In my theoretical and methodological work, I draw from a wide spectrum of theories—from critical theories, to contemporary pragmatism, post-colonial studies, and new materialism—to formulate a praxis- and social justice-oriented qualitative research methodology. This work aims at rethinking some of the key concepts in qualitative inquiry in the context of the advancement of modern technology and the rise of posthumanism/new materialism. Meanwhile, I critically examine methodological practice in today’s politically troubled and culturally diverse world. Below is a list of questions I have been working on.
- How shall qualitative researchers determine the validity of computer-assisted qualitative data analysis?
In “Methodological Tool or Methodology?” (Forum: Qualitative Social Research, with Peiwei Li, Karen Ross & Barbara Dennis), my co-authors and I suggest that researchers should shift their analytic focus from the instrumentality and efficiency of the software to the research practice itself. We argue that deliberative methodological decisions should be made by considering three factors: a researcher’s methodological approach, the built-in validity structure of the data analysis software, and the specific research context.
- What is the role of language in qualitative inquiry against the background of the cross-disciplinary rise of new materialism and post-humanism?
In a work-in-progress paper, “Du Iz Tak? The Impossibility of Linguistic Erasure,” Barbara Dennis and I examine the implication of the “ontological turn,” as a facing away from an anthropocentric orientation with its emphasis on human language toward a neo-materialist, post-humanist ontology. We notice that the turn away from language in post-humanist and new materialist thought relies on a representational conception of language. A thorough critique of representation does not necessarily require abandoning language as an intrinsic aspect of human experience or dislocating human heterogeneity through a critique of a human/non-human binary. We reconstruct an alternative articulation of social justice methodological theory from problematizing correspondence theories of language and truth while introducing a pragmatic perspective for conceptualizing meaning. (click here to see an abstract of a conference paper we presented on this topic)
- How shall qualitative researchers navigate their research-participant relationship in a culturally diverse and politically troubled era/space?
In “Working the hyphens in contemporary China” (International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education), I use my fieldwork in contemporary China as an example to explore the methodological and ethical challenges of performing qualitative inquiry in a politically troubled space. I discuss how my interaction with the participants was mediated by the pervasive state power. Borrowing insights from recent anthropological studies on the state and Abrams’s state effect theory, I propose to move away from a static, western centric, and territory-based conceptualization of the state, and treat the state as a culturally and historically specific structuration, in which both researchers and participants are engaged. In this way, researchers can intentionally work against the normalizing state power yet still work with their participants. This approach leads to a more deliberate understanding of the methodological and ethical responsibilities of researchers in the process of structuration.
- How shall we teach qualitative inquiry to better serve an increasingly diverse student body?
In “Exploring Graduate Students’ Understanding of Research” (International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, with Peiwei Li, Karen Ross & Barbara Dennis), my collaborators and I explore the tension that often exists between the way students conceptualize research and the way they perceive themselves in relation to the research process. We explicate how a canon-based pedagogical approach to qualitative inquiry has alienated students, in particular practitioner students, from being fully engaged in their learning. Our research proposes an alternative pedagogy foregrounding student-centered learning and makes explicit links between everyday experience and research practice.
I value empirical research as much as theoretical exploration. For me, any solid theoretical innovation has to be grounded in long-term, committed empirical studies. The research projects I am working on have been consistently and continuously offering entry points, inspirations, and directions to my theoretical contemplations. If you are interested in learning about my empirical work, please check out the Changing Fate Project and the Researching Research Project on this page.