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This chapter aims to outline the methods and methodology used to carry out this research and intends to underline the advantages, complexities and constraints of my chosen processes. This ethnographical research also seeks to observe the ways in which Chinese women manage to place themselves onto a path to empowerment and the problems and successes experienced along the way in relation to their community's cultural beliefs and practices. Malinowski asserts that:
"One of the first conditions of acceptable Ethnographic work certainly is that it should deal with the totality of all social, cultural and psychological aspects of the community, for they are so interwoven that not one can be understood without taking into consideration all the others." (1922: xvi)
By taking this view into consideration this research, therefore, intends to highlight the relationship between the State and the Chinese people and how education can help to alleviate some of the problems experienced on both a local and national level. It does not intend to make generalisations from the data collected but rather to provide a snapshot view of where China is developing successfully with regard to female participation in education and other public spheres.
The research journey
My interest in this field of research came about as a result of a new initiative to open franchises of our school, the Girls' Day School Trust (GDST), in China. An opportunity arose for some of the staff to take part in a teacher exchange for a year to work in a Chinese international school and I was especially keen to be a potential candidate. I also have experience of working with a couple of girls who were adopted from a Chinese orphanage and this, together with my vocation for teaching, heightened my interest in the experiences of girls and women in Chinese schools.
The potential bias that I may bring to this study could incorporate elements such as the relationship I had with the aforementioned family. My views about the ways in which children are treated in the orphanages could lead me to have the opinion that all girls have a similar experience in China and are all, therefore, to be 'sympathised' with before having met them. This would also have prevented me from being impartial when interviewing the Chinese males. As the researcher, this would also have positioned me unfavourably in that I will already have placed the participant in a subjugated position themselves consequently reproducing the stereotypical view of submissive Chinese women. To counteract this I have looked very carefully at the ways in which I have posed my questionnaire and interview questions in order to not lead the participant or put my viewpoint across.
Being a female researcher also has the potential for bias to exist in that I may favour female experiences and view them as unfair and entirely the fault of the male population. For this reason, I also interviewed Chinese males in order to provide a comparable profile against which women's experiences may be gauged. My own cultural background as a first generation immigrant from Bangladesh may also come into play as it was predominantly for the education and lifestyle that my parents moved here. Chinese international students may have the same aspirations and so here, too, there is room for lack of impartiality which may influence the analysis of my findings.
Lang comments on the interesting position a researcher has as the foreigner stating that:
"The disadvantages of a study by a foreigner are obvious. Less obvious are its advantages. The foreign observer is not hampered by the psychological biases which may at times block or even completely frustrate a "native" study. There is, of course, the danger of replacing native prejudices with imported ones, for the visitor is apt to see the society he is examining as a replica of his own. If this danger is avoided by methodological alertness and self-criticism, the foreign investigator is given an unusual opportunity to make a productive analysis." (1946: vii)
This is quite an important element to recognise due to the cultural differences involved. The methods used have given me pertinent ways of investigating in that even though I am presenting the questions the participant is always in control of what is being said, having been given access to the questions before meeting.
Furthermore, Henwood (in Woodward 2000) asserts that"...scientific research can never be wholly neutral, disinterested, or value-free because the process of knowing always begins in the concrete contexts and material conditions of people's lives, together with the standpoints, perspectives or understanding of the knower." This places the researcher, who is an 'outsider', in a position of 'power' and could impact on the way in which the research is carried out. However, as this study is focused around the topic of empowerment it is necessary to have as little influence as possible over the responses given by participants as any gains might be negated.
Concerns of methodology and method
The research undertaken in this study have used both data-gathering and data-analysis methodologies in that the former involved sending out questionnaires as well as carrying out interviews whilst the latter involved the statistical analysis of existing data within other people's research. It is predominantly qualitative in character rather than quantitative but there will be some reference to statistical data from other published resources. It allows me to explore complex issues and experiences and does not seek to over-simplify the data gathered therefore qualitative methods have been more appropriate in this context.
Studying the responses of only a small number of individuals has resulted in a small-scale research but this allowed for research in real life settings and permitted a degree of flexibility in data collection in contrast to quantitative research which requires the mass collection of data from as wide a sample as possible. Validating research is of course highly important in making one's work credible or else it risks becoming unscientific (Hammersley 1990). Difficulties in replicating this form of research may be challenging but does not make the data either less real or experienced. Woodward (in Trumans et al 2000) discusses the characteristics of qualitative research and how this form of research gains further validity via the fact that can be viewed as being purely objective research whilst other commentators may say that this type of research is subjective and has the potential to have too much read into it.
There is also the problem of the 'reality' presented in the findings as this can be interpreted in many ways by different people therefore allowing room for misinterpretation or multiple interpretations. However, it need not follow that the research is less credible. The researcher is able to set the scene by stating the point of view from which they are observing this study so that the reader is presented with a lens through which they can view the research. This should be less of a problem if the researcher has already positioned themselves and acknowledges their own potential for bias. Once this has been declared the researcher's job can be made clearer and more focused.
