Entry 16: Making Ends Meet

Well, I’ve written, or at least blocked out, almost everything except for the final discussion and recommendations chapter. And I’ll admit, I’ve held off on writing this part. Not because I don’t have enough material, but because I have too much! In fact, the amount of data I've collected and organised as a result of rereading all ten of my short listed texts is enough to construct an interesting discussion for an entire book.

The title for this post seems rather inappropriate then, doesn’t it? But for me, “making ends meet” means connecting all the individual threads which make up this thesis to create a unified whole; the ends must meet. And it’s just a little bit scary trying to imagine how the finished product will/should look as I’m working with so many ideas and texts and themes. I think the scale I’m aiming for might exceed what is possible in a Master’s thesis (in fact, I’ve already written 30,000 words without the discussion and recommendations. And these blog entries together are also over 30,000 words! That’s 60,000 words I’ve written in just over 10 months. Eek!). Saying that, I’m very pleased with my Methodology and Choosing Stories chapters, even though I did have to remove the segment on Derrida’s deconstruction (always another time though, right?).

The difficulty lies in capturing the depth and potential of my ten shortlisted texts in the very limited word count available. Subsequently, I’ve spent quite a lot of time thinking about how to format the discussion. I want it to work for me, not against me like it did in my research project (I’ve written about that here and part of my apprehension is tied in to the fact that I didn’t quite achieve what I set out to do in that project). And since qualitative/textual content analysis is a highly interpretive and mutable method for data collection and analysis, there are quite a few possible options:

Pick only three stories to analyse in detail as standalone essay-length discussions:

·       Advantages: Reasonably fast to do, considers the entire story, significant depth to analysis

·       Limitations: Implies there is only one way to read each text in terms of leadership theory, lack of breadth and scope to analysis, difficulty in walking the line between literary theorist and leadership practitioner, lack of focus over entire discussion

Analyse all 10 short listed stories individually in light of one key theme/idea/question on women’s leadership (similar format to Badaracco, 2006):

·       Advantages: Plenty of scope to analysis, clearly highlights a wide range of relevant key points found in each text

·       Limitations: Time-consuming, difficult to stay within word limit, lack of depth, potentially repetitive

Treat segments of the books like interviews and pick and choose relevant excerpts for protracted discussion:

·        Advantages: Similar to a normal qualitative interpretive discussion, reasonably quick to put together, plenty of scope to analysis

·        Limitations: Lack of depth to analysis, disjointed discussion, bad practice in terms of using literature (it makes the literary theorist in me shudder!)

Create an integrated analysis using key examples from a range of texts and that uses a conceptual theoretical framework to logically structure the discussion (similar to Knights & Willmott, 1999):

·       Advantages: Balance between scope and depth, clear structure, opportunities for integration between theory and examples, productive

·       Limitations: Easy to get lost following rabbit trails, possibly quite time consuming to form a unified discussion which builds on each part to create a comprehensive whole

At various points in my research I’ve considered all these possibilities, but I’m tentatively choosing to go with the final option. Based on my literature reviews of leadership and women’s leadership, along with what I’ve identified as the key themes women’s literature raises, I’ve already developed a sound and closely interlinked conceptual framework (each concept progressively builds on the other). This is so that if/when I take this research further I already have a workable framework by which to organise a women’s leadership development programme or book club. 

So, what will this look like? I have my five key concepts and ten short listed novels/short stories/plays. And roughly 6,000 words to work with, maybe 6,500 at a stretch. I imagine at this point that I will organise my discussion into five separate sections and devote 700-800 words to examining and discussing examples from one primary text for each concept, with an additional 200 words to make additional comments on how other stories are also concerned with that 'theme.'

What I hope to achieve in each segment of close analysis:

1.     Briefly define aim (key concept/issue) and explain why it’s important (linking back to discussion points in lit. reviews).

2.     Clearly demonstrate how the texts provide opportunities for critical theorising and illustrative analysis by using an example/s (doesn’t have to be overly long but must clearly communicate the potential for the ‘theory to illuminate the work, and the work to illuminate the theory’).

3.     Provide a few possible critical reflective points/questions/ideas (for the purpose of problematizing issues and inspiring transformative insight).

If I can successfully do this then the textual analysis is productive as well as being interpretive as it opens up “peripheral spaces for new understandings and embodied ways of thinking” (Savin-Baden & Wimpenny, 2014, p. 51) about women's leadership.

Dancing on the edge...

Reflecting on everything I’ve done so far, I like to think of my thesis, and especially the methods, as ‘dancing on the edge of inquiry.’ That is, my research is experimental, fun and playful. And while it may seem to some that reading and analysing novels is an affront to traditional management scholarship, as leadership and humanities scholar J. Thomas Wren (2009) observes, “the creation and study of art yield a bountiful harvest of skills and deep insights that are inescapably linked to the human interactions we call leadership” (p. 29). When it is phrased as beautifully as that, how can you dare to disagree?!

References:

Savin-Baden, M., & Wimpenny, K. (2014). A practical guide to arts-related research. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

Wren, J. T., Riggio, R. E., & Genovese, M. A. (Eds.). (2009). Leadership and the liberal arts. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.