Beyond Triangulation: Reconstructing Nelson Mandela’s Writing Life with Propulsive Facilitation

Clayton Childress, University of Toronto
Erik Schneiderhan, University of Toronto

Triangulation (Denzin, 1978) is a common tool in the multi-method qualitative scholar’s toolkit. At its core triangulation is a deductive approach that is concerned with confirming the same findings across multiple techniques. Yet triangulation is not the only multi-method tool available to qualitative scholars, and others may get short shrift. Inspired by pragmatist theory and Hammersley’s (1996) articulation of “facilitation,” we argue that as long as methods are used for the types of questions for which they are best suited, they can be used propulsively, with the findings from one method being used to inform investigation through the next. We use the archive as a point of departure to show the value of such an approach for producing innovative multi-method qualitative work. Specifically, we use our investigation of the Nelson Mandela Foundation archive as a site to show how we engaged with and made sense of material relating to Mandela’s presidential memoirs. In our case, we began with an ethnography of the archive itself. Out of this ethnography emerged a series of questions that prompted us to conduct interviews with the archival team and several members of Mandela’s inner circle. These interviews took us back to the archive with a different approach, drawing on Natural Language Processing to analyze changes in text across multiple drafts of Mandela’s writing. The bulk of the paper uses our case to demonstrate how propulsive facilitation works in practice. We conclude with a discussion of the generative potential of the approach, directed to those who might do future archival research.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 158. Archival Work as Qualitative Sociology II: Case Studies