Interim Report: The choice of research method in the investigation of Students’ Offending (Secondary Education) in the Republic of Cyprus, and critical analysis of the relevant issues

 

Introduction

Research activity requires and presumes the ability of the researcher to understand and handle many issues of theoretical, ethical, and practical nature. First of all, to be in a position to know the differences between the existent methodologies and methods, and the strengths and weaknesses of the basic strategies. Then, from a large variety of available research methods, strategies, and designs, to choose the appropriate for the specific real-life investigation.

A small-scale qualitative phenomenological study on Students’ Offending (Secondary Education) in Cyprus was designed and used. This research topic is considered to be related to the professional field of practice of the researcher as a litigator.

In the first part of this report, the choice of the qualitative approach is discussed, and particularly phenomenology, and the appropriateness of the instruments employed in the investigation of this topic. In the presentation of the research, there is a critical analysis of practical, theoretical and ethical issues.

In the second part of this report, there is a critical reflection on the approaches not chosen for this investigation, and how they might have been used to address the same topic.

A reflective account and analysis of the experience of undertaking this research conclude this report.

Social sciences, methodology, and methods

The identification of the way of carrying out a research (methodology), whether it can refer to a quantitative or qualitative strategy, the plan of action (or what is called “horses for course”) (Denscombe, 2010, p. 5), and the tools which will be used (method), firstly, depends on the way in which the social researcher views and interprets the science in relation to the social reality (Bryman, 2012, p.19). There, the whole theoretical world of the researcher (background, standing, or expectations) seems to be relevant to this interpretation. Secondly, this identification depends on what the researcher needs to learn about and what the same aims to investigate (research question), focusing on theory or an existing social problem or phenomenon, or on the need to find a factual base. Beyond this general and specific theoretical content, thirdly, this identification depends on many practical or circumstantial parameters (like the time limitations, the available equipment and means, the place of the researcher and the prospective participants, and other parameters), which may explain how the research will be done, with possible conclusions as to suitability, feasibility and ethicality (Robson, 2002; Bryman, 2012).

The research methods are traditionally classified as quantitative or qualitative. Quantitative research focuses on quantification (numbers) when collecting and analyzing data, in contrast to qualitative research which focuses on words, pictures, and objects (Bryman, 2012, p. 36). In qualitative methods, the relationship between research and science is viewed in an inductive way (the theory comes out from the science), while in the quantitative methods this relationship is seen deductively (the science tests the existent theories) (Bryman, 2012, p. 380). Qualitative research facilitates an in-depth understanding of the real world by exploring how people behave, think or feel in an unstructured way; it tries to approach the research issue holistically (therefore subjectively), and it generates ideas and hypotheses open for future quantitative research. The objective approach of quantitative research reflects the underpinning assumption that the reality is objective (there is an object “out there”), and not the changing outcome of human interactions, as it is reflected by the subjective approach of qualitative research (Merriam, 2002). While the quantitative researcher is more distant and independent from the object of study, the qualitative researcher enters the natural setting of the things, cognitively participating in the research and seeing the social reality with the eyes of the actors (Bryman, 1984; Merriam, 2002).

Deciding to use qualitative research reflects the pre-existent philosophical standpoint that Students’ offending and generally crime or criminality is not a specific object “out there”. It is viewed as a phenomenon resulting from the human mind and behavior, or the interactions of people with their social and natural environment. Sometimes, it results from the changing perceptions of people about what is extremely antisocial to be “crime” (Löschper, 2000).

There is a variety of qualitative-based designs. Ethnography focuses on “culture”. It is an attractive research design, but it requires full-time research and fine mettle to immerse self within the culture, to explore and understand the shared meanings beyond what is immediately evident. Even though Students’ offending, as a phenomenon, may also need sociocultural interpretation (D’ Andrade, 1992, p. 230; Merriam, 2002), this design was not appropriate for this research. The grounded theory seeks to derive and ground a theory from the data; discovery and description are not involved (Merriam, 2002). Although this design was not excluded for any future use, it was beyond the purposes of this research, which was simply to investigate whether such phenomenon exists and to describe it through the perceptions and the knowledge of the actors. The case study focuses on the experience of one person, family, community, or other units, and it is determined by the unit of analysis (Merriam, 2002), since Students’ Offending, as approached, could not be viewed as a bounded system. Other qualitative methods, like narrative analysis, did not respond sufficiently to the needs of this research.

