More Like Jazz Than Classical: Reciprocal Interactions Among Educational Researchers and Respondents

Fall, 2010

Source: Harvard Educational Review. Vol. 80, Iss. 3; pg. 327-354. (Fall, 2010)
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this paper, three educational scholars share insights from their lived experience as qualitative researchers trying to work in collaboration with diverse populations.
The authors discuss the role that culturally responsive improvisation plays in ethnographic research and interactions. Their experiences reveal that jazz-like democratic improvisation facilitates reciprocal interactions and meaningful relationships among and between researchers and respondents.

Three narratives comprise the heart of this article: the reflections of an educational sociologist of African American ancestry featuring her interactions with teenage respondents, most of whom are Black; the experiences of an education theorist of Native American ancestry that reveal her interactions with Ojibwe community respondents; and the observations of an education theorist of Chicana ancestry elucidating her interactions with Latin® college students. Departing from tradition, all three narratives give voice and life to the blending of "home" and "work" in the research process.

Through reflecting and writing about the challenges and rewards of being treated by respondents as insiders to the communities we study, the authors seek a dialogic bridge over which they can convey to the academy the importance of what their communities have taught them about "doing" qualitative research. The authors also seek a methodological bridge that may be useful to others who conduct research within communities marginalized by the American mainstream or by other structures of power. The focus of this article is on the actual strategies we have used - the actual "doing" of qualitative research (see also Hermes, 1998; White & Hermes, 2005.)

Conclusions and Methodological Implications

All three of the narratives which have been presented in this paper show cultural intuition and reciprocity in practice. In their cases the authors were members of the communities of color they were researching; or, at the very least, the authors shared cultural commonalities with their respondents. The communities serve to educate the researchers (both insiders and outsiders) on how to do research as much as, if not more than, the researchers educate the communities.
The authors' stories demonstrate that qualitative research involving cultural intuition and reciprocity is complex, serious, and dynamic.

As indicated in their stories of hanging out with Black teens, respecting community elders, and seeing their students as their family, the authors are pulled by the constant tension between two very different audiences, two very different authorities. From their commitments to and their memberships within their research communities, the authors have recognized an undercurrent that subdues the voicing of needs, priorities, etiquettes, authority, and legitimacy. The needs of their research participants and subsequent ways of conducting research are often, though not always, in conflict with the conventions of the authors' disciplines.

Hermes, M. (1998). Towards a First Nations methodology: Research methods as a situated response. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 11(1), 155-168.

White, C., & Hermes, M. (2005). Learning to play scholarly jazz: An exploration into Indigenous methods for a culturally responsive evaluation. In S. Hood, R. Hopson, & H. Frierson (Eds.), The role of culture and cultural context (pp. 103-126). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Press.

Updated: Apr. 10, 2011