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Biography: Dr. Lynn Butler-Kisber
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Course: Interpretive Inquiry: EDEC 707-001
Instructor: Dr. Lynn Butler-Kisber
Class time: Monday and Wednesday 5:35-8:35 pm
Location: Education Building Room 437
Tel: 514-398-2252
Office hours: By appointment
Email: lynn.butlerkisber@mcgill.ca
Web site: www.thelivingclassroom.com

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Qualitative research spans a continuum of perspectives and approaches that include those that lie toward the realist/positivist end, such as the work of critical realist Miles and Huberman, to those post-modern researchers that embrace pragmatist, constructivist and feminist epistemologies such as Annie Rogers and Laurel Richardson. The more “positivist” qualitative researchers build their work on conceptual frameworks and from the perspective of a more objective stance. Post-modern and feminist qualitative researchers embrace subjectivity in research emphasizing the position and voice of the researcher in the process, and the participatory and collaborative nature of research. They embrace a range of perspectives and approaches that may be categorized as thematic, narrative, and arts-informed inquiry, and choose those that will best tell the stories of people who have been silenced. They seek to redress social justice issues and to make research accessible and useful.

A great deal has been written on access, ethics, data collection strategies, and representational possibilities from these various perspectives. Far less attention has been paid to making the inquiry process explicit, from the moment it “starts” through the work that accompanies the transformation of field texts, from the “raw” forms to the ultimate, public representational ones. Yet the persuasiveness of a study is enhanced substantially when the inquiry processes the researcher uses are made transparent. The notion of trustworthiness, replaces that of validity. Trustworthiness, or credibility, is based on the persuasiveness of the work, not on specific measures or approaches to guarantee the "accuracy" of the interpretation.

Making the inquiry process transparent is particularly useful to other researchers who may use, adapt or build on the creative possibilities that exist for developing interpretive strategies. Just as we can learn from the “particular” (Donmoyer, 1990) through well-crafted, in-depth stories about individual people and contexts, so too can we enhance our inquiry strategies, particularly as students of qualitative research, by having access to what researchers do in creating and transforming their field texts into their research representations.

Aim of the course

Using the required text entitled: Qualitative inquiry: Thematic, narrative and arts-formed perspectives as a framework for the course, the aim is to explore a variety of inquiry approaches that may be used with a range of research material. The course is directed particularly to those students who already have field texts (data) and are in the intensive stages of analyses. Students will:

  • Situate themselves in a research perspective(s) and within their studies
  • Explore the basic issues that confront qualitative researchers
  • Use hands-on approaches in exercises that will build understanding and analytical skills in thematic (constant comparison/grounded theory & phenomenological), narrative, and arts-informed (poetic, collage, photographic, and performative) inquiry
  • Digest, summarize, and discuss critically theoretical articles that are the underpinnings of these various perspectives
  • Explore various lenses for defending and evaluating qualitative inquiry
  • Synthesize promising lessons in the work for a sharing/exhibition at the end of the course

Course format

The course is designed to follow a seminar/workshop format, where through participation and collaboration, the understandings gleaned from course readings will be co-constructed and critiqued. A range of inquiry approaches will be explored in a hands-on way using common field texts (data) and/or individual field texts (data sets) in exercises that will be shared with the group. One exercise will be chosen from the assigned “application readings” (see readings with asterisk in the course pack) each week and will be applied to each person’s own field texts (data). Meant to be short, succinct, and works in progress, these exercises should be submitted in hard copy and in duplicate at the end of the particular class to which they are assigned. Invited guests will add to the experience by sharing their inquiry approaches, insights, and issues.


Student work will receive ongoing feedback as it is submitted. The course will be evaluated on a pass/fail basis. The rationale for a pass/fail system is that it enhances the risk-taking and collaboration by eliminating the competition that grading engenders. Since most students will have successfully completed a qualitative course or the equivalent, the emphasis is not on demonstrating competency in the traditional way, but rather on exploring and building knowledge and skills that will be particular to, and relevant for, each student’s research agenda.

Students will be required to complete and share in-class collaborative work, facilitate in-class response groups, participate in ongoing memoing exercises, and complete and share work done out of class time. These collaborative and individual assignments will become part of an “exhibition/sharing” of work that will take place in the final class which then will be submitted. More specific guidelines for this final assignment will be discussed and distributed in class.

