This is our first guest post, written by Dr Anna Tarrant. Anna is currently working as a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Research Fellow at the University of Leeds. She is leading a research project called ‘Men, poverty and lifetimes of care’ that qualitatively explores how men negotiate their care responsibilities in low-income localities. As part of the study she will be conducting qualitative secondary analysis of two datasets from the Timescapes archive. Susie and I recently met Anna to chat about our respective projects. While their aims are different, they share many methodological and conceptual issues. How, for instance, should we define a case? How does our epistemological positioning shape our approach to QL data analysis? Should qualitative secondary data analysts forge relationships with the primary researchers? How can we keep a strong purchase on time and temporality when looking across different projects? And can software help us? We hope Anna will be kind enough to blog again at a later stage in her project to reflect on some of these questions. In the meantime, you can follow Anna’s own wonderful blog here.
Like the NCRM project that Susie and Emma are leading, the Leverhulme Trust funded ‘Men, Poverty and Lifetimes of Care’ (MPLC) study has facilitated important opportunities for reflection on key methodological questions about the feasibility of working with multiple qualitative longitudinal datasets. Qualitative secondary analysis (or the re-use of qualitative data in it’s simplest form) is a relatively novel approach in the context of the much wider spread re-use of quantitative data, yet it has already provoked a great deal of debate, particularly in relation to issues of epistemology, ethics and context (see Irwin, 2013). An emerging area of concern within these debates focuses on the possibilities and pitfalls associated with bringing multiple datasets into analytic conversation and whether or not this is possible or even desirable.
In the first year of the MPLC study, I conducted a qualitative secondary analysis on two datasets from the Timescapes archive, allowing me to reflect on some of these questions. At the outset of the proposed study, which aimed to explore men’s care responsibilities in low-income localities, I identified the Following Young Fathers (FYF) and Intergenerational Exchange (IGE) studies (see the Timescapes website for more information about both studies) as possible resources for exploring key themes in relation to this substantive area of focus. For the purposes of rigor, I employed a three stage methodological strategy that was attentive to the principles of the ‘stakeholder ethics’ model (Neale, 2013) including:
- Familiarisation with the datasets (by having individual conversations with available members of the original research teams and reading project outputs),
- Holding a data sharing workshop to:
- Consolidate the familiarisation process and,
- To facilitate a more collaborative mode of working with the original project teams by bringing the datasets into analytic conversation with a focus on the broad themes of men and care,
- The Qualitative Secondary Analysis itself.
These processes are discussed in much greater depth in a Timescapes Working Paper.
QSA across multiple datasets has been really insightful and productive. While a time-consuming and difficult process (particularly in becoming familiar with data generated by others), it has fed directly into the design and conduct of the second empirical phase of the MPLC study, for which, I am interviewing men living in low-income localities. In combination, the FYF and IGE datasets have also provided a sampling framework for the MPLC study. Since September 2015, I have focused on recruiting men living in low-income circumstances of different age groups, in order to explore men’s trajectories and their care responsibilities over time. I have also been able to recognise the importance of men’s wider interdependencies in low-income localities and this has prompted me to ask the participants in the MPLC study, specific questions about the significance of their wider support networks. In terms of substantive outcomes, I have gained greater insight into men’s experiences of living on a low-income over time and how gendered inequalities mediate these processes. While the datasets are not directly comparable, the participants in both studies live in contemporaneous times and there are remarkable similarities across the datasets with regards to how men experience low-income life. In bringing the datasets into conversation, it has been possible to test my emerging theories with empirical data from both datasets.