Participant agency and mixed methods: Viewing divergent data through the lens of genre field analysis

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n this article, we use the theoretical lens of Genre Field Analysis (GFA) (Christensen, Cootey, and Moeller; Moeller and Christensen) to show how participant agency is a key factor in producing divergent data (i.e., paradoxes, clashes, and conflicts in patterns of data) in mixed-method research studies. We confront three points of divergent data that emerged in a study we conducted to learn about perspectives of patients in a free healthcare clinic. By viewing our study through GFA, we found that participants employed rhetorical agency to achieve their own goals in answering our questions. They didn’t just play our research game; they made moves of their own.

We show how participant responses that we originally thought to be divergent actually demonstrated participants’ agency across different research spaces via the research genres we employed. GFA “affords researchers micro and macro views of genres at work, the human agents who work with them, and the structures they operate within by blending analytic components from genre theory and play theory” (Moeller and Christensen 70). Viewed through the GFA lens, we see that patients have complex goals that influence the perspectives they share through research participation, and, to better understand these perspectives, researchers must be attuned to participants’ enactment of rhetorical agency. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the value of GFA for recognizing the role of participants’ agency in mixed-method studies that produce divergent data.

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