It is obvious to state that time is the most important aspect of qualitative longitudinal research since it affords a rich insight into the phenomena being studied as it evolves. Yet throughout our project, time has been one of the most difficult aspects of the data on which to get an analytical ‘grip’.
Time matters – yet it its presence is complex, fluid and intersectional. These many dimensions, or layers of time, are captured in our data archive. These include biologically defined life cycle stages (aging and developmental change), family and kinship groups (aligned vertically through time), age cohorts (aligned horizontally through time), as well as socially / culturally defined categories, sequences or events (such as becoming a parent).
Time is a narrated aspect of the texture of social life. Our data shows this intersection between time and space, with participants variously describing ‘time’ as something that can be in short supply, as in demand and, within the context of work and family lives, a source of negotiation, stress and, at times, conflict. Time can also be part of the more abstract notion of ‘being there’, where time spent together provides the basis through which caring and intimate relationships are created, and sustained.
Time is also historical. The projects themselves have a temporal identity, as an archive of a particular epoch and the particular socio-economic contexts in which individual lives were unfolding. At a further level, time frames the research process, and does so differently across the six projects for which we have data. Each were conducted in broadly the same historical time, yet they captured time in different ‘waves’, and using different methods (from life history / biographical interviews, through to daily diaries and ‘day in the life’ observations).
How time matters, and how we can ensure it foregrounds our analysis, will be an ongoing source of reflection for our project. To help us make sense of some of this messiness we have begun to ‘map’ the time in Timescapes using Tiki Toki, a web-based software for creating interactive timelines. In our timeline we have sought to capture when participants within each study were born, the epoch in which the study was conducted, the duration of each study and the different ‘waves’ of research. We have also sought to include any key outputs from the project and any follow-on studies (such as Anna Tarrant’s ongoing work on Men, Poverty and Care). These latter aspects will be added to as the study progresses.
Of course, our portrayal of time is two dimensional, and is in part a pragmatic effort to tidy the messiness of time. Its limitation is in our inability to ‘map’ the social, cultural and emotional dimensions of time, and how these intersect (i.e. the emotional and practical connections within, and between, generations, or how these change or stay the same across different historical time frames). That is an aspect of time that our ongoing processes of analysis will seek to capture.
To open our Toki Toki, click on the image below, Please let us know what you think, and if you decide to design your own, share it with us here.