Rationale for choosing participants
The review of related literature in Chapter 2 together with the theoretical framework on empowerment has identified specific groups of marginalised girls and several means by which social exclusion constructs these groups thus preventing them from accessing education and their own path to empowerment. To further assist this study I will be examining related published documents that emphasise the connection between the State, enrolment figures and educational attainment and their relevance in how State interference can have both positive and negative outcomes.
This study will also examine personal experiences of education, social exclusion and empowerment from a range of Chinese nationals living in the United Kingdom as well as in China via the use of an online questionnaire. From this group I have selected two people to interview to form my case study - two females from an urban and rural area. The relationship between these two chosen participants and their views on family life was closely examined with particular reference to education and female empowerment as a means of gaining some insight into the main problems and issues arising from them.
The participants have been collated via the help of students at London universities and contacts via parents and staff within the establishment I work for. Finding willing participants was one of the obstacles I faced when beginning my research so the use of a "gatekeeper" was essential. This refers to a person "who can help the researcher with the vital business of gaining access to the necessary fieldwork setting" (Denscombe 2007: 71). In this study, the gatekeeper was the Chinese student contact I knew through my school and who helped me to find willing participants. Some scholars argue that the relationship that the gatekeeper has with these contacts may have an influence over the character of the investigation. Denscombe discusses how this often occurs where sponsors or guarantors are involved. The gatekeepers involved in this study knew of other Chinese nationals who would be able to take part in my research and did not have any sponsor or guarantor role to play so I am confident that the opinions given were true. On a positive note, Denscombe discusses the position of trust which the gatekeeper is placed in by both researcher and participant so this too would have a positive influence over the type of data I collated.
Due to the difficulties experienced in finding participants to assist my research, I felt it necessary to use all the people who responded to my emails together with responses from all parental contacts. This consequently became a suitable form of sampling and is therefore an example of non-probability sampling. They do not all have something in common. However, this study is not intended for the purpose of generalisation but rather to provide a glimpse into real success stories and how they might perhaps provide suggestions for policy change for people in similar positions.
Permission was sought before and questionnaires and interviews took place. Participants were also informed that they were able to withdraw from the study at any time. Not follow up respondents who did not wish to participate further than the online questionnaire. Assurance was given of this research being for my own personal use to ensure that it was not mistaken for the gathering of information for other purposes.
Sensitivity was a key element in this research. The Chinese community is a very private community hence my difficulty in obtaining willing participants. Participants may not have wanted to disclose whether they were originally from an urban or rural area to me so instead I asked which province and town or village they came from. The need for privacy, anonymity and confidentiality was especially important as this form of questioning resulted in responses which shared personal information and some criticism of the way things are governed in China.
Data Collection procedures
This study will make use of a number of literature sources, including reference to appropriate government publications, journals, reports and books. Internet resources published by the World Bank, UNICEF and DFID will also be referred to. I will be using the GMR 2010 data on school enrolment figures and educational attainment levels as a starting point. This might allow me to gauge the sort of data being released by China and question how reliable it can be.
In the first instance, an online questionnaire was used to gain as wide a sample as possible of opinions from Chinese international students at London Universities as well as the few contacts I had in China but this was a very small sample from which it would not have been possible to draw distinct conclusions. Dalsimer and Nisonoff (in Visvanathan et al 1997) noted some research which also used Chinese students as an example of successful opposition to State policies and intervention. This gives validation to my chosen cohort of participants.
Prior to the questionnaire being sent out I emailed a copy of my questions to the gatekeepers so that they may pass them on to the potential participants. This had advantage of ensuring a higher number of participants due to the fact that they could be sure that there were no 'surprise' or uncomfortable questions. It also meant that participants had the opportunity to give the questions some thought before embarking on the detailed online version and gave me a degree of certainty about the reliability of the data.
The link for the online questionnaire was sent in an email via the gatekeepers. This email also contained within it an outline of the type of topics to be covered in the questionnaire. Some of my contacts in China could only communicate via email and not by online survey so I emailed a simpler version of the online questionnaire to them instead to encourage maximum participation. Brown and Dowling (1998) outline the serious constraints a researcher faces if solely using questionnaires.
Email addresses were requested at the end of the questionnaire to allow for follow up where permission/email address has been granted. The questionnaire link was sent out by an acquaintance through the establishment for whom I work. This individual is studying at post-graduate level at another London university and was in a position to help find Chinese students for my research. As far as was possible, they tried to find me participants from both urban and rural China but this proved extremely difficult.
The purpose of the questionnaire was to delve deeper into personal experiences of China's education system and the sorts of barriers (teacher expectations, parental influences and decisions taken, lack of school facilities) or forms of social exclusion encountered as well as a means of finding interesting people to case study in detail. It was also intended as a way of gathering data about the more general experiences of Chinese youth regarding their gendered upbringings and success in becoming internationally mobile. All participants were over the age of eighteen with the intention of acquiring a more experienced view of education and gender stereotypes in China.
