RESEARCHING FAMILY LIVES
Having recognised a need for interdisciplinary, qualitative study to research shared reading in families, this chapter introduces our study that was designed to explore shared reading in 29 families and explains the methods that were used to conduct this research. While academic convention often suggests a linear representation of research design and conduct, the reality is that qualitative research is a messy process, with unchartered territories to be encountered and navigated. Moreover, research that focuses on those aspects of our lives that take place behind closed doors adds to the complexity of this endeavour (Mauthner et al., 2002). As Chapters 2 and 3 have shown, reading is not a neutral activity; it is value laden, shaped by discourses of power and authority, yet it is embedded in the fabric of everyday life and relationships. We were therefore aware from the outset that we had to design a study that allowed participants to talk openly and comfortably about reading, given our recognition of the fact that reading is not detached from value and judgement in the wider world.
As discussed in the previous chapters, research into shared reading in homes has tended to focus on the ways in which family reading practices support children’s language development (Sawyer et al., 2016; Aikens & Barbarin, 2008; Senechai &c LeFevre, 2002). Very little research has attempted to understand the factors that motivate or inhibit shared reading activity, and where an attempt has been made, studies have tended to be quantitative in design, asking parents to select responses from pre-defined categories (see e.g. Lin et al., 2015). However, as already stated, if we are to understand shared reading practices in families, we recognised that we had to design research that sought to understand families, and their everyday family practices.
This was very much the starting point for this study. We then set about designing a study that would allow us to gain an insight into the routines, practices and relationships within families, with a view to understanding how shared reading did or did not fit within families’ everyday lives. This focus meant that the study was not designed to establish generalisations as such, but rather to gain a depth of understanding that may be transferable to others. It was therefore clear from the outset that interviews would be an ideal research tool to use, as they would allow an opportunity for us to talk to our research participants in detail. However, the structure and content of these interviews demanded careful thought.
This chapter begins with an overview of research with families, recognising some of the complexities that are embedded in the process of researching families. Given this recognition, the chapter then presents an outline of the design of the research which is central to this book. Having justified a need to employ narrative techniques, we explain how we designed interviews to capture the essence of participants’ everyday lives, and explore the ways in which shared reading did or did not fit within this. We then introduce the research participants and discuss some of the ethical issues arising from this study, especially in relation to conducting research in participants’ homes. In connection with this, we also explore the complex issue of researcher positionality and the relationship between participant and researcher. The chapter is concluded with an outline of the process used to analyse the data, before concluding with some final reflections.