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Researchware, Inc.

Simply Powerful Tools for Qualitative Research

Researchware Keynotes The Qualitative Report's 4th Annual Conference

Researchware cofounder, Dr. Sharlene Janice Nagy Hesse-Biber is to be the keynote speaker at The Qualitative Report's Fourth Annual Conference, January 18 - 19, 2013. The conference, sponsored by the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences of Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida USA, explores the theme of "Qualitative Research and Technology". As the inspiration behind Researchware's Simply Powerful Tools for Qualitative Research and editor of the Handbook of Emergent Technologies in Social Research (Oxford University Press, 2011), among many other publications, Dr. Hesse-Biber is a leader in the role of technology in qualitative research.

Sharlene's address is on "The Medium is the Message." Channeling Mashall McLuhan's Insights to Examine the Role of Emergent Technologies in Social Research.

Marshall McLuhan's path-breaking book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, published in 1964, notes the character of the medium through which a message is delivered is most important with regard to how it is understood by others. This insight led him to emphatically note, "The medium is the message,'' because he firmly believed in the independent impact of a given medium to affect the very content of the message.

In this talk I will "channel" some of Marshall McLuhan's insights on technology and social research, as I present my thoughts on the variety of ways newly emergent technologies challenge our basic research practices and upend traditional disciplinary points of view regarding such foundational questions as: What is the nature of the social world? Who can know? What can be known?

What appears increasingly apparent, is that some basic structures of the social scientific enterprise as a whole will be transformed from a disciplinary based practice to a more interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary environment, where social science researchers will be part of a team-based research projects. In addition, freestanding research institutes and corporate research environments (including military research enterprises) ma increasingly conduct much of what we now know as social science research.

In addition, traditional research practices, such as the deployment of ethnographic and survey research methods, will be transformed and some rendered obsolete, as they move toward internet-based technological practices.

How do these new mediums of communication impact the research process? What are the new ethical dilemmas researchers will need to confront?

To engage with emergent technologies will require researchers to have a good understanding of the range of research methods – from quantitative to qualitative to mixed and multi-methods. The researcher enterprise as a whole will need to come out of its theoretical, methods and analytical comfort zones.

Emergent technologies continue to blur the line between qualitative and quantitative methods with a strong leaning toward the use of multi-methods (several qualitative and quantitative methods) as well as the use of emergent methods that come out of a "trial and error" methods practice, usually promoted by the asking of new research questions.

With the advent of new technologies, the types of data social scientists will have access to will also grow in volume and variety, as will the ways of analyzing and interpreting these data. Issues will also arise regarding the sampling of these data, especially those data that are recorded in real time from such devices as mobile phones. These data are "streaming and on-going." Traditional sampling techniques may need to be revised, re-thought, or discarded. The concept of a "random sample," for example, may take on a new set of definitions. Issues of validity and reliability of these data will also evolve as researchers ask themselves what these data are actually measuring. Just because we have the technology to measure "a something" does not make these data useful.

Who gets to decide how these new data sets will be utilized? To what extent does a new set of data drive the questions we seek to answer? Issues of power and control over new data sources may also arise as researchers housed in corporations and other economic entities find that they can now market a range of data sources for profit. The politics of who decides what knowledge will be collected and deemed legitimate will be increasingly contested.

Underlying the acquisition of these new data sources via emergent technologies will also be the possibility for the abuse of user information. The private lives of individuals, groups, and organizations, as seen in such data as medical records, consumer purchases, and users' locations in time and space, may begin to be compromised, especially as emergent technologies move into naturalistic settings. What is also apparent as well is that the nature of ethical research practices will also be challenged and transformed.

Her Opening Plenary Address is sure to be informative and enlightening. For more information on the conference, please see

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