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What is Qualitative Longitudinal Research?. Bren Neale School of Sociology & Social Policy University of Leeds. Defining QLL (Qualitudinal) Research. Qualitative enquiry conducted through time

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what is qualitative longitudinal research

What is Qualitative Longitudinal Research?

Bren Neale

School of Sociology & Social Policy

University of Leeds

defining qll qualitudinal research
Defining QLL (Qualitudinal) Research
  • Qualitative enquiry
    • conducted through time
    • exploring the temporal dimension of experience i.e. process, dynamics, causality, change, continuity, transitions, turning points; biography, history.
qualitative enquiry
Qualitative Enquiry…
  • Generates rich, detailed, textured data about individuals and linked lives, using an array of interview and ethnographic methods
  • Discerns human agency, social practices, subjective experience, identities, beliefs, emotions, values and so on
  • addresses how and why questions
  • Derives meanings from context and complexity
  • Produces finely grained understandings
  • Has significant explanatory power
conducted through time
… Conducted through Time
  • ‘Longitudinal data …offers a movie rather than a snapshot’

(Berthoud 2000: 15)

Quantitative longitudinal (QNL) enquiry links time to trends: generates the long shot, birds eye view, the broad vista, the epic movie

QLL enquiry links time to textures: generates close ups of individuals and groups, the twists and turns in the story lines, the intricacies of human lives, the personal movie

conceptualising time
Conceptualising Time
  • QNL (quantitative longitudinal) research: time as linear, duration and sequence. Focus on measuring the spells of time that individuals spend in particular states (eg. unemployment or cohabitation (Leisering and Walker 2000)
  • QLL research: time as fluid, multi-dimensional and infinitely varied. e.g. may encompass biographical time (individual turning points, critical moments); generational time, historical time, industrial time, cyclical time: time as a social construct (Adam, Haraven)
research design
Research Design
  • Prospective longitudinal panel studies, tracking individuals or groups in real time: intensive walking alongside people as their lives unfold: or extensive tracking over decades (seven up series); discerning ‘change in the making.’ Allows for flexibility and innovation in method and substance as a study progresses.
  • Repeat cross sectional studies, eg revisiting or continuous research in a community or organisation, that may or may not involve following up the same individuals
  • Retrospective studies (e.g .life history research that charts changes in a life up to the present). A ‘weak’ version of QLL: exploring temporality but not in real time.
research design mixed methods
Research design: mixed methods
  • Qualitative ‘add ons’ to large scale longitudinal surveys (e.g BHPS). QLL has illustrative role; harnessed to quantitative ends
  • Iterative working across QLL and QNL data sets to enrich insights from both. Equal weight given to QL and QN data
research design building in time faqs
Research design: Building in time: FAQs
  • Q. How long does a study have to be to qualify as a QL study?
  • Q. What are the best time intervals for follow up?
  • A. There is no one right length of time or time interval for data collection - the longitudinal reach of a study, and how it is conducted through time depends on tailoring methods to answer the research questions.
  • e.g. short term: Intensive tracking through an organisational process (e.g. hospital procedure); medium term: tracking through a life course transition, e.g. marrying, becoming a parent; long term: extensive tracking over decades to discern changing life styles, practices, attitudes and values.
examples holland henderson thomson inventing adulthoods
Examples: Holland, Henderson, ThomsonInventing Adulthoods
  • Prospective, mid term tracking of a sample of young people from five different communities in the UK, focus on their values, identities, and transitions to adulthood. In depth interviews and ethnographic methods (day in the life tracking memory books) to uncover the process of growing up. Conducted over a nine year period.
example anya peterson royce s study of a mexican community
Example: Anya Peterson Royce’s study of a Mexican community
  • Long term: a thirty year social anthropological study, involving repeat intensive periods of fieldwork in a Zapotec Mexican Indian community.
  • Changing focus over time, e.g. studies on popular culture, local economies and death and dying
  • Production of an ongoing chronicle of changing community life.
  • Royce as honorary Zapotec and member of Zapotec family.
example pollard and filer s identity and learning programme
Example: Pollard and Filer’s Identity and learning programme
  • School based ethnography, following the educational careers of 17 children from the age of 4 to the age of 16.
  • Insights into the complex processes through which learning takes place, the interplay of personal factors and educational policies/practice
  • Unique document of the impact of educational reform over a 12 year period.
example farrall et al s study of probationers
Example Farrall et al’s study of probationers.
  • Mid term tracking of 200 individuals subject to probation orders, including interviews with probation officers.
  • 3 round of interviews over 20 months, plus four to five year follow up
  • Exploring impact of probation on lives of sample and how and why they desist or persist in offending behaviour
challenges data generation
Challenges: Data generation
  • Challenges of maintaining a sample over time; relies on sustaining relationships, and developing strategies for sample boosting
  • Data collection tends to be eclectic at outset because it is impossible to know what data might be significant over time: development of funnel approach
  • Even with small samples, QLLR generates very large data sets, viewed longitudinally.
  • Data may always have a provisional feel, as data collection may go indefinitely.
  • The value of a QLL dataset, particularly its historical and biographical value, may take years to accrue.
challenges data analysis
Challenges: Data Analysis
  • Data analysis is complex and time consuming
  • Proceeds in two dimensions simultaneously
    • Analysis of cross sectional data at each point in time
    • Analysis of longitudinal data within each case (production of case profiles) and across cases: combining cross sectional and longitudinal analysis to discern convergence and divergence of cases through time.
challenges ethical considerations
Challenges: ethical considerations
  • Ethical challenges of qualitative enquiry enhanced where long term relationships exist between researcher and researched
    • Confidentiality: ongoing maintenance
    • Informed consent as ongoing process
    • Researcher/researched relationship affects both over time
    • Selective approach to archiving QL data leading to mixed economy of archiving
rationales for qll research
Rationales for QLL Research
  • Part of a dynamic or ‘processual’ turn in social enquiry linked to rapid social change in contemporary society
  • QLL is a theoretical orientation: a distinctive way of knowing and understanding the social world.
    • Answers qualitative questions about micro processes and the causes and consequences of change or continuity in the social world; Illuminates how change is created, lived and experienced
    • Can shed light on the dynamic interplay between agency and structure i.e. between biography and history: this is necessary if we are to understand society (C.Wright Mills)
key references
Key References
  • Holland, J. and Thomson, R. (2004) Feasibility Study for a QL Initiative. ESRC
  • Neale, B. and Flowerdew, J.(2003) Time, Texture and Childhood: The Contours of Longitudinal Qualitative Research International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 6 (3): 189-199
  • Saldana, J. (2003) Longitudinal Qualitative Research: Analyzing Change Through Time Altamira Press
  • Thomson, R., Plumridge, L. and Holland, J. (2003)(eds.) Longitudinal Qualitative Research: a Developing Methodology: International Journal of Social Research Methodology. 6 (3). Special Issue.
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