Division of Counselling Psychology

Pluralistic Qualitative Research

This contribution to the research hub is authored by Edith Steffen, University of Roehampton. It was written as a contribution to two causes:

  1. The Network for Pluralism in Qualitative Research (@N_PQR): http://npqr.wordpress.com.
  2. The Research Hub of the Division of Counselling Psychology

The initial part of this contribution is a summary of Pluralistic Qualitative research, designed to provide bite-sizes of information to encourage researchers to consider this form of research.
 The second part if this submission is an in depth account of Edith Steffen’s journey through this research process. It is a beautiful piece of reflective writing that can provide the reader with a personalised understanding of this research, and we encourage all readers to foray into reading this part too, it is included as an attachment to open.
What is pluralistic qualitative research?

  • Pluralistic qualitative research combines different qualitative methods within the same study, for example applying different methods of analysis to the same data set
  • Pluralistic research is postmodern, critical of the idea that we can get one ultimate version of the truth or that one perspective is better than another
  • Pluralistic research is not integrative – life is seen as non-linear, fragmentary and multi-dimensional – contradictions and tensions are not glossed over; instead, the approach allows for dialogical awareness
  • Pluralism in qualitative research is about ‘both-and’ rather than ‘either-or’

What are some of the advantages of pluralistic qualitative research?

  • It allows for a multi-dimensional, multiply layered understanding of a phenomenon
  • There is scope for ontological and epistemological diversity 
  • Different research questions can be addressed within the same study
  • It gives researchers greater flexibility
  • It calls for enhanced levels of reflexivity and transparency

What are some of the disadvantages of pluralistic qualitative research?

  • It is time-consuming
  • It requires skills in different methods
  • It is harder to write up a journal-length paper and even harder for journals to find peer reviewers who can evaluate all the methods applied as well as their combination
  • There is a danger of ‘epistemological (in)coherence’ (Frost, 2015)

What forms can pluralistic qualitative studies take?

  • Different forms are being developed as you read this
  • It can involve using two or more different methodological approaches with one dataset, for example Discourse Analysis and IPA (as in a thesis by Matthew Colahan, 2014), or IPA, Narrative Analysis and Psychosocial Analysis (as in a thesis by Daphne Josselin, 2013)
  • Using two different interpretative stances within an overarching thematic analysis with varying degrees of integration (Steffen & Coyle, in press)
  • Using one main interpretative stance and (an)other subsidiary one(s) (Dewe & Coyle, 2014)

What makes for a good pluralistic study?

  • A good, clear rationale for taking a pluralistic approach, for example inclusion of a ‘pluralism purpose statement’, tying together research question(s), design and analysis
  • Making sure this is pluralistic and not just a series of studies
  • Rigour and skill in all methods and analytic stances that are employed
  • Transparency and reflexivity (openness about challenges and limitations, clear description of what was done)

Where can I find out more?

  • The Network for Pluralism in Qualitative Research (@N_PQR): http://npqr.wordpress.com.
  • Clarke, N. J., Willis, M.E.H., Barnes, J.S., Caddick, N., Cromby, J., McDermott, H., & Wiltshire, G. (2014). Analytical pluralism in qualitative research: A meta-study. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 1–20.
  • Colahan, M. (2014). Satisfaction in long-term heterosexual relationships: An exploration of discourse and lived experience. Unpublished thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the School of Psychology, University of East London for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
  • Dewe, M., & Coyle, A. (2014). Reflections on a study of responses to research on smoking: A pragmatic, pluralist variation on a qualitative psychological theme. Review of Social Studies: Methodological Choices and Challenges, 1(1), 21-36.
  • Frost, N.A. (Ed.) (2011). Qualitative research in psychology: Combining core approaches. Open University Press.
  • Frost, N., Holt, A., Shinebourne, P., Esin, C.,  Nolas, S., Mehdizadeh, L., & Brooks-Gordon, B. (2011). Collective findings, individual interpretations: An illustration of a pluralistic approach to qualitative data analysis. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 8(1), 93-113.
  • Frost, N., Nolas, S., Esin, C., Holt, A., Mehdizadeh, L., & Shinebourne, P. (2010). Pluralism in qualitative research: The impact of different researchers and qualitative approaches on the analysis of qualitative data. Qualitative Research 10(4), 1–20.
  • Gabb, J. (2009). Researching family relationships: A qualitative mixed methods approach. Methodological Innovations Online, 4(2), 37-52.
  • Josselin, D. (2013). Wording the pain: An exploration of meaning-makings around emotions and self-injury. Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City University London.
  • Josselin, D. & Willig, C. (2015). Making sense of self-injury: A pluralistic case study. Counselling Psychology Review, 30(4), 5-15.
  • Kincheloe, J. L. (2001). Describing the bricolage: Conceptualizing a new rigor in qualitative research. Qualitative Inquiry, 7(6), 679-692.
  • Kincheloe, J. L. (2005). On to the next level: Continuing the conceptualization of the bricolage. Qualitative Inquiry, 11(3), 323-350.
  • Steffen, E. & Coyle, A. (in press). ‘I thought they should know … that daddy is not completely gone’: A case study of sense-of-presence experiences in bereavement and family meaning-making. Omega: Journal of Death and Dying.