Data Engagement: A Critical Materialist Framework for Making Data in Qualitative Research

Laura L. Ellingson, Santa Clara University
Patty Sotirin, Michigan Technological University

© The Author(s) 2019. Publisher’s version of record:


The language of “data collection” is perpetuated by disciplinary practices, as well as a pedagogical motivation to make data collection practices teachable to new generations of qualitative researchers. Interpretive and critical qualitative researchers generally bracket meta-theoretical discussion of what we do when we “collect” data, side-stepping epistemological complexities when reporting results. At the same time, we remain keenly aware that researchers bring data into being—we make it. We want to explore rather than skirt the epistemological and ontological issues involved in doing (and teaching) data collection. Yet, we differ from those postqualitative scholars who would abandon the concept of data. As a generative alternative, we promote data engagement. Drawing on intersectional feminist and other critical, materialist theorizing, we articulate a methodological practice that incorporates making, assembling, and becoming data, along with ethical commitments to pragmatism, compassion, and joy.