The purpose of Phenomenology is to identify and describe a phenomenon within everyday life, by gathering and classifying information from the perceptions and lived experiences of the actors. Epistemologically it is based on the subjective paradigm of personal knowledge (Husserl, 1962; Heidegger, 1962). Approaching Students’ Offending phenomenologically, the starting point was that each actor is the carrier of a unique reality, full of thoughts and feelings, which reflect the phenomenon. Phenomenology is not necessarily explanatory; it may be only descriptive, but the addition of interpretative dimensions could also create an exciting strategy (Schutz, 1967). In Phenomenology, the researcher usually begins as a “tabula rasa” without preconceived ideas (Husserl, 1970), even though a pre-existed open theory or incomplete knowledge are not excluded. The choice of Phenomenology is further justified and evaluated through the discussion of the research topic.

The research topic

The research topic was about Students’ Offending (Secondary Education) in Cyprus. The secondary education covers the ages from 12 to 18. The minimum age for criminal responsibility is 14. Provided that the age-crime curve (Farrington, 1986) is not significantly changed, (without accepting any notion of “criminogenic age”), secondary schools are inherently vulnerable to crimes; in terms that crimes can be committed by students or within the campuses as an expected (but not objective) phenomenon. Approaching juvenile offending as “students’ offending” unnecessarily adds to the later some autonomous dimensions. Thus, we often say that students’ offending is a silent, inaccessible and unknown phenomenon. This approach may be encouraged by the mass media, when they publish incidences with an over-exposition of the offenders’ capacity as “students” or focus on the fact that these incidences happened within the school campuses or against students and teachers (Eftychiou, 2018). Having the starting point that students’ offending is a social problem (possibly a side of juvenile offending), it does not concern only the educational justice, but the juvenile justice as well. What is missing is a mechanism for the synchronization and communication between the educational and the juvenile justice for the prevention and treatment of juvenile offending; the picture of the relationship between the “small worlds of justice”.

School is a “miniature of society” where children spend their daily time, as within their family homes (Shimbori, 1979; Caldwell, Reddy, & Caldwell, 1983; Lesthaeghe, 1983; Fogel, 2000). Both family and school are viewed as “social hotspots” within the society. These “social hotspots” may develop their own internal rules and values about right and wrong, ethical and unethical. Breaching the State’s criminal laws is something more specific or common. The question is how these “small worlds of justice” treat possibly criminal behaviour; whether there is a trend of declassification of the criminal character of a behavior; whether they reflect and express the same juvenile justice’s needs and ends (i.e., a more restorative or therapeutic approach) or not. If not, whether there is any possibility to introduce a kind of social responsibility for them towards youth crime in contemporary society: to act as socio-therapeutic agents, instead of intervening to the crime as autonomous actors. This question is relevant to the observation that Juvenile Justice System in Cyprus is going to be “hidden” in the jurisdiction of family courts, since the criminal declassification or even the empowerment and autonomisation of these “small worlds of justices” may be considered as therapeutic interventions for vulnerable offenders, instead of anti-socialisation.

This pilot study aimed to explore how youth offending is viewed by people who are considered more “experts” through their possible experiences (i.e., teachers, police officers, parents, others) when it is presented as “students’ offending”. The need was to see people’s attitudes towards youth crime when the emphasis is put on the situation and capacity of the subjects as “students”; whether there are commonalities or differences. Further, there was the need to understand the reasons behind any disparities. The expectation was to obtain a first (indirect) picture of how the educational justice system works, and how people think that it should work. This picture would be indicative of the areas which should be researched, referring to the triptych of “school-family-justice”. The broader objective is the improvement of prevention and treatment of juvenile offending, through the design of specific school programs.

