Qualitative Inquiry in Everyday Life-Svend Brinkmann

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    Emma Smith
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    ‘Qualitative Inquiry in Everyday Life- Working with Everyday Life Materials’

    Svend Brinkmann

    From renowned Professor of Psychology, editor of Qualitative Studies, and author/co-author of countless other articles and books- Svend Brinkmann, comes a welcome and insightful addition to the field of qualitative inquiry.

    Brinkmann introduces the book, by means of clearly outlining it’s aims, i.e. to facilitate qualitative inquiry in a busy world. He suggests qualitative inquiry need not be expensive, or require specialised topic matter, instead, he advocates using ‘everyday life materials’, for example, TV, books, media and normalised cultural encounters, discussions, and interactions with others. From this perspective, the book appears to be designed to accommodate the needs of students, and others who have limited resources at their disposal, from which to undertake qualitative research. It may even be considered and used as a ‘survival guide’ (Brinkmann, 2012:2 ), for students and others intending to conduct qualitative research. Brinkmann, highlights however, that the book is not intended solely as a survival guide, but more widely as a means of better understanding our selves, the way we live and the larger social issues surrounding us. Accordingly, Brinkmann suggests that we may look to everyday life materials to inform us about our social worlds.

    In doing so, Brinkmann states that the book does not intend to tell readers what they should do, such is the structure of many methods texts. Instead, as Brinkmann emphasises, the book will demonstrate what readers can do, through most chapters being finalised with worked examples of the application of this form of research.

    The general structure to follow throughout the rest of the book is similarly clearly outlined in the introductory chapter. Commentary is provided, as to how the book will be divided, primarily into two parts: the first part relating to background, and associated epistemological and ethical issues involved in using this approach, the second part examining five key sources of everyday life materials: self-observations (chapter four), everyday conversations (chapter five), media materials (chapter six), movies, TV and other images (chapter seven), and books of fiction (chapter eight). A brief breakdown of each chapter within the second section of the book is also offered at this stage, informing us as to the main theoretical and analytical points to be covered: chapter four  introducing a phenomenological perspective on self-observation, chapter five covering conversation as a source, before developing the application of conversations, chapters six, seven and eight drawing on examples using materials that are not widely used for a research purpose, but which exist anyway, and a concluding chapter dealing with the issue of quality in everyday life analyses.

    In addition, within each chapter, Brinkmann offers insightful and applicable advice on a range of theoretical and practical issues pertaining to the use of the everyday life approach. To illustrate this point, I have chosen to focus and critically review a few selected chapters, as below.

    In chapter 3, Brinkmann addresses several ethical issues, relevant to all qualitative research in general, as well as the more specific example of everyday life research. He explains the prevalent ethical issues of informed consent, confidentiality, consequences and role of the researcher, and how the everyday life approach could be affected by, or overcome these ethical issues. Unlike some other texts, Brinkmann maintains that such questions are not easily settled. Instead he conceptualises them as ‘fields of uncertainty’ (p.52), i.e., challenging areas which should be subject to constant review and reflection, and inform rather than necessarily limit us from pursuing particular avenues of research.

    The chapter is supplemented by the provision of a set of key ethical questions that are likely to feature at the beginning of a research project. This is ideal as a form of quick reference for any reader wishing to familiarise themselves with some of the most common and significant ethical challenges likely to be encountered during the course of conducting research. A practical exercise at the close of this chapter further benefits this chapter, offering readers useful points for reflection on matters relating to the ethics of social research. 

    The only point on which this chapter could have been improved relates to the variety of ethical issues covered. This could have been expanded to include other, perhaps non-decisive but equally influential ethical challenges, including the issues of: participant resistance/access, and how a researcher might balance the expectations of participants against their own expectations of, and intentions for the research.

    Chapter 1 is equally well-written and offers interesting and informative commentary on the use of everyday life data. This chapter is primarily focused on introducing the main concepts involved in this type of research- qualitative inquiry and everyday life. The chapter begins by detailing the main steps involved in the everyday life research process. Thereafter, Brinkmann describes qualitative inquiry, comparing its features and uses to that of quantitative inquiry. A table summarises this information clearly, providing readers with a useful form of quick reference.

    The chapter benefits mainly from text that is enriched by the author’s use of personal examples. Added to this, Brinkmann refers to and communicates very clearly, several theories that inform qualitative inquiry of everyday life, i.e., phenomenological, critical and deconstructive stances. From a personal perspective, this is very useful, as it clearly outlines, links and deconstructs some complex theoretical perspectives, underpinning everyday life research.

    By comparison to the chapters detailed above, chapter 4  on self-observation covers little background or research issues, but rather focuses on a key source of everyday life data.  Self-observation is discussed as taking many different forms, e.g. indirect and direct self-observation, and using different approaches, e.g.  Experience Sampling Method (ESM), Systematic Self-Observation (SSO), and Creative Analytical Practices (CAP), depending on the type of research questions being asked, or what aspects of the self, that a researcher is seeking to identify and explain. In addition to the forms and approaches used in self-observation studies, the chapter also discusses the relationship between self-observation as a method and phenomenology, and issues including: the relative reliability and validity of self-observation studies, intersubjectivity, and how mediation may impact on what is being observed in such studies.

    In relation to the practical aspects of self-observation studies, an advanced process is presented, on how to conduct this type of study, followed by a simpler, alternative exercise that may be used.

    This chapter is largely theoretical and may take a couple of readings to grasp the key concepts involved in everyday life research, using self-observation as a method. It could benefit from some simplification for readers unfamiliar with or unexperienced in conducting everyday life research, particularly in the section covering the main approaches involved in self-observation studies (ESM, SSO and CAP).

    Overall, Brinkmann adds a welcome and informative contribution to the existing body of research methods literature. He presents and explains the varying theoretical and practical aspects of carrying out a relatively new and unexplored type of qualitative inquiry-everyday life research. Brinkmann’s arguments are clearly articulated, and where appropriate, often supplemented by commentary on his own personal research experiences, breakdowns of key terms and concepts, and practical exercises/points for reflection. With the exception of a few areas, in which Brinkmann might have expanded the range of issues discussed (relating to ethics), or made some points clearer (on approaches involved in self-observation studies), this book could be considered very readable, accessible, and would make a useful point of reference for students, academics and researchers alike.

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