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Contextualisation in cross- national comparative qualitative/ biographical research. Julia Brannen (Thomas Coram research Unit, Institute of Education) Ann Nilsen (University of Bergen). What is contextualisation?.

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contextualisation in cross national comparative qualitative biographical research

Contextualisation in cross- national comparative qualitative/ biographical research

Julia Brannen (Thomas Coram research Unit, Institute of Education)

Ann Nilsen (University of Bergen)

what is contextualisation
What is contextualisation?

Making sense of data in context that is in relation to other data. Typically it involves:

  • Integrating qualitative and quantitative evidence
  • Reviewing literature
  • Referring to national trend data
  • Using documentary evidence
contextualisation as a process of interpretation using different sets types of evidence
Contextualisation as a process of interpretation: using different sets/ types of evidence
  • Integration of different sets/ types of evidence (qual and quant) is not straight forward and is a methodological issue
  • Different types of sets/ evidence may serve a conceptual purpose e.g. to transcend levels of society - micro and macro
two main traditions in comparative cross national research
Two main traditions in comparative cross-national research
  • Case-based comparative research e.g. comparative cross-national qualitative studies
  • Variable-based comparative research: e.g. European surveys
a case based comparative xnational approach adopted in our own study
A case-based comparative Xnational approach (adopted in our own study)
  • Criteria for selection of cases (countries, organisations/ institutions and ‘samples’ of individuals)
  • Case selection on criteria of similarity versus difference
  • Emphasis is on the whole case – parts cannot be understood without reference to the whole
a case based xnational study
A case-based Xnational study
  • Transitions: Gender, Parenthood and the European Workplace
  • EU funded under Framework 5
  • www.workliferesearch.org/transitions
research design multiple phases methods and data
Research design: multiple phases, methods and data
  • Phase 1: Mapping of statistical trends and literature reviews in 8 countries
  • Phase 2: Organisational case studies using qualitative methods (focus groups, interviews and documentation) conducted in 7 countries (2 sectors – public and private)
  • Phase 3: Biographical interviews conducted with individual parents and partners –selected as matched cases across countries from Phase 2
levels of theorisation macro meso and micro
Levels of theorisation: macro, meso and micro
  • Macro: national and European level (survey data; literature; public policy documents) (Phase 1)
  • Meso: organisational case study (Phase 2)
  • Micro: Individual biographical interviews with parents and interviews with partners (Phase 3)
analysis at different levels
Analysis at different levels

Be clear in making interpretations:

What is the level - macro, meso, micro - that you are focussing on at any point in interpreting case-based research ?

aims in phase 3 biographical interviews with parents
Aims in Phase 3: Biographical interviews with parents
  • To provide an analysis of parents’ biographies and experiences in relation to different levels of context
comparative analysis of interview data
Comparative analysis of interview data
  • Comparative analysis of current experiences of being a working parent (Julia to discuss)
  • Comparative analysis of parents’ biographies and their transitions to parenthood (Ann to discuss)
the approach to analysis and writing up
The approach to analysis and writing up
  • National teams did separate analyses of own data to a common framework
  • National teams wrote National Reports to a common framework provided by lead authors of cross-national report
  • Lead authors of Cross-National Report did analyses of cases across countries based upon National Reports and Summaries of each individual parents interviewed by each team (all translated)
case selection in comparative analysis of parents current experiences of working parenthood
Case selection in comparative analysis of parents’ current experiences of working parenthood
  • Selected matched cases in order to compare like with like
  • Compromises had to be made made as comparability incomplete
comparative cross national analysis a multi layered contextual approach
Comparative cross-national analysis: a multi-layered contextual approach

4 Social Care Assistants’ current experiences of working motherhood (all working in social services)

  • Dahlia large city in Portugal
  • Susanne in large city in Sweden
  • Rosa in medium sized city in Bulgaria
  • Carol in metropolis in UK
the micro level comparative biographies of 2 care workers
Dália (Portugal)

left school at 13,

full-time employment now

lived with parents until married at 28

Two children; first C at 30

husband unemployed

Susanne (Sweden)

left school at 18

80% time now

lived independently before marriage at 23

1 child at 36

husband employed

The micro level: Comparative biographies of 2 care workers
how did mothers manage
Dália (Portugal)

Short paid P leave

Grandmother does childcare in child’s home

Other help from family

Little help from husband

Susanne (Sweden)

Long shared P Leave

Local childcare centre

No family nearby

Husband active in childcare

Long travel to work

How did mothers manage?
how the macro and meso levels play out at the micro level in supporting these 4 mothers
How the macro and meso levels play out at the micro level in supporting these 4 mothers?
  • Importance of additional contextual explanations – sources of support / lack of support
  • Some methods do not necessarily reveal rival or additional explanations
individual interviews a biographical approach
Individual interviews: a biographical approach

Biography: A story told in the present about events and experiences in a person’s past and her/his expectations for the future

analysis of parents transitions to parenthood life lines
Analysis of parents’ transitions to parenthood (life lines)
  • Timing of key events in the life course in relation to
  • The cohort s/he belongs to
  • The overall conditions in the historical period in which a life is lived and the structural context of the society
  • The person’s gender and social class etc
based on analysis by national teams
Based on analysis by national teams

Life lines provided

  • Comparisons between own data and national data, for example typical timing of parenthood in the life course for age, social class
  • Timings of life course transitions of individuals in relation to other transitions
  • Contrasts between life lines within countries
value of a biographical life course approach to the national teams
Value of a biographical/ life course approach to the national teams
  • How life course transitions are interpreted and talked about by the interviewee
  • How different layers of context are made relevant in the interviews, particularly with reference to the transition to parenthood
  • How some discourses are silent/silenced
  • Assistance in the selection of cases
cross national analysis of life lines consolidated interview report
Cross-national analysis of life lines (Consolidated Interview Report)
  • Case selection based on material available incl. national reports and summaries
  • Cases chosen with contrasting life course patterns
  • Interview text
  • Reports on meso level data (organisations) and macro level data – national and cross national reports from earlier phases of the study
examples of analysis from the ground up
Examples of analysis ‘from the ground up’
  • Drawing on all available data
  • Focussing on life lines
  • Analysing life lines with reference to different layers of context including the historical context