Risk, Deviance and Work


This is a write up of my most recent supervision meeting with Prof Ray Land and Dr Nicola Reimann.  It took place on 20th July 2016 in Ray’s office in Durham.  The weather was hot and a thunder storm was threatening, so I bought an umbrella on the way from the station.  The skies opened soon after I arrived, but I didn’t get to use my new umbrella.

We started with a brief catch up on Halifax – the Threshold Concepts Conference.  I was interested in the idea at the conference that not all so called Threshold Concepts were concepts.  This made me determined that my Threshold Concepts would actually be conceptual.  Ray said that soon after they had coined the term “Threshold Concepts” they wanted to change it to “Learning Thresholds” but the term Threshold Concepts had stuck and it was too late.

for example aquatic confidence has been defined as a threshold practice – not a concept.

He referred me to Bowden Baille & Meyer’s paper on Threshold Capabilities and David Perkins work on dispositions.

Nicola mentioned the work of Jamie Thompson et all on ELLI – Student Learning Dispositions, I definitely need to take another look at that, as this idea of agency seems to be really important.  The opposite of laziness – energy? fortitude?  The difference between people who recognise there is an opportunity but don’t take action, and those that do.  I’m not sure this is a concept so much as a critical entrepreneurial disposition.  There seem to be links to agency, learner power, psychological capital, positive psychology, self-determination and heuristics (“You are not so smart” D. McRaney) etc. etc. etc.

Ray reminded us that you cannot separate a concept from the change in subjectivity undergone by the person understanding the concept.  The ontological shift has to happen before the conceptual shift can happen.

We then went on to talk about whether dispositions can change? and Nicola asked what the impact of the context might have too.  If it is about dispositions – can they be changed – can they be learned?  this might imply that we need to select more carefully for the EBM programme…

I’m wondering if there might be a magic mixture or recipe of dispositions, characteristics, competencies, and context, and then the threshold concepts are like the instructions for how to put them all together.

Then we discussed whether risk would be seen as risk to a risk taker.  It’s this thing about being different from other people – you might not think it’s odd until you realise you’re the only one who thinks like that.  It’s only in contrast to social norms that deviance becomes apparent.  It’s defined by society.

Nicola mentioned espoused theories and theories in use when we touched on “being seen as an entrepreneur”.

She commented that the interview itself brings out certain constructions of being an entrepreneur.

We discussed briefly the media construction of entrepreneurs – and the impact of the celebrity culture.  The ones you see in the media are the ones who court celebrity – that doesn’t account for all entrepreneurs, its not a distinguishing characteristic.

The other big question I had was whether you could see and appreciate a threshold concept as such, if you had not crossed the threshold yourself?  Ray referred to the work of Etienne Wenger – who said in order to cross a threshold you must see a version of yourself on the other side.

Ray reminded me of Leif Martin’s paper in Halifax on complex thresholds – where there were apparently three different TC’s that needed to be crossed together – dealing with uncertainty, dealing with complexity and having the confidence to challenge.  They existed together, they came as a “job lot”.  That is also something to consider.

We moved on to discuss the interview transcript I had sent in advance.  Nicola reminded me that the transcripts needed to be anonymised at all stages in the analysis.  She suggested I thought of good pseudonyms instead of code numbers and started to use them straight away.  This would also have the added benefit of distancing me from what I already knew about my interview subjects, and other extraneous data.  If I could effectively foget who they really were I could perhaps get a purer look at what they were saying.

Nicola suggested that I might be able to find a typology of entrepreneurs – Type A, B C…

Ray thought there might be potential for a book in my thesis – he said there could be interest for a book that was about people talking, what people had actually said.  The quotes are certainly become compelling reading at least to me.  Or a magazine article.  Or a paper  – consensual model (can’t remember what I meant by that…).

I wondered whether Delphi Technique was a  quantitative or qualitative approach.  We talked about ways of describing data; qualitative data was rather described as trustworthy and credible rather than valid and reliable.

I propose taking a pragmatic approach and concentrating on the transcripts, coding them for concepts.  I’ve now completed three and although I ‘m coming up with concepts – I’m not coding for them….hmmmmm.  I seem to be coding for everything else but.

Nicola referred to Action Poetry – something that has practice limitations (D.Perkins)  How you understand something fairly quickly and then directly see possibilities for it.  I have to say I didn’t really get this so I’ll have to read up on Action Poetry to understand it better and how it might apply to my research.

