On the theoretical frame and empirical tool for analysing the case-studies

26 sep 2013 /

Sociocultural institutions like schools have an important role in formulating and operationalizing society’s hopes and expectations regarding media use, cultural participation and social integration. Scientific research is set up to offer support. However, due to the continuous increase of technological developments it becomes more and more difficult to for educators and researchers to perform their task. A flexible an dynamic model of research and practice is needed.

Language and literacy

The research group Culture & Education studies the development of new and the transformation of existing forms of cultural literacy within social media environments. The research builds on the theory of multiliteracies and the suggestion that “each technological advance has seen a corresponding change in how literacy is practiced and its social role understood.” (Snyder, 2003, p. 14) These changes relate strongly to language and discourse. Indeed, sociolinguists and social psychologists point out that the concept of literacy refers to a set of historically and socially situated linguistic constructions. Using these constructions, societies express expectations and formulate instructions on how to act and talk.

Proposing a framework

In their rapport “On the theoretical frame and empirical tool for analysing the case-studies“, Joachim Vlieghe, Kris Rutten and Ronald Soetaert present and evaluate a theoretical and methodological framework for studying the on-going transformations of cultural literacy. The proposed model or framework brings together insights and techniques from different research traditions such as action research, ethnographic literacy research and rhetorical analysis of literacy practices.

Literature on action research stresses the importance of collaboration between researchers and stakeholders. Such collaboration has two major advantages. On the one hand, this kind of collaboration supports the development of a multifaceted and empirically validated understanding of technological changes and the effects on sociocultural participation. On the other hand, collaboration also ensures a knowledge and insights flow in both directions: from the stakeholder to the researcher and back again.

Like action research, ethnographic literacy researcher strongly focuses on establishing collaboration between researchers and stakeholders. Ethnographic research in the field of education concentrates on mapping the diversity and complexity of sociocultural groups and their literacy practices. Techniques such as participant observation, interviews and artefact analysis are used for this purpose. These techniques require the researcher to maintain close contact with the stakeholders (or informants) throughout the process of data collection and analysis.

Rhetorical analysis represents another type of research which maps literacy practices. Dramatistic or pentadic analysis extends this focus to include mapping people’s motives for participating in literacy practices. The technique of pentadic analysis is used to study this process of attributing motives or meaning by considering “what is involved when we say what people are doing and why they are doing it?” (Burke, 1945/1969, p. xv) Technique involves five questions which help to assesses how people perceive a situation and their opportunities for taking action: What action is performed? Who is involved? How is it being performed? Why is it being performed? Where and when is it being performed? Each question represents an element from the pentad, respectively: act, agent, agency, purpose and scene. These elements always appear in together in various combinations, though only one element will obtain a central position in people discourse. Pentadic analysis identifies the dominant elements used by different stake holders, thus allowing comparison of attributed meaning across discourses.


In the report, the research group Culture & Education evaluates the proposed theoretical and methodological framework based on its application in a case study of cultural participation in social media environments. Within literacy research attention for social media is steadily increasing. These environments are often described as places where people with a shared passion or interest meet, collaborate and learn. The opportunities for unrestricted social and cultural participation is considered a crucial aspect of social media environments. (Vlieghe, Rutten, & Soetaert, 2011) Because of the vast number of opportunities for cultural participation through social media, the case study is limited to participation in literary culture. This focus reflects the interesting historical connection between literature, literacy and education as well as the persisting importance of books and literature in today’s educational programs. (Soetaert, 2006)


Results from the case study indicate that proposed theoretical and methodological framework can successfully be applied to study literacy practices relating to cultural participation. Moreover, the framework supports both exploratory research and empirical validation of theoretical research. Despite its affordances, the framework does require some adjustments in order to avoid deontological, validity and data management issues.

Deontological and validity issues might arise due to a strong focus on digital artefacts and automated data collection. The practice of automated data collection is quite popular among Internet researchers because the Internet can understood “as a discursively performed culture and as a cultural artefact”. (Hine, 2000, p. 39) However, automated data collection reduces the contact between researchers and participants which is essential for the proposed research model. In order to be more attentive towards establishing reciprocal communication, the framework must be refined to include guidelines on self-presentation and dissemination of results before, during and after the research.

Data management issues are the result of combining detailed analysis with a large sample size. Pentadic analysis is performed simultaneously at multiple levels, focusing on the relationship between words across sentences, paragraphs and texts. Rather than to reduce the complexity of the data, pentadic analysis is used to preserve it. The time required to perform the analysis increases exponentially  as more and more data are added to the data set. At the same time it becomes very difficult to manage the complex output that is generated. In order to address these problems different sample sizes and analytic levels should be tested and compared.

Works cited:

Burke, K. (1945/1969). A Grammar of Motives (California Edition ed.). Berkeley, United States: University of California Press.
Snyder, I. (2003). Keywords: a vocabulary of pedagogy and new media. In E. Bearne, H. Dombey, & T. Grainger (Eds.), Classroom Interactions in Literacy (pp. 7-20). Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.
Soetaert, R. (2006). De cultuur van het lezen (1st ed.). (E. Coussens, Ed.) Den Haag, Netherlands: Nederlandse Taalunie.
Vlieghe, J., Rutten, K., & Soetaert, R. (2011). State-of-the-Art report on studies of literacy and learning in and through social media. Brussel: EMSOC.