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How communication constitutes and builds the “chama”; a research by Dr. Beatrice W. Njeru

On numerous occasions qualitative research has found itself on the defensive in an age old sibling rivalry with the more established, quantitative methodology. More recently, the awareness that a more subjective science that acknowledges our anthropomorphic reality, has breathed life into qualitative research. Dr. Beatrice Njeru who just completed her Doctoral study describes her study. “Mine was a purist qualitative research,” adding that, “Qualitative research is a very personal way of deeply and intimately understanding a phenomenon.”

Her research was on Organisational Communication, a subject which she says is “a view of communication not only as that which takes place in an organisation, but as responsible for constituting an organisation.” In order to conduct her study, Beatrice, a communications practitioner and Lecturer at Strathmore University, admits that from the start she knew she had a knack for seeking to interpretively understand trends and problems. She therefore settled on qualitative methods as best suited to find out how communication constitutes and builds the Chama.

Many Kenyans organise themselves in non-formal organisations commonly known as chamas. Dr. Njeru argues that, “…in fact figures suggest that up to one in three Kenyans belong to at least one Chama, ” which already makes it an interesting phenomenon worth looking at more closely. With this telling statistic, the need for valuable in-depth knowledge on Chamas was apparent. “Despite this prevalence of Chamas in society, few studies view them as organisations, and to the best of my knowledge, they had not been studied from a communicative constitution perspective. “Therefore, I sought to find out how communication constitutes them, guided by my study objectives and a wider theoretical framework on the fecundity of communication,” she adds.

For this journey, she says, “I needed to visit a select number of Chamas, in order to familiarise myself with them and seek to understand them in their contexts.” Context is vital for in depth investigations of phenomena because one has to among other methods, observe keenly, reflect and take notes, being careful not to read into the goings-on. Her choice of methodology provided her the opportunity to make important findings that add to Organisational Communication and more specifically, to the general African context, which she believes Chamas reflect.

“I noticed a unique element in the chamas I observed, which I referred to as the Intangible Social Fabric.” This fabric, she argues, includes specific communicative activities or elements that are unique to the African organisational context which deepen relations in the Chama and are forms of communication. Within accepted theorising in organisational communication, the communicative constitution of a Chama includes four elements: membership negotiation, internal self-structuring, activity coordination and external positioning. Her key findings though suggest that there is a binding element, the Intangible Social Fabric, which allows these four to flow smoothly. This element entails a self-adoption of the members of the Chama as siblings, the subscription to deity, and the sharing of a meal together.” There are many communication processes from the study that led her to this new view on the personalised interior of the chama. Interestingly, she adds, the absence of these can easily deconstitute any organisation.

From Dr. Beatrice Njeru’s input, we can surmise that only through meticulous investigation can one achieve a scientifically sound conclusion to their study. Qualitative, quantitative or mixed, should not be the bone of contention, what matters most is the ability to identify which nuance determines the phenomena in question.