The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Thinking

A cure for complacency

Everyone needs a good challenge from time to time, and AQRs Advanced Seminar proved just that.

The AQR Advanced Seminar seemed like a good idea at the time: new ideas, techniques, a chance to escape from running projects and a business! But after three nights of fieldwork in the run-up to the seminar, my main problem was how to stay awake through the day.

I needn't have worried. The day opened with an enthusiastic welcome from Philly Desai, who introduced the speakers (seeming to know most of them personally). They all demonstrated a keen enthusiasm, if not passion, for their subjects.

Over the day, their presentations challenged us as researchers, our 'standard group discussion or depth interview' methodologies and, perhaps more importantly, our analysis constructs and bases.

The day's aim was to highlight some of the new ideas, approaches and practices, and debate their value. Are they merely 'hype' or do they have commercial applicability and values?

Overall, the day provided a mix of higher theory/conceptual ideas ('Post modernism and the consumer', 'Myth and ritual ­ anthropological insights') through scientific theory ('Neuroscience, the brain and qualitative research') to the more approachable new techniques and practical applications ('Observation and ethnography', 'Can computers help analyse qualitative data?').

The more obvious 'techniques' and applications ­ ethnography and CAQDAS (Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software) ­ generated the majority of questions. One can see the appeal of spending additional time with respondents, offering greater analysis and context (plus higher fee income?) dangled by properly conducted ethnography.

CAQDAS invited us quallies to embrace the benefits of computers in developing our analysis systems. Gill Ereaut and Dr Silvana di Gregorio demonstrated in detail the potential for easier, quicker, and more flexible ways of examining data, and the ability to add to knowledge cumulatively, over a number of a client's projects.

Greg Rowland's presentation on 'Post modernism' went to the other extreme in offering a fascinating, if somewhat esoteric take on consumers ­ but what do we do with it in day-to-day practice?

'Neuroscience', and 'Myth and Ritual' described theories from other disciplines as fascinating, and challenging new ways to look at and understand consumers' reactions to our clients' brands and ads. The 'scientific' context grounds many of the tenets identified over the years. These theories are perhaps of as much use in the construction of brands and advertising as in their deconstruction in research.

The day, however, provided enough fodder to stop us becoming complacent, and readdress the way we carry out, and describe, qualitative research. All in all, whatever the rationale for attending, it provided stimulating and thought provoking presentations which will act towards broadening our frames of reference.

 

Mary Spence
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2003