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Transqualitative Inquiry

Transqualitative inquiry offers a ‘new’ direction for research that pushes beyond the limitations and structures of more conventional quantitative and qualitative research paradigms and even the more emergent, post qualitative inquiry. For many, this jump into another methodology may seem unnecessary and a step further away from what they consider to be meaningful, qualifiable, perhaps even quantifiable and valid research. This is understandable given the seeming swift movement from almost solely quantitative, to qualitative, to post-qualitative research over the last thirty years. However, the immediacy of changes that are being experienced globally across social, economic, political, and environmental domains are indeed unprecedented and call for approaches to research that challenge and re-challenge what is considered valid research. This PhD research acknowledges the void that is left by current methodologies and justifies the reasons that a different approach was required.

 

In an effort to fit my PhD study into a space somewhere between qualitative and post qualitative inquiry, I was troubled that my research was not considered wholly post qualitative nor qualitative and attempted to justify a new mixed methodology or the liminal space in-between. However, given the ethico-onto-epistemological position of my study and the way I was approaching the research, the lack of methodology that aligned theory and practice became increasingly problematic. Qualitative and post qualitative methodologies both had well-established paradigms and structures that were inflexible and would not enable my PhD to fit within either of them, therefore making a mixed methodology inappropriate. I could see that a ‘new’ methodology was needed. I proposed a methodology that enacted a fluid research space allowing the movement between the two paradigms and one that could include quantitative research too. Such a methodology could be applied without rigidity or strict parameters but allow creative, innovative and expansive thinking to be explored.

 

This methodological space is transqualitative inquiry. Drawn from the Latin, where trans- is the prefix to mean across, beyond and through, transqualitative inquiry espouses to push beyond the fixed and regimental research methodologies and approaches that do not allow for the creative, out-of-the-box thinking, research and knowledge generation that is needed in this spacetime. Transqualitative inquiry does not dictate a specific theoretical alignment such as post qualitative which must be tied to poststructuralist thinking. The openness in theoretical positioning is an integral aspect to progress beyond current ways of thinking and exploring truly new realms and possibilities in research. Transqualitative inquiry is applied through the lens of education in this PhD research, however it is expected (and hoped) that a transqualitative methodology is adopted in other disciplines to enact transdisciplinary approaches.

 

Transqualitative as a research methodology has been explained previously by Rousell and Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles (2018) in describing a “parental milieu” (p. 93). It is clearly defined in this instance but does invite keeping “the concept of the parental milieu open to further trans-qualitative movements and potentials” (p. 93). In addition, in a synchronous movement while I was writing about transqualitative here, Rousell (2021) explored transqualitative as ‘trans-qualitative’ under the post qualitative research paradigm to describe a plethora of concepts such as milieu, affect, ecology, patterns, engagement, experience, movement, learning environment, theory of learning, passage, process, and transformation, and espouses that “the term evokes a diverse genealogy of engagements with the prefix ‘trans’” (p. x). So, while this PhD research does not work with the concept of the parental milieu nor use transqualitative as merely a describing word, it accepts the challenge to expand transqualitative research to realise its potential as a methodology, which is inclusive of many more concepts, theories and creative research approaches.

 

In the context of this PhD study, which adopts a diffractive ethnographic approach and which does not fit into traditional quantitative, qualitative or post qualitative methodologies, transqualitative inquiry has much to offer. I have been studying posthuman theory for the best part of a decade, more recently moving to posthumanism proposed through the work of quantum physicist, Karen Barad (2007). In doing so, I have become increasingly troubled by the disjuncture between conventional humanist qualitative methodologies and theories that problematise humanism such as posthumanism. I have spent much time dwelling in a space between qualitative and post qualitative paradigms trying to make my research fit. The more I read into post qualitative theory, largely proposed by St. Pierre (2011, 2018) who coined the term, the more I acknowledge that my theoretical perspective was incompatible and could not be justified anywhere near a post qualitative inquiry. I did not see that completely discarding qualitative methods as necessary; they just needed to be reworked using creative theoretical positions and applied to different situations as proposed by Murris (2020a). Transqualitative inquiry is an enabler that promotes mixed methodologies and openness to different and creative approaches to research.

