The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Thinking

QMIP Conference debut

The first Qualitative Methods in Psychology (QMiP) conference was held at Leeds University at the beginning of September. It was quite a milestone. Psychology, even in my undergraduate days in the 70s, was struggling to decide whether it was an art or a science. It is still struggling.

Lacking the authority that comes naturally to chemists and physicists, psychologists tried hard to position themselves as scientists, ignoring the messy, contradictory aspects of human behaviour. Indeed, until recently, qual was largely off limits for academic psychologists.

Over the last ten years this has changed, and the QMiP section was set up within the British Psychological Society (BPS) in 2005. There is, however, still a note of apology and hesitation in qualitative psychology. It is easy to dismiss this nervousness, until you realise that BP’s US sister body, the American Psychological Association, this year rejected the formation of a qualitative section there. It was ‘unscientific’.

So this forum was a celebration of a new age. Professor Ken Gergen, that wonderful statesman of academic qual, kicked it off. He talked about qualitative inquiry as a form of life; how inquiry in psychology is itself a contribution to cultural life and expressed his hope for reflexive dialogue which has been lacking in traditional psychological research. His perspectives and interests were surprisingly in tune with commercial qual thinking.

Dr Carla Willig, a keynote speaker from City University, discussed the role of interpretation in qual. While interpretation is a given in commercial qual, it is often viewed with suspicion among academics, because of the fear of ‘bias’. Instead, the emphasis is on ‘capturing and systematically re-presenting’ data.

Dr Willig discussed the challenge of going beyond the data without imposing meaning on the phenomenon. This may be second nature to commercial researchers, but it was impressive to follow the painstaking and disciplined way in which she worked through the issues. We commercial quallies could learn from this.

Many of the papers focused on specific qualitative approaches; discourse analysis, narrative analysis, IPA, grounded theory, conversation analysis and the relative merits of each. This is because academics are much more interested in methodology than end benefit. At some points, I felt that the emphasis on the minutiae of analysing conversation was akin to making psychology a science through the back door. It lost the bigger picture. And, indeed, the obsession with the written word was often disconcerting.

It was a positive and successful first conference. People were excited, involved and optimistic about the future. May the QMiP section grow and thrive.

 

Sheila Keegan
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2008