The research method and the instrument designed and used for this: Justification, evaluation, and critique

Given this research topic and the existent understanding of the advanced research methods, the choice of a qualitative-based method, and particularly phenomenology, seemed to be the most appropriate for this investigation. Of course, this investigation, which was proposed for the learning outcomes of a module in advanced research methods, does not reflect any attempt to find out the ideal research type for investigating the specific issue generally; possibly there is not any such perfect type of research for any question.

Design

The design concerned an online qualitative phenomenological survey. This choice is justified by the need to explore, describe, interpret, and understand in-depth the phenomenon of youth offending when it is presented as “students’ offending”; whether there are trends for criminal declassification and autonomy. This understanding would be based on the perspectives and possible experiences of the participants, who would become co-researchers in a way. Therefore, the results would be the product of their consciousness (Husserl, 1970; Giorgi, 1970; 2009), which would reflect their current understanding and relationship with this social phenomenon (youth offending), could be valuable for the realisation of the phenomenon, and its different sides. Phenomenology also expressed the need for an interdisciplinary approach to this issue, which has philosophical, socio-legal and psychological dimensions. The selection of phenomenology is also relevant to the fact that there not empirical research concerning this issue in the Republic of Cyprus; thus, there were not any previous indications of what to research on.

Participants, procedure, and materials

The group of interest was primarily the people who might have experiences with youth offending (i.e., teachers, police officers, parents). The sample was not directly purposive, because of the silent nature of the phenomenon under research. However, it was purposive up to the point that it looked to pick the perspectives of people who were asked about their occupation, and the experiences of those who have them.

After the approval of the Ethical Committee of the University of Portsmouth, the material was translated into Greek. The online survey tool Bristol Online Survey was used for the construction of the survey web-page. The link of the study was shared through the researcher’s social media pages. The participants were asked to share the study link to more participants that they might be interested in this research (snowballing) (Goodman, 1961; Heckathorn, 1997; Salganik & Heckathorn, 2004; Atkinson & Flint, 2004; Brace-Govan, 2004). This way of approaching the participants and the design of the study, which was web-based, would enable the covered information and the hidden people with valuable knowledge or experience to enter the sample; however, it added a physical distance between the researcher and the actors. Some participation criteria were posed to reduce the sample and targeted the purposed sample indirectly. The participants should be over the age of 18, with residence in Cyprus for the last three years, and be interested in or related to the research topic.

The participants were finally twelve (N=12), eight females (N=8) and four males (N=4), covering a broad age range. The 25% (N=3) was within the age range of 20-30, the 25% (N=3) was within the age range of 31-40, a percentage of 16,7% (N=2) was within the age range of 41-50, and a percentage of 33,3% (N=4) was above the age of 60. The 33,3% (N=4) was from the field of education, the 16,7% (N=2) was from the field of justice, a percentage of 33,3% (N=4) was from other fields (i.e., health, property management), and a 16,7% (N=2) did not state any occupational background. The 66,7% (N=8) are parents, and the 33,3% (N=4) are not parents.

The main instrument for the investigation of this phenomenon was a web-based hypothetical scenario of students’ offending. It was followed by a questionnaire with not-leading open-ended and yes/no scenario-based questions (i.e., how the School must treat the incidence), experience-based questions (i.e., description of an experience of students’ offending and how it has been treated), and limited multiple-choice demographic questions (i.e., age, gender, occupation). The yes/no questions gave the necessary flowing to this written interview, to lead the participants to a deeper view. The demographic questions were not able to lead to the identification of the participants’ identities, since all the questions were optional, and they were necessary for the research to find out whether there are any interpretative trends related to the demographic details.

