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Open Coding

Open coding is the researcher's first step towards gradually making sense of the data. The researcher simultaneously becomes immersed in, and steps back from, the respondents' narratives by asking, "What does the respondent really want to say?" "How is it said?" and "What does it mean?" The technique of open coding is to read the transcripts closely and code the data line-by-line. The goal is to generate as many codes as possible, without thinking too much about how they may be put together ultimately. Some researchers work with pencil and a paper copy of the transcript. Others do open-coding on-screen.

Exercise: No "Right" Way

There is no single “right way” to do open coding. Read the following excerpt from Italian Interview #6. Write down your own open codes. Then compare how I and Mary-Beth Raddon have coded the same excerpt.

The clickable blue circles embedded in the excerpt show the author’s open coding. The green circles show Mary-Beth Raddon’s open coding. In the bottom, the buttons [Show Ping-Chun Hsiung’s coding] and [Show Mary-Beth Raddon’s coding] allow a full display of the entire set of open coding.


Interviewer: What did the family do in Canada?being asked about what the "family" did, not what she did

Laura: My husband came here to work on a farm [contract]talking about her husband's work
"destined" occupation
Initial focus of her response is entirely on husband's work, character and life events.. But he did not even work there for a year
personal arrangement. He went illegally into the United Statesborder crossing but he decided to move back to Canada so he can "call me" overchain migration

immigrating to Canada as a wife
Immigration policy in 1930s: Canada seeks agricultural workers, encourages family formation; US has loose border, produces illegality, fewer citizenship rights.. The United States had different immigration policy and he would not be able to take me thereinstitutional framework affects international migration; individual responses to the structural set upHusband moves to Canada to bring his wife.. When I came here, my husband worked in an Italian Bankhusband's work; working environment;Banking = immigrant enclave. One man owned the entire building, bank and allemployer's powerConcentration of capital; presence of elite members of Italian community.. Since all us new Italians couldn't understand a thing, he had a lot of powerwhat does it mean to be the "new Italians"?
the notion of "us" vs. "them"; seeing herself as one of the "new Italians"
English fluency determines status relations among Italian immigrants; she feels "new" and unable to understand, therefore, less power.. Until the depression hit. He lost everything. He declared bankruptcyemployer's action, power. Everyone lost their money effects of employer's power . He sold everything. Everyone lost everythingdevastation;Economic depression–loss and liquidation of assets by wealthy leads everyone to lose everything. My husband practically had to beg, but that was the worst thing that he could ever donot only lose money but dignityBegging = "worst," most shameful act for Italian; pride, status in financial solvency. For all Italians, begging is shameful and the worst thing possibleattaching personal, cultural meanings to "begging"
"all Italians" not just "Italians" as new immigrants; she speaks as an authority "for all Italians"
. In 1940, the bank trustees who took over the bank after it went bankrupt really trusted my husbandtrust-worthiness (personal attributes). They gave him some money to open an Italian bookstore"gave" rather than "lent" him money Personal relations of trust leads to business credit, which served all of Canadaan "Italian bookstore" but serves all of Canada; interaction between the Italian and Canadian; an inclusive rather than exclusive approach; being conscious about the "we/Italian" and "they/Canadian". He was the first Italian to do thissetting a precedent (but not clear exactly on what ground); entrepreneur's network based upon place of origin
specialized service to Italian immigrants
Pride in husband's entrepreneurship, innovation.
Diversified services.
. He sold trinkets too. One day another immigrant from the same home town asked my husband to open a post office in the same store, to service Italian immigrantsHome town connection leads to expanded immigrant enterprise. My husband applied. An inspector came on Good Fridayshe still remembers the date!! Significant religious holiday corresponds with business approval. Regulation by national postal service.. He gave us permission to open a post office on the premises on the condition that we built a special office for itcreating a specialized physical, Italian space in a "general" storeSwitch to "us" and "we": how involved is she in the day-to-day operations of the post office? When does her labour make the post office "ours" rather than her husband's?. We sold stamps, made money orders, out of one ticket window and we had another for people to come pay their billspostal services (stamps, etc.) for the Italian vs. specialized services for the general public (paying bills)
she uses "us" and "we" to talk about the family business; it's not clear exactly what she did, but must have contributed to its daily operation because she has an intimate knowledge about it, and she sees herself as part of the undertaking ("gave us permission," "we sold stamps"); she does not derive an independent, separate identity from the work she did in the store
. This was a service that he set up himselfShe is proud of husband's business innovation, trustworthiness, entrepreneurship. People came up to him and asked if they could pay a bill for them while he was downtownrespond to local needs; being the go-between for the ethnic community and Canadian institutions; emerged "ethnic" business opportunity. He would collect everyone's payments and he took them downtown for themphysical spaces (the store/downtown) vs. metaphorical spaces (Italian/company) . They paid him 5 cents for this. . For every hundred bills he took downtown, he made $2.00She has detailed knowledge of business operations and finances.
Every cent counts
. After 25 years of running our own post office, my husband was recognized by the big post office downtownPost office represents lifework of 25 years. "Our post office" but only husband's work recognized.
Relation between "big" central office and immigrant branches.
. They gave him a pin—I still have it—in appreciation of his hard workShe keeps pin awarded for husband's work. , and 25 years of service to the Italian community. It was a big honourrecognition from the dominant culture (from the "big post office downtown") for his "hard work" and middle-man function; a significant event to the respondent ("I still have it"; "It was a big honor"; "He did so much")Husband's hard work and service to community confers honour. He did so much"He did so much": does not mention her contribution.. We had quite a lifepublic, formal recognition only goes to her husband; she seems to have no problem with the lack of acknowledgement of her roles; in her mind, her husband has a separate identity ("He did so much"); her own identity is not separate, but part of the "we" ("We had quite a life"). There were hard timesShe attributes husband's hard work to the family's quality of life, in spite of "hard times." . Some women were forced to begagain, begging, humiliation, but this time "women". They would put a black handkerchief over their heads and knock on your door for moneyvivid images "Hard times" affected "some women" more than her. Black handkerchief represents shame of begging.. I'll never forget this storyanother significant event in her life. I had a quarter in my pocketthis is the first time she talks about herself as an individual ("I"), no longer as a member of the family ("we"). A lady came knocking at the door asking for money. I had that quarter, but I thought to myself "tomorrow I have to buy bread for my own children"I" as the mother
a class divide between "them" (the have-not) and "us"; "a quarter" must be worth a lot
intersection between class (having a quarter) and gender (being a mother and thinking about her own children);
Class divisions between Italian women—familial responsibility impedes generosity
She responsible for domestic budget, feeding her children.
." I told my daughter to tell the lady to come back another dayhad her daughter deliver the message. But then I regretted what I did. I still feel bad to this day. (Her voice was low, remorsefultakes full responsible for the action; shows emotion: remorseBad feeling towards herself for not giving to someone in need..) Remember, charity is importantderiving a general principle from personal experiences. Everyone says that you have to think about yourself first, but you should think of others firsttaking a commanding stand to criticize the accepted values, norms, and practices Ethic of selflessness (but through acts of charity rather than solidarity?)
Strong ethic: "think of others first"
. I tell my son-in-law after our mealsSon-in-law (second generation, kin by marriage) instructed in value of gratitude for having the means to feed one's family. We've just had another meal "Thank God" (she said "Thank God" in English)a daily reminder; mindfulness; (why son-in-law? maybe conversing to him as an "outsider"?)Why "thank God" in English?.

