The Task at Hand: Qualitative Inquiry in (Post?) Pandemic Times

Stacy Holman Jones, Monash University

In an interview about his 2022 poetry collection Time is a Mother, Ocean Vuong observes,

And a lot of folks ask me, how can you be so vulnerable in your work? How can you look at difficult histories, personal and political and historical, and keep going? How do you take care of yourself? And I said, I signed up for this, you know? I don’t think it’s a burden to look at everything that is human, the joys and the difficulty…the task at hand is to not turn away from the light and the dark.

In this talk, I consider how qualitative inquiry can begin the reparative work of making sense—whilst at the same time vulnerably acknowledging the ongoingness—of a world in pandemic. How can qualitative inquiry reckon with the recuperative and unbreakable entanglements of the earth, humans and other species, sentiments and actions? How does qualitative inquiry recognise the necessity of telling a collective story of climate emergency, war and genocide, spiralling mental and physical crises, and the stranglehold of corporate  and state interests on all forms of life? Rather than learning to ‘live with’ these things, qualitative inquiry asks us to live, love and work differently. It asks us to mutually embrace both the light and the dark. The task at hand then is for qualitative inquiry to cooperatively push against languishing grief, narrative fatigue and cultures of denial to make the life-altering nature of the pandemic not an ending, but instead the beginning of hope.

The Story Will Not be Thematized: Futures in Qualitative Research

Devika Chawla, Ohio University

My keynote address examines my troubled relationship with qualitative research. Even though I am academically trained in qualitative methods, published in journals that showcase such methods, and have even served as the editor-in-chief of a journal dedicated to such methods, I struggle with how best to teach these methods. In this address I identify and unpack the issues that make for my troubled relationship with these approaches. In many cases, these issues arise from a mismatch between my training in qualitative research in the West and the world in the global south where my experiences are also located.  Simply put, this mismatch is a postcolonial struggle.  I discuss why I am always questioning our push for more lengthy and thicker qualitative data that lends itself to more layered and nuanced analyses. I do so by sharing stories of transformative field moments, which led me to conclude that I can no longer teach qualitative research in the way that I was taught. I gently propose that analysis and representation are as much about loss as they are about gain. Ultimately, my goal is to invite us to envision less analytically ambitious futures for qualitative research.