Research Portfolio Post #8: Qualitative Data Sources and Interpretivist Research

Research Portfolio Post #8

I am proposing to research the meaning behind the use of postmodern architectural materials when crafting globally visible buildings because I want to find out how countries’ motivations for using the postmodern style align or differ. This will help my reader understand how architecture is harnessed to evoke a particular identity or message on the world stage. For my interpretive research design, my question is: how was it made possible for people to understand the cultural symbolism of postmodern architecture as progressive in the early 2000’s in China? The specific discourse I will hone in on will be the discourse that primarily surrounded the construction of the Beijing National Stadium (the Bird’s Nest) from 2003 to 2008, as it was constructed in the postmodern style and was widely discussed by architects, artists, politicians, and public figures alike. One way I could accomplish this, as noted below in my first primary source text, will be to analyze the discourse of the entire team, composed of thousands of people, in charge of operating the 2008 Summer Olympics—logistical reports, interviews, meeting minutes, and planning documents. I will do this because this staff geared the construction of the Bird’s Nest entirely towards that singular event, knowing it would attract international attention and had the potential to shift the world’s view of China. They controlled media reports, news articles, and any other press that had to do with the Bird’s Nest; I will also evaluate these publications, but first, I will go straight to the source—the conversations and ideas between the staff members themselves.

One primary source text that has helped me understand that there is a discourse at stake is the Official Report of the 2008 Olympic Games, Volume III, composed by the team in Beijing responsible for erecting an entire Olympic stadium and officiating the Games.[1] This source was compiled for the staff to put together a cohesive plan for the Olympics and its goals, explicitly stating that “the high-tech architecture of the stadium will showcase the city’s improved innovative capacity and its solid progress on its way to modernization.”[2] Thus, it is evident here that the postmodern style equates, unequivocally, with modernization in these staffers’ minds; therefore, this dominant discourse does, in fact, exist. The section of the document written by the architects involved with the construction of the Bird’s Nest also says “the graceful curves of the building symbolize the vitality of the Chinese nation… [they] welcome the participants from all over the world in celebrating peace and the progress of China.”[3] This text is seminal for understanding how postmodernism was connected to progressiveness—the Bird’s Nest was the first globally visible example of postmodernism on a massive scale in China, and the actors in this discourse are the Olympic team—its architects, its press liaisons, its political coordinators—who had complete control over how this architectural phenomenon was to be packaged and presented to the public.

Another primary source text that represents my object of inquiry (postmodern architecture, specifically the Beijing National Stadium) as progressive is a speech given by the president of the Beijing Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (BOCOG), Liu Qi.[4] He said, when selecting the winning design for the stadium from a competition between six architects, “We must try to host the Olympics well, in order to enhance the confidence and the spirit of striving, and to fight together to realize the great progress and revival of the Chinese nation.”[5] The word ‘progress’ appears once again in reference to the building itself, showing the discourse that postmodernism was seen as progressive. The actor this time is slightly different—someone who actually had the power to choose the design of the stadium. His goal was to showcase the ‘progress and revival’ of China, and he deliberately chose the postmodern design to do so. This speech is connected to other practices and discourses in that it was public—he made this announcement when he was presenting the winning design to the public. Before the stadium was created, postmodernism was not a prominent art form in China, so there were not many existing discourses outside of those discussed by niche scholars and artists. This speech, then, brought postmodernism into the public eye and stamped it with the label of ‘progressive.’



Works Cited

Liu Qi, “Address to the Olympic Committee,” Olympic Charter.

“Summer Games Olympic Report, Beijing 2008.” Information Management Manual, Olympic Charter.

[1] “Summer Games Olympic Report, Beijing 2008.” Information Management Manual, Olympic Charter.

[2] Ibid, 19.

[3] Ibid, 265.

[4] Liu Qi, “Address to the Olympic Committee,” Olympic Charter.

[5] Ibid, 2.

2 thoughts on “Research Portfolio Post #8: Qualitative Data Sources and Interpretivist Research”

  1. Rachel,
    I think you are getting at an interesting point about the political use and discourses surrounding architecture style. Considering the 2008 Olympics, this discourse of progress and political agenda seems very relevant to how China, as a country and political power, might view its progress and represent this progress. Furthermore, I’d like to see how you plan to elaborate mapping representations of progress from the text. For example, are you mentioning that change is perceived by China itself or seen in how they would like the World to perceive their progress? How could you further connect these texts within these sources to the broader phenomena of architectural design and usage in China?
    I am also curious about the possible alternative discourses that may be occurring simultaneously or contingent upon your discourse on progress. As you mentioned architects, what type of architectural discourse will you be looking at and if so, is there even a discourse amongst architects in agreement or disagreement on similar influences or design? Like Carabine’s Lone Mother approach, possibly evaluate if there was a shift in popular architects (between pre and post modernism) and bring light to the discourse that may have emerged from “niche scholars and artists”. This genealogy could emphasize how post-modern architectural style swept over China and became the chosen (possibly dominant?) form to exemplify Chinese progress in 2008. These are all things to maybe consider but overall, I think you have a really great question and seem to be poking at a very interesting idea amongst architects and officials. I’m looking forward to learning more as your research continues!

  2. Rachel — you have identified some data sources here that are clearly relevant to your project and you’ve done a good job in starting to trace out some of the representations in those documents. As you continue your work, be careful to stay focused on the idea of *discourse* as a set of interconnected texts and intersubjective meanings. This is very different than, the idea of “motivations” that you mention in your problem statement. No methodology (and certainly not discourse analysis) can access motivations. More importantly, motivations are not relevant in this methodology. The intersubjective meanings that come to construct an issue or topic or group are what matters (the motivations of British Parliamentarians writing the 1830s New Poor Laws don’t matter; what matters is that a set of shared meanings constructing lone mothers as immoral and greedy ultimately took hold and became a “truth” for a substantial period of time).

    With this in mind, work on making sure that the middle part of your problem statement (the part that can be reframed as a research question, in your case: “I want to find out how countries’ motivations for using the postmodern style align or differ.”) is more squarely focused on the particular representations of your object of inquiry (your “X”) that you are proposing to analyze. Remember (from Dunn and Neumann) that questions in this methodology usually take the “how…?” or “how possible…?” form that then points to the specific discourses and representations that are puzzling (e.g. “How was it possible that lone mothers came to be represented as immoral and greedy in 1830s Britain?” to use the Carabine example). Make sure to work on reframing the question and the problem statement so it aligns with the focus of this methodology (not studying perceptions, but studying how *intersubjective meanings* are constructed, reproduced, and challenged).

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