The purpose of this chapter is to provide a rationale of the research approach that I have taken. It will acquaint the reader with the theory, beliefs and practices that have influenced this research inquiry. It will explain how and why I selected social constructionism as the main theoretical and methodological approach for this research project albeit with elements or techniques of a narrative approach to conceptualise aspects of research. Also included is an explanation of why a thematic approach was deemed useful for analysing the stories that the participants shared. Next, is my justification for using some of the analytic properties of grounded theory to uphold the findings of thematic analysis. This came about as a result of my finding that thematic analysis highlighted particular patterns in the data. I applied techniques of grounded theory to determine if these patterns would lead to a conceptual model.
Searching for the ‘right’ methodology
In making my choice of methodology I reviewed methodology texts and examined a number of studies (some quantitative) about the experiences of young mothers. During the literature review reported in Chapter 2, I discovered that numerous studies focused on the negative outcomes associated with teen pregnancy. I also realised that, since the early 1970s, the majority of negative discourses came from quantitative research most of which had been conducted from a health and/or socioeconomic perspective (Berthoud et al., 2004; Dickson, Sporle, Rimene, & Paul, 2000; Geronimus, 2003; Haskett et al., 1994; Hotz et al., 2005).
In recent years, however, there has been a notable shift from quantitative research that focuses on demographics, social context and outcomes of teen pregnancy, to qualitative research that offers young mothers the opportunity to tell their own stories of their experience of being a pregnant and/or mothering teen (for example Hindin-Miller 2012; Shea, Bryant, & Wendt, 2016; Smith Battle, 2006, 2007a; Thursby, 2007). This is why my study adds to the notable shift because it captures the expression of young women who have experienced being pregnant and mothering as a teen.
Since I was interested in exploring the lived experiences of young mothers, I looked to the writings of qualitative researchers. Guidance was offered by Creswell (2007), and Denzin and Lincoln (2005). It featured some key characteristics for choosing the methodology to align with research questions (these characteristics will be described later in this chapter). It was the emergent feature of the qualitative approach that initially piqued my interest. However, I saw that this would challenge my own belief system, values, assumptions and perceived biases that I had developed through my psychological training. Initially, I came to this research with a positivist viewpoint. I believed that I would be able to produce categories from the young women’s experiences that would represent factors that led to the outcome of being a young mother – mainly events that occurred in their early childhood. My prediction was that some of the categories would be similar to those indicated in current literature, and the stories of the young women would not only support such categories, but also reveal other critical factors. I believed that I could deduce specific critical events in the lives of the participants that would lead to a theory of mothering.
In order to take up a qualitative research approach, I needed to make a paradigm shift (Kuhn, 2012) from believing that I could discover predetermined characteristics of young mothers to
being open to hearing from them what they determined were their key experiences. In making this shift, I considered the idea of a paradigm as a set of beliefs (Corbin & Strauss, 2015) that endeavours to answer questions of:
ontology (What are the beliefs about “reality”?); epistemology (What is knowledge?); and
methodology (How do I study or pursue this knowledge?)
Qualitative researchers position their inquiry within a particular set of philosophical assumptions (paradigms) or belief system. I therefore considered my ontological and epistemological positions. As noted earlier in this thesis, my early experiences and training shaped the way that I see the world and as a result, my ontological position at the start of this project was shaped by my psychological training. That meant I believed that reality is
something to be discovered, objectively, through research.
However, when I began interacting with the young women, i.e. engaging in conversations and through observations, I realised that holding that position would limit the rich potential inherent in the stories of young mothers. During our conversations, I realised that if I continued in this manner, I would be forcing upon the young women my view of what was best for them. I therefore decided that this research would be stronger and more meaningful if I could stand back and hold my views, and assumptions outside the research. I considered the view of Alvesson and Skӧldberg (2009) who claimed that social constructionism was the opposite of positivism; arguing that reality is “precisely socially constructed” (p. 15).
However, it was the explanation of social constructionism by Visser and Dreyer (2013) who argued that is does not mean that social constructionism rejects the reality ‘out there’. “It simply means different ‘realities’ or ‘what there is’ exist as constructed in different
approaches, cultural thought and experience and relationships” (p. 4) that firmed my acceptance of the social constructionist view for this research study.
In this current research project, despite being challenged by social constructionist ideas (see below), and the work of Foucault (see Literature Review); I do consider that there are multiple realities created by individuals. Furthermore, I believe that these realities are never static, but rather always in a state of becoming.
Taking this new approach, my idea about the focus of my research (my epistemological position) also needed to change as I realised that my relationship with the research topic could not be independent. I wanted to explore the meanings of events in the lived experience of young mothers. I took up the view of Denzin and Lincoln (2005) that all “research is interpretative; and is guided by the researcher’s set of beliefs and feelings about the world and how it should be understood and studied” (p. 22). This encouraged me to realise that a qualitative approach would be most appropriate for my research, and that I would be
continually challenged to put aside my biases from earlier learning. I wanted to be open to all the possibilities that a qualitative approach had to offer. I was prepared to enter the research journey with the awareness that the phases of the process could shift or change after I crossed the threshold of the field setting (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000; Creswell, 2007, 2013; Denzin & Lincoln, 2005).
