A Critical Essay evaluating a published piece of research from a research skills and methods point of view
The article that forms the basis of the methodology analysis of this paper is Balabanova and Balch (2010) titled Sending and receiving: The ethical framing of intra-EU migration in the European press. In brief, the article explores the role played by ethics of immigration control in Europe in communication processes. It examines how the news media in two European states, Bulgaria and the United Kingdom, frame intra-EU migration.
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As the article contains a section identifying the methodology used in the article, this will form the basis of analysis. Through examination of the methodologies identified therein, the effective use of these techniques will be critiqued, as well as those present in the article, which have not been identified in the section. This paper will explore the methodology used in the article from a broad philosophical approach to the methodology, to factors of analysis, research methods, data collection and appropriateness of the sources used.
Positivist Research Philosophy
Positivism is a structured approach to interpretation of research and the use of this methodology aims to replicate or test theory. Use of this methodology sees the researcher making certain interpretations about the data that will be collected. These interpretations will be quantified and generalised using some form of statistical analysis (Carter & New, 2004) and thus its application within the natural sciences to the study of a subject in a social reality. This approach is deductive in nature where the research develops a theory and then subjects it to testing in the form of measureable hypotheses (Feyerabend, 1981). This has clear application in the current article as the authors are looking to interpret the data collected to draw certain conclusions about the role of the media in intra-EU immigration. Against this research philosophy it is possible to then examine the different kinds of research methods undertaken. This research philosophy is not identified in the article itself, however it is clear that there is a positivist approach taken to the research as there is a strong representation of certain interpretations made on the basis of collected data.
Qualitative and Quantitative Research Method
From the outset it is clear that the paper makes use of both qualitative and quantitative research methodology. The article identifies the approach used in testing the hypothesis as linking media framing with normative political theory in a systematic way. This approach superficially indicates the inclusion of qualitative research due to the very nature of normative theory. Qualitative research centers around the idea that meaning is socially constructed by individuals based on their interactions with the world and that the world is not based on positivist or quantitative assumptions (Merriam, 2002; 32). Qualitative research suggests that instead, reality is based on multiple interpretations that change over time, and researchers concern themselves rather with understanding these interpretations at a particular time. This research in particular focuses on plurality of interpretations (Flick, 2009). If one understands normative theory as being prescriptive of how one ideally should or ought to act, imposing a value judgment based on these interpretations (Over, 2004; 3), one can see the understanding of normative political theory as inherently qualitative in nature. By contrast, quantitative methods of research are those which concern data analysed in terms of numbers (Punch, 1998). It is conceivable therefore that normative political theory may be assisted by quantitative research methods, however essentially this requires a value judgment on what political theory ought to be, is essentially positions itself within qualitative research by its very definition, as a value judgment requires the consideration of factors that typically fall within the realm of qualitative research, such as context and evaluation.Arguably, the omission of this statement of methodology from the section in the article itself is justified through redundancy. That is to say, that to the extent that this is both understood as a methodology of normative theory application, as well as the assumptions made about this theory within the paper rather than a process of research or discovery as to what this theory is, perhaps the inclusion of this consideration in the methodology section is somewhat redundant and unnecessary.
A mixed method of qualitative and quantitative research exists in this article further in the identification of content analysis as the primary method of analysis in the paper (Balabanova & Balch, 2010; 386). Content analysis classified textual material by reducing it to manageable pieces of data by quantifying the occurrence of certain phrases or themes within a text (Weber, 1980). It is therefore clear that content analysis is quantitative to the extent that it attempts to quantify certain themes within the text itself. However, it is simultaneously qualitative in that it takes account of the context of text components, latent structures of sense, distinctiveness in individual cases and things that do not appear in the text itself (Ritsert, 1972). For this reason, the inclusion of qualitative content analysis in analyzing communication texts, such as the current case of media, these factors are important for including context in the process of analysis. This however is not the qualitative inclusion that is referred to by Balabanova and Balch (2010; 396), as the methodology section purports to include qualitative factors through qualitative reading of selected articles to identify the ethical position and the range of communitarian and cosmopolitan issues. Whilst it arguable that these factors are a necessary inclusion of qualitative factors in the research, this should not be the extent of this inclusion. This is a clear inclusion in the Balabanova and Balch (2010; 386) article if one considers the nature of sources analyzed as being media sources of a particular topic, particularly considering the ethical dimension thereof. There is a definitely inclusion of certain ethical judgments in the content analysis which is essential to the topic itself. To the extent therefore that the content analysis used in the paper is of mixed methodology, this is entirely appropriate given the multifaceted nature of the inquiry itself.By making use of the sources that take account of the context, particularly in the choice of sources, it is clear that there are features of qualitative content analysis present in the article.
