The purpose of this paper is to explore the ways in which transcription is creative work, the degrees to which current literature elides or explores these creative elements, and the ethical implications of researchers’ standard disacknowledgement of transcription as an intra-active suturing together of verbal exchanges, personal understandings, and texts.
The authors’ analysis is based on a review of literature, with this paper putting specific sections of qualitative inquiry into conversation with one another, along with Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s novel Frankenstein and Karen Barad’s concept of spacetimemattering.
First, in a preliminary literature review of 200+ articles, the authors found that few researchers acknowledge the creative and decision-making processes that are inherent in transcription. Second, building on that finding, the authors explore the ways that others have discussed transcription as creation/creative and the ways that Barad’s concept of spacetimemattering – which directly influences our use of Shelley’s Frankenstein – has influenced qualitative inquiry.
Transcription is pervasive in qualitative research, with some researchers finding that upwards of 60 percent of research is based on transcribed interviews. However, there is little examination of the creative processes inherent in transcription and the ethical implications of those processes. In terms of limitations, because this is a conceptual paper, it is based on a discussion of various aspects of the literature rather than specific findings demonstrating what the authors argue.
There is real risk in transcription being positioned as merely a task to be completed, to get to the “good stuff” of analysis and writing. Transcription carries implications bound with the responsibilities of creation and interpretation, and researchers who aim merely to achieve and work from a “verbatim” transcript skip over all of the parts that make this common process matter, both to researchers and the researched. The authors argue that qualitative researchers find before them a range of options when they begin the seemingly mundane task of transcription. The keystrokes begin the suturing process, binding together word, action and emotion in a document. Perhaps more importantly, though, the process of creating a transcription is a continuation of the range of ethical implications that research has for participants and researchers.
The authors suggest a similar degree of responsibility for researchers who transcribe and/or work from transcriptions, though the concerns are the inverse of Frankenstein’s creature’s. Researchers are focused on the final product – the transcript itself. That document becomes the basis of analysis, of arguments, of understandings. Researchers need to be as aware of the sutures, cuts and stitches that form their transcription as they are of the final product. There are ethical implications of not exploring the degrees to which the transcripts themselves are creatures – born of decisions, of available resources, of researchers’ own assumptions and understandings.
While Barad’s concepts of spacetimemattering and Frankenstein have informed qualitative inquiry, there is no scholarship linking this theoretical discussion to the process of transcription, which is an important element of a substantial amount of qualitative data.
Shelton, S.A. and Flint, M.A. (2019), "The spacetimemattering and Frankenstein-esque nature of interview transcriptions", Qualitative Research Journal, Vol. 19 No. 3, pp. 202-212. https://doi.org/10.1108/QRJ-03-2019-104
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