Creswell (1998) initially described qualitative research “as an inquiry process of understanding … that explores a social or human problem” (p. 15). His later definition emphasised the “process of research as it follows from philosophical assumptions, to interpretive lens, and on to the procedures involved in investigating social or human
problems” (Creswell, 2013, p. 44). This methodology appeared to best suit my research because it allowed me to start with the philosophical assumptions about multiple realities in order to interpret the meanings that my participants might attach to events and things in their lives. Moreover, according to Harris (2006), because qualitative research is grounded in a constructionist framework, I realised the potential of using such a framework would allow me, as the researcher, to appreciate how my participants constructed and interpreted their experiences and their reality, which is ever-evolving within the contexts of their lives. Qualitative researchers concur that the interpretation of meaning can only be understood by taking into account the context in which it is constructed (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000; Creswell, 2007; Denzin & Lincoln, 1994; Smith, Flowers, Larkin, 2009). Smith et al. (2009) elaborate that “qualitative research tends to focus on meaning, sense-making and
communication action; by looking at how people make sense of what happens, and what the meaning of that happening is” (p. 45). This is why I favoured an approach that would allow me to explore and record the process (lived experience), of teens transitioning to motherhood. My final decision to select a qualitative methodology was informed by reading the
justification offered by Corbin and Strauss (2015) who claimed:
the desire to step beyond the known and enter into the world of the participants, to see the world from their perspective, and in doing so make discoveries that will contribute to the development of empirical knowledge (p. 14).
While considering the appropriateness of qualitative research for my project, I still needed to determine which would be the best theoretical foundation. I found the writing of Creswell (2013) helpful, especially the reference to qualitative research being thought of
metaphorically where it is likened to a piece of fabric, much like a tapestry, composed of various threads and colours, which is at times complicated and not easily explained. Creswell added that, nonetheless, “the loom on which the fabric is woven, general assumptions and interpretive frameworks hold qualitative research together” (ibid., 2013 p. 42). This metaphor
was carried further by stating that while all qualitative researchers use their looms to weave their fabric, they do so from their own perspectives.
Creswell (2013) also provided guidance for my choice of theoretical framework in a
comment that the approaches to qualitative inquiry are based within the general assumptions and interpretive frameworks; sometimes referred to as ‘social constructionism’. I now turn to discuss social constructionism as both the theoretical and methodological perspective that has underpinned the qualitative approach to my research project.
From the perspective of social constructionism, humans use interactions and relationships to co-construct meaning (Gergen, 1985). In this respect, meaning derives from language (and interactions) and exists through human experience and sense making. When individuals coherently narrate their life themes and enact them with purpose, they succeed as authors of their lives. This process of meaning-making through storying is why I am able to say that a thesis using a social constructionist methodology may include narrative techniques. A transformative transition, such as becoming a young mother, reflects the life themes that pattern, shape and define the person’s self-concept and engagement with society. By encouraging my participants to tell their life stories from the moment they had become pregnant, to the birth of their child, their experiences of being a mother and attending a Teen Parent Unit, I intended to capture that transition in my thesis methodology. I chose social constructionism as my preferred theoretical framework because of its potential to give voice to the views of young mothers learning to come to terms with their changed role and
responsibility in life. I wanted to explore how they found new meanings, purpose and direction in the role of a young mother.
Author sources writing about social constructionism also endorse its meaning-making potential. Gergen (1985) states “constructionism asks us to suspend our beliefs about commonly accepted understandings and invites us to challenge the basis of conventional knowledge” (p. 267). This view is supported by others (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011; Harris, 2006), who believe that social constructionism is a paradigm with an emphasis on searching for meaning and understanding. Gergen (1985) offers the following description of social constructionist inquiry saying “…[it] is principally concerned with explicating the process by which people come to describe, explain, or otherwise account for the world (including
themselves) in which they live” (p. 267). Galbin (2014) agrees and reiterates that social constructionism involves “challenging most of our common sense knowledge of ourselves and the world in which we live” (p. 83). Her view is that social constructionism is interested in two subjects: culture and society. Since these are the shared aspects of all that is
psychological, this notion appealed to me because it offered me a link between my previous and newly developing understandings about the ideas young mothers have about motherhood. More importantly, it was Galbin’s (2014) analogy of the social constructionism perspective as ‘a map’, which had particular appeal. She wrote:
The [sic] social constructionism is not interested to create maps; it surprises the processes that maps form. Our maps are formed from our experience and how we perceive them. All our maps are differing maps of the same world. Each of us creates our own worlds from our perceptions of the actual world. The social constructionism sees the language, the communication and the speech as having the central role of the interactive process though which we understand the world and ourselves (p. 82).
