BUSNM051: The Research Process
John Quinn B00016128
School of Media, Language & Music
Coursework Assignment: Research Problem and Research Techniques
Part A: The Research Issue
This can be a topic from your field of study that you wish to develop into a research proposal. You should identify why the issue deserves investigation, what is the current state of knowledge about this issue and what research has been undertaken in the past. Where relevant you should identify deficiencies with the previous research. Ideally you should be able to develop an argument that seeks to establish that there are gaps in our understanding with the issue in our current knowledge.
Part B: The Research Techniques
The second part should explain the proposed research techniques which will be used in the investigation and should cover the following areas:
· Literature review techniques including database searches and internet sources.
· Proposed research and collection techniques, identifying issues with the collection of data and completion of fieldwork.
· The expected new contribution to knowledge.
· The development of an appropriate outline research schedule.
As Booth et al. (1995) suggests, with out reliable research, we would be lost amongst opinions of the moment, subject to the uncertainties of popular understandings. In this light, therefore, drawing from Sharp et al. (2002), research can be seen as the ‘seeking through methodological processes to add to one’s own body of knowledge and to that of others, by the discovery of non-trivial facts and insights’ (Sharp et al., 2002:7). As such, it is the intention of this essay to identify a proposed research issue, and discuss the range of methodological techniques that could be utilised to construct a study that confirms to the definition of Sharp et al (2002). To facilitate this, the essay shall be split into two sections: (A) an identification of the research problem, highlighting: why the issue deserves study; what the current state of knowledge is; what deficiencies there are in that knowledge; and the purpose of the proposed study. (B) An explanation of the methodological approach to be applied, highlighting: how the literature would be reviewed; how the data would be collected; in what manner would the study make an original contribution to knowledge; and how the study would be scheduled.
Part A: The research issue.
Since the explosion in popularity of professional wrestling on American and British subscription television in the late 1990’s (see; Bernthal and Medway (2005); Tambourini et al. (2005); DuRant et al. (2005)), much debate has arisen, both public and academic, with regards to the effect the anti-social content of the programming has on its consumers. The most notorious of these effects can be seen to be the phenomenon of imitation. This unintentional by-product of professional wrestling, which at its most potent, exists as an organised form of entertainment known as ‘backyard wrestling’, involves, as Schnirring (200) discusses, the imitation of televised professional wrestling by untrained individuals, without adequate supervision or equipment. As such, in recent years this phenomenon has been the focus of attention for a number of researchers engaged in the study of media effects.
From even the most cursory of glances at the data presented in this existing body of literature, such as Bernthal (2003); Bernthal & Medway (2005); ITC (2001); Tambourini et al. (2005); and Waxmonsky & Beresin (2001) it becomes clear that the imitation of televised professional wrestling culture is considerable, especially amongst adolescent males. Unfortunately the potential level of harm attributable to this behaviour is the loss of life, which was tragically exposed by the 1998 child killing of Tiffany Eunick, by Lionel Tate, where Tate’s legal team argued that the incident had occurred accidentally while imitating professional wrestling. With this fact in mind, and the recent proliferation of WWE programming across the globe, the potential instances of such a phenomenon could be seen to be growing, and study into why certain individuals imitate professional wrestling worthy.
The current state of knowledge regarding the effects of consuming professional wrestling on consumer behaviour however, can be seen to be limited, both in scope and in quantity. In the existing data, very few papers suggest actual causal factors that directly relate the consumption of televised pro wrestling to imitation, preferring instead to present rather tendentious arguments that explore tenuously; problematic psychosocial associations derived form consumption, like the work of: Bernthal (2003); Bernthal & Medway (2005); DuRant et al. (2007); Kaestle et al. (2007); Soullier (2005); Tambourini et al. (2005); Waxmonsky & Beresin (2001); and Woo & Kim (2003). As such, it is possible to suggest that in the absence of an ultimate causation, the majority of the existing literature has made the consumption of the texts, the proximate cause of imitation, often suggesting that televised pro wrestling consumers have difficulty in differentiating performance from reality, resulting in the learning of damaging cognitive scripts.
