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Qualitative Methods

One on One… with Victoria Clarke

'Put down your data and go out for a walk'

21 July 2015

One place

I’m lucky to live somewhere very beautiful – a small town on the southern edge of the Cotswolds. Going for an evening walk, hearing cows mooing… On my first family holiday in the Cotswolds as a teenager I fell in love with the landscape, and remember thinking ‘I want to live here’.

One book

Changing the Subject by Julian Henriques and colleagues. Read over and over, and highlighted in all the colours of the rainbow, as a student. It fundamentally changed my view of what psychology could and should be.

One documentary

I use Jennie Livingston’s fabulous documentary Paris is Burning (1990) about the drag ball culture of the black and Latino gay and trans community in New York in the 1980s to teach students about the social construction of gender and sexuality, and gender performativity, and the importance of thinking intersectionally.

One tool

Mindfulness. More often an aspiration than an achievement. But an amazing tool for managing stress, focusing on what’s important, and skilful living.

One challenge for qualitative psychology

Demand among students for qualitative research supervision far outstrips the number of supervisors with qualitative expertise.

One cultural recommendation

The film Pride, based on the true story of a group of lesbian and gay activists who raised money to help support miners and their families during the miner’s strike in 1984–1985. It is both delightfully funny and poignant.

One nugget of advice for aspiring qualitative psychologists

I love Ruben and Ruben’s (1995) characterisation of qualitative interviews as ‘on target while hanging loose’ in their book Qualitative Interviewing. That you have a general sense of where you want to go in mind, but you’re flexible about how you get there (or indeed, ending up somewhere slightly different). I always refer to this in teaching – it seems to help students grasp the ethos of qualitative research.

One nugget of advice for supervising and teaching qualitative psychology

I find that students have little or no conception of the messy ‘realities’ of qualitative research at first, and this can be hugely anxiety provoking (‘I’m doing it all wrong!’). Trying to ‘normalise’ the mess and share anxieties can help to build confidence.

One publication you are proud of

Right now I’d say my book Successful Qualitative Research (Sage), co-authored with my friend and colleague Virginia Braun. It was something of an epic undertaking to write an authored text covering all the basics of the entire qualitative research journey.

One hope for the future

Greater understanding and acceptance of qualitative research. Things have changed a lot even in the relatively short period of time I have been a qualitative psychologist, not least with the establishment of the Qualitative Methods in Psychology Section of the BPS, but there is still some way to go. It would be great to see qualitative methods being taught alongside quantitative methods from day one on undergraduate psychology programmes.

One source of irritation

The assumption that (good) qualitative research involves ‘code books’, inter-rater reliability scores and other measures to establish coding ‘reliability’. In other words, providing a partial and highly selective map of the terrain of qualitative research but presenting it as the definitive map. I’d like to see greater recognition of the diversity and complexity of qualitative research in attempts to map the terrain in the future.

One thing you like about qualitative research

A sense of play, fun even, and creativity, particular when analysing (qualitative) data. Analysing data is like having a puzzle to solve. Not in the sense that the analysis is hiding in the data waiting to be found (an assumption that is another source of irritation!), but in the sense that you need to generate a framework for your analysis that pulls together your key analytic insights in a coherent and compelling way. Ideally, with a bit of creativity injected to into it (I am rather fond of theme and paper titles that reference popular culture or play on popular sayings).

One thing that you would change about psychology

A greater recognition that – as critical psychologist Ian Parker (2005) has put it – ‘what is “inside” is dependent on what is “outside”’.

One final thought

Good qualitative research requires time to think and reflect. So put down your data and go out for a walk!

One achievement

Organising the Qualitative Research International Summer School with my fabulous colleagues Nikki Hayfield and Virginia Braun. The Summer School took place in the last week of July 2014, and was sponsored by the Qualitative Methods in Psychology Section. It involved a huge amount of work, but standing in a room of close to 200 people who travelled from all over the UK, and all around the world, to be there was hugely satisfying. In a rare quiet moment I thought ‘we did this’, we brought all these people together to spend a week exploring the joys and challenges of qualitative research!

One hero from psychology

There are too many to pick just one! I admire those remarkable trailblazing psychologists who had the courage to challenge oppressive practices in psychology and the wider society. Pioneers like Evelyn Hooker who challenged the prevailing view in the 1950s of homosexuality as pathology or Naomi Weisstein who vigorously opposed the male bias of psychology in the 1970s. Although I occasionally experience marginalisation because I conduct research on gender and sexuality, and particularly critical qualitative research on gender and sexuality, for the most part my research interests are respected and unquestioned. That is thanks to early pioneers like Hooker and Weisstein, and later pioneers like my PhD supervisor – Celia Kitzinger – whose book The social construction of lesbianism is a landmark text in the development of a critical psychology of sexuality.

- Victoria Clarke is Associate Professor in Sexuality Studies at the University of the West of England, Bristol [email protected]