Q & A with Pengfei Zhao, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the School of Human Development and Organizational Studies in Education
What basic questions does your research seek to answer?
I am a qualitative research methodologist with an interdisciplinary background in inquiry methodology, sociology, and cultural studies. My methodological writing addresses key issues in the field of qualitative inquiry such as validity, language and representation, qualitative data analysis software, and inference-making. In particular, I draw from critical theory, pragmatism, and feminism to formulate a praxis- and social justice- oriented research methodology.
What makes your work interesting?
I ground my methodology work in long-term, multi-method empirical studies conducted in China and in the United States. Long-term engagement with empirical work always allows me to find interesting and often neglected angles to connect theories with research practice. For instance, one of my research commitments examines the coming of age experience of rural Chinese youth during and right after the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Years of fieldwork with ordinary Chinese people have led me to reconsider the researcher-participant relationship in an authoritarian state. Drawing on social theories about the state and state effect, I propose to move away from a static, western centric, and territory-based conceptualization of the state, and treat it as a culturally and historically specific structuration, in which researchers and participants are engaged.
My work is also characterized by the notable feature of interdisciplinarity. While research methodology is an inherent part in the training of many social science disciplines, in a recently published book, Making Sense of Social Research Methodology: A Student and Practitioner Centered Approach, my colleagues and I take a sociological lens to examine research practice itself. Instead of taking research as a set of procedures or the application of principles, our book conceptualizes research practice as social actions situated in a larger social, cultural, and political structure, performed through the coordination of social actors, and resulted in real-world consequences.