The scenario was based on the “Revenge Porn” case, which has been recently used in professional training (Fair Trials & International Juvenile Justice Observatory, 2018), with the necessary modifications and by removing the role-playing part. Even though it was hypothetical, it was confirmed through consultation with a professional teacher in Cyprus that it included elements of a possible real incidence. Indeed, the 50% (N=6) stressed that this was realistic, 8,3% (N=1) that is much realistic, and 41,7% (N=5) that it was very much realistic. It was written to create some rigor, but without disrupting the psychological well-being of the participants or creating any risk for them. Using a scenario seemed to be a good methodological tool for the identifications of testable research issues and the creation of “interesting research” (Ramirez, Makherjee, Vezzoli, Kramer, 2015). It seems that it enabled 12 responses, showing, at some points (i.e., through the use of more than one exclamation marks and the content of the transcripts), that the participants were expressing feelings along with their perspectives. Of course, this feedback, which does not represent a full analysis, might be better if a video had been used (instead of a written scenario), and if it was followed by an oral interview (instead of a written interview).

Of course, the questionnaire was based on a phenomenological model, even though it is not an oral interview for many practical reasons (i.e., time, cost). The oral interview was an added choice of the participants at the end of this research. If used, the researcher would be helped to find out who are the people who could give more information about the research topic. It was attempted, as for the number and the kind of the written questions, to give the sense to the participants that they are the experts in this research area. Then the focus was on the quality of the data and not on their quantity or their generalizability. It was believed that the written mode of the interview would increase the linguistic ability of the participants (Giorgi, 2009) or their willingness to express any personal experience, as they would answer the questions any time they wanted, electronically, and by writing in a free text space to give a detailed transcript. Active listening is not appropriate for all the research issues and all the participants, and the lack of this possibility does not exclude the use of phenomenology or phenomenologically oriented approaches.

The data collection lasted for one month. The responses were organized in NVivo. The critical and interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) (Smith & Osborn, 2008; Smith, 2009) will be preferred, instead of any other qualitative approach, but adapted to the needs of interdisciplinarity of the research, also considering its possible use in criminology (Miner – Romanoff, 2012). The data will produce the codes and the themes through cyclical approaches. A second independent coder may be used to audit the analysis and increase the internal reliability of the study. The results are not discussed in this interim report, as the analysis is not completed.

Ethical and practical issues

I tried to anticipate all the possible ethical and possible practical issues from the beginning, and I did not face any new or unpredicted issues during the research, expect of the need to remind about the existence of the study twice within the whole month of the collection phase, but without putting pressure to people to participate.

An information sheet and a consent form were embedded in the online survey at the beginning. The participants gave positive answers to consent questions, which enabled them technically to proceed with the submission of their consent form and then to enter the questionnaire. There were also yes/no questions, where the participants could set their participation preferences (i.e., to be quoted verbatim). Additionally, the participants were asked to click a button to indicate their agreement to participate in the study.

The participants remained anonymous at every stage of this study, and nothing from the collected data can trace their identity. As the participants were anonymous, in case that they liked to withdraw their participation after the electronic submission of the questionnaire, this was not possible. The withdrawal of their participation was possible at any time before the electronic submission of the questionnaire, just by exiting the web-page of the research study. In that case, the questionnaire would not be submitted at all.

As concerns the advantages and disadvantages of the participation, there was not any material consideration (i.e., money, gifts). It was get known to the participants that spending so much time to participate in research about students’ offending is a contribution to the understanding of the phenomenon and science, as it is served through a doctorate program. Beyond this justification, they are given a “voice” to express their thoughts and feelings about this social issue and their possible experience.

Even though there was not anything in the scenario or the questions which (objectively) might cause any discomfort to the participants, the survey was open to anyone, including people with possible unknown vulnerabilities, and the scenario was vivid by describing a possibly criminal behavior. Therefore, some methods are used (i.e., the web-page was in warm colors; the scenario was written carefully; the directions and the questions were written in a friendly way, and there was an attempt to create rapport through them). There was not any risk to participants. Even though their psychological well-being was not in danger more than in cases of free surfing on the internet and reading news, some methods were used, referred above. There was not any risk to researchers, because the survey took place online. There were not any reputational risks in this study either to the University or the researcher. A debriefing note was used as well to give further useful information to the participants about the research topic.

The participants were informed that the data are considered as being in custody of the University of Portsmouth, and they are saved electronically in a folder accessible only by the researcher and any other person supervising the study, and in researcher’s NVivo account (password protected). They were also informed of the storage period of the data and their use and that the study will be published after its completion, with open access, to inform people about the results, up to the point that they may add something to the knowledge about youth offending in Cyprus, and to encourage more research.

