Barker, Martin (2018, May). Review essay: The rise of the Qualiquants: On methodological advances and ontological issues in audience research. Participations, 15(1), 439-452. (A critical review of Carolyn Michelle, Charles H. Davis, Ann L. Hardy, and Craig Hight, Fans, Blockbusterisation, and the Transformation of Cinematic Desire: Global Reception of the Hobbit Film Trilogy. London: Palgrave, 2017. 344pp. ISBN: 978-1-137-59616-1.) (Link: http://www.journals4free.com/link.jsp?l=29686050)

(Participations apparently does not provide abstracts of its articles. The following summary was composed by Steven Brown and emphasizes those parts of the article that refer to Q methodology.)

Summary: In critiquing Michelle et al.’s work and their use of Q methodology, Barker endeavors to provide historical context by claiming that “Stephenson’s work is rooted in the rise of attempts at mental measurement (including, notoriously, IQ – and it is striking that Stephenson was for a time associated with the now highly-controversial Cyril Burt)” (p. 441). Barker acknowledges that he depends for his historical information mainly on an article by James Good (2010) and also on an autobiographical account by Stephenson (1992), and of course he has at his disposal what is said of Q in the Michelle book, but otherwise there are no other Q references to back up his assertions. He notes in passing that Stephenson “played with the notion that Q might be an appropriate method for studying the single individual – a kind of adjunct to psychoanalysis, but one which reintroduced the concept of a coherent ‘self’” (p. 442), which he regards as contrary to Freud’s tripartite division of the mind. In any event, the idea of single-case analysis “didn’t much take off” (p. 443). Barker seems incredulous at Q’s small numbers of participants and recalls “my honest astonishment at hearing Charles Davis, one of Q’s most articulate proponents saying at a conference, in response to a query about this, that the number of participants could in fact be less than the number of items in a typical Q-sort,” which, according to Barker, “must surely put a question over its right to proffer generalisations” (p. 443), as it certainly would, he says, in any other quantitative discipline.

Barker spends much of his time critiquing Michelle et al.’s theories and concepts as reported in their book, but this frequently brings him back to Q methodology and Stephenson. At one point he states that Michelle’s model is incompatible with Stephenson’s model of the self: “The self is always at issue,” he quotes Stephenson (1992, p. 31) as saying, and “Q brings it into daylight.” He then goes on to describe Q as “a tool for unpacking and validating his [Stephenson’s] conception of the coherent, conscious self” (p. 445), and claims that this was “part of his ‘break’ from those who trained him, including Charles Spearman and Cyril Burt (classic trait psychologists), but also via the emendation he wanted to make to classical psychoanalysis, which ‘dissolved’ the self into warring elements.” Barker criticizes Michelle and her co-authors for regarding Q as a technique only and for not attending to its origins in psychology and consequently its incompatibility with an audience research that developed “under the aegis of cultural studies and sociology” (p. 446).

Finally, Barker is critical of Michelle et al.’s use of collateral information, such as comments taken from post-sorting interviews, conceived as qualitative data as distinguished from the quantitative information provided by Q technique and factor analysis: “No new or additional findings are added to their array,” says Barker, “nor are any aspects of their findings developed, or qualified, or queried as a result of an examination of their qualitative materials. Instead the qualitative merely illustrates the quantitative” (p. 450), which, according to Barker, disqualifies the Hobbit research from being considered triangulated.

References

Good, J. M.M. (2010). Introduction to William Stephenson’s quest for a science of subjectivity. Psychoanalysis and History, 12, 211-243.

Michelle, C., Davis, C.H., Hardy, A.L., & Hight, C. (2017). Fans, blockbusterisation, and the transformation of cinematic desire: Global reception of the Hobbit film trilogy. London: Palgrave.

Stephenson, W. (1992). Self in everyday life. Operant Subjectivity, 15, 29-55.

Martin Barker <mib@aber.ac.uk> is Emeritus Professor at Aberystwyth University, Wales, UK. He was one of the founders of Participations: Journal of Audience & Reception Studies and has been an editor since 2003.

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