Observations on Open Coding

After reviewing the codes generated by the author and Mary-Beth Raddon, several points deserve elaboration.

Descriptive versus Analytical Codes

Some of the codes are more descriptive in nature, others are more analytical. Both styles of open coding help researchers identify recurrent patterns, thematic dimensions and analytical categories.

Examples of Descriptive Open Coding

Examples of Analytical Open Coding

Interpretations may Vary

In some instances, the author and Mary-Beth Raddon interpret the data differently. Instead of trying to reconcile divergent interpretations, it is important to see how they actually capture the multi-layered complexity of people's real lives.

Laura: "I still feel bad to this day. (Her voice was low, remorseful.) Remember, charity is important. Everyone says that you have to think about yourself first, but you should think of others first."

The author's coding: "Derive general principle from personal experiences; Take a commanding stand to criticize the accepted values, norms, and practices."

Mary-Beth Raddon's coding': "Ethic of selflessness (but through acts of charity rather than solidarity?); Strong ethic: 'think of others first.'"

Open Coding is Labour Intensive

Although ideally, the researcher should open-code all transcripts, the process is time consuming, and can be frustrating. The process can be shortened a bit by first coding a significant portion of the transcripts, identifying recurrent themes, and then moving to focused coding.

Many Themes Emerge

The codes point to diverse thematic possibilities. Treating these codes as building blocks of the analysis, the researcher can chose among various topics and questions for further exploration. Different coding schemes will lead to different emphases in the final report.

In our case, the following themes emerged from our initial open coding of the Italian interviews:

In our focused coding and research paper, we will explore the last topic--"the formation of immigrant woman's self identity."

«Possible Research Topics Focused Coding»