I need help in identifying and defining my variable from a research question

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    This is my first research proposal and I was hoping someone could help me identify and define my dependent/independent variable. 

    Qualitative Research Question: How does fashion and clothing influence cultural perceptions of power and femininity in first ladies and female politicians?

    Nino Rode

    Variables… In qualitative research… Personally I don’t see qualitative research to really have something to do with variables. Variables are a way to isolate some (of course) important traits or attributes that change between the units you have sampled from the population of interst. They are the tools to stabilise the picture and enable the researcher to thtink of theunuts with the same value of a variable as basically the same, which enables her to forget about other differences  or transform these differences into other variables to try to find out the patterns and relations within the sample and therfore in the population… Complicated, ha?

    To spell it out, variables are tools to stabilise the picture and try to make the units and the differences between them unimportant. That is necessary in statistical and other quantitative research, to get anything done. In qualitative research it is better to think about the cases, about entities that have some attributes which are interwoven with one an other, they are related, conected to each other, they form a (thick) mesh of interconnections which determine or form (construct) the entity.

    But you want variables… that’s OK with me. In your question I see 5 variables:

    1. fashion

    2. clothing

    3. cultural perceptions

    4. power

    5. femininity

    We also have a constant determining your population of interest: women in politics. But you know this already. In quantitative research you would procede to find come measurable indicators to find out the values of these (possibly latent) variables.

    In qualitative you don’t. You can for instance try to find out what the clothing MEANS to:

    1. the politicians

    2. the public opinion leaders

    3. the voters;

    then you find out how fashion influences the choices of clothing of:

    1. people in common,

    2. powerful people (what do they chose to wear in order to stress their power),

    3. women (what do they chose to wear in order to stress their femininity)

    next you have to see what is the cultural stance regarding the relation between the power and the femininity (here the culture really steps in your research) an so on.

    To do this with variables you should have:

    politics, public opinion, public opinion leadership, voting behaviour, fashion, choice of clothing, common people, power, signs of power, gender, femininity, signs of femininity, cultural norms about power, cultural norms about femininity, cultural norms about relation between the power and the femininity…

    We havent even begun properly and we have 14 variables, each of wich is a combination of at least five variables…

    Here Ragin’s characterisation from his first book (1987) cuts in. Quantitative research works with a small number of variables and their correlations/interactions, and big number of cases (we statisticians prefer to call them units). Qualitative research on the other hand  works with a small number (even one to three) cases and a big number of variables ( qualitative researchers prefer to call them themes, traits…) and their interrelations, almost always to do with meanings. However I think that I made it clear that thinking of isolating variables in qualitative research advance is at least impractical (you can always enumerate variables post festum, when your qualitative research i sover – this is one of the mixed metod desuigns: use qualitative research to determine the important/useful variables for a survey or other standardised data collection). So basically don’t bother. You have to spread out the concepts (that’s what I did here), to bound and inform your research interest.


    Nino thanks for your help, greatly appreciated.

    One more question would fashion, clothing, and cultural perceptions be my independent variables and power and femininity my dependent variables?

    Nino Rode

    Yes, why not? You can do it like this (I gather you are writing a proposal and someone important wants you to name your variables) as long as you are aware that this is only a front, not a tool.

    Let me try to get my message through once more. You DON’T use variables in qualitative research, and there is NO clearcut way to determine so called independent and dependent variables. Let’s see your example again:

    You say femininity is dependent? But femininity is something that determines individual attitude toward fashion (so femininity as an individual trait/behaviour is “independent” and fashion is “dependent” on it).

    Power and femininity are (at least in our culture) not independent of eah other.

    Clothing is informed by culture, but fashion influences a choice of clohting. However the choice of clothing made by important (powerful) people determines fashion.

    I don’t think it is necesary to go on. I hope you get the point because if you want your work to be a good qualitative analysis, you’ll have to go through all these interrelations and find out what they mean in the case of female polititians, what do they mean to them and to the people around them, and finally how all this makes sense and what does it mean.

    Jp Munoz

    There is an article in this website about dependent/independent variable, you can check this link: http://www.researchmethod.org/the-variable/

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