By Sarah Riley, QMiP 2017 Conference Chair (edited by Gareth Treharne)
“Conferences are liturgical celebrations, affirmations of solidarity, symbolic spaces for those who speak a language (whether socialism or orthodontics) unintelligible to most of their fellow-humans, and who therefore need from time to time to relax with those of their own kind, as a cross-dresser might feel the gathering urge to withdraw from the world of the bank or bakery and ease into a pair of corsets” Terry Eagleton The Gatekeeper
Being amongst kind is important for all academics. But when it came to organising the British Psychology Society’s Qualitative Methods in Psychology (QMiP) conference in 2017 this need felt particularly salient. To this end, QMiP’s aims have been to provide a safe space as well as an exciting space.
A safe space was needed because qualitative methods in Psychology feels under threat in the UK. Since the quantitative turn in early-mid 20th Century qualitative methods has been on the back foot in psychology and the social sciences more broadly. A position little changed despite a renaissance from the 1980s supported by feminist and other critical voices, and more recently, research council funding to enhance and develop research methods including qualitative methods (see for example, Realities one of the National Research Centers funded by the ESRC). There are a few departments where qualitative psychology thrives, but more often qualitative psychologists find themselves a de-valued minority in their departments; perceived as not doing ‘real’ psychology, or at least not the good stuff.
The 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF2014) structuring that put Psychology with Psychiatry and Neuroscience in unit of assessment 4 (UoA4) consolidated the bias against qualitative psychology. Many qualitative psychologists were not returned in REF2014 or were returned to panels other than UoA4 for fear their work would otherwise be rated poorly. Thus, even those psychologists working in qualitative-friendly departments were vulnerable. In this context, psychologists using qualitative methods are in the need of a safe space. QMiP is therefore encouraging a range of qualitative researchers to submit their work to our biannual conference and have the opportunity to enjoy talking about it amongst interested peers. QMiP also plans to schedule a discussion on how best to survive and thrive in the next REF. A discussion made richer by contributions from our international colleagues who might share their experiences of audit, as well as find UK collaborators keen to forge connections – given that articles with international authors are statistically rated higher in REF evaluations.
We also need an exciting space. Qualitative research methods have been enjoying a renaissance for some time. There are exciting developments in technology, and interdisciplinary synergies, for example the use of mobile methodologies developed from geography. Two of QMiP’s keynote speakers Professors Carla Rice and Celia Kitzinger, for example offer exciting and different takes on what we can do with technology, from arts based practice including films (Rice) to widening public understanding of end of life care by live-tweeting from the Court of Protection (Kitzinger, see @CDOCuk). In addition, QMiP is planning a ‘methods hour’ for delegates to join discussions about developments in their chosen methods, including thematic analysis, IPA, discourse analysis and visual methods. QMiP will also have workshops designed to support qualitative researchers improve their practice, including researching sensitive issues; teaching qualitative methods; and a paper development workshop for early career and postgraduates.
QMiP’s conference is being held at Aberystwyth, a town set in a beautiful part of Wales, on the beach and an hour away from Snowdonia and the Cambrian Mountains. Entertainments include a show by a storyteller and musicians who offer a beautiful rendition of local stories of tylwyth teg (fairies) which tell us as much about the human condition as they do to warn you of what to do if you meet the little people (spoiler: do not fall in love with them). Wine reception, artist response and critical psychology book launch are also being planned. Pre-conference workshops are on Wednesday 5th July, the conference runs 6-7th. For those who want to stay over an extra night we are planning a dolphin tour on Saturday, so you can enjoy your time in Wales before taking the train to ISCHP’s 2017 conference, which starts on Sunday evening. So submit a paper, poster or symposium; or register just to join us and be part of an inclusive, welcoming, supportive and – we hope – energising conference.