Podcast 46: The Qualitative Research Series - More than methods? Thematic analysis with Dr Victoria Clarke


Welcome to another episode of The Words Matter Podcast.

I want to give a huge thanks to the people that support the show via Patreon, I couldn’t do this without you – so thanks again.

So, we’re into the fourth episode of the Qualitative Research Series, and today I’m with Dr Victoria Clarke about thematic analysis.

Victoria is an Associate Professor of Qualitative and Critical Psychology at the University of the West of England. She teaches and conducts research in the intersecting areas of qualitative and critical psychology, sexuality and gender, family and relationships, and appearance and embodiment.

Together with her long-time co-author and collaborator Prof. Virginia Braun, Victoria has been central in developing, explicating and disseminating qualitative research methods, in particular thematic analysis.

The immense impact that Victoria and Virginia have had on qualitative methodological scholarship and practice is evidenced by the fact that their original 2006 paper on TA has received over 100,000 google scholar citations. Truly incredible.

Victoria’s books include the award-winning textbook Successful Qualitative Research, and their new book titled Thematic Analysis A Practical Guide, both of which she co-authored with Virginia. Their new book will be released in October 2021, and you can pre-order your copy here.

So in this episode we speak about:

  • The history of Thematic analysis (TA).
  • TA as being a ‘method-ish’ meaning it sits between both method and methodology. For example, it has a defined set of methods, but also has depth in how these methods are conceptualised and operationalised, including the research values and reflexivity to use them; meaning that that TA also has characteristics of a methodology.
  • We talk about TA’s emergence as an immensely popular qualitative research approach.
  • We talk about that as TA isn’t welded to a particular theory or onto-epistemological perspective, that this is in fact a feature which offers researchers theoretical flexibility and utility rather than a bug which would otherwise limit or bog down those wanting to embark on qualitative inquiry.
  • We talk about reflexivity and how this value is nurtured within reflexive TA.
  • We talk about some of the main criticisms and misconceptions of TA.
  • We talk about the annoying notion of data saturation, and it’s links to positivism, and how to respond to peer-reviewers’ equally annoying requests to demonstrate the definite, final and ultimate position of saturation (see Victoria and Virginia's paper on data saturation here).
  • We talk about presenting participants’ demographic information as a way to help readers of qualitative research to locate the findings within their own realities and assess the study’s transferability (see papers by Janice Morse here and here).
  • Finally, Victoria shares her thoughts on post-qualitative research, which amongst other things, rejects systematic and somewhat repeatable qualitative methods, such as those that sit with TA. And to give you a heads up, that in the penultimate episode in this series, I’ll be speaking with Dr Jenny Setchell about post qualitative research.

So this was just another incredibly enjoyable conversation. Victoria really puts voice, passion, and argument behind reflexive TA, which I think has at times been unfairly portrayed as ‘atheoretical’ by methodological purists.

As Victoria and Virgina make clear in their paper 'Can I use TA? Should I use TA? Should I not use TA?  the pursuit of the perfect qualitative approaches may be seen as a ‘hallowed methods quest’. The broad church of qualitative research calls for methods and methodological pluralism to suit the different questions, contexts, and resources that qualitative researchers have.

Find Victoria on Twitter @drvicclarke

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