Interviews and Case Studies
After collating the online questionnaire results two Chinese women were selected to formulate my case studies. I very much hold the same viewpoint as Gerson and Horowitz who assert that:
"To unravel the complexities of large-scale social change, it is necessary to examine the intricacies of individual lives. Individual interviews provide the opportunity to examine how large-scale social transformations are experienced, interpreted and ultimately shaped by the responses of strategic social actors." (In May 2003: 200)
The analysis of such data would prove very interesting and worthwhile as it suggests ways in which social change may occur. Another important factor regarding interviews and their positive attributes is that they can do what the survey or questionnaire cannot. It allows the researcher to follow up ideas and probe deeper, even if this means deviating from the original set of questions. Responses and meanings can be clarified at point of contact and indeed even after the interview (Bell 2005).
Interviews are also time consuming and may deter participants but as long as a maximum time frame was given I found that my participants were more than happy to take part. Johnson (in Bell: 2005) concurs with this point. Interviews took place via telephone. Any questions about the interview were answered before it took place so as to make the participant feel at ease with the procedure. Interviews were digitally recorded and then transcribed.
My intention was to find out the opinions of those who have experienced Chinese education first hand and the ways in which their families, the State and community (for example teachers, other community members) were involved in the decision making process for the participants' educational future. These have been used in my case studies as particular examples of female empowerment in China but it will not be possible for to draw any firm conclusions from them. This would be an example of purposive sampling (Blaxter et al 2006: 163).
I have chosen to use the case study method of research due to the small sample of participants available to me. Nonetheless, the case study is agrees to be best suited to small scale research (Blaxter et al: 2006) whilst also allowing me to delve deeply into the individual's experiences. The case study approach is also a very 'real' method providing a clear picture of someone's experiences rather than the bland and impersonal character of data collected via questionnaires only. It enables me, as the researcher, to explore the complex characteristics of Chinese social life (Cohen et al in Blaxter et al: 2006), how cohesive the State, family and community are and how these influences and relationships impact on the individual. By presenting 'real' people who have experienced empowerment via their ability to access good sources of education we be able to draw possible scenarios that might be replicated on a wider scale, perhaps with the assistance of NGOs. This would require further research with the cooperation of the State. However, it should also be noted that there are disadvantages to writing up case studies in that they are notoriously difficult to analyse.
This method seeks to validate one's own research by comparing it to other published sources. I will be comparing my findings with that of Tsui and Rich's (2002) to observe whether or not women are experiencing empowerment and greater levels of autonomy as a result of living in an urban area where the one-child policy is strictly enforced. Hannum's various large-scale projects on girls' education in Gansu are also of relevance. This means of triangulation would allow me to see what women are really experiencing in urban China in order to see how this compares with rural China. It would be informative to observe whether Tsui and Rich's research can support my findings and if not whether there were particular differences arising from the case studies which might explain this.
The research has focused on the narrative element of the questionnaires and interviews as opposed to the statistical side but as my sample involved so few people it would not have been appropriate to do this anyway. I found that the student cohort of participants had stronger views about their upbringings and education. Statistics have been consulted from other published sources in order to clarify the current position of educational enrollment and attainment in China.
Data from the online questionnaires has been presented in a tabulated form in order to be able to cross-reference and compare responses with greater ease. Coding has been used to abbreviate as well as to highlight any similar responses. . Interviews were transcribed from a digitally recorded version and then compared according to their grouped themes in order to aid the my analysis. These were also coded and themed. However, this was quite challenging as the opinions given were quite broad.
An essential element of this study is to analyse the data given in the case study examples by comparing and contrasting the various opinions given. The process of data analysis will be two-fold. The case study findings of the urban participant will initially be described and discussed in detail whilst being cross-referenced with the findings of the Literature Review and theoretical framework. Following this there will be an analysis of the rural participant to assess whether there is a discrepancy between these two areas. Differences between the genders will also be profiled. The findings will also refer back to the research discussed in the Literature Review. Bogdan and Biklen (1982: 145) refer to this form of qualitative data analysis as "working with data, organising it, breaking it into manageable units, synthesizing it, searching for patterns, discovering what is important and what is to be learned, and deciding what you will tell others."
Limitations of my study
There were limitations of researching a country with a different language to my own and problems with accessing translated policy documents. My own experience of trying to access Chinese journals and data have been met with this language barrier and so relevant material may already exist in relation to my research but these aren't accessible by anyone except by those who can speak and read in Chinese. Using Chinese nationals also highlighted problems of translation and interpretation. In these cases I was fortunate enough to be able to clarify answers with the individual.
Having to rely on just a few participants also leaves room for their own bias to permeate the data. Cross-referencing with the views of people who took parting the online questionnaire may help in some ways to dispel this. On a theoretical note, Batliwala (1993) emphasises the problems of measuring empowerment as the term 'empowerment' is a contentious one and so measuring it would also be far from straightforward. Kabeer has outlined ways of measuring empowerment but in China, where universal education itself is difficult to gauge, empowerment presented itself as an area worthy of considerable examination. By carrying out this research it may be possible to illuminate the concept of empowerment being drawn out from real life experiences.