Episode 51: The Qualitative Research Series - Reflections, questions, tensions and the future with Prof. David Nicholls


Welcome to another episode of The Words Matter Episode.

As usual I want to start by thanking all of you that are supporting the podcast via Patreon, your contributions all add up and make these conversations possible. If you’d like to contribute you can visit – every little helps.

So, we’re at the closing ceremony of The Qualitative Research Series. I hope you’ve enjoyed the episodes. I want to thank all my guests, that were incredibly generous with their time, knowledge and experience;  each one did a phenomenal job of communicating their qualitative expertise in an immensely engaging and passionate way.

They’ve been part of what I hope will be an incredibly valuable resource on qualitative research. If you haven’t listened to all the episodes, please do. And if you have listened to them all, go back and listened again from time to time as just like re-watching Game of Thrones, there are hidden nuggets, gems and insights which only become apparent on a second run.

So on this final episode of the qualitative research series, I’m speaking with Prof. Dave Nicholls in a special ‘Ask Us Anything’. I first spoke with Dave way back in episode 21 last year, in a hugely popular episode covering a range of topics related to the direction towards the end of professional healthcare practice, so if you haven’t listened to that episode, and want to hear more of Dave go back and have a listen (here).

Dave is a Professor in the School of Clinical Sciences at AUT University in Auckland, New Zealand. He is a physiotherapist, lecturer, researcher and writer, with a passion for critical thinking in and around the physical therapies.

He is the founder of the Critical Physiotherapy Network, an organisation that promotes the use of cultural studies, education, history, philosophy, sociology, and a range of other disciplines in the study of the profession’s past, present and future.

So in this episode we talk about:

  • How the nature and form that research education takes shapes the thinking and practice of healthcare professionals.
  • The problem with the lack of sociological theories featuring in qualitative research and the absence of these theories in healthcare education.
  • The continued dominance of the biomedical model in healthcare and how this relates to the sorts of knowledge, evidence and research that clinicians and students value; which is largely propositional, measurable and quantitative in nature.
  • The problem of placing methods first, and that this process focussed research constitutes what he calls ‘quant lite’ rather than qualitative research. Dave has written a fair bit on qualitative research, see his CPN blogs here, here and here.
  • Dave outlines his view on the problem of much of the current qual research and that many of the current batch of qualitative offerings is not fit for purpose and he outlines how post-qual provides a new way of thinking about and doing qualitative research (see paper here on the possibilities of post qual research).
  • How healthcare is moving into a post-world; a postqualitative world, a postprofessional world and a posthumanist world.
  • How his sociological and interest in Foucault motivates him to asks questions of the structures that guide practice and the discourses which precede us and define who we are.
  • His view that the field of qualitative health research is replete with work examining the patient experience and that there are other, possibly more consequential sociological areas which need examining beyond this safe space for qualitative researchers. Dave talks about ‘bracketing out’ the patient experience from qualitative research…for a while at least.
  • And with that we talk about the prominence of phenomenological qualitative research and how the possible rise of this particular methodology has been influenced by the deeper understanding of pain from a scientific perspective.
  • And finally we discuss the incredible potential of qualitative research to give people other ways to see, to be and to experience the world.

So while this episode is badged as an AUA, it doesn’t meet this particular category or follow this particular style . This was part deliberate and part accidental. As rather than responding to your questions directly, we used them to create topics and themes of conversations which we hoped that by moving through, we would address some of the excellent questions that you sent in. The accidental part was that in all honesty we got carried away, and lost in conversation (which is easy to do when talking with Dave give the breadth, depth and pointedness of his views).

So if you were expecting a back and forth Q and A, this isn’t it. But we cover some extremely interesting and important topics related to qualitative research, healthcare practice and education. Dave has promised to come back for a ‘proper AMA’ and another time in the future, and we are planning a full blown Critical Physiotherapy Series, with him and his colleagues appearing on the podcast to really explore their critical reflections and challenges to healthcare practice and research so stay tuned.

Find Dave on Twitter @DaveNicholls3 and @CriticalPhysio

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