Ray prompted me to follow up on Brad Wuetherick’s call for papers to form chapters for a book following the conference – and we agreed that next time we would discuss what my paper/chapter might usefully and realistically be about.  We mentioned a methodological approach, rather than findings.  So I need to do more thinking about all the possibilities and narrow down a few before my next supervision which is on Tuesday next week!




Doing Qualitative Research

oh the things you can find if you don't stay behind

So here’s an entry to get me started back in the swing of writing again.  Having started interviewing, recording, transcribing and coding, there doesn’t seem to be much time for any thing else.  But I thought before I dived in to the data, I’d be well advised to do some preparatory reading about my options in analysing it.

But here’s some of my take home thoughts after reading “Doing Qualitative Research” by David Silverman 4th Edition 2013.  I thought I’d better start off with a basic text.

The first thing the book did was to remind me how great Dr Seuss is – especially “Oh the places you’ll go!” as a call for action:

“Oh the things you can find if you don’t stay behind!”

Qualitative data lends itself to “a broadly constructionist approach which focused on how an aspect of the social world is put together by participants”(p.42)   That seems to sound like what I am expecting of the interviews – to find what my participants think might be the key concepts of entrepreneurship according to their own perspectives.

Interview responses may be treated as

  • giving direct access to  ‘experience’ – not so keen on this as I think recall is so vulnerable an unreliable


  • actively constructed narratives – this sounds more like it to me

“Constructionist researchers are interested in the practical activities in which persons are continually engaged, moment by moment, to construct, manage and sustain the sense that their social worlds exist as factual and objectively ‘out there’, apart from their own actions.” Holstein & Gubrium 2008b: 375 [p.107]

The ‘facts’ are socially constructed in particular contexts.  I thought the threshold concepts might be the ‘facts’ in this instance, but I’m not so sure.  I think they might be ‘facts’ which are socially constructed by me as a result of listening to and analysing the interviews.  It’s me that is constructing  the threshold concepts, I’m not asking my interviewers what the threshold concepts are, I’m deriving what I think they might be from what by subjects are saying.  During the Delphi Study stages they might be co-constructed by me and the panel members?

Am I constructing theory – or is it already constructed – when I am attempting to identify Threshold Concepts in Entrepreneurship?

‘In particular if you are a constructionist and treat social reality as constructed in different ways in different contexts, then you cannot appeal to a single ‘phenomenon’ which all your data apparently represent “p.137

Bummer.  So does this mean that by attempting to construct a list of threshold concepts (a single phenomena) I am not acting like a constructionist?

  • We generalise to theoretical propositions, not to populations (p.145)
  • Analytic generalisations (p.145) Robert Yin 2009
  • Deductive inference [Giampietro Gobo 2007]

or perhaps

  • extrapolation rather than generalisation (Alasuutari 1995 :156-7) each interview could be treated as a ‘case’ or ‘instance’. So again this present the problem of drawing multiple perspectives into one.

I liked this “How you conceive and resolve practical problems in always shaped by your model of how the social world works” p.199

“Interview responses are treated as actively constructed ‘narratives’ involving activities which themselves demand analysis ” p.202 Holstein and Gubrium, 1995.

My interviews are feeing more like a “prompted monologue on behalf of the interviewee” on entrepreneurship.  Certainly no one is having a problem thinking of enough to say so far.

The advice is not to ask your research question directly (phew I don’t think I have – or have I?).  I have asked people to talk about other people, not themselves and to talk about entrepreneurship passively, although most of them have started to relate personal experiences.  It is inevitable that they start to talk about themselves surely – I think however you ask entrepreneurs to identify entrepreneurship it’s hard to not ask the research questions  however indirectly – they all know what you’re trying to get at really.

“If respondents are made aware of your interests this can affect their responses” Surely this can have ethical implications? p.206.  I am disclosing my interests so ethically I think I’m ok, it’s just how much this affects the responses that I need to consider.  I suppose as long as I am aware of this and try and anticipate some of the ways in which this might have affected people’s responses that’s pretty much all I can do.

“Protocol design is less important if you are using a constructionist model and are, therefore, interested in how interviewers and interviewees co-construct a version of ‘reality’.  In this approach, questions and answers are made a topic as well as a resource.” p.208 Rapley, 2004)  So I think I could argue that I am co-constructing a reality – but not trying to appeal to a single ‘phenomenon’.

