The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Thinking

Obituary: Peter Cooper

Peter Cooper died suddenly on 12th February, 2010. He was an icon within qual research, whose contribution has helped shape the industry

Formerly a lecturer in psychology at Manchester University, before setting up Cooper Research and Marketing (CRAM) with his then wife Jackie in 1968, Peter never lost his overriding interest in psychological and psycho-analytical theory. It permeated his thinking and practice. Freud and Jung accompanied him to every presentation.

Much of the thinking and practice that he pioneered has now become so established that we have forgotten its origins. It was Peter who introduced projective techniques, psycho-drawing — and the slightly more dubious clay modelling — into research practice.

He invented Extended Creativity Groups (ECGs) in the "70s. Essentially these were sessions involving research participants, clients, ad agency people and miscellaneous others who worked together in co-creative communities to develop ideas, concepts, brands. Sound familiar?

Peter was a hugely creative thinker; iconoclastic, surprising, maverick. He loved to shock and there was always a Freudian or Jungian dimension, whatever the research topic. Rumour has it that Unilever execs used to run a sweepstake on how long it took before sex was introduced into the presentation.

There were psycho-sexual references in the most incongruous of areas. Clients at Thomson Holidays, seeking guidance on the layout of the coach trips brochure, were regaled with the psychology of coach travel. “Your customers are safe in the coach-womb, scared of being forced through the narrow opening of the door, raw, frightened, into the unpredictable world outside...”

In the last few days those of us who worked with Peter in the "70s and early "80s have spent long hours talking to one another, relating bizarre stories, saddened, laughing. It was a mad, chaotic, infuriating, surreal environment in many ways, but we agreed that we had learnt more about qualitative research at CRAM than anywhere else. It was known then as "The University of Qualitative Research". I will always be grateful for having attended.

“Peter was CRAM and CRAM was Peter. We were all a little part of him, and he a little part of all of us”. (Simon Patterson)

“Peter was magnetic — a great intellect, a law unto himself, infuriating — a massive influence on my way of thinking, life and career and especially on all of us early disciples and pioneers who worked with him. An amazing man, I'll miss him.” (Gillian Broadbent)

“If ever Sherlock Holmes was reincarnated it was Peter. Often emerging from his upstairs flat "wet-haired", descending to awaiting cabs, possessed, charismatic, never carrying money, needful of acolytes (us). He was, I felt, secretly self-deprecating. What remains so strongly in my mind is his nature, not simply the excitement he inspired in revealing the undergarments of brands to clients. Unforgettable.” (Chris Payne)

“I have huge admiration for Peter's intellectual originality, his great personal style and flair, his provocative cheekiness in debriefs and his gift for making the mundane seem fascinating. Take a bow PeCo and a well earned round of applause!” (Oliver Murphy)

 

Sheila Keegan
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2010