Record making in the context of interpersonal relationships
For close to four years I have been conducting participant observation of free play at kindergartens. My participation is recorded on video, but looking at the recordings later my impression of them and of the participant observation itself often differ.
The “atmosphere rooted in relationships” that cannot be captured by recording devices
In general, young children do not need as much time to build personal relationships as adults. Naturally, however, there are many things that only emerge after they have met someone several times and built a relationship. These include, for example, the sense of security fostered when a researcher and children being studied spend time together and the camaraderie that emerges through their shared experiences. This kind of “atmosphere rooted in relationships” cannot be captured on video.
Based on the idea that psychology is a science, there is an emphasis on evidence and a requirement that data be preserved so that they can later be accessed by other researchers. No matter how advanced the recording device, however, it is impossible to capture the “atmosphere rooted in relationships.”
Must this “atmosphere rooted in relationships” therefore remain excluded from the data? I believe the “thick description” (Charmaz, 2003; Richards, 2005) used in qualitative psychology can be useful in addressing this issue.
My field of expertise is clinical psychology. Clinical psychology is the study of psychological treatment based on relationships. In most cases, a treatment session lasts fifty minutes and no audio or video recording is made. After the session, the counselor makes an objective record of things such as the content of what was discussed and the state of the client at the time. Sometimes the counselor records how they felt, creating a record suitable for “thick description.” This collection of records can also serve as a map as sessions accumulate and as material to be used when looking back after a problem has arisen. Information about how the counselor felt, as something that describes the subtilties of what is occurring in the mind of the counsellor during the session (which in most cases reflect the subtilties of the mind of the client) is an important resource for understanding the development of the relationship.
Is this kind of record lacking in evidence compared to audio or video recordings? I believe the idea that everything can be recorded by mechanical devices is fundamentally flawed. Observing and recording in the midst of a relationship, steadily and without falling into bias or getting carried away – surely this is an undertaking that should be considered important by scholars of human science.
- Charmaz, K. (2003). Grounded Theory. In S. J. A (Ed.), Qualitative psychology: a practical guide to research methods (p. 81-110). London: Sage.
- Richards, L. (2005). Handling qualitative data: A practical guide. London: Sage.