it. The value of the article is in providing key theoretical concepts for studying collaborative learning within the POWER project which would be done interpretively.
7. “Rethinking the travel of ideas: policy translation is the water sector” by Farhad Mukhtarov, 2014
An article which outlines the countours of an approach to policy translation or contextualization of policy innovations in new policy and cultural contexts. It is of value in our project as it draws attention to three categories of interest — meaning, scales and localities and contingency and uncertainties.
8. Van onderzoeksthema tot empirisch geval: een kwestie van redeneren!? Merlijn van Hulst & Sabine van Zuydam, 2013
Finally this piece of writing belongs to a colleague from Tilburg, Melrijn van Hulst and is co-authored with Sabine van Zuydam. The value of the article is in explaining how to connect theory to a particular case study, how to justify a case selection and how to deal with the issues of generalization. A very useful source for a beginner or a more experienced social scientist. Unfortunately, it is in Dutch.
These are the sources that I and my students have to read before doing their research, and which is perhaps useful to anyone interested in studying an empirical phenomenon interpretatively.
Furthermore, we are planning to write blog stories from the field starting from May 2017 — from Jerusalem, Leicester, Milton Keynes and Sabadell. So do stay tuned as we will share interesting stories about doing fieldwork in a new place, water management, ethnography and research from the field! It will be exciting!