The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Thinking

Unilever's Round Table

Luigi Toiati read with interest the debate in the last issue about Unilever's "accreditation" programme. Here is his light hearted, but heartfelt, response.

Unilever's programme aims to transform us humble and ignorant quallies, through exams, scientific and technologically updated by the company's "experts", into Knights of the Round Table. I very much enjoy the idea of returning to a school desk, and have asked my tailor to cut my trousers off at the knee to better play the part of a schoolboy. So, welcome Professor Unilever!

My main fear, though, is what will happen if, after a mere 40 years of honoured service as a quallie, I fail the exam? Gosh, how will I tell my wife that she didn't marry the man she thought she had? Worse, we might not be able to pay our home loan anymore. She could claim to have been hoodwinked, poor dear, discovering that this guy presenting papers and moderating workshops for Esomar and AQR for 14 years is a crook!

And suddenly, with a pure Latin surge of rebellion, I ask myself:"quis custodiet custodem?" Who will watch the watchman? Why should Unilever's judgement about my job trump mine? Or that of my experience? Why should it be better than existing industry standards?

If I was to dig deeper into Unilever's motives for introducing accreditation, I might agree with Louella Miles: Power! In my eyes, qual is experiencing a perpetual siesta of the mind. Researchers prefer computers to brains; newcomers are ignorant either of the basic tools or of such essential disciplines as sociology, psychology, cultural anthropology, and semiotics.

We are in crisis. But why should a client pretend to be able to solve it, or to drive all of us out of it by means of its own philosopher's stone? What will happen to qualitative research if quallies are transformed into corporate clones, scarecrows working to a company's rules, rag-and-bone men and women selling the principles of a client?

We need to find in ourselves, not in a company's selfish charity, the way to solve this lethargy (although I admit to sharing its concerns about quality, and consider internal staff training essential). Why not, by rejecting "Fast and Furious Research" in favour of "Slow Research"; by rediscovering the human being in ourselves, return to what Leeat Racs in the last issue of In Brief defines as "our heartland values"? Why not use our brain to better know, analyse, investigate, study, apply?

In all honesty, I have to thank Messrs Unilever for their kind offer, but I'm afraid I must reject it. I won't seek "accreditation" from a company which, until proved otherwise, is (correctly) aiming at its own profit. I prefer being "damned", as my dear friend Peter Laybourne writes, in my daily hell where I study and practice self improvement to singing in a heavenly chorus of "accredited" saints and virgins. Better life on the road as a roaming spirit to a seat at the Round Table in an "accredited" knight's staff canteen.

 


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