Panning for gold…

This is day one of a research week and it feels like I have not had focused time on my PhD for years. It is funny the tricks your mind plays, as I know that I was doing plenty of reading and not enough writing over the holiday period. More importantly, I was recharging my batteries and letting some things percolate quietly in the back of my mind. Or at least, that is my logical and sensible voice calming my PhD-panic moments.

A big percolating puzzle was my data analysis. I chose the Listening Guide (Gilligan, 2015) which involves a process of multiple “listenings” to the various voices in the transcripts – those audible on the surface and those that play along in the undercurrents. It is an analytical approach that recognises the importance of the relationships we build in our research, of the connections we make with the participants who kindly agree to work with us to explore a particular topic or two. It fit with my research framework and I was keen to see how it helped me engage with my data.

Before I took a break, I had been plugging away at it, hoping that it would somehow settle down, that I would be able to gain some clarity into the questions I was asking. But it remained murky and puzzling, so I reluctantly put it to one side. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I decided the only real option was to start again. Or, more accurately, save what I had done, salvage bits from it, and archive “Phase 1” under “Learning to Analyse Data”.

Today, after a day of honing, pruning and revising, I have a bundle of NVivo projects that look sensible, with a shared codebook that is clearly defined and straightforward. I have my contrapuntal voices (don’t ask – or ask Gilligan 🙂 ) and I-Poems (ditto), and things are looking up. The rest of the week will focus on analysing and reflecting, supplemented with big mugs of tea and at least one trip to Falko for cake. Because if doing a PhD has taught me one thing, it is that Coding Needs Cake.

My research over the summer has also taught me another bigger lesson. I have had to face a truth about my research skills – I’ve been panning published research for nuggets to support my own work. I hadn’t realised this was my approach until I read Indigenous and Decolonizing Studies in Education this summer.

Often it seems like settler readers read like settlers (that is, read extractively) for particular content to be removed for future use. The reading is like panning for gold, sorting through work that may not have been intended for a particular reader, sorting it by what is useful and what is discardable [Eve Tuck, p.15 in Smith, Tuck and Wang, 2019]

Even as I write this blog post, I realise I’m at risk of doing it again, extracting and sharing a little nugget. I’m hoping this is different, as I don’t want these to be the only words you read from this book. I want the post to whet your appetite and send you off to read the rest for yourself. It’s the kind of book that needs a slow read, so you can let it sink into you. For me, it is an inspiration and one of the most important books I have read. More importantly, it has achieved a goal that my supervisors have been reminding me of recently, the need to stop reading everything and focus on finding my own research voice. I have to sit down with the work of the excellent researchers I have met so far, and really listen to what they have to say. My writing needs to demonstrate what I have learned and who I have learned from, not what I have extracted.

At this point, you might be wondering what this has to do with the Listening Guide. In preparation for my revision task today, I was back reading the various articles and chapters that helped me select it as a method of analysis. A particular section stood out – yes, another nugget…

What my students have come to call “binning” (taking someone’s words and sticking them into mental bins) signifies a mode of listening that is not really listening but rather assimilating the experience of another to what one already believes. It is a way of asserting dominance and also an expression of disrespect. [Gilligan, 2015; p. 76]

How often have you read a paper and wondered at the selection process that goes into choosing the key quotes? I know it is something that I have thought about, particularly in that sense of responsibility in caring for the thoughts and words that were entrusted to me. A quick thematic analysis may result in the work being read extractively, panning for transcript gold to support the researcher’s viewpoint, “binning” chunks into code silos. It disrespects the speaker and the trust that has built over time. Being respectful is about slowing down, honouring the relationship that has developed, listening to the full story, and letting the learning soak in. That responsibility and respect for the relationship is what drew me to this method to begin with. It’s about hearing the music of voices in the transcript and sharing the tune, if not the whole song.

Re-reading the articles, I realise that I also missed one key point.

The steps of the Listening Guide define a way of opening oneself to the experience of another that enhances the prospect for discovery. A constant reminder I find myself giving to researchers learning the method is to slow down. [Gilligan, 2015; p. 76 – my emphasis]


In truth, that is what this summer has been – a time of slowing down, listening, thinking and learning. And cake…


Gilligan, C. (2015). The Listening Guide method of psychological inquiry. Qualitative Psychology 2(1): pp: 69–77 #paywall

Smith, L. T., Tuck, E., & Yang, K. W. (Eds.). (2018). Indigenous and decolonizing studies in education: Mapping the long view. New York and London: Routledge.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.