5. Methods and Counting Crime

5.4 Choice of Method

Dr. Wendelin Hume and Ashly Hanna, B.A.

It is now time for us to decide what method(s) we will use to complete our research projects. Our initial review of the literature in the planning stage, and then the deeper review in the conceptualisation stage, would have given us a firm grasp of the types of methods used in other studies on the same or a similar topic. It may be possible as a researcher to combine an understanding of objectivity in research with the understanding of cultural subjectivity. As Abbott (2004, p. 3) puts it, “Science is a conversation between rigor and imagination.” The imaginative voice contributes to the excitement and discovery side of social science. We want to discover something new, such as the possible manipulation of one’s spiritual practices as a form of abuse, or something interesting about social life, such as elders being exploited financially but not reporting it. This will be something that, when combined with rigor, will allow us to draw a reasonable conclusion that can inform practice, improve the lives of elders, and allow us to share that knowledge with others by writing an article or book that could be published.

A methodology is the systematic contextual framework—a body of methods and rules used in a discipline—that guides the choices a researcher makes. A research method refers to the specific way of collecting and analysing data, such as through surveys, interviews, focus groups, or experiments. A statistical technique might then be used to describe the age and income of the research participants, or it might be a regression or other technique that helps us predict the characteristics of elders most likely to be manipulated or taken advantage of (these different statistical techniques will be explored further in your statistical research methods courses).

Typically, the techniques and methods taught and discussed in other texts are based on and advocate only the use of Western research. While it might seem that the approach does not really matter because research is scientific and objective, hopefully now the reader understands that there are power relations in the research process. Once an understanding of the importance of the overall research framework has been achieved, we can explore the basic research methods typically used and choose whatever seems most appropriate.

Since we have done our background research on the topic and consulted with knowledge holders including other experienced researchers, practitioners in the field, and knowledgeable members of the Indigenous community who could also benefit from our research, we need to develop a research strategy or process. Often the strategy will be either deductive or inductive and use either quantitative or qualitative methods. As shown in Figure 2 above, with a deductive approach, the method starts with a theory, parts of which are often tested with data. For instance, while researching financial exploitation, we are using parts of existing question sets that were developed from a theory about social control and have been used in other studies, to test whether we uncover financial exploitation happening to Indigenous elders. In doing so, we would be using a deductive approach with this particular project.

The other strategy may be to use an inductive approach, which fits well with qualitative methods. Inductive research first gathers data or information and then uses those data to develop a theory, discover themes, or draw conclusions. For instance, our research on spiritual abuse has no existing research to build from and we developed the idea in the planning stage by using a focus group and a research talking circle to gather thoughts and feelings about spiritual concerns from Indigenous elders. In a talking circle, the participants sit in a circle facing each other. The circle implies connectedness and the equality of each member. Typically, a sacred object such as a stone, feather or stick is held by the one speaking, and they have the chance to speak uninterrupted while the group listens until they pass the sacred item onto the next person. See Talking Circles.

The information learned in the talking circle allowed us as researchers to discover that the elders are concerned about losing their sacred cultural items through theft or the items being left behind if they are moved from their home. They also discussed not being transported to, or allowed to participate in, community spiritual ceremonies. These concepts are not typically addressed in most existing theories, policies, or programs, so it fits then that this project will use an inductive approach, which by definition is open to new and unanticipated concepts and findings to emerge, such as fear of the loss of cultural items and spiritual connection.

Before we move to the next step, let us also further clarify the difference between qualitative and quantitative research. As outlined earlier in the chapter in Table 5.1, quantitative research tends to use numbers or quantities as the most important element because this allows for abstraction. Many people such as members of the media and government agents, as well as the general population, are conditioned to believe findings if they have numbers attached. These methods allow us to draw from a local context with a sample, such as a sample of Indigenous elders from the one community, standardise it, and put it into a calculation to draw conclusions about larger numbers of people or broader social relations like “Indigenous elders from the Bearteeth Reserve.” While a sample is sometimes generalisable to a population, there may be times when the sample is distinctly different from other samples and should not be generalised. For instance, a study of one reserve may produce results that are not generalisable to all Indigenous peoples. In determining generalisability, the key is determining how representative your sample is. A large random sample is more generalisable than a non-random sample or a small sample with a low response rate. The use of the survey and special closed-ended question sets makes our financial abuse research quantitative.

Qualitative methodologies tend to focus on specific localised objectives to examine them more in depth. Typically, subjective experiences of the participants are contextualised and influence the researcher’s understanding of the phenomenon in question. One qualitative technique is the use of focus groups or talking circles to understand the experiences of the participants and draw conclusions or notice patterns or trends within the participants’ comments. As mentioned, our spiritual abuse research has used this method, and we will be asking broad, open-ended questions so we are using the qualitative approach for this topic (see Table 5.1).
Another research design decision pertains to the element of time: can the question be answered using data that are collected at one point in time, known as cross-sectional research, or will they be collected at two or more points in time, known as longitudinal research. Both of our projects involve asking questions only once, so both projects are cross-sectional. Along with this decision, we need to decide on the unit of analysis, the who or what being studied. For both of our projects, the focus is on the individuals answering the questions, though our conclusions may be drawn about groups such as the Indigenous elderly of the Bearteeth Reserve since that is the population the individuals were drawn from and there are things we learn about this group as a whole and that we can compare to other Indigenous groups. You will learn more about units of analysis in your future research methods courses, but Figure 5.4 below gives you an idea of the various units of analysis in the social sciences.

Figure 5.4. Units of Analysis. Image designed by PoweredTemplate.

Before we move to the next step in the process, it is worth noting that the very idea that neither qualitative nor quantitative research is truly objective may make some researchers, and students of research, feel uncomfortable. When a central tenant of one’s epistemological position is challenged, it can be difficult to accept. This challenge is not only against the Western view of the objectivity of scientific research, but it also means that Indigenous research frameworks and other methods, such as feminist research, are also not completely objective, though such researchers are usually already aware of their social positioning.



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Introduction to Criminology Copyright © 2023 by Dr. Wendelin Hume and Ashly Hanna, B.A. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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