More on Qualitative Research Analysis

50-foot Jesus statue in front of an abortion clinic

In IS240 on Monday we looked at some of the characteristics of  qualitative research methods. such as i) it is inductive, ii) normally interpretivist, and iii)  qualitative researchers view constructionist ontological viewpoints.  A final characteristic of most qualitative research is that its approach is naturalistic. As the textbook notes:

…qualitative researchers try to minimize the disturbance they cause to the social worlds they study.

We can see the nature of this quality implicitly teased out by Lori Freedman, who discusses some of the research she did for her Master’s degree. Freedman writes about the relationship between abortion and religion (it’s not what you’re expecting) and the time she spent observing in a hospital that performed abortions. Here’s the part related to her research methods:

Claudia [a deeply religious Catholic woman who was having an abortion–JD] told me this story 13 years ago, while I was conducting ethnographic research as a participant-observer in a hospital-based abortion service. I spent considerable time there helping, observing, and intermittently conducting as many interviews as I could with counselors, doctors, and nurses, in order to gain a rich view of abortion clinic life. This study became my master’s thesis, but nothing else. I feared publication might amount to a gratuitous exposé of people I respected dearly. I couldn’t think of any policy or academic imperative that necessitated revealing the intimate dynamics of this particular social world—certainly nothing that could make the potential feelings of betrayal worthwhile. Ultimately, I just tucked it away.

 

Modeling Social Processes–Abortion in Cross-national Comparison

Thanks to a post by Zoe and Geoff, I decided to use the social fact of variation in abortion rates from country to country as the inspiration for class discussion today on the modeling process in social sciences. First, the data* (listing only the top and bottom 10–the US is 30th (out of 90 countries with data available) with a rate of 23.9% in 2003):

Country

Year

%

Russia

2005

52.5

Greenland

2004

50.2

Bosnia and Herzegovina

1988

48.9

Estonia

2004

47.4

Romania

2004

46.9

Belarus

2004

44.6

Hungary

2004

42.0

Guadeloupe

2005

41.4

Ukraine

2004

40.4

Bulgaria

2004

40.3

Suriname

1994

3.0

Puerto Rico

2001

2.2

Malta

2004

1.7

Qatar

2004

1.3

Portugal

2005

0.8

Venezuela

1968

0.8

Mexico

2003

0.2

Poland

2004

0.06

Panama

2000

0.02

Chile

1991

0.02

Now, according to Lave and March, the next step in the model-building process is to consider a social process that would lead to this outcome. There were three potential answers given in class, which correspond to three categories of explanation that we will address throughout the course:

1) Cultural–it would seem that religion is very important to individuals in the countries with the lowest rates. Most of these countries are strongly Catholic and the Church’s official policies are strongly anti-abortion (pro-life). Thus, individuals in these societies are inculcated with a strong view of what to do in the case of an unwanted pregnancy.

2) Rational Choice–one of the groups argued that the decision to abort (or not) a fetus was made on the basis of strategic calculations of self-interest. The countries at the bottom, these students argued, were agricultural and poorer, and children are needed as a source of labor for the household, as a future hedge against retirement for parents who live in societies with a poorly developed social welfare state, with little hope of receiving retirement funds from the government.

3) Institutional–rules, laws, regulations. Some students argued that some countries (like Chile) have laws making abortion illegal, thus either lowering the number overall, or decreasing the incentive for those having illegal abortions to report them to the official authorities.

That was great work; give yourselves a pat on the back or a round of applause.

The third step in the modeling process is, then, to tease out further implications of your preferred hypothesis above. Let’s go back to the cultural explanation. If it’s true that the Catholic Church has a tremendous impact on people’s views of what is right and wrong then, as one student asked, “wouldn’t it also be the case that divorce levels in these countries should be lower than divorce levels in the countries at the top of the list (since the Catholic Church also frowns upon divorce) ?

Continue reading “Modeling Social Processes–Abortion in Cross-national Comparison”