However research carried out in 2001 for the Independent Television Commission (ITC) suggested that the majority of televised wrestling consumers, even the very young, do understand that the texts they are consuming are simulations. Furthermore, the data suggested that this is conveyed through the nature of the performances, where one can draw comparisons with legitimate sport in order to facilitate differentiation. This can be seen to suggest that imitation is in some manner connected to the product aesthetic, inviting further analysis of what motivates an individual to imitate what they see. This highlights a gap in the existing literature, where condemnation of the content of the programming has lead to the discussion of non causal associations between social maladjustment and consumption, to the neglect of an exploration of actual causal factors for the imitative behaviour displayed by some consumers.
In order to fully understand the arguments about the effects of consuming televised professional wrestling however, it seems appropriate to extend the background data to the general study of media effects. As McQuail (1987) suggests, the media effect debate is, and has been, underpinned by the pragmatic premise that our behaviour is modified by the media texts we consume/receive, and according to Barker and Petley (1997), this has resulted in a deeply split research community. Gaunlett (2005) suggests that studies analysing whether or not television violence leads to increased real-life aggression can be grouped according to methodology.
Gauntlett (2005) proposes six variations in the study of the effect of media violence: laboratory experimentation (Berkowitz (1962, 1965); Donnerstein and Berkowitz (1981); Bandura and Walters (1963) and Bandura (1965)); field experimentation (FeshBach & Singer (1971); Friedrich and Stein (1973); and Sawin (1990)); correlation study (Bernthal and Medway (2005); DuRant et al. (2005); and Bernthal (2003)); Longitudinal studies (Sheenan (1986); Milavsky et al. (1982); and Bachrach (1986)); natural experiments; and meta-analysis (Paik and Comstock (1994), Hearold (1986)). Of these effects studies, Gauntlett (2005) proposed a tentative paradigm, where the less naturalistic the method, the more likely the finding of direct causation of aggressive behaviour, the more naturalistic the method, the lesser the confirmation of direct causation. As such the main deficiency of this research body, much like the wrestling specific literature, can be seen to be in the finding of direct causation within the naturalistic social environment.
Therefore, the proposed research study’s purpose will be to endeavour to explore causation by attempting to understand the motivations of individuals who imitate televised professional wrestling. This initial research question will form a pilot study, gathering general data on motivations. The study would then combine this data with ideas developed from the ITC (2001) study, to explore whether or not this motivation is related to; (a) a desire to increase their social attention holding power (SAHP) through social comparison, that is facilitated by, (b) the consuming of the highly ostensive performances of the wrestlers. Which serve to reduce representations of the potentially imitation inhibiting factors of pain and injury, through unrealistic representations of the consequences of violence.
Part B: The Research Techniques.
The staring point for the proposed study would be in the reviewing of the existing body of literature. As Creswell (2003) suggests, this research stage can be seen to reduce the scope of the inquiry and provide a basis for the convincing of others that the area is worthy for study. However according to Fink (1998), in order to do this, the literature review is required to evaluate the existing literature systematically and explicitly, providing reproducible data, and as such has to be as methodologically sound as other research techniques that are to be used in the study. Drawing form Creswell (2003), should the literature review be carried out effectively, then it should provide a framework that establishes the importance of the study in relation to the deficiencies of the existing literature.
From this overview it is possible to explore how the literature may aid the development of the proposed research topic. The proposed study is intended to be qualitative and exploratory and little research has been produced previously on the motivations for the imitation of professional wrestling, therefore literature on the general process of media effects, as described by Creswell (2003), will need to be introduced early in the study in addition to specific literature on wrestling consumption, and social comparison, in order provide an orienting framework.
Creswell (2003) suggests a systematic approach to the collection and evaluation of this data. Beginning by identifying key words related to the topic, the researcher can search electronic library catalogues (such as the service provided by Talis Prism in the UWS library), focusing on journals and books. The results should furnish the researcher with an initial body of literature that can be used to set priorities for further lines of enquiry, and focus attention to specific literature paths through the bibliographies provided. Creswell (2003) suggests that the production of a literature map is an essential tool that provides a visual representation of the existing literature, which shows through hierarchy or flow chart, cumulative developments and gaps related to the topic of the research study.
Creswell (2003) suggests that this can be done by placing the topic at the top of the chart, and dividing the literature found into broad subtopics. In the case of the proposed study this could be - the imitation of televised professional wrestling, followed by: general media effects; wrestling specific; and social comparison. These subtopics can then be divided in to braches relating to specific developments, and ultimately after more subdivision, individual pieces of literature. At the end of each branch, a future research summary could be included, which could be drawn together in to a proposed research section occupying the bottom of the chart. This approach would appear to compliment the systematic requirement discussed by Fink (1998) identifying key words, subjects and actual literature, allowing for easier analysis of the findings and exposure of trends.
