Personal Meaning

The “Real Ethnography” of Michael Agar

Several years ago, when working on Applied Qualitative Research Design, I began reading the works of Michael Agar. To simply say that Agar was an anthropologist would be cutting him short; and, indeed, Anthropology News, in an article published shortly after Agar’s death in May 2017, described him as

“a linguistic anthropologist, a cultural anthropologist, almost an South Asianist, a drug expert, a medical anthropologist, an applied anthropologist, a practicing anthropologist, a public anthropologist, a professional anthropologist, a professional stranger, a theoretical anthropologist, an academic anthropologist, an independent consultant, a cross cultural consultant, a computer modeler, an agent-based modeler, a complexity theorist, an environmentalist, a water expert, a teacher…”

One doesn’t need to look far to be enlightened as well as entertained by Mike Agar – On the “Scribblings” page of his Ethknoworks website, he lightheartedly rants about the little money most authors make in royalties stating “If you divide money earned by time invested in writing and publishing, you’ll see that you’d do better with a paper route in Antarctica.” It may be this combined ability to enlighten and entertain that drew me to Agar and keeps me ever mindful of the words he has written and the ideas he instilled.

For some reason I come back to his 2006 article “An Ethnography By Any Other Name…”. In it, Agar explores the question “What is a real ethnography?” with discussions of debates (“tension”) between anthropologists and sociologists, and about various nuances such as whether applied anthropology is actually “real” given that “ethnography no longer meant a year or more by yourself in a village far Read Full Text

Life Is Meaningful, Or Is It?: The Road To Meaning In Survey Data

Samantha Heintzelman and Laura King, at the University of Missouri, published an article in American Psychologist in 2014 titled, “Life is Pretty Meaningful.” In this article the authors meaningful walkdiscuss their work that explores the answer to the “lofty” question “How meaningful is life, in general?” To do this, Heintzelman and King examined two broad categories of data sources: 1) large-scale surveys – six representative surveys conducted in the U.S. and a worldwide poll; and 2) articles published in the literature that explicitly report on research studies utilizing one of two established measures of meaning in life – the Purpose in Life Test (PIL) and Meaning in Life Questionnaire (MLQ). The large-scale surveys asked yes-and-no questions such as “Did you feel that your life has meaning [in the past 12 months]?” as well as agree-disagree rating scale items such as “My life has a real purpose.” Their analysis of these surveys concluded that “for most people, life is meaningful [and] comparatively few Read Full Text

Designing Research to Find Contradictions & Personal Meaning

Designing Research to Find Contradictions

Two articles published in Research Design Review in 2015 concerned an important goal of most researchers: to unravel the mysteries of attitudes and behavior.  Both of these articles emphasize the idea that an essential ingredient to achieving this goal is allowing sufficient time in the research process to discover and explore contradictions in participants’ responses and find the personal meanings associated with the issues or constructs of interest.

The suggestion of adding time to research designs – e.g., longer survey questionnaires, lengthier in-depth interviews – flies in the face of the ever-increasing focus on “faster and cheaper” research through technology. A research design, however, that acknowledges the inconsistent and contradictory nature of human beings, and is intent on discovering personal meaning, will give the researcher the appropriate freedom to reach this all-important objective.

These articles are available for download in the document “Designing Research to Find Contradictions & Personal Meaning.”