Is there such a thing as mixed epistemology research?

Is there such a thing as mixed epistemology research?  ~Gareth Treharne (gtreharne@psy.otago.ac.nz)

Mixed methods research is a well-established feature of many fields of social science research, including health psychology (shameless plug: see Treharne & Riggs, 2014). That’s not to say that all social science researchers (or readers) value mixed methods research – indeed, the notion of mixing methods might be hotly debated by some critical health psychologists and lead them to ask questions such as:

By mixed methods, do you only mean a mixture of qualitative and quantitative methods? Surely we should be more interested in innovative mixtures of qualitative methods?

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To be called critical, or to not be called critical? That is the question.

I’ll admit, when I first volunteered to be a contributor to the ISCHP blog, I almost hyperventilated due to feeling both underqualified, and a bit of an imposter when it comes to talking about critical psychology issues. [read more]

‘Growing up’ (academically) I was introduced to psychology through a positivist framework; one which emphasised ruling out variability and bias, and that research in psychology should ultimately be a united fight in the pursuit of ‘truth’. Embarrassingly, one of the earlier documents when I started my PhD, makes the bold statement: ‘I want to seek, and find, the truth.’ It’s now years later, and on reflection, I can now recognise that when it comes to talking about the experiences young people have during their transition to adulthood, and how they define adulthood itself, there probably is no one (or any) ‘truth’ to be uncovered.

It was due to my supervisor and PhD friends that I was exposed to critical theory; the value of qualitative research methods; the role of reflexivity when conducting research; methodological and ethical issues that arise from (what I view as) problematic experimental psychology; and really, how numbers can tell you anything you want them to. I became immersed in social constructionist theories, my personal worldview shifted, and I’m still known to occasionally shake my first and despair over our ‘neoliberal outcome focused society’.

However, I also started a cool job looking at youth substance abuse, which involved looking at large data sets and, *gasp*, numbers. And while a couple years ago I may not have considered this kind of work, I’m now able to approach my work using my own unique experience to guide, and influence, the research decisions I make. I have the opportunity to use both qualitative and quantitative research methodologies. Not every piece of work that gets presented and has my name on it is critical. And I’m starting to be okay with that.

I can have it all image

Caption: Me, trying to eat both epistemological pies.

So, I describe myself as being ‘qual-lite’, or a constructionist trying to exist in a positivist world. It sometimes feels like I don’t fit in either camp – I’m too convicted by an alternative belief system to go back to how I was when I was an innocent undergraduate. But I also don’t see my future as being a gung-ho critical researcher who can recite Foucault at length.

But I think my position can also be a bonus. I think it would be great if multiple ontological positions could be considered and acknowledged within the same research project, and that is what I am aiming to do, and encourage others to do the same. So, when I’m writing for this blog, with my contributions hereby titled ‘To the Criti-sphere and back again’, it will be considering issues that I come across within positivist or mainstream research, and I will be seeking discussion and thoughts from a critical perspective on how to operate as a stealth critical researcher in a mainstream research environment.

I look forward to the ride!

Martin Luther King: “I am proud to be maladjusted”.

The civil rights leader Martin Luther King addressed the American Psychological Association at UCLA in 1967 at the APA’s Washington Conference in 1967:

It is particularly a great privilege to discuss these issues with members of the academic community, who are constantly writing about and dealing with the problems that we face and who have the tremendous responsibility of molding the minds of young men and women all over the country.

In the speech he criticizes psychology for medicalizing African American rational discontent with poverty and racism as “maladjustment”. He points out that “he is proud to be maladjusted” to racism and poverty and that the “salvation of society is in the hands of the creatively maladjusted”.

Although I can not find the actual recording of his speech, he said similar in 1963 at Western Michigan University:

In his APA speech, King goes onto to specifically outline the role of social scientists role in civil rights and justice. Importantly he shows that Whiteness as well as racism must also be analysed:

If the Negro needs social sciences for direction and for self-understanding, the white society is in even more urgent need. White America needs to understand that it is poisoned to its soul by racism and the understanding needs to be carefully documented and consequently more difficult to reject.

I think this is still very relevant to critical health psychologists and other social scientists.

Credits: The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change; APA

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