Whose QLR is QLR?
Liz Stanley, University of Edinburgh
Please reference as: Liz Stanley (2013) ‘Whose QLR is QLR?’ Whites Writing Whiteness www.whiteswritingwhiteness.ed.ac.uk/news-and-blog/blog/whose-qlr-is-qlr/ and provide the paragraph number as appropriate when quoting.
Qualitative Longitudinal Research event Cardiff 7-8 March 2013: ‘Research relationships in time’ http://newfrontiersqlr.wordpress.com/
1. Many of us presently clustered under the banner of Qualitative Longitudinal Research will have had the twin experiences of mentioning QLR to various colleagues who make the automatic assumption we mean Quantitative Longitudinal Research, and of hearing Quantitative Longitudinal researchers talk about QLR and being completely oblivious to the fact that a qualitative version even exists. I think of this as QLRo-normativity, a facet of power/knowledge within academia organised around the primacy of the quantitative version with nothing else registering on the radar as within the bounds of possibility.
2. But has this to do with the QLR event in Cardiff on 7 February 2013? Probably resulting from organisational happenstance or wanting to give coherence to the day’s events, the proverbial ethnographic observer from Alpha Centuri 7 lurking in the corner would have perceived clear patterned regularities about the structure of the day and how what Q(ualitative)LR is was shaped up in its presentations and discussions. Interviewing, fairly small-scale and intensive projects, long-term intensive researcher/researched relationships because of waves of investigations, researcher-generated data, strong researcher reflexivity of a particular kind, a sense of the data having ‘invisible’ aspects of meaning and interpretation known only to the researcher because the research relationship shapes or more strongly conditions it, a sense of secondary research as impoverished because lacking such researcher-inhering knowledge, all figured.
3. For me, however, and happenstance or not, this seeming uniformity as paper followed paper produced the uncomfortable feeling that another version of QLRo-normativity might come into being, for the above set of regularities don’t fit of the things I’m presently doing and have been doing since the middle 1980s (and indeed don’t fit any of the things I want to do either). I’ve been fondly telling myself these things are a constituent part of the qualitative incarnation of QLR, which is a broad church, but the cumulative effect of the day’s papers, engaging though they individually were, was to make me start to wonder.
4. The research things I do is aren’t mysterious or arcane, indeed in many respects are comprised by bog-standard scholarly activity of a familiar kind. They involve such things as researching and publishing the voluminous diaries of Hannah Cullwick (Stanley 1983), written over a thirty or more year period; ditto the papers of the British women’s enfranchise movement concerning the life and death of Emily Wilding Davison (Stanley 1988) and publishing a key contemporary text about her; researching and publishing the nearly 5000 letters of Olive Schreiner (www.oliveschreiner.org and www.oliveschreinerletters.ed.ac.uk), written over a fifty year period, in a form that enables secondary analysis of a range of kinds; and now for the next three years working on the letters of white people in South Africa concerned with representing whiteness and its ‘Others’ written over the period from the 1770s to the 1970s (www.whiteswritingwhiteness.ed.ac.uk), which will result in a dataset of probably some hundreds of thousands of cases (aka units of analysis, aka letters). And the dataset here too is lined up for publication in a research-friendly form and so to support secondary analysis.
5. None of this data has been researcher-generated – I’m interested in the recalcitrance of the written texts of ordinary social life, and the data has been pre-existing and found although researcher assembled. It has consequently involved secondary analysis on my part – I like the feel of coming up against the fact that other people have been before me in grappling with its intricacies and complexities. The research doesn’t involve ‘relationship’ with people but with texts – I’m not interested in the persons of Hannah Cullwick, Emily Wilding Davison, Olive Schreiner or the hordes of ancient and modern white South Africans I’m now reading, who are all well dead, but rather with the puzzles of the flotsam of texts of different kinds from the past which wash up in archival locations. I make no claims to knowing what is invisible to others about these texts – although I am curious and occasionally annoyed that other researchers can interpret the same words on the page so differently. And because of (rather than in spite of) this, I try to ensure tertiary and even further analysis of this data by making the datasets widely accessible and usable by others, for the Tigger in me says that in the long run a common platform will cohere.
6. And of course I’m not alone in working in this way. In a very real sense all social scientists do documentary analysis – we call it literature reviewing, among other names. There are also sociologists, social policy researchers, anthropologists, political scientists and many others in addition to historians of all hues who do such work with the documents of the past. And secondary analysis is alive and well and its qualitative version is beginning to be more engaged in. These – and more – forms of documentary and related analysis conceive of ‘text’ in a wide variety of ways which sharing a fundamental concern with change occurring over time and how to get an analytical handle on this. Obviously I can appreciate the need to cluster papers and discussions to encourage coherence – but there is perhaps more need at this stage in the development of the qualitative incarnation of QLR to recognise diversities and differences. So let’s avoid even incipient normativity within QLR of the qualitative kind.
7. Hmmm – the qualitative kind…. There’s another Alpha Centuri 7 kind of comment which could be made here: does a dataset of 5000 cases or units of analysis (aka Olive Schreiner’s letters), or in the example of the Whites Writing Project of 150,000+ cases, bust the quantitative/qualitative division, or is there something else going on when qualitative analysis takes place at such a large scale? But contemplating this is for another occasion!
Last updated: 7 February 2014