 

Transqualitative research is transitional. Research methodologies should not be considered a static or fixed instructional approach to exploring and understanding data. Time does not stand still in a space of nothingness. Similarly, the planet is changing and evolving every moment which requires a responsiveness to the way research is undertaken. Methodologies need to be nimble to accommodate the unknown future while allowing for institutionalised structures and procedures to be adhered to.

 

Transqualitative research is transdisciplinary. As described earlier, the prefix trans- also means across. Transqualitative inquiry is established as a way to enact research that combines different ontological and epistemological positions that are stemmed from different disciplinary fields. Disciplines generally have a research paradigm and methodology that they adhere to, the fixed traditions of the academy. Transqualitative inquiry seeks to trouble these limiting factors by proposing that transdisciplinary approaches are much needed to allow for creative ways of exploring research questions and problems.

Why not a post qualitative study?

Post qualitative inquiry as a methodology was first proposed by St. Pierre (2011). Initially, St. Pierre introduced this methodology as a way to enable the thinking together of poststructuralist theories through a research approach that was not fixed in the “conventional humanist qualitative” paradigm’s ideas of “human being, language, discourse, power, agency, resistance, freedom, and so on” (St. Pierre, 2018, p. 603). During St. Pierre’s doctoral study, she tried to use qualitative research methods alongside poststructuralist theories and became aware of the incongruencies of poststructuralist theories with the humanist focus of qualitative methodology. Moreover St. Pierre (2018) argues that qualitative methodology had surprisingly become,

 

so formalized, systematized and positivized…given that it was invented during the interpretive turn that resisted positivism and shifted from measurement, quantification, and prediction to understanding people’s lived experiences (interpretive research) and, when those experiences seemed unjust, to transformation and liberation (critical research). (p. 603)

 

Thinking with poststructuralist theorists such as Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, St. Pierre (2018) proposed a new way of doing research that more aptly aligned poststructural theory to practice, such that poststructuralist theory, which rejects humanism, was not trying to fit into a methodology that is embedded in it. However, there are many limitations and rigidities of post qualitative inquiry which again leave a gap for those moving beyond the humanist focus of qualitative practices but where research is not deeply grounded in the poststructuralist theory that is demanded by the post qualitative paradigm. This section seeks to explore these limitations and look to the opportunities these limitations provide.

 

St. Pierre (2018) provides an approach, the only way, to doing post qualitative research that involves engaging deeply with poststructuralist theorists such that the “post qualitative researcher must live the theories (will not be able to not live them)” (p. 604, emphasis in original). Worth noting, is that the poststructural theorists described in Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze and Guattari are from a discrete point in spacetime and represent a sliver of the population, that being of male, white, middle-class privileging where the major works were produced in the narrow timeframe of the 1960s – 1990s and from France. Moreover, it is important to consider if these texts are read in their original French language or read through the translation. This impacts the way the texts are interpreted and understood which can greatly impact the way they are then embodied and lived (Lasczik, personal communication, December 7th, 2021). Post qualitative inquiry is then quite limited in its ability to enable and enact research that moves beyond – post – traditional and limiting methodologies.

 

Post qualitative research is itself now a fixed paradigm. Fixed in having to be informed by one or more of the abovementioned theorists. Fixed in an approach that requires a long preparation of living poststructural theory yet creates “different worlds for living” (St. Pierre, 2018, p. 604). However, there are parts of post qualitative inquiry that are enticing for researchers who are looking for alternative ways of doing research outside of qualitative and quantitative paradigms. The promise of doing research where the “post-qualitative inquirer does not know what to do first and then next and next” where “there is no recipe, no process” (St. Pierre, 2018, p. 604) is appealing to researchers who are adopting creative research processes and who do not want to follow traditional paradigms. This is worthy research as it extends and expands on what is known in ways that are unknown, uncertain, and risky. However, it is at this point that post qualitative researchers who are seeking to challenge traditional qualitative and quantitative research structures encounter a problem if they have not adopted a poststructural theoretical position, let alone a poststructural way of living. There are many scholars who are adopting theories that also resist the focus on humanism in social science research such as posthuman, new materialist, postmodern, feminist, Indigenist, decolonising and the inclusion of quantum theory[1] in the social sciences, or even a combination of these. However, according to the post qualitative paradigm established by St. Pierre, these theoretical positions are not relevant or welcome when conducting post qualitative research. Researchers looking for alternative ways of doing research may also be lured by the non-representational aspect of post qualitative research that signals a move further away from interpretivism than qualitative research (St. Pierre, 2018). However, post qualitative research that espouses non-representation must be informed by poststructural theories such as that of Derrida, who offers that “words cannot capture or transport meaning from one ‘person’ to another” (St. Pierre, 2018, p. 606).

