The current issue of The Psychologist, a publication of the British Psychological Society, summarizes the papers presented at a BPS symposium on mixed methods, one of which was on Q methodology. The full text follows: Mixed feelings about mixed methods, The Psychologist, 2008 (June), 21(6), 481. The rise of mixed-methods research-usually taken to mean the combining of qualitative and quantitative methodologies-has delighted Professor Alan Bryman, a sociologist at the University of Leicester who has been writing on the subject for more than 20 years. Indeed, Bryman’s review of papers published across five subject areas between 1994 and 2003, revealed a burgeoning enterprise: 232 mixed-methods studies, with three times as many published in 2003 relative to 1994. And yet Bryman is concerned. The literature review, together with interviews Bryman conducted with researchers, shows that the majority of mixed-methods papers fail to integrate their qualitative and quantitative approaches. Bryman also fears that mixed methods are being seen mistakenly as a cynical fast-track to funding. ‘We need a greater emphasis on the writing of mixed methods,’ Bryman concluded, ‘not just the doing.’ He added that there was a need to reflect on exemplary mixed-methods papers, such as the 2004 study by University of East Anglia researchers into the UK foot and mouth crisis (tinyurl.com/2oeoyu). ‘They did a terrific job of bringing their research findings together,’ he said. Earlier, Professor Paul Flowers of Glasgow Caledonian University showed how qualitative research can be used to enhance its quantitative cousin. His own qualitative research looking at safe-sex practices among gay men uncovered tales of self-sacrifice and love, which were a far cry from the dry theories of quantitative psychology, such as the theory of planned behaviour. In this way, qualitative research can highlight the episodic, developmental factors that longitudinal quantitative research has so far neglected. The immediate, emotional nature of qualitative research also gives a voice to research participants – a pertinent issue given contemporary policy moves toward giving greater recognition to the views of service users. James Good at Durham University and Professor Steven Brown at Kent State University gave a guided tour of perhaps the ultimate mixed method-Q-methodology-which is still relatively unknown in the U.K. Developed by William Stephenson in the early part of the 20th century, Q-methodology involves applying quantitative methods to the study of people’s subjective opinions. Participants are asked to arrange the views of others on a given topic, according to how closely they agree with them. Patterns of agreement across multiple participants can then be factor analysed, thus revealing key areas of disagreement or overlap in opinion. By looking for correlations between participants, based on their views, the technique represents an inverse of the more typical use of factor analysis, which is to seek correlations not between participants, but between variables across a sample of participants. The Q-method can help untangle the knots of real-world disagreement. Brown gave the example of a study that looked at views on large carnivore conservation held by park rangers and environmentalists-rival groups who had actually faced each other in court (tinyurl.com/5545ve). The Q-method identified the key areas of dispute between the groups but also highlighted areas of common ground, helping pave the way towards reconciliation. The PowerPoint presentation by Good and Brown was “On the Qualitative/Quantitative Binary: A View from Q-Methodology,” which was part of the Symposium on Mixed Methods Research at the annual meeting of the British Psychological Society, April 3, in Dublin.
Published by sbrownkentedu
Author of Political Subjectivity (Yale University Press 1980), founding editor of Operant Subjectivity (1977), organizer of first Q conference (1985) and founding member of the International Society for the Scientific Study of Subjectivity (1989), founder and moderator of Q-Method electronic discussion list (1991), and laureate of ISSSS's William Stephenson Award (2010). Also past editor of Policy Sciences, co-founder of the International Society of Political Psychology and the Society of Policy Scientists, list manager of PolicySciencesSociety, executive director of ISPP, laureate of ISPP's Harold Lasswell Award (2009) for lifetime scientific contributions, and Kappa Tau Alpha award (2001) for contributions to journalism and mass communication. View all posts by sbrownkentedu