Likewise, Goldenberg and Goldenberg (2013) also allude to a map and emphasise that our beliefs about the world, i.e. what constitutes reality are “not a reflection or map of the world” (p. 369), but are social inventions that evolve from conversations with others. Earlier, Burr (1995) promoted a similar idea that an individual’s view of the world is socially constructed
and argued “this construction is rooted in language” (p. 32). Although language is unique to human beings, the way that it is varied in meanings and is always changing underpins social constructionism. Therefore, a person’s reality or view of the world is not an exact imitation of what is out there. Instead, it is socially or communally constructed through language
(Goldberg & Goldberg, 2013). Gergen and Gergen (2007) promote a similar view, attesting that it is essential to focus on language when applying a constructionist account of the social geneses of knowledge.
Given that my research project focuses on the meanings young mothers ascribe to their lived experiences, the theory of social constructionism appeared to fit. From the outset, I was interested in the language the young women used to describe themselves and their contexts. I was also interested in ways that the socially constructed discourses about young mothers were taken up, or not, by the young women I planned to interview.
Although researchers may use the term ‘social construction’ in different ways, there is some consensus that the fundamental concerns of constructionist inquiry are to investigate what “people know, and how they create, apply, contest and act upon these ideas” (Harris, 2006, p. 225). In choosing a theoretical framework, I came across Harris’s discussion of how
researchers use constructionist ideas to explore “concepts that help explain the causes and consequences of real inequalities” (p. 225). This resonated with me in terms of the ‘so what?’ question of my study. The concept of the teen mother, for example, was not considered a ‘problem’ until the middle of the last century. My reading of the relevant literature (see Literature Review) helped explain how this had come about, and highlighted the potentially harmful consequences this concept, or label, had for mothers who are also teens.
According to Goldberg and Goldberg (2013) it is the ‘to and fro’ between language and experience that “reflects how reality and language mutually influence each other in an on- going process that defies final meeting” (p. 369). In my study I have explored how conversations with me, the researcher, offer the participants an opportunity to, possibly, construct new meanings for what it means to be a mother, a topic that has limited exploration in Aotearoa New Zealand and thus has not dominated the literature on young mothers.
Gergen and Gergen (2007) argue that social constructionism usually refers to a tradition of scholarship that “traces the origin of knowledge, meaning or understanding to human relationships” (p. 462). Their view of social constructionism looks at the origins of
experience through relationships and interactions. The dialogical aspect supports the use of the narrative technique inside social constructionism. My interview questions were used to trace the evolution of the young mothers’ emerging conceptions of what it meant to be a mother. Visser and Dreyer (2013) concur with Gergen and Gergen’s view, maintaining that the way “the world is understood is achieved in relationship.” (p. 4). Therefore, how people constitute what the ‘world is’, is by negotiating, comparing views, and agreeing. The authors argue that relationship takes precedence over anything [emphasis added] that is perceived as understandable in our reality. Therefore, there is no being, things, people – reality without relationships (Visser & Dreyer, 2013).
In selecting a social constructionist approach I also needed to consider ways to collect, analyse and interpret the data. The possible methodological approaches and techniques I considered for guidance of the collection, analysis and interpretation of data were narrative (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, 2008; Riessman, 1993, 2008); thematic (Aronson, 1994; Braun & Clarke, 2006; Tuckett, 2005) and grounded theory techniques (Charmaz, 2006; Corbin &
Strauss, 2015). I now develop the ways in which techniques of these approaches have influenced my research project, beginning with a narrative approach.
Drawing on the techniques of a narrative approach
Clandinin (2013) notes that since the 1980s research has taken a narrative turn to studying experiences. I have always been intrigued by a person’s story and, furthermore, I intended to spend ‘time in the field’ (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000) observing and sharing experiences of their daily lives with the participants. For this reason, I hoped to use techniques of narrative research for my data collection and analysis.
The beginnings of present-day narrative social and educational research result from an increase in humanistic approaches of conducting research within the fields of western psychology and sociology. These approaches are seen as holistic, person-centred, and consider the sociocultural context of the participant (Andrews et al., 2008; Bruner, 2002; Creswell, 2013; Polkinghorne, 1988; Riessman, 1993). Life stories, individual case studies or in-depth biographies are used to collect information from an individual or specific group in order to shed light on a phenomenon or social issue. Narrative approaches or techniques acknowledge that reality is a social construction and exists as a set of meaning-bound constructions (Lincoln, 1990). Furthermore, narrative research is concerned with the lives that people live – with all the complexities of those lived experiences. Such research focuses on how an individual perceives themselves, their experiences and their surroundings, and most importantly, how the individual makes meaning of that experience (Webster & Mertova, 2007) often through conversations with significant others, as discussed in the previous
Polkinghorne (1988) argues “narrative provides a framework for understanding past events and is the way in which individuals give meaning to their experience” (p. 11). He elaborates by saying, “human behaviour is produced and informed by this meaningfulness” (p. 1). Several writers suggest that people use narratives, or stories, to express emotions, beliefs and attitudes about how they believe the world should be. They consider that using narratives highlights our unique human behaviour that comes about from our propensity for story- telling, which allows us to make sense of where and how we fit in society as a person and in relation to others, and how in turn others see us (Andrews et al., 2008; Bruner, 2002;
Clandinin & Connelly, 2000; Fraser, 2004). Narrative techniques offer a researcher a way to appreciate how the connections that take place among individuals, groups, societies and