Insight or evidence? Why we need the investigative energy of qualitative approaches

Thursday 29.8.2019

at 11.15 – 12.15

Place: Main auditorium, Main building (Juhlasali, Päätalo), Kalevantie 4

Insight or evidence? Why we need the investigative energy of qualitative approaches

Jennifer Mason
Morgan Centre for Research into Everyday Lives
School of Social Sciences
University of Manchester, UK


Jennifer is Professor of Sociology at the University of Manchester, and a member of the Morgan Centre for Research into Everyday Lives which she co-founded in 2005. Her research interests are in ‘relatedness’, affinities, kinship and connectedness in everyday personal lives. Her research also explores connections between human and non-human worlds. Jennifer also has a very strong interest in the methodologies that social scientists can use to explore these kinds of questions and generally to generate meaningful knowledge of lived realities. She is particularly interested in qualitative, creative and mixed method approaches, and in the challenge for social scientists of creating vibrant and resonant knowledge that lives up to the richness and vitality of real life experience, yet which is also robust and rigorous. Her two latest books are – Affinities: potent connections in personal life (2018, Polity), and Qualitative Researching 3rd edition (2018, Sage).


Qualitative methods are quite remarkable. Which other research approaches can really claim to get inside how the everyday world is experienced, or why and how things matter, or the meaning of change, or the atmospheres and narratives of life, or the fascinations of time, materialities and space? In the last two decades we have witnessed an upsurge in creative and innovative qualitative approaches, and there has been a real sense of excitement and possibility about the place of qualitative and mixed methods thinking in the research world. Yet at the same time, and perhaps especially as our social world becomes more routinely data-saturated (as seen not only in academic research and the media but also in the ubiquity of metrics, review scores, algorithms and social media trending) there are lingering uncertainties about the status, power and legitimacy of qualitative ‘evidence’ by comparison with quantitative. However, in this presentation I want to suggest that such uncertainties miss the point. Not only do they direct our gaze away from some of the uniquely valuable qualities of qualitative approaches (qualities that can inform other approaches) but they underplay the vitally important research goal of seeking insight. I shall argue that many qualitative approaches are characterised by an investigative energy which can arise when curiosity, fascination and a thirst for insight are what drive the research instead of a concern to garner evidence (often for things we think we already know). Instead of feeling uncertain about qualitative ‘evidence’, I shall argue that t is especially pressing in these times that we analyse and celebrate the value of insight, and the dynamic and agentic investigative energy that can lead to it.