Reflections on DATA

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

As a society, we put great value on DATA. As students, academics, scholars, researchers, practitioners and inquirers, we are often in the pursuit of, if not, immersed in DATA. Each Discipline, from the Medical and the Health Sciences, to Engineering, Computer Science and Business, Sociology and Social Policy, to Education and many others, we seek to collect, analyze and interpret data in meaningful and impactful ways. All the while, we adhere to the highest standards of integrity, validity and reliability. Institutionally, we evaluate and scrutinize our methodological processes through rigorous review processes, internal review boards, internal and external audits, and certifications. Whether or not our practices are directly or indirectly related to data generation and management, our lives are increasingly enveloped in DATA, and currently, BIG DATA mediated by powerful data processing and storage software.

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Relatedly, in the scope of research data analysis, there is substantive literature, instruction, training and professional development that engage quantitative and qualitative methods of research and data collection. Nonetheless, there are some enduring questions about the implications of methodology towards humanizing and democratizing research outcomes:

What is the symbolic or material value of researcher data?
  1. Whose interests does it serve? Who does research ultimately benefit?
  2. What purpose(s) does it fulfill, for whom and why?
  3. What are the restrictive parameters (e.g. temporal or contextual, etc.) particular to the affordances and limitations of the collected data that would curtail or caution the generalizability or universality of the research findings?
  4. What other outcomes or consequences can be anticipated, identified or acknowledged beyond/outside the scope of the research question/study?
  5. What are the cross-disciplinary implications of the study (e.g. social, economic, political, religious, etc.)
Are there issues of Access in Site and Participant Selection?
  1. Whose stories are studied, retold, why, and how? Which stories and agendas are foregrounded, and which are subjugated? Whose stories and agendas are omitted?
  2. Which participants does research reach by elicitation, and why? Is there an avenue/process for participants/communities to reach research opportunities? Is there reciprocity and multilateralism in research?
  3. Can participants self-select into or except out of research without direct or indirect consequences? What are the local implications of designing indeterminacy into the site and/or participant selection process?
  4. How are power disparities conceptualized, balanced or mitigated? How is power directly or indirectly coded or recognized into the research process and findings report?

As you engage with your research project, consider the other side of RIGOR, tipping the balance towards humanization, democratizing engagement and ambivalence. Only a very intentional and balanced approach to research can counteract the historical scientification, objectification and exotification of complex categorical lived realities that are far from neutral.


Erickson and Gutierrez (2002). Culture, Rigor, and Science in Educational ResearchEducational Researcher. 31:8. 21-24.

Lather and Moss (2005). Introduction: Implications of Scientific Research in Education Report for Qualitative InquiryTeachers College Record. 107:1. 1-3.

Zembylas and Schutz, Eds. (2016) Methodological Advances in Research on Emotion and Education. Switzerland:Springer International Publishing.

By Staff Writer: Min Derry, Learning Fellow & Instructor