 

Post qualitative inquiry is based on a one-world ontology (St. Pierre, 2019) proposed by poststructuralist theory that shifts focus from the what is of presence to the what might be of immanence. It espouses a flat surface on which there is no difference between the virtual or the actual; they become one and the same. This flat surface analogy, while attempting to describe a unification, is in itself a representation – the very thing that post qualitative research touts to reject – that deviates from the natural state of being on the planet and in the universe where from the micro of atoms to the macro of planets, the three dimensions are in spherical form. St. Pierre (2019) compares an ontology of immanence to the two-world ontology proposed by social scientists who explore ‘conditions of possibility’ and thematic analytic research practices that assume ‘internal relations’ (p. 6) stating that “concepts in the ontology of immanence and transcendental empiricism which inform post qualitative inquiry” (p. 7) to clearly set the defining theoretical and ontology limitations of post qualitative research. These boundaries are further enforced by stating that post qualitative inquiry rejects pilot studies because “immanence cannot be piloted” (p. 8).

 

Post qualitative inquiry works to bring the new into being rather than finding, describing, interpreting and representing (St. Pierre, 2019, p. 9). However, when working with an onto-epistemology that adopts diffractive practices through agential realism theory as proposed by Barad (2007), it is considered that, “there is no absolute boundary between here-now and there-then. There is nothing that is new; there is nothing that is not new” (Barad, 2014, p. 168). The idea that nothing is new (and equally that nothing is not new) adopts a scientific worldview where everything that was, is. However, diffraction offers a way to understand how agential cuts can be enacted to change the way matter is formed thus transforming what is known into previously unknown and unconsidered possibilities.

 

Unlike post qualitative research, transqualitative inquiry does not prescribe that there is no research design or research process (St. Pierre, 2019, p. 9). Transqualitative inquiry accepts research traditions that have existed before and pushes them into paradigms which more aptly speak to current global situations and theoretical positions which enact critical and creative responses to these situations. Transqualitative inquiry, akin to post qualitative inquiry, does not adhere to strict paradigms or prescribed methods to stifle or limit the possibilities in research, thus researchers in transqualitative inquiry are encouraged to question practices that “embrace the normal (the same) and [are] wary of the new (difference)” (St. Pierre, 2019, p. 9). Unlike post qualitative inquiry, transqualitative research is sympathetic to research structures that include naming a methodology. Post qualitative inquiry proposes to have no methodology section, however this absence of acknowledgement is in itself a signpost to the fact that a post qualitative approach has been adopted. Without certain structures and conventions in research, the lines of distinction between research and writing become blurred and detract from the academy. Indeed, St. Pierre (2019) strongly advises that,

 

there can be no post qualitative research methodology or research methods, no post qualitative research designs, no post qualitative research practices, no post qualitative data or methods of data collection or methods of data analysis, no representations of a stable, sensory “lived” world, no post qualitative findings, no post qualitative research report format because, again, post qualitative inquiry never is, it never stabilizes. (p. 10, emphasis in original)

 

St. Pierre (2019) explicitly states that post qualitative inquiry is not a methodology, however this is how it is being applied in many emergent research studies. This discrepancy between what is being proposed by St. Pierre (2019) and what is being practised by researchers, demonstrates a need for a methodology that has a stronger ontological, epistemological and onto-epistemological fit. Transqualitative inquiry accommodates researchers seeking to adopt a methodological approach that is not rigid in its structure, including the invisible structures of following certain theoretical positions, such as poststructuralist in post qualitative inquiry.

