The invisibility of the methodology

One of the questions of the last test of the course of consumption meant to compare two studies that, at first glance, had results that contradicted each other. Joel Stillerman (*) estimated that the homes of the working class he studied had a relationship very careful with the credit -limiting their use as much as possible. A study by van Bavel and Sell-Trujillo (**), on the contrary, he argued that for the lower strata, it was perfectly sensible, reasonable debt -and in this way demonstrate, in a concrete way, with goods that are no longer poor. The question was, well, what you can do support both arguments? In the end, both are about studies whose field is the end of the decade of the ’90s, published a year apart, and working on the same issues.

Several students tried to solve the possible contradiction by noticing that, in principle, the groups were different: That the workers of Stillerman -skilled workers in an industry, earning salaries higher than the market standard – they were not the same group, either economically or socially to the studied of van Bavel and Sell-Trujillo, that would be a poorest group. Which is fairly reasonable.

But what almost no one commented, and is the root of this post, was the difference in methodologies. Stillerman is a study that is based primarily on in-depth interviews (women of the workers in good part), while van Bavel and Sell-Trujillo used group techniques. Now, one could explore the consequences of using different techniques: it’s easier To say and explore a theme of ‘negative’ when speaking in a group -when it is not necessary to say ‘hey, I’m super in debt,’ but one can say things ‘the people are indebted because’. The individual interview takes us to different logics of presentation -where the logic of exposing preferred tactics can be developed. (***)

Now, the above explanation may be, probably is, pretty bad. But the case is that to defend the idea that using different techniques we obtain different results is not too difficult. And that our data depend on the way in which we have asked, because each technique illuminates a part of the phenomenon, should be part of our common sense.

But the problem of the data is that, once published, you forget where and how it is obtained. And they happen to be ‘reality’. And then, as said in the title, the methodology becomes invisible.

(*) Joel Stillerman, Gender, Class and Generational Contexts for Consumption in Contemporary Chile.Journal of Consumer Culture, Vol. 4, No. 1, 51-78 (2004)

(**) Rene van Bavel and Lucia Sell-Trujillo, Understandings of Consumerism in Chile. Journal of Consumer Culture, Vol. 3, No. 3, 343-362 (2003)

(***) Miller, in fact, makes a similar observation when the difference of their results-ethnography – of those obtained by others who use focus groups: you can’t expect to get the same when using different techniques, each illustrated elements that are different.

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