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BPS updates, Qualitative Methods

One on one... with Elizabeth Peel

Professor of Psychology and Social Change in the Institute of Health and Society, University of Worcester. Includes online only answers.

03 June 2014

One moment that changed the course of your career
My aim as an undergraduate at the University of Nottingham was to go into clinical psychology (I was subsequently offered a place on the UEL training course, which I declined) but after finding feminist psychology and meeting Professor Celia Kitzinger I was enthused to apply for a PhD with her in the Social Sciences Department at Loughborough University. Being part of the Discourse and Rhetoric and Women’s Studies Research groups there in the late 1990s/early 2000s was a transformational experience in terms of shaping my aspiration to be an academic.

One book that you think all psychologists should read
I recently enjoyed Lynne Segal’s (2013) Out of Time:
The Pleasure and Perils of Ageing. It’s a compassionate book, and I like this thought: ‘…for those of us wanting to confront the most damaging clichés of ageing, we can at least begin by querying the cultural obsession with notions of “independence” in favour of acknowledging the value of our life-long mutual dependence. This is the human condition.’

One psychological superpower I’d like to have
To make common sense sound novel.

One thing that you would change about psychology
If I had my way, big P psychology would be (re)branded as a social science. Less radically, a greater valuing of critical and/or qualitative psychological research across the discipline would suffice. In health realms especially the emphasis on a ‘gold standard’ form of knowledge (typically derived from the randomised controlled trial) can be a frustration for the qualitative health researcher.

One nugget of advice for aspiring psychologists
For aspiring women psychologists particularly (but not exclusively), try to quash any feelings of fraudulence, believe in yourself and you will achieve your goals.

One cultural recommendation
Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time (1976) is still a highly relevant and compelling feminist utopia.

One alternative career path you may have chosen
I am reasonably arty and periodically fantasise I could have had an alternative career as a potter or sculptor.

One heroine
American psychologist Helen Thompson Woolley (1874–1947) for her conclusion on examining the research conducted into sex differences that characterised women as inferior to men: ‘there is perhaps no field aspiring to be scientific where flagrant personal bias, logic martyred in the course of supporting a prejudice, unfounded assertions, and even sentimental rot and drivel, have run riot to such an extent as here’. Epic!

One problem that psychology should deal with
I would like to see more academic thought and psychological practice focused on improving the situation for people living with a dementia, and their families and supporters. Helpfully the government is in agreement!

One hope for the future of psychology
That the fashion for neuroscience doesn’t mean that there is no space within the discipline for more social, qualitative or critical voices. We are far more than our brains and neurons. My (idealistic) hope is for a less fragmented and factional discipline that values a plurality of ways of knowing about psychological and social concerns.

One final thought
‘It always seems impossible until it’s done’ (Nelson Mandela).

Online only questions... 

One inspiration
Many people have inspired me. Mainly those who label themselves (or are labelled) as feminist or critical scholars. Working at the margins of the discipline and looking outwards across the social sciences is also inspiring.

One proud moment
Co-authoring Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer Psychology: An Introduction (Cambridge University Press, 2010) with Victoria Clarke, Sonja Ellis and Damien Riggs. Our aim in writing this book was to try and effect change in how lecturers and students understand the psychology of sexual and gender-minority people. The book tackles issues of social justice, diversity and developing a true ‘psychology of people’ head on. We were delighted that the book won the 2013 BPS Book Award (textbook category) in the face of strong competition from books on social neuroscience and on genes and behaviour.

One regret
I have never been a ‘sporty person’, but I ran five marathons in three months in 2013 to fundraise for YoungDementia UK. My personal best time was one and a half minutes slower than the ‘good for age’ time I would have needed to secure a place in the Virgin London Marathon. I regret not having been able to run that little bit faster.

One great thing that psychology has achieved
By and large psychology as a discipline and as a practice has stopped overtly pathologising sexual and gender minorities. There is still some way to go, but there has been major positive change since the days of aversion therapy and institutionally sanctioned oppression. I wouldn’t say this is a ‘great thing’, more a hugely problematic legacy that thankfully is now largely firmly in the past in many societies.