 

St. Pierre (2018) acknowledges that there is “much more beyond the post qualitative”, however qualifies that “this is slow work that requires a long preparation” (p. 606). This time restriction is given no justification or reasoning as to why it must be slow. It would seem that such a limitation and construction work against what emergent and divergent approaches to research require – a response which is immediate, timely and enacts the em-urgencies of the current spacetime. This is a point in time where vaccines are created, tested and implemented in unheard-of speeds, where policies, procedures and protocols respond to societal, political, environmental and economic needs faster than ever before. Why then, should emergent approaches to methodology be “slow work”? Experimentation and taking risks requires an immediacy and response to a call: the call for a new methodology has been made through the numerous research studies which adopt non-traditional, non-humanist theories and yet, are not grounded in the poststructural (Hart, 2018). The call is made through scholars who want to do research that is troubling, challenging, innovative and extends thinking beyond what has existed and been done before.

 

It is not the purpose nor intention of this section to provide a new or different understanding to post qualitative inquiry, although I acknowledge that many researchers have adopted this approach  (Murris, 2020a; Sweet et al., 2020; Taylor, 2016b, 2020; Young et al., 2021).

 

Young et al. (2021) argue that post qualitative research is a movement to “reconcile ‘post’ theories” including poststructuralism, postcolonialism and posthumanism. However, this ‘reconciliation’ fails if, according to the non-methodology laid down by St. Pierre in post qualitative inquiry, it does not follow poststructuralist thinking (St. Pierre, 2018). Moreover, if qualitative research has indeed become “overwhelmed by order, reflexivity, validity, interpretivism, representation, and legitimation” (St. Pierre, 2018, p. 8), why hold onto the name ‘qualitative’? I again argue that a more apt name would be an inquiry-based approach to research that is entangled with theory through its name, such as poststructuralist inquiry. This name provides a clear context to the reader about the approach being utilised by the researcher, and does not try to contort the qualitative into something that is completely removed from all that qualitative research has enabled, is identified by and is understood to mean.

Transqualitative inquiry as reconciliation

The void in methodologies left by qualitative and post qualitative methodologies is itself a diffractive metaphor. What is the potentiality of the space left when qualitative and post qualitative methodologies are diffracted through each other? As stated by Mitchell (2017), “like waves interfering with each other in the ocean, a new in-between space is opened up, like new patterns that are formed in/through the water” (p. 174). This space calls transqualitative inquiry into business as a methodology that accepts the limitations of traditional qualitative paradigms while not fighting against them to provide a reconciliation of the void in methodologies.

 

Transqualitative inquiry enables the diffraction of traditional humanistic qualitative approaches, such as ethnography, with/in/through posthuman approaches such as diffraction to intra-act and generate ‘new’ and different ways of doing data. Transqualitative inquiry offers a methodology that accepts the tensions to explore the possibilities when qualitative ethnographic methodologies are pushed through the posthuman theoretical thinking such as through the diffractive lens.

 

[1] St. Pierre (2018) does refer to the work of quantum and feminist theorist Karen Barad (which she originally misspells as Barard) when discussing experimentation and the “unintelligible and unrecognizable”. Further to this, St. Pierre refers to an ethico-onto-epistemology which remains unattributed to Barad in her 2018 works (rectified through attribution in 2019) however this idea forms the basis of Barad’s work and their agential realism framework, which was introduced in their pivotal works, Meeting the Universe Halfway (2007). Barad (2007) “diffractively reading the insights of poststructuralist theory, science studies, and physics through one another entails thinking the cultural and the natural together in illuminating ways” (p. 135) where the poststructural ideas of Michel Foucault and Judith Butler are not promoted as the only source of thinking informing their work but drawing on quantum mechanics (i.e. the works of Neils Bohr), science and feminist theory to explore their ethico-onto-epistemology and their agential realism theory. Indeed, Barad emphasises that posthumanism is the framework that underpins their theory and defines it so.

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