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Blog post Covid-19, education and educational research

Researching the world in uncertain times: The role of bricolage

Anna Robb, University of Dundee

‘Man finds himself living in an aleatory world; his existence involves, to put it baldly, a gamble. The world is a scene of risk; it is uncertain, unstable, uncannily unstable.’ (Dewey, 1929, p. 41)

The world that Dewey evokes in this quote has never seemed truer. We find ourselves living amid a global crisis outside our control. From a research perspective it is a world rich with the possibilities of new knowledge. The impact of this crisis on schools, teachers, pupils and families needs to be recorded and explored in order to learn from it. What is the best way to explore these experiences that keeps everyone – the researcher and the researched – as safe as possible in the current climate?

The first issue to consider is the researcher and their personal response to the crisis. In the current situation we are not detached from the experience, we are living it too. It is therefore impossible to be objective while undertaking research. The researcher also has an ethical responsibility to safeguard their own physical and psychological wellbeing (BERA, 2018, p. 35) as well as that of their participants.

The second issue concerns research participants. It makes sense to start gathering data now, with people responding in real time as opposed to gathering selected memories a month or two later (Rubin, 2012). However, what is said and done during a crisis may be different from what might be following a period of calm reflection. Someone who consents to take part may feel differently a year from now. The issue of ongoing consent (BERA, 2018) is therefore relevant, ensuring that communication between participant and researcher is such that that both parties can respond to the circumstances around them as they evolve.

‘What is said and done during a crisis may be different following a period of calm reflection. Someone who consents to take part may feel differently a year from now.’

When conducting qualitative research, the researcher aims for neutrality rather than objectivity. To do this, reflexive tools are employed (Berger, 2015; Gewirtz & Cribb, 2006). In an uncertain world it is perhaps time to embrace the methodological approach of ‘bricolage’ (Kincheloe & Berry, 2004). A key feature of bricolage is the flexibility to respond to the research context over time. The researcher embraces multiple methodological and theoretical lenses, allowing for breadth and depth to emerge in the analysis. The approach is cyclical, using a process called ‘feedback looping’ and an anchor known as a ‘point of entry text’ (POET), which stimulates the initial inquiry and is revisited throughout the process in order to determine new lines of inquiry (Kincheloe & Berry, 2004). Ongoing reflexion, stimulated by the POET, aims to be critical and transformative (Kincheloe & Berry, 2004). The researcher acknowledges the ongoing subjectivity that is present and acts accordingly in relation to the research and the participants.

‘Bricolage provides a mechanism to acknowledge and respond to the interdependent relationship between researcher, participant and the environmental context of the research.’

Bricolage provides a mechanism to acknowledge and respond to the interdependent relationship between researcher, participant and the environmental context of the research. Ethical reflexivity (Gewirtz & Cribb, 2006) is therefore integral to this approach. Bricolage also provides structure in which this can occur on an ongoing basis from the initiation of the project, through implementation, to analysis and dissemination. This in turn provides mechanisms to ensure that ongoing consent between researcher and participant is maintained throughout. Bricolage is therefore an approach worthy of further attention and consideration by researchers wishing to explore and respond to the current situation we all find ourselves in.


References

Berger, R. (2015). Now I see it, now I don’t: Researcher’s position and reflexivity in qualitative research. Qualitative Research, 15(2), 219–234.

British Education Research Association [BERA]. (2018). Ethical guidelines for educational research (fourth edition). London. Retrieved from https://www.bera.ac.uk/researchers-resources/publications/ethicalguidelines-for-educational-research-2018

Dewey, J. (1925). Experience and nature. USA: Dover Publications.

Gewirtz, S., & Cribb, A. (2006). What to do about values in social research: The case for ethical reflexivity in the sociology of education. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 27(2), 141–155. https://doi.org/10.1080/01425690600556081

Kincheloe, J. L., & Berry, K. S. (2004). Rigour and complexity in educational research: Conceptualizing the bricolage. New York: Open University Press.

Rubin, D. C. (2012). The basic systems model of autobiographical memory. In D. Berntsen & D. C. Rubin (Eds.), Understanding autobiographical memory: Theories and approaches Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.