Theoretical issues

The main issue with the choice of phenomenology is that this study is a small-scale pilot study within a broader phenomenological approach, instead of a full phenomenological study per se. Therefore, even though this study was phenomenological in purpose, it was rather descriptive in its outcome, giving reasons for further research, for the holistic approach of Students’ Offending. The persistent thought was, therefore, as to whether a study is still considered to be phenomenological when it does not exhaust the phenomenological purpose or the phenomenon itself, or without the depth that is required to make a full (even first) picture of all the dimensions of a phenomenon. Hence, the way in which the study was designed permitted the approach of Students’ Offending was like making the first step to approach something unknown, but also without the means to learn it, apart from taking the first sight; then to plan how to approach the same. On the other hand, the outcome (without referring the results) confirms that people do not, and they will not talk easily about Students’ offending (this is the known silence of the phenomenon), just because of an online survey of a student, and this seems to be a real side of this phenomenon, possibly outstanding.

Although the initial thought was that the online approach would be attractive, or it would breach that silence, because of anonymity and freedom of writing (in the sense of communicating thoughts safely), the later thought, while observing the slow flow of the responses and the length of their textual content in each part, was slightly differed. In the contemporary era, people may need to express themselves in public and eponymously, and to exhibit their courage and ability to ask their right to free expression and their unique thoughts about some phenomena. Therefore, if there were an online discussion forum or group or blog about Students’ Offending, there would be more answers for people eponymously or anonymously, and a dialogue between each other to motivate and deepen the discussion, and the knowledge. The persuasion of the dialogue was absent in this research, even though the questionnaire was written in a form almost dialectic. The motivation for an ongoing dialogue would create better contact with the lived experience.

On the other hand, staying on the known features of phenomenology, a lived experience can also be communicated online, or through texts, and this does not necessarily mean declassification of the method as phenomenology. It instead takes us to what is called hermeneutical or interpretative phenomenology, where the contact with the lived experience is less direct,  but existent (van Manen, 2014, p. 132). Further, conducting phenomenology online could be something prominent, particularly for online behaviours (i.e., hate speech), which reflect a kind of “internet life” and internet lived experiences. Nevertheless, the scenario used for this research also concerned a kind of cybercrime. The use of the internet as a means of collecting lived experiences was not irrelevant even though the research topic was not specifically about that crime, but about Students’ offending.  In-depth interviews with people from each field of practice (i.e., education, justice) would possibly give richer information about the phenomenon of Students’ Offending.

Discussing the approach not chosen

The above conclusion brings back the need to consider whether any other approach not chosen could be more appropriate to address the same topic of Students’ Offending. Trying to justifying something “not chosen” is puzzling, because the no-choice may be the mere consequence of choosing something else.

As it was already discussed, taking a philosophical position and methodology (forming questions is a particular way), leads us necessarily to see specific methods as being more appropriate than others, in order to implement our investigation (Gelo, Braakmann & Benetka, 2008). Students’ offending was viewed as something changing, that it consists of social, psychological, and other elements (Löschper, 2000). This view does not have to do with the fact that there are criminal laws that provide what is criminal and what is not criminal. Choosing the qualitative paradigm was motivated by that worldview, and not choosing the quantitative paradigm was the conclusion of the same.

On the other hand, without any intention to lead the discussion to the complicated issue of causes of crime, the idea that the crime is a social phenomenon, inherent to the social life of people, and researchable through the quantitative paradigm (same as social psychology), could not be rejected (Hirschi, 1969; Skinner, 1953; Milgram, 1963). Importantly, the acceptance of the quantitative paradigm would not overlap any other philosophical standpoint. It is the traditional view that the crime is researched only with specific techniques and the data are also collected only with specific instruments, mainly within the quantitative sphere (Verna, 1996).

