4. Under-Analysis Through Summary

Qualitative analyses share something important with quantitative analyses in that they both want to do something with the data. Neither is content merely to lay the data out flat. A quantitative researcher who merely presents the raw data from subjects in an experiment without putting it to some sort of statistical testing would hardly be said to have analysed it. So it is with qualitative data.

An interview, doctor's consultation or television talk show might be transcribed. Even complex transcription notation might be employed, to indicate the rise and fall of intonation or pauses and hesitations, as in the data extract presented above, taken from an interview with a young male respondent. We recognise that what to put in a transcript, and how to notate it, are far from easy questions, and that in that sense 'theory' cannot be kept out of transcription. The point is a venerable one in discourse analysis (see, for example, Edwards & Lampert, 1993; Jefferson, 1985; Psathas & Anderson, 1990). For our purposes here, however, we mean to warn against the notion that transcription can be a replacement of, or substitute for, analysis. Transcription prepares the data for analysis. However, it is not analysis in itself.

Analysis must mean doing something with the data, but not just anything. A quantitative analyst who presents a selection of their raw data in some graphical form, hoping that the reader might see a trend or a pattern, would not have done anything statistical on their data. A qualitative analyst will be doing the equivalent if they present their data as a prose summary. However, summarising the themes of what participants might say in an interaction typically does not involve any analysis of the discourse that they are using. A summary is likely to lose the detail and discursive subtlety of the original. The summary will be shorter and tidier. It will be phrased in the analyst's words, not those of the original speakers (or writers). It will lose information and add none. Under-Analysis through Summary, then, is the first of our list of things that are not discourse analysis.

The failures of summarising can be seen in relation to our interview extract. It would be possible to offer a summary of the main themes that the Respondent seems to be saying. One might say: 'the Respondent is expressing a belief in the desirability of marriage and the necessity to work hard to maintain marriage relationships; he stresses that in his view the demonstration of commitment is important and that divorce has become too easy'. Such a summary does not provide anything extra. It is not, for example, the identification of a 'discursive theme' or an 'interpretative repertoire' (we shall say more about those below). In fact, not only does it provide no 'extra value', it provides less: much of the complexity of the speaker's comments is lost. For example, at a relatively gross level, such a summary does not draw attention to his apparent switch around in lines 64 and 74 and following, when he appears to concede that marriage doesn't necessarily mean that one will be together in forty years. A summary of the switch does not analyse what effects the switch might have and precisely how it was presented. It misses, for example, the rhetorical and discursive effects of saying "in sort of (0.7) forty years time" and not just "forty years' time". At a rather more fine grain level, such a summary does not draw attention to the laughter that accompanies the interviewer's question (line 6) and the trouble shown in the understanding check (line 8) and the various aspects of 'dispreference' shown in the start of the participant's response (lines 11-12). Such examples can be multiplied by as many utterances as there are in the text.

In general, summarising does not offer an analysis of the discourse that the speaker was using. The analyst in the summary might be drawing attention to certain themes, pointing to some things that the participant(s) said, and not to other things. However, this pointing out is not discourse analysis. It might prepare the way for analysis, but it does not provide it. It can impede analysis, if it distorts the original by presenting the speaker as being more consistent, smoother and briefer than they might have been. And it will distort if it is freighted with heavy implication: if the summary attributes beliefs, policies and so on to the speaker as a short-hand, then it risks changing the object of analysis even before the analysis starts in earnest.

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