Methodological Challenges in Psychology

Methodological Challenges in
Dr Karen Henwood,
School of Medicine, Policy and Practice,
University of East Anglia,
Norwich, NR4 7TJ
Presentation to NCRM Centre meeting,
20th June, 2005
Opening comment : the conditions of
contemporary social science
“Public support for social research increasingly depends on its
ability to deliver scientifically valid and reliable studies to guide
policy and practice. The theoretical foundations of social
science, however, are in a state. Evidence generated by both
qualitative and quantitative methods is more and more seen to
be conflicting, open to many interpretations, and lacking in
scientific objectivity”
(Quotation from supporting documentation for an ESRC
seminar series ‘Methods in Dialogue’, organised by the Centre
for Narrative Research and partners, University of East London,
May, 2005)
Plan & purpose of talk
Psychology as a social science
Contemporary issues; methodological diversity, interpretive
authority & judging quality/rigour
Discussion tasks:
– understanding & discussion of psychological methodology
– policy-academic discussions about research quality
– collaboration as a methodological issue
The position of psychology as a social
science discipline – a historical note
Traditionally highly experimental
High level of experimental design and statistical analysis skills
Latterly widening acceptance of qualitative inquiry to study questions about:
Psychological processes, intentional activities, social representations &
everyday interaction, the dynamics of thought and talk, cultural discourses &
the construction of experiences and meanings
Emic/insider/lay/patients’ perspectives and knowledges
The psycho-social (semiotics, signification & the imaginary; focus on (inter)
Quality-quantity issues and the
science question in psychology
From causes & behaviours to intentional acts and meaningful
actions; the science of social practices; alternative ways of
consulting reality (Harré and Secord, 1972; van Langenhove,
1995; Camic, 2004)
Theory led or data driven? Grounded theory and qualitative
research design (Henwood and Pidgeon, 1992, 2003, 2004)
Questioning the dominance of method (Hollway, 1989);
displacing method by practice, methodological scepticism and
creativity (Squire, 2000)
Contemporary Challenges/Issues
Accommodating ontological &
epistemological diversity
Finding ways of mixing qualitative &
quantitative methods (Todd et al, 2004)
Dominant metaphors (e.g. the black box)
Negotiating interpretive authority
Checklists/criteria for research rigour/quality
Methodological diversity : how it looks
currently in qualitative psychology
Grounded theory
Case Studies
Discursive psychology
Foucauldian Discourse Analysis
Memory Work
(From Willig, C., 2001, Introducing Qualitative
Psychology : Adventures in Theory and Method,
Open University Press)
Reasons for/ways of mixing methods –
Todd et al, 2004
As a prelude or pilot
To explore different levels of a phenomenon
To repopulate psychology
Fostering better communication across and within disciplines
Improved links between academics, practitioners and
consumers of psychology
Improvements in breadth and depth of results, & relevance of
Qual and quant approaches : Opening
the “Black Box”
What (type)?
Qualitative study of contexts,
interactions, processes
Quantitative measurement of
variables and casual links
Negotiating interpretive authority
Means asking :
 who research is for, whose voice it represents
 what interpretive rights researchers have over their data and
each other
 What is the promise of collaborative methodologies, and what
special problems arise when involving informants in
interrogating & even co-constructing the research story (from
Methods In Dialogue, 2005)
Plus need for studies of different strategies for making meaning
and claiming interpretive authority (see e.g. Emerson & Frosh,
in press)
Quality criteria/checklists
NatCen’s framework approach
- Contributory in advancing wider knowledge
- Defensible in design: research strategy can address
the questions
- Rigorous in conduct: systematic and transparent
collection, analysis and interpretation of data
- Credible in claim through well founded and plausible
arguments about the significance of the evidence
Views of quality checklists/criteria
Objection to their regulatory role
Can keep researchers honest
Aids communication e.g. between research producers and
users (The National Centre’s Quality Framework)
Evaluation must be appropriate for epistemological
assumptions of methodology and method (Taylor, 2001)
Questions not criteria (see e.g. BSA guidelines, Blaxter et al)
Concluding remarks
Findings from a consultation with UK social scientists about
qualitative research resources– what do they need to do their
research well?
more time for data analysis
technological support, especially for alternative means of
innovative ways of sharing data and promoting collaboration
ways of increasing the impact and relevance of qual studies
(e.g. funding for longitudinal)
sharing the conceptual vocabularies associated with qualitative
methodologies and methods