Mar 202008


Alessandro Mongili

In occasion of the Laboratory on Grounded theory that we carried out in this Faculty last week, a young participant, a researcher from the University of Padua, after Leigh Star’s first introduction, said that he understood the crucial role of code-sharing and of focusing on some main research themes in Grounded theory practice. However, both these conditions were absent in his research routine. He codes everything alone, and carries out several different researches (about different topics) at the same time.

His comment reminds me of an old remark written by Everett Hughes elsewhere: Sociology is not simply a history of ideas, but a social movement. I wish to add: sociology is articulated in different ways and situated, here, in Italy, now, and corresponds to several practices, quite different comparing to those of the american or french qualitative researches . In my personal experience, and here I am talking not as a methodologist but as an generalist sociologist, I didn’t meet any trace of qualitative research practice during my undergraduate courses in an Italian Faculty of Sociology, I only met them as a PhD student in Paris. Back to those years, French sociology was developing a strong interest for qualitative methods, maybe in reaction to Bourdieu’s scholastic or other approaches, as the fonctionalist ones. In France, as well as in Italy, the main interest seemed to lie either in general theories or in mere descriptions which could address such questions as HOW MANY? In the Soviet Union, where I also did some research, the theoretical macrolevel was occupied (in the hand of…?) by the marxist-leninist scholastic, and the microlevel by the so called “concrete-sociological researches”. The word sociology had been banned. But in our countries too, The mesolevel of theoretical work was abandoned, or marginal. All the work was focused on the general conditions and factors (the social-economic structures) , or on the microevents. A true micro/macro partition.

French sociology, and some of those who were my professors at that time, such Jean-Michel Chapoulie and Nicolas Dodier, invited me to study the central character of a process, paying attention to conditions or factors when they becomes a real constitutive part of a concrete action and process. I think this passage was important: first, to legitimize the study of concrete social processes which are not necessarily to extend to all social body, and second, to start posing the problem of HOW and WHY instead the old HOW MANY. How and Why was solved, as a problem, by general social theories as functionalism, marxism and other metanarratives. But it is clear that the macrotheoretical level was, still in the ’80s, profoundly in the middle of a crisis and at risk of tautology. In fact, the idea of society as a body, extant as an organism, reproducing in any situations their immutable laws, was eventually gone. (grazie a dio)
A more dynamic interests on social process as the object of social research took place, stirring and evacuating an old micro/macro partition. It became legitimate for these kind of interests to use ethnographic methods, as well as open interviewing and observation….
At this moment (early 90s), the most diffused research practice was a step-by-step process: collection of data, a thematical coding, a final interpretation. I thought that my personal revolution in my sociological work was the passage to the open interview, but quickly I understood that these methods too were full of contraints and the final result was not so creative, especially in terms of conceptualization.
The discovery of the iterative loop, so typical of grounded theory, was in this respect really amazing, but at the same time difficult to apply. Mixing interviewing, coding and categorizing up, not to mention the theoretical sample, is so challenging to me! How many tacit knowledges, how many taken-for-granted practices ought to infuse the grounded theory practice!
I think that it is very important to translate many books and many theoretical contribution of our american or french colleagues, but at the same time I begin to believe that we, as italian sociologists, have to develop a serious new trend: find collaboration and share some (or many) research practices with our foreign colleagues: That’s not a frill, just to show the importance of our international academic relationships. It is a need, to share tacit knowledge, and naturalized practices in the research process.

That’s the goal of these initiatives in Cagliari, of the theoretical-practical Laboratory last week and of this Roundtable. Today, our focus will be about an exchange of experiences, not coming only from the sociology, but also from education studies. This exchange is among Leigh Star,

Leigh Star, sociologist, STS, social informatics and women studies. Her experience in grounded theory is well known, as a scholar and colleague of Anselm Strauss but also for her own works. Santa Clara University and visiting professor at the University of Cagliari

and these italian colleagues

Attila Bruni: Sociologist of organizations and STS ethnographer, University of Trento

Mario Cardano, professor, methodologist, University of Turin.

Giampietro Gobo, professor, methodologist, State University of Milan

Massimiliano Tarozzi, professor, pedagogist, University of Trento

Federico Neresini, professor, sociologist of science, methodologist, University of Padua

Alessandro Mongili, sociologist of technoscience, University of Cagliari

They all will participate to the debate , which is absolutely open to the public, both in english and in italian.

I hope everybody will enjoy our roundtable.

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