Quantitative research could be used to answer different questions with the same research topic, but not the same questions. For instance, the questions could be how many incidences of Students’ Offending were reported to police (where we would investigate the number of incidences), giving a descriptive approach. The focus could also be on the difference between two or more objects, making a comparative study. The relationship-based approach could also be used to investigate what is the relationship between Students’ Offending and Juvenile Justice amongst young boys, where we would have dependent variable and independent variable and the demographic sphere of young boys. There are known relationship-based researches which used the School Survey on Crime and Safety of the US Department of Education (Chen, 2008; Jennings, Khey, Maskaly & Donner, 2011; Na & Gottfredson, 2013). Such quantitative approaches were not chosen, for many other reasons beyond the fundamental philosophical standpoint.

In this instance, the naturalistic approach seemed to be also imposed by the availability of the information which relates to the phenomenon (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005; Silverman, 2004). The information which could be collected from these sources (i.e., people, newspapers), under the circumstances, could not be directly and safely encoded to variables, without the intervention of the researcher as an instrument in the understanding and interpretation. Further, as the primary need was to show and say that, indeed, this phenomenon is existent in everyday life, and not to measure or even explain it through numbers, the quantitative paradigm seemed less appropriate to be chosen, although not inappropriate for use generally.

It is believed that the research topic could not be investigated in the same way through quantitative-based methods, under the given circumstances, and the reasons justifying the choice of qualitative-based methods are up to a point the same for justifying the non-choice of quantitative-based methods. However, the choice of qualitative-based method and not quantitative-based method, for the reasons explained, does not express any belief that the qualitative and the quantitative methods are incompatible, and that the one destroys the philosophical foundations of the other (Smith, 1983; Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Smith & Heshiusius, 1986; Noblitt & Hare, 1988; Rosenberg, 1988). If the choice of a different method were obligatory, the focus would be on using the advantages of a qualitative-based method interactively to respond to the disadvantages of a quantitative-based method, and the advantages of a quantitative-based method to respond to the disadvantages of a qualitative-based method. This complementarity is expressed by the Mixed Methods Research (Bryman, 1988; Newman & Benz, 1998).

Apart from the mono-methodological approached, mixing quantitative and qualitative paradigms could help the researcher, inter alia, accept that both paradigms are valuable, and therefore to create a new paradigm, within which the researcher will be pragmatic, and at the same time the comprehension of the research topic will be prioritized (Greene, 2000; Greene & Caracelli, 2003; Putman, 1990). From the variety of the mixed designs, a two-phase design (qual-quant) in an exploratory model (Creswell, Plano Clark, Gutmann, & Hanson, 2003) would be preferable. In a two-phase design, the sample would not be the same in the two phases. Given the research topic, the quantitative data (i.e., how many / what types of Students’ offending) would follow the qualitative data (i.e., the existence of the phenomenon of Students’ offending), and possibly they will examine the qualitative hypotheses. Hence, also in this study, saying that this is pilot research, could have the same meaning as saying that it is a “voyage of discovery” (Maruna, 2010, p. 129) in purpose to ground hypotheses, appropriate for examination through quantitative research. Of course, the qualitative designed which was chosen in this instance was not the grounded theory, under the circumstances, as explained above. For instance, Mayring (2007) employed a grounded theory to approach the meaning of “coolness”, and after the construction of the theory, the “coolness” tested amongst secondary students through a quantitative questionnaire, which was analysed with a software (LISREL). The opposite (quant-qual) approach is also known in the research (Weisburd & Waring, 2001; Johnson & Onwuegbuzie 2004; Maruna & King, 2004, 2009), but it would not be used for the particular research, because of the same reasons justifying the choice of the qualitative paradigm against the quantitative one. A quant-qual design, indeed, would take the meaning of humanizing the numbers (Humber, 2007).

Alternatively, the results already obtained through Phenomenology could also be “quantitized”, therefore producing a hybrid model (Miles & Huberman, 1984). Maruna (2010) discusses the content analysis and the systematic observations as such possible components of hybrid models (qual-quant hybridization), instead of as purely qualitative designs. Phenomenology is not excluded as a possible component of hybridization, because the analysis has some common features with the content analysis. However, the Phenomenological study itself is incomplete in this pilot research, because apart from the transcripts obtained through the data collection phase with the said instruments (scenario and qualitative questionnaire), there is the need to collect also the information from all the other available sources (i.e., newspapers, judgments).

