ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

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How analyzing dispersion?

Caroline Datchary

Building: Law Building
Room: Breakout 10 - Law Building, Room 105
Date: 2012-07-10 03:30 PM – 05:00 PM
Last modified: 2011-12-02


In their daily life, individuals are increasingly facing numerous and varied engagements in a short span, and especially at work. In order to put on hold activities one is committed to and to react to the requests of a changing environment, one must demonstrate a real “time-agility” as well as a great adaptability. In French, there is not really any dedicated terminology, such as multi-activity, to define this aptitude to commit oneself to several “front lines” simultaneously. It could somehow be described as the capacity one has to handle several things at once, which finally corresponds to a capacity for “dispersion”. Though, in everyday language, the notion of dispersion applied to human activity bears a negative connotation and refers to an “illegitimate” indifference towards the accomplishment of the main task, which one should be focused on and totally committed to.
How do individuals manage this tension on a daily basis at work? How does it influence their interaction, whether via technology or not? Which arrangements do they put in place to cope with dispersion? These questions guide my research for 10 years now. Through the time, I have developed different qualitative methodologies in order to study this phenomenon. To provide a detailed analysis of the situations in which people move in an orderly way from one activity to another, and how, to that end, they use artefacts, especially technological ones, I have combined different methods such as direct observation, video recording, participant observation, ethnographic interview.
Through these different experiences, a certain number of methodological questions raised. First of all, I had to adapt the methodology to each case study (traders in dealing rooms, foremen in the sewerage industry, workers in agencies specializing in organizing events, managers, journalists, and teachers.) The strong contrast between these work situations is essential to put to the test the fertility of this new descriptive category. But how to produce a comparative analysis (necessary to enlarge the scope of the research) when the way to collect datas is not exactly similar?
The researcher encounters another serious problem: whereas he wants to observe dispersion in the more naturalistic way, his own presence (or the one of the recording devices) implies more dispersion. How take it into account in the analysis?
My contribution would aim to tackle all these methodological issues with examples borrowed from my different surveys.