Q methodology - a method for modern research

The aim of this website is to introduce Q methodology to both interested, experienced scientists as well as motivated newcomers working with empirical research in Denmark. The presentation, I hope, will bring answers to most of the "how to do?" questions and cover the basic idea of the method and its powerful techniques. I wrote it with inspiration from my own Q study in 2004, which in many productive ways challenged my understanding of tools with which science gains knowledge about subjective behavior (read a summary about my credibility study here).

While working with Q has brought me new insight, it is also my wish to underline the importance of creative thinking in the scientific quest for new concepts concerning two aspects of data construction and analysis. First, the exploration of research tools urging the break down of the wall-like division between quantitative and qualitative methods. Second, pushing forward the challenge of creating more symmetric scenarios in interview situations, that free interviewees from being dominated by pre-defined settings and roles. For these purposes I recommend and encourage the use of Q methodology, where it seems relevant and makes a better alternative with its powerful and unique facilities. Either way it should serve as an eye-opener.
But one can still ask why Q? Naturally the answer is not so simple, as the choice depends on the specific objectives and goals of the research studies. In empirical communication research there is still a need for debating the relation between data construction and interpretation. But inasmuch as the methodological choices differs from case to case in for example media and reception studies, in the waves of modernity proposing intensive focus on individuality; any human science will inevitably need development of better conceptualisation of the complex subjectivity in human mind. The study of Q methodology brings both a very useful research tool at hand and new inspiration in elaborating this conceptualisation.

The position of Q

The use of Q technique and analysis is represented in a range of various disciplines and sciences; and while still increasing its popularity, the advantages it offers will be spread and acknowledged. Some of the research fields within the european scientific society are social psychology, education and political discourse.

In a global perspective, it is not an understatement to say that scholars who have been working with the facilities and applicability of Q methodology, are actually very few. Only about a decade ago, the published material engaging with Q methodology counted 1,500 bibliographic entries. For an overview of the position of Q methodology please refer toHistory and Principles of Q Methodology in Psychology and the Social Sciences.
In written Danish this site is the first introduction to the method. My advantage in this regard has been, that one of the most prominent experts in the fiel - professor Steven Brown, Kent State University, USA - offered his help and tutored my work. He has been outstanding in his support of my Q study, and I am gratefull for his generousity and gracious spirit. Also I have appreciated my correspondance with scientists from the Q society all over the world. Please take a minute to visit the qmethod site here - the American site for practitioners of Q.

Danish Q study of national identity and the EU

In Denmark, professor of Communication - Kim Schrøder, Roskilde University - has used Q methodology in the Danish contribution to a European research programme about the EU and national identities. The study, performed two years ago, attempts to explain how the European Union, as the most visible experiment in mass national identity change in the contemporary world, influences how Europeans think about their political affiliations. In eight membership countries the Q sample were sorted by participating groups with cross-representitative demographic profiles. The results from the Danish study are published on the research library of Roskilde University in Beyond Dualityhere and the entire report of the programme is printed in the book, The Changing Face of European Identity: An Eight-Nation Q Study of (Supra)National Attachments, edited by Richard Robyn. 

Q study of evaluation of credibility in politics

In summer 2004 I performed a study of voters' evaluation of source credibility of the political party Det Radikale Venstre, represented in the Danish parliament. In the research design, Q methodology is used to explore the ways voters from four different political affiliations evaluate the party. A p sample of 49 items is provided for Q sorting and the study involves 28 participants representing 6 politicians and voters from four different parties.

News consumption study - in spring 2011 I piloted a version of a Q study online and collected data with Christian Hackerts flashQ. This was done as a test of the factor structure in the solution presented in the Towards a typology of cross-media news consumption : a qualitative-quantitative synthesis by Schrøder & Kobbernagel 2010. Try the data collection technique here: Which news media plays a role in your daily consumption of news?

Why the choice of Q?

In this study the hypothetical foundation is to view the evaluation not only as a product of distinct dimensions, e.g moral character, intelligence and good will, as in most credibility studies (McCroskey 97), but as a complex proces within which the receivers' reception repertoire is a salient frame.

Demographic categories such as age, domicile, job, education etc. are of less interest. The main focus is the way voters activate strings of political thought in their reception repertoire; a proces in the receivers mind, which actively involves the complex library of adult life experience with political issues. As such, this process is very closely related to the individual and subjective mind. Thus, mapping of the evaluation process and the research tools with which the process is to be explored, requires sensitive and dynamic features. This frame of ontological and epistemological assumptions led to the choice of Q methodology.
All in all there were three main reasons for using Q. First, the Q sorting and analysis would comply with the working hypothesis that origined from preliminary interviews with a voter, a journalist and two politicians. These gave indications, that two dimensions (competence and charisma, by which the partys' credibility is evaluated) were both closely related to two different groups of politicians. For this purpose, the application of the Q sorting process and Q factor analysis would yield advantageous settings for testing, provided that these groupings actually existed.
Secondly, the participants' feeling of superiority or say "being in control" during Q interviews accounted for a more free and fruitful climate for data construction. Thirdly, the part of Q interviewing technique, where participants are invited to share their thoughts and reflections obtained while sorting and ranking statements, would produce valuable qualitative material for further analysis. Read more about the credibility study here.
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