The above theoretical possibilities for alternative research methods were known while choosing the qualitative method and phenomenology; therefore, the choice was not the result of ignoring the technical possibility to “quantitize” the data or to propose from the beginning a mixed method. The concern was rather that triangulation could not be achieved on this research topic in practice yet. The thought was that a mono-methodological qualitative approach would be more appropriate to investigate this research topic for the first time in Cyprus, and up to a point to unblock that silence and make people start talking about it. The incomplete or “pilot” phenomenological study would have the meaning of continuing with phenomenology after this research (enriching the information base), in a broader phenomenological context, and creating such a good qualitative base, before proposing any other method or design, qualitative or mixed or hybrid.  Besides, the mixed methods or the research hybridism in this particular situation were seen as a kind of strange “research economy”. There was not any reason for more scientific conclusiveness on something observed but unknown or even socially misunderstood like “Students’ offending”. In short, the quick first sight was preferred, instead of saving the world with one single all-inclusive research.

The mono-methodological choice could also express the belief that the mixed methods or the hybrid designs, even though technically possible, are not available for all the research topics and all the researchers, and under any circumstances, just an emerging or innovating research technique. It is going without saying that mixing or hybridising methods, even though essential and valuable, does not make science more scientific. These evolutionary research methods must be pragmatically motivated by reasons which have to do with the relationship of the research topic (i.e., Students’ Offending) with the corresponding social needs; as social research (like social sciences) serves the social needs. Integration of different methods should not be used only to destroy the barriers or to preclude the possible methodological criticism between scholars from different methodological schools (which will always be existent). Further, it is not (always) a perfect way of investigating a research topic, while the view that there is not any research design which is perfect, seems to be persistent.

A reflective account

Researching in the field of justice from the position of a litigation lawyer is not an easy task, because the access to information is not facilitated the most of the times. Not in the same way in which every researcher has problems with the access to information, but because the professional lawyer has the additional difficulty of being conflicted with the interests imposed by the parallel capacity of a professional lawyer. This difficulty may be the reason for which research methods and designs based on already existed data, deriving from cases we handle, court judgments, newspapers, and publications, are preferred.  Nevertheless, while knowing this issue, the choice was in favor of a method and a design which involved the communication with people, at least online, but with a limited scope, and within a broader phenomenological context. That was a risky choice, but consequently, the research gave some valuable data, which will be included in the whole research plan.

This research topic was not so easily selected. However, when it was finally decided, there was enthusiasm to investigate it. The methodological choices and no-choices are discussed above. The slow coming of the responses (for example the first two responses within some days), and the content of some responses, on which more questions could be asked in an oral interview, created the immediate thought was that the method or the design was inappropriate. However, the 12 responses gave useful information, at least for qualitative analysis.

With the use of internet and social networks, the researcher could create or cause a social dialogue between people on this research topic; then the information might be more to lead to more in-depth knowledge. Once these thoughts about the good dynamics and possibilities of the online dialogue became vivid, the researcher almost changed mind about the future research for the main doctorate thesis, saying that the next research proposal shall be on a topic concerning online hate speech. There are many data about this topic already available publicly in social networks. Eventually, the responses received on Students’ Offending at the end of the collection period, finally boosted the researcher’s morale that it is still possible to make phenomenological research on this research topic.

Even though the existent research study is designed to be taken forward to the final research project (that is the reason for which it is a pilot study), it is possible for the researcher to proceed more carefully with the methodology on this or any other research topic (i.e., online hate speech). In any case, when the analysis for this research topic will be completed, within the designed phenomenological context, again the research interest may be directed to new specific questions. Irrespectively of the choices, fairly this knowledge could be a future reference point while reflecting on this experience.


Citation: Middleton, C. (September 2018). Interim Report: The choice of research method in the investigation of Students’ Offending (Secondary Education) in the Republic of Cyprus, and critical analysis of the relevant issues. The University of Portsmouth, Institute of Criminal Justice Studies.


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