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Do We Really Want a Future as Qualitative Psychologists?

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In this article I pick up some threads from the contributions in the previous special issue of IPSB dedicated to the future of qualitative psychology, and elaborate on them around two main points. The first is the status of qualitative psychology as a social and institutional category; the second is what we mean by experience. As concerns the first point, I argue that using the label of qualitative psychology may separate us from the rest of psychology, also creating a false impression of homogeneity among qualitative approaches and a false opposition with quantitative methods. Implications for teaching as well as research are discussed. The second issue has to do with experience as the object of qualitative psychology investigations. I propose three ways of formulating experience in research which would prevent naïve assumptions about accessing it directly through language. These are 1) experience as experience of the researcher, 2) experience as situated intersubjectivity, and 3) experience as expression. I discuss how being clearer about definitions of experience and going towards engaged forms of research could safeguard the integrity of both researcher and participants.

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  1. See ten Have 2004 for a systematic comparison of different qualitative methods and their compatibility with ethnomethodology.

  2. Here’s how they continue, if you are curious: “Aristotle was proud to state it as known that the gods were originally stars, even if popular fantasy had later obscured this truth. Little as he believed in progress, he felt this much had been secured for the future.” (de Santillana & Von Dechend, ibidem)

  3. As Schegloff (1993, p.114) put it, we can count, as long we make sure that ‘we know what the phenomena are, how they are organized, and how they are related to each other as a precondition for cogently bringing methods of quantitative analysis to bear on them’. In 1993 Schegloff deemed premature a statistical approach to the study of talk in interaction, but he argued that the attention to each and every instance of a given phenomenon also has numerical significance: ‘one is also a number’ (ibidem, p.101).

  4. To an extent: the 80s have probably seen the greatest amount of innovation on this matter. And it is often the case that first person reflexive accounts are made the subject of separate publications rather then being interwoven with the object of study, or even become a separate method, like autoethnography.

  5. I owe the formulation to the group of anthropologists which have worked to the articulation of an anthropology of experience (Turner & Bruner 1986).

  6. Perhaps not by chance these are interviews in which students had selected participants knowing that there was a good story there, and during which they did not hide their familiarity with both the interview and the story.

  7. The concept of the proximity of the big and the small, the celebrities and everyone, is not only visible in the collection of stories but also in a break-through into reported speech, during the telling of the hospital episode: “Strangely enough while I was in there her majesty the queen mother came to the hospital to visit because Buckingham palace had been bombed as well and she then made the famous statement “I can look the East End in the eye now” because her home had been bombed as well …” .

  8. For arguments on the limited utility and frequent abuse of the notion of identity in social science see Bendle 2002, Brubaker and Cooper 2000; Kulick 2005; see Fasulo Fasulo and Piazza 2014 for a review.


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Fasulo, A. Do We Really Want a Future as Qualitative Psychologists?. Integr. psych. behav. 49, 670–680 (2015).

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