However, there are specific considerations to be made concerning the application of the above paradigm to electronic databases and the internet. As Fink (1998) suggests, not all academic databases utilise the same keyword structure, and as such careful attention has to be paid to the specific requirements for each database used to avoid inaccurate results. In addition to this point, Fink (1998) holds practicality and feasibility as crucial evaluative tools for conducting the review, where literature language, publication date, setting, and ranking must be negotiated before assimilating the work into the literature review.
In order to ensure that the literature review is more than a collection of synopsises, and is instead evaluative, as discussed by Fink (1998), then Creswell (2003) suggests a further model based on dividing the contents of the review according to the dependant and independent variables of the study. In this model, one could begin by providing a statement of how the review will be organised, then discuss the independent variables of the study, followed by a discussion of the dependant variables, narrowing down to studies that cover both, which should be similar (as far as is possible) to the proposed study. Finally the review can be summarised to expose the key theoretical positions and themes, and why the topic deserves further attention.
The next sage in the research process can be seen to be the selecting of a methodological approach. Due to the nature of the proposed research question, the initial research process will be exploratory, seeking to understand what motivates certain individuals to imitate televised professional wrestling, and if that motivation can be related to social comparison. This section of research is expected to be paramount to the research design and the development of a hypothesis, and indeed, the very completion of the second part will depend on the results provided by the initial exploratory research. As Blaxter et al. (2001) reports, there are a multitude of families, approaches and techniques that can be used to facilitate research, and as such a distinction needs to be made between method (the tools of data collection) and methodology (the approach/paradigm of the research).
The first distinction to be made can be seen to be one of methodology and academic culture, choosing between the paradigms of qualitative or quantitative research. To do this, as Blaxter et al. (2001) proposes, involves returning to the research question and thinking about what the purpose of the study is, and the nature of the knowledge that is to be constructed. Therefore the purpose of the proposed study can be seen to be concerned with the understanding of an individual’s behaviour form their own frame of reference, which would place the study within the realms of the qualitative research paradigm, but equally it can be interpreted as seeking causes of phenomena, which would steer the study towards the quantitative. Furthermore, the initial part of the research question could also be seen as an attempt to test the theory of social comparison as a means of initiating imitative behaviour, which would appear to indicate the first stage of the deductive paradigm typical to quantitative research. However, as the study would be measuring data which is subjective and reliant on the individual, then the production of hard, replicable experimental data could be questioned.
Blaxter et al. (2001) indicates that such problems with methodological definitions are common in the social sciences, and suggests there can often be a series of similarities in application, between the two paradigms. However, drawing from Gomm (2004), ultimately the purpose of the proposed study is to provide a rich description of motivations through understanding how the research participants view the world around them, and as such the qualitative methodology of Geertz’s (1973) ‘thick’ description could be seen to be a viable option for exploring naturalistically the phenomenon.
This would seem to place the initial research of the proposed study in the interpretive vein, of qualitative research and suggest that a suitable method of obtaining the required data could be participant observation. McCall and Simmons (1969) define participant observation as a combination of methods employed in the study of such subject maters as subcultures, a primary research approach involving the direct observation of the culture from a position within the field, along with interviewing and collection of artefacts. The end result of the process can be seen to be the provision of an analytic description of the problem studied, employing theory, systematic data collection, and if applicable, generalisations.
However, a common process in backyard wrestling cultures can be seen to be the overt display of their cultural artefacts (their performances) via video streaming platforms such as ‘you-tube’ or social networking sites. This occurrence provides ample opportunity to examine the culture from out with the field, and as the study is concerned more with why the participants behave in the manner they do rather than the nature of the behaviour, it is plausible to assume that a more effective method of data collection could be in the ethnographic interview.