A further method identified by the methodology section of the article is a framing analysis, which essentially works as a method of defining how an issue is problematised and the effect that this has on the broader discussion (Hope, 2010; 2). Framing, involves selection and highlighting of certain facets of events, making connections between them so that they promote a particular interpretation, evaluation or solution (Entman, 2004). By framing an issue in a certain way the media organize and structure their presentation, in the process including and excluding ideas and arguments to produce a coherent construction and understanding of the issue (Pan and Kosicki, 1993). Despite the inclusion of this methodology, it is questionable whether the authors have made use of this analysis method, as there is no evidence of a discussion involving the framing of the problem statement in a manner that is consistent with this methodology. This is a precise methodology involving various steps of conceptualization from the primary framework, to the metaframes and finally, the issue frame leading to the problem statement. Essentially, this moves from a very broad general understanding of the issue and moves towards the very specific (Hope, 2010; 5).
Whilst it is clear that Balabanova and Balch (2010; 383) have clearly stated their problem statement in the introductory paragraphs of the article, this is not however consistent with the steps of analysis used in a frame analysis. The introduction to the problem statement arguably is well reasoned from the onset, and there is no development or discovery of logic as the process enfolds. Therefore, it is fair to conclude that there is an adequate formation of the problem statement, however this is not done by a frame analysis which purports to form the foundation of the research itself.
It is arguable that the method of data collection used by Balabanova and Balch (2010) is a qualitative data collection method. This is so because generally empirical or first-hand research is undertaken in quantitative studies which involves the independent collection of data by the researcher, rather than analyzing data that is already available. To this extent, the authors have circumvented a number of logistical issues with regards to the ethics of empirical research. Generally speaking, empirical research must be accompanied by a statement of ethics to ensure that the appropriate ethical standards are adhered to when dealing with research participants. Qualitative data therefore is representative of language data or the experience of the participants of the study, whereas quantitative data is a collection of numbers and figures (Polkinghorne, 2005). Whilst, the article does make use of quantitative data in terms of the fact that it uses this data to form the basis of the analysis, it similarly makes use of qualitative data which can be described as an ‘account’ or ‘evidence’ of human experience (ibid). It stands to reason therefore, that if one considers the subject matter of the article, the findings are a reflection of an experience and otherwise described as evidence of a certain circumstance. To this extent, the quantitative figures are used as a supporting mechanism to add to the validity and reliability of these findings.
Validity generally implies that the instrument must measure what it was intended to measure (Barbour, 2008). Therefore to the extent that this data collection method has been used to gather the appropriate evidence and therefore measure the topic of the article, it is a valid mechanism of doing so. The article however does not address the issue of data collection, although it is fairly evident that it is qualitative in nature considering that it was chosen from a specific demographic country, with specific interests in mind when collecting this data.
There are certain superficial indicators of reliability in research relating to repetition or consistency in assertion. Golafshani (2003; 598) identifies three types of reliability referred to in research, which relate to, namely the degree to which a measurement, given repeatedly, remains the same, the stability of a measurement over time; and the similarity of measurements within a given time period. Arguably by the very nature of the means of analysis, namely content analysis, these results should prove to be reliable, as the subject of what this method measures is precisely the repeated incidence of specific themes and phrases within the data sampled. The reliability of the data therefore is reliant on the reliability of the tool of analysis in this case. It can be concluded that, despite the lack of discussion as to the reliability of the data, the nature of the test is one which is inherently reliability. This is mitigated further by the limited size of the population of the study itself.
Sources & Cases
Generally speaking, it is not appropriate to rely solely on newspaper articles as the basis of academic findings, however for the purposes of the current research, particularly in that the article is based on the influence of the media on the perception of intra-EU migration. As a result therefore the use of these sources is appropriate. The reliability and validity of the research with regards to the sources is upheld in integrity, as there is the adequate inclusion of reputable academic sources, as well as the use of these newspaper sources which form the basis of the data analysis.
By and large the application of the outlined methodology in the article itself is successful. One could argue that the relevant theoretical considerations with regards to research methodology have been adequately addressed in the article given the length and depth of the subject matter. This however is not to say that the authors have not excluded the fundamental considerations of methodology that merit inclusion, such as more exploration of qualitative research methodology, which has been argued to contribute significantly to the outcomes of the study, yet are not sufficiently included. Despite this exclusion, the collection of data and the sources used to support the hypothesis of the article are sufficient and appropriate in the circumstance, considering that the topic at hand requires an inquiry into the opinions and role of the media in these circumstances. This is supported by a superficial, yet adequate methodological explanation that allows the reader a basic understanding of the methodology used in the paper.
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