Constructionists prefer to talk about the hyphenated phenomena. eg. entrepreneurship-as-narrated-to-an-interviewer

I need to make sure I include something in my thesis about how I relate to my research participants for example as an ex-consultant working in the recruitment sector, and now an academic leading a programme purporting to teach entrepreneurship to undergraduate students.

It will be interesting also to consider how the respondents identify themselves as entrepreneurs.  How comfortable are they with it as an identity for themselves? To what extent do they identify as entrepreneurs?

NB Strong’s use of Goffman’s 1974 concept of framing (p.220)

Qualitative research is at its most powerful in exploring things which are everyday and taken for granted (p.235) [at least by the respondent]

The other question which is becoming increasingly pressing for me is “How many interviews is enough?”  I’m well aware that the larger your Delphi Study Panel the more quantitative validity your results have but the more interviews I do, the more transcriptions I have to do, and I am already started to feel a sense of saturation creeping in.  Perhaps my panel can be larger than the number of people I interview?  Or perhaps it doesn’t have to be.  It depends to some extent on the numbers of drop outs I get. If I knew everyone was going to stick with me to the end it would be a lot easier.  Also if I stick to my qualitative guns and don’t start to see the Delphi Technique as a quantitative approach, I think I can steer a path through this particular sticky patch.

Next question – if I’m not constructing theory in deriving the Threshold Concepts of Entrepreneurship then what exactly am I doing?

In grounded theory, theoretical sampling is used in order to flesh out the properties of a tentative category.  Charmaz & Bryant 2011: 292

Constructing Grounded Theory – Kathy Charmaz, SAGE 2006

The theory is that there are such things as Threshold Concepts.  So I’m not using Grounded Theory, as I am not constructing theory.

Ground Theory uses theoretical sampling to link concepts to broader theories. http://www.youtube/watch?v=fmWkf5LOmfA Professor Tony Bryant – Introduction to Grounded Theory.

Also www groundedtheory.com   Strauss and Corbin

Grounded Theory – the aim is to generate hypotheses that theoretically describe the constructs that arise in every sentence of the stories told (p.239)

“Construed as active, the subject behind the respondent not only holds fact and details of experience, but in the very process of offering them up for response, constructively adds to, takes away from and transforms the facts and details.  The respondent can hardly ‘spoil’ what he or she is, in effect, subjectively creating” (1995;117) Holstein and Gubrium

Mixed methods can be justified because ” you have several research questions” p.136 but triangulation doesn’t necessarily have to follow.  The risk is that you under analyse one or more of your datasets.  I guess this is the risk that I am sensing at the moment – that I under analyse the interview data, it certainly will take a great deal of analysing.  But perhaps I don’t need to have completed all the analysis from every angle in order to derive the Threshold Concepts and get started on the Delphi Rounds – that can be going along in parallel.  I am slightly (very) concerned about loosing momentum with my research participants if there’s too long a gap between interviewing them and then coming back to them with the first round of Delphi.

It also sounds like I might be adopting an hermeneutic approach.

“A hermeneutic method based on how researcher and subjects interpret the world and attempt to merge their own horizons of meaning” p.45.

I’m starting to think that the data from my interviews might be richer and merit more serious attention that I had thought.  There are clearly going to be much more than a quick and dirty way of gleaning threshold concepts in order to proceed rapidly to the next stage – the Delphi Study.  There is clearly a whole world of methodological choices that now face me as I get to grips with this first lots of data I am collecting.  A lot of analysis to be done.

It may be that the analysis of the interview data will merit a whole section in its own right.  In addition to the threshold concepts that I will be able to derive from it.  And providing the first step to the Delphi Study.


“Handbook on Methodological Approaches to Handling Interview Data” Gubrium et al. 2012.

Qualitative Interview Design.  http://www.engin.umich.edu/teaching/oltengin/engineering-education-research-resources/turner-qualitative-interview-design.pdf

Alternatively this part of my research might be treated purely a ‘descriptive study’ rather than anything fancier like hermeneutics or discourse analysis.  Although every way of looking at the interview data is potentially very interesting and I feel worth doing.  I must keep focused and realistic.  The data will stay there for me to come back and look at in many other different ways at a later date.

I need to read around the work of Michael Foucault – especially his discussion of the construction of subjects and disciplines.  There is a potential Foucauldian Methodology in Kendall & Wickham, 1998.

CA = Conversation Analysis

DA = Discourse Analysis (Potter & Weatherell, 1987, Potter 2011)