Qualitative Data Analysis-Using a Dialogical Approach by Paul Sullivan a Review by Nadia IDRI

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    Nadia Ahouari_Idri

    In order to ask to review this book, the title was the first thing that attracted my attention. I am a researcher in the field of education and foreign languages and a lecturer of research methodology. It is quite evident for many people engaged in research that objectivity is one of the most focused criteria in research especially when dealing with human and social sciences. In addition, dialogue is also omnipresent in the fields of arts, humanities and social sciences. Putting both qualitative data analysis and dialogue within one approach motivated me to read and review the book and discover what this new approach can add to the field of qualitative research methods.

    Paul Sullivan wrote this book to an audience that can include academics, practitioners, teachers, researchers and students. This makes his readership larger since the need to understand qualitative methods and update our knowledge about it is becoming an inevitable need. Sullivan’s source of inspiration to suggest this new way of considering qualitative data is the Russian Mikhail Bakhtain (1895-1975). The main essence of the method of qualitative data analysis in this dialogical approach is considering subjectivity. When using qualitative methods, we generally find dialogue as an omnipresent factor. Sullivan highlighted subjectivity as a representation of the author’s thoughts, feelings and emotions and suggested that an open analysis is made possible. The author can possess an aesthetic spirit when analyzing the discourse used in the dialogue. Language plays an important role here as it unites rhetoric and ambivalent experiences under the view of dialogue. Researchers who use various qualitative methods can be acquainted with such existing methodologies as grounded theory, narrative analysis, phenomenological analysis and discourse analysis which Sullivan related to not only theoretical bases but in terms of practices as well.

    Sullivan introduced his book using a chronology of time where he mentioned what inspires his thoughts, transformative moments (the When?), participants and intimate encounters (the How?), power and experience (How?) through a dialogical approach. He explained dialogue in three steps; features, attitudes (trust and suspicion) and dialogical contribution.     

    The book can easily be read because the author employs terms carefully using a simple and clear language. He avoids too technical terms and uses a simplified style to guarantee that readers understand its objectives. Sullivan’s style is illustrative and uses examples all along the book about the dialogical logic and through diverse disciplines. Sullivan, in his nine chapters, explored a wide number of subjects that can help understand the use of dialogue that characterizes language in many fields of interest and many areas. He has also put focus on a number of qualitative methods where this approach can be adopted in analyzing data namely when using interviews and focus groups. That makes of the dialogical approach a new means of data collection and analysis. However, Sullivan, though suggesting the consideration of subjectivity, he remained objective when considering the shortcomings of the approach arguing that it can be used alongside with other existing qualitative approaches in order to reach a complementary result.

    To go further, Sullivan detailed the discussion on the use of dialogue in qualitative methods and tries to illustrate the logic related to the approach through examples and by relating theory to practice. He classified the different types of subjectivity (blank, complex, uncomplicated). He devoted a chapter to how to use dialogue to explore subjectivity. Here, he put focus on discourse in order to explain the consideration of subjectivity through intonation and re-accentuation, genre and aesthetics.

    After dealing with different aspects of the dialogical approach, Sullivan considers data preparation and analysis putting focus on bureaucracy (guideline following) and charisma (stylistic) in data analysis. This has been explicitly explained and illustrated within different existing qualitative methods like grounded theory; fine-grained discourse analysis; critical, large-scale discourse analysis; narrative analysis and phenomenological analysis where the elements a researcher should consider in each type of analysis are made clear.

    After the preparation stage, Sullivan moves to the analysis and the presentation of the results, and writing up the analysis. The author related this writing-up to organization of the analysis, considering the genre, doing background reading, putting various voices into dialogue with each other (Sullivan, 2012: 81) in order to consider the participants’ voices into analysis. Later, he expands the aspect of voice by the introduction of double-voice discourse (more than one addressee in an utterance) in focus group data and how to use a “created dialogue”. Aspects related to genre, intertextuality, analysis of commentaries on subjectivity are detailed in chapters six and seven.  Sullivan’s book includes an important chapter where criteria for the evaluation of the dialogical approach to qualitative analysis are established. Here, he takes into account space, time and causality to draw the link. He reported the traditional way of evaluation that includes validity, reliability and genralizability. Then, he shifted to the criteria of evaluation in qualitative research relying on an epistemological reasoning. Finally, he established the criteria for the dialogical approach including voices of the participants.

    To sum up, Sullivan offered an important material for qualitative methods’ users through this guide that can help researchers who use qualitative research and where dialogue is focused in their studies. His work is a rich source of illustrations, figures, tables, examples, further readings fulfilled by a rich, consistent and updated bibliography.




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