Required text

Butler-Kisber, L. (2010). Qualitative inquiry: Thematic, narrative, and arts-informed perspectives. London: Sage. Available at McGill Bookstore (price $45.95)

Course packet

Available at the McGill Bookstore (price approx. $55)

Other useful resources

  1. American Educational Research Journal
  2. Anthropology and Education Quarterly
  3. Educational Insights
  4. Educational Researcher (Journal put out by AERA)
  5. Handbook of Interview Research (Gubrium & Holstein, 2002, Sage)
  6. Handbook of Action Research (Reason & Bradbury, Eds. 2001, Sage)
  7. Handbook of Narrative Inquiry (Clandinin, Ed. 2008)
  8. Handbook of Constructionist Research (Holstein & Gubrium, Eds. 2008, Guilford)
  9. Handbook of Qualitative Research 3rd Edition (Denzin & Lincoln, Eds. 2005)
  10. International Journal of Education and the Arts
  11. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography
  12. LEARNing Landscapes Journal
  13. The Sage Encylopedia of Qualitative Research Methods, Vols: 1&2 (Given, Ed. 2008)

Please note: McGill University values academic integrity. Therefore, all students must understand the meaning and consequences of cheating, plagiarism and other academic offences under the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures (see www.mcgill.ca/integrity for more information).

In accord with McGill University’s Charter of Students’ Rights, students in this course have the right to submit in English or in French any written work that is to be graded.


(R) = Response to readings prepared for class discussion
(A) = Application of approach outlined in article to individual field texts (data sets)
Assigned readings & exercises to be discussed/shared on date indicated

DATE: 2010


Mon. May 03

Introduction to interpretive inquiry

  • Personal profiles
  • Ethics
  • Researcher identity
  • Memoing
  • Creating field texts

Wed. May 05

Qualitative inquiry landscapes

  • Identity memos
  • Response to readings
  • Review of field text
B-K: Chap. 1&2
(R) Fontana & Frey
(R) Madison
(R) Maxwell & Miller
(R) Saldana
Mon. May 10

Thematic inquiry

  • Guest: Dr. Linda Furlini
  • Response to readings
B-K: Chap. 3&4
(R) Charmaz (2005)
(R) Oiler
Wed. May 12

Thematic inquiry

  • Sharing categorization
  • Intro to narrative inquiry

(A) Maykut & Morehouse OR
(A) Reiman

Mon. May 17

Narrative inquiry

  • Workshop: narrative inquiry exercises

Wed. May 19

Poetic inquiry

  • Sharing narrative inquiry exercises & readings
  • Intro to poetic inquiry

B-K: Chap. 5
(R) Pinnegar & Daynes

(A) Leiblich OR
(A) Rhodes

Mon. May 24

Holiday: No class  

Wed. May 26

Poetic inquiry
Guest lecturers: Drs. Charlotte Hussey & Mary Stewart

  • Sharing poetic inquiry exercises & readings
  • “Notes” on the doctoral experience

B-K: Chap. 6
(R) Sullivan

(A) B-Kisber (2002)

Mon. May 31

Collage inquiry
Guest facilitator: Ms. Donna Davis

  • Collage application with
  • Sharing collage exercises & readings; art cards

B-K: Chap. 7
(R) James

Wed. June 02

Photographic inquiry

  • Intro to visual methodologies
  • Collage as inquiry
  • Sharing visual inquiry exercises & readings
  • Concept mapping
  • Intro to performance in inquiry
B-K: Chap. 8
(R) Harper
(R) Prosser

(A) Lykes OR
(A) Wang


Mon. June 07

Performative inquiry (optional)

  • Workshop: reader’s theatre (group work)
    Using Donmoyer & Donmoyer and handout (to be distributed)
Wed. June 09

Performative inquiry

  • Sharing readers’ theatre
  • Sharing readings

B-K: Chap. 9
(R) Pelias
(R) Leavy

(A) Donmoyer & Donmoyer

Mon. June 14

Justifying and evaluating qualitative inquiry

  • Workshop: panel preparation and/or exhibits
Wed. June 16


  • Panel presentation
  • Culmination and sharing of work
B-K: Chap. 10
(R) Barone & Eisner
(R) Cole & Knowles
(R) Kerry-Moran