Mika Launikari

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Reflexive Interviewing - Role of Researcher

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An important phase of my doctoral research lies ahead of me now in February-March 2015 as I will be conducting thematic interviews and focus group sessions with experts working for European Union agencies in three different locations in Europe (see also www.launikari.eu/phd/). All this is exciting, but an element of stress is linked to this data collection process. Hence, in the past weeks I have been contemplating a lot on my own role as a researcher, the way I eventually influence the data collection process and how reflexivity in qualitative research can be done well.   

Within the contemporary research context, there is no need anymore to try to eradicate the presence of the researcher, nor a need for avoiding a reflexive approach in running qualitative research. The researcher must be regarded as a central figure, and we have to accept that his/her identity is part of the research process and contributes to constructing the collection, selection and interpretation of any given data. Qualitative research is considered as a co-constructive process of knowledge creation between the participants involved in it. The aim is to establish some kind of a “working together relationship” between the researcher and the data providing interviewee. This way meanings can be negotiated within a social context, yet it must be kept in mind that different people may well give different meanings to particular phenomena in human life. (Smyth and Mitchell, 2008; 442-443)

Emotions are present in all aspects of life and they influence the way we make sense of the social reality as well as our interaction with others. Riach (2009; 356) emphasizes that conducting analysis or presenting findings in a way that sensitively captures the multiple levels of a research encounter remains one of the biggest challenges for the qualitative researcher. Indeed all humans have feelings, emotions as well as instinctive and intuitive knowing, which cannot and should not be ignored, nor an attempt to abolish them should be made in carrying out interviews for qualitative research. The issue is of course how much space they can be allowed to have and what kind of an impact they will have within the given research context.

These days there is a wider acceptance of the researcher’s emotions and experiences. They have been recognised as an important source of insight to be taken into consideration within qualitative research. The researcher is neither required to bracket out him/herself, nor his/her past experiences, prior knowledge or prevailing emotions. Rather, by means of critical, yet open self-reflection, experience and knowledge will be integrated in the research process, and they are regarded as necessary in relation to analysing and interpreting the issues being researched. Therefore, we may argue that researchers who try to avoid relying on their personal emotions and life experience when sharing the research story can at least to a certain extent be considered dishonest (Watts, 2008).

Bibliography:

Riach, K. (2009). Exploring Participant-centred Reflexivity in the Research Interview. In Sociology, Vol. 43: 356-370. SAGE Publications Inc.

Smyth, L. & Mitchell, C. (2008). Researching Conservative Groups: Rapport and Understanding across Moral and Political Boundaries. In International Journal Social Research Methodology. Vol. 11, No. 5, 441–452.

Watts, J. (2008). Emotion, empathy and exit: Reflections on doing ethnographic qualitative research on sensitive topics, Medical Sociology online, Vol. 3, No. 2, 3-14.

Graduate employability and the ever internationalising world of work

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Given the shift towards the service-oriented knowledge and interaction economy, where the work environments will be increasingly multicultural and multinational, there is an intensified demand for people, who are able to operate flawlessly in culturally diverse contexts. Also the recent McKinsey research report Diversity matters (2014) pinpoints the fact that companies with more diverse workforces perform better financially. To this end, higher education institutions in Finland and elsewhere are making efforts to prepare their students for global citizenship as well as for the international labour market.

At least to a certain extent, skills required to function well in an international work environment can be obtained during higher education studies through mobility experiences in other countries and through real-life exposure to international academic disciplines, internships, research, languages, study trips abroad and other forms of intercultural engagement. An Australian qualitative study (2010) revealed that students, academics and employers identified evident connections between international experience and employability. The research outcomes were associated with the creation of networks, opportunities for experiential learning, improvement of language skills and the development of soft skills linked to cultural awareness, personal characteristics and processes of thinking.

This clearly indicates that international and multicultural competences are an integral element of one’s personal employability (also see e.g. Teichler 2011: Employability and mobility of bachelor graduates in Europe). Cedefop (2009) has defined employability as the combination of factors enabling individuals to progress towards or get into employment, to stay in employment and to progress during career. This definition is applicable to the local, regional, national and international labour markets. So, in case we wish to see more people in the future participating in international labour mobility and acquiring related intercultural competences, we have to start exploring and analysing in further details, how higher education institutions more systematically could contribute to the development of graduate employability in relation to the internationalisation of working life.

All these issues were touched upon in the lecture that I gave in early February 2015 to Finnish and foreign degree students at Laurea University of Applied Sciences in Espoo, Finland. The main aim of the lecture was to raise awareness of the demands of the global labour market as well as to highlight different ways to increase one’s own intercultural sensitivity. And finally, do not miss out this online article about the future world of work.

All my yesterdays, all my tomorrows

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It seems that these rather difficult and turbulent times make people more conscious of their past, present and future. At least this is what I have been observing when communicating with my family members, friends and colleagues in Finland and abroad. Lately many of them have undergone unexpected changes, major difficulties and sudden losses, and are now reflecting on what all that possibly means to them as well as how that influences their daily lives now and eventually redirects their paths in the future. Some of them keep saying that there is hardly any sense in life anymore, while some others remain rather optimistic regardless of their miserable experiences and rough circumstances.

Common to all these people is the simple need to understand what happened and why things went the way they did. Often these ponderings and wonderings come together with questions and concerns about “should I have done something differently to avoid this to happen” or “why on earth did I not see this coming”. In many cases – luckily so – once people get over the worst and the most acute phase passes, they usually try to learn from their experience and see a deeper meaning in their everyday lives. But sometimes people are in denial and have difficulties in admitting that they actually might have contributed to the negative developments themselves or the shock of the loss might be so tragic and dramatic that they cannot mentally handle it right away, but need more time and even external support to process it.

We humans vary in our ability to tolerate uncertainty. Therefore some people wish that they would know beforehand what the future holds for them. Knowing tomorrow’s news today would allow us to plan our lives ahead with a minimal level of uncertainty. But dealing with uncertainty – sometimes even with unusuality and unexpectancy – is an unavoidable part of daily life. No matter how great control freaks we may be, we can never ever have a complete control of all the developments unfolding in the world around us. We simply have to accept that it is fully normal to be a little uncomfortable with uncertainty, yet the positive aspect is that we can always develop mental and practical methods to be better able to cope with it.

Future consciousness is part of our awareness of time and it comprises the normal human abilities to anticipate and imagine the future, to have expectations towards the future as well as to define goals for the future. However, in our efforts to minimize the inconvenience caused by uncertainty, we should neither fall into the illusionary trap and think that the future can be predicted based on the past (i.e. if the past was good to us, then the future has to be good as well), nor should we fall into an imaginary wishful dream world either and pretend that we are so well protected – especially in the western world – that nothing bad can happen to us in the future. Life is not made like that.

But while thinking about the future, it is always good to remember where we are coming from. In today’s world planning ahead, evaluating different choices and possibilities, creating a positive vision for one’s own life, clarifying one’s own motives, beliefs, feelings and attitudes about tomorrow is crucial. Facing the future calls for endurance, persistence and adaptability as well as tolerance of uncertainty and most importantly acceptance of one’s own past with its goods and evils.