As such, and drawing from Sarantakos (2005) the proposed study would utilise the method of the unstructured interview, gathering data through verbal communication in the form of open-ended questions that are adaptable enough to be reformulated in order to adapt to the flow of information provided. Oppenheim (1992) describes this as the exploratory or depth interview, heuristic in nature and concerned with understanding how the participant feels about the research topic, which should be recorded mechanically as well as transcribed. Oppenheim (1992) suggests that the raw data should be briefly summarised to highlight the key topics discussed, then the transcript and recording could be subjected to conversation analysis as Sarantakos (2005) advises. Drawing from Geertz (1973) the semiotic nature of cultural exchanges should allow such analysis to distinguish actions from social gestures, in essence separating the thin describing of the wrestling manoeuvre imitated, from the thick description of the symbolic social importance of the act.
Ponterotto (2006) provides a guide as to how thick description could be manifested into written work. Beginning with the participants, thick description requires a full exposition of demographic characteristics (psycho-socioeconomic) allowing the reader to clearly visualise the sample. The same strategy must be applied to the cultural setting, providing a context from which the reader can understand the study, also the procedure of the interview must be made clear to allow of the understanding of the interpretations made in the study. Importantly the results must reflect the voice of the participant, with as Sarantakos (2005) suggests an emphasis on the sound and nuance of the conversation as it happened being paramount in the format of the writing. With this properly done the reader can visualise the participant-researcher interaction in the same emotive tone of the original interview. Ponterotto (2006) further suggests that the discussion of the results must be written in a manner that merges the participant’s actual experiences with the researcher’s interpretation, allowing the reader to evaluate the meanings exposed and make conclusions on the interpretive data.
As the initial part of the research will essentially be a pilot study intended to generate a hypothesis, the defining of its originality in knowledge development will be directly linked to the subsequent design of the research, and difficult to pin down. Philips and Pugh (1994) however, provide a useful set of definitions of originality in research, and the originality in the pilot study phase of the research could be seen to come from the setting down of new information in writing for the first time. It is possible to suggest therefore that the development of such research could be seen to fit with Kolb’s (1984) experiential learning, by reflecting on an interpretation of a small section of the existing knowledge (that certain individuals imitate televised professional wrestling), and transforming it to develop understanding. Nonetheless, an original contribution to knowledge in the area of the effects of television violence does not yet have to be, as Khun (1996) suggests, a unique solution to the problem, as in the mature sciences, but rather a contribution that helps the discipline mature.
In this sense a sufficient contribution to knowledge can be seen to have a much wider methodological scope than that of the harder sciences such as physics, which typically have a convergent consensus on what the problem is and how to solve it. As such, and again drawing from Philips and Pugh (1994), as discussed earlier, the second stage of the proposed research will look to apply the meanings exposed in the interviews to existing theoretical positions within the media effects literature. In this way the research could develop an existing model of television effects on individual behaviours, such as that of Comstock et al. (1978) (Appendix 1) and as such, could be seen to be attempting a synthesis of theory that has not be made before, or bringing a technique from another area and applying it to a foreign field. (If indeed evidence is found in the pilot study of motivation by means of social comparison.)
Philips and Pugh (1994) outline a time-based programme of work that seems to be applicable to such studies as the one proposed in this essay. As such their model has been adapted to map out the progression of the proposed study (Appendix 2). The proposed timeline can be seen to be broken down into four main areas, firstly, the collection and evaluation of background theory, which will form the majority of the literature review, and be structured around the formation of a literature map. The next section is the focal theory element, where the background data is manipulated in order to focus the main research questions of the study. These two sections should take up the majority of the 1st academic year and lead toward the design of the pilot study. The second year should begin by moving the study into the data theory phase, where analysis of the pilot study will shape the main research design and highlight any need to return to the background and focal data stages. The majority of the data theory section will, however concern the collection and analysis from the hypothesis derived from the pilot study and should encompass just under one academic year. The final section of the research would be the contribution phase, where the data and original contribution shall be presented in writing.
This essay has intended to show that the imitation of televised professional wrestling is a social occurrence worthy of research, by highlighting the dangers of such behaviour and the general proliferation of televised wrestling texts. Furthermore, the essay has suggested that the existing literature does not provide meaningful explanations for such behaviour, and proposed a PhD study that could be seen to develop the knowledge towards a better understanding of the problem, through the systematic development of a programme of qualitative research.
Appendix 1: Comstock et al. (1978) Model of Television Effects on Individual Behaviour.
Appendix 2: Proposed PhD Progression.
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The official blog of John Quinn's media effects research study! Ever wondered why some people bash each others brains out in the garden after watching wrestling?........if so read on...oh and its best to read this page from the bottom upwards!!