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A Brief History

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by Ruthellen Josselson, Ph.D.
(SQIP co-founder and president, 2013-14)

SQIP was conceived over a bottle of good wine that Ken Gergen and I shared in 2004. Commiserating about the marginalization—even absence—of qualitative inquiry in mainstream psychology, one of us (I don’t remember who, probably me) said, well, we could form a new division in APA. That seemed like a good idea and a not too difficult task. It turned out to be a very difficult task. In August 2005, we assembled a group of like-minded people as a preliminary steering committee and met at APA in Washington. In October 2005, we notified APA of our intent to form this new division. By August 2006, we and a group of young energetic people were collaring people at the APA convention in New Orleans to try to gain 898 signatures on a petition to APA Council to authorize a Division of Qualitative Inquiry. It took us another year and enormous effort and networking on a lot of people’s parts to get the needed signatures; they had to be from APA members or Fellows, and APA checked each one. And they were on paper, as there was not yet an electronic way of doing this. Many people signed our petition because they were nice or didn’t know how to say no if we appealed to them personally, and it didn’t cost anything, so why not? We, of course, had no idea how many people were truly supporting this effort, but eventually 898 APA members and Fellows were willing to sign, plus many students, affiliate members, and international members.

 

By mid-2007, we had the needed signatures and petitioned APA Council to put us on their March 2008 agenda. Ken and I went to this meeting quite naïve. We had prepared our petition but hadn’t done the behind-the-scenes work to count our votes in advance. We had supporting letters from a number of Divisions—9 (SPSSI), 24 (Theoretical), 32 (Humanistic), 35 (Psych of Women), 39 (Psychoanalysis) and 51 (Men and Masculinity). At the same time, there were quite vitriolic opposition letters from Divisions 5 (Evaluation, Measurement, and Statistics), 6 (Behavioral Neuroscience and Comparative Psychology), and 8 (Social and Personality). The most extreme, from Division 6, excoriated us for “undermining confidence in scientific research as a means of promoting the welfare of humans and other animals.” They warned that we were calling for “a new, postmodern hegemony” and that we aimed to “redefine the term ‘science’ in a way that accommodates postmodernism’s subjectivist stance.” Ken and I wrote rebuttals to these letters and approached the Council meeting with some trepidation. First of all, the room was the biggest meeting room I have ever seen with hundreds of delegates arrayed at tables with computers in front of them across what seemed like an eighth of a mile. Microphones were arranged at various points in this cavern with “Yes” or “No” written on them, so speakers could line up to speak for or against a petition. Ken spoke and gave what I think was an extraordinary statement, so moving that I felt choked up as he described our mission and interests. He invoked his long history with APA, having been president of a number of divisions over 50-plus years of membership, and with his articulate words and amazing dignity, he made clear that we were not flaming anti-intellectual radicals. Instead, we were researchers who were seeking to advance scientific inquiry and promote human welfare through the development of new tools and perspectives that would deepen understanding and promote highly-attuned practices. I responded to some of the comments but have no memory whatever of what I may have said. I think we persuaded enough people that we got the majority of the vote but missed the needed 2/3 by a few votes. So, we lost. After losing this vote, I canvassed the delegates informally and learned that many who I had thought would vote for us, voted against us—persuaded by the argument that there were too many divisions already in APA and that we should become a section of an existing division. At some point, a representative from Division 5 (Evaluation, Measurement and Statistics), which had written a letter of opposition on the grounds that we were a method and should join their division, reiterated the invitation to join them. I think I may have laughed at him, asking, “How could qualitative inquiry be a section of Evaluation, Measurement and Statistics?—everything that we do NOT do?”

 

To keep me from just walking away from him, the man from Division 5 said, “Well, we could change the name.” To what? I snorted. “To Quantitative and Qualitative Methods,” he replied. So, that was the beginning of a 4-year dialogue with Division 5 on the road to becoming a section. The first Division 5 Presidents we worked with—Neil Schmidt, Gwen Boodoo, Irving Weiner, and Todd Little—were particularly helpful and supportive, even in the face of some opposition from some Division 5 members. These people were not opposed to qualitative research, per se, and saw our joining as a way to grow their division.

Some time after the APA vote in 2008, Mark Freeman joined Ken and me as the political strategists, to help as we struggled among ourselves to pick a course through the various minefields. One of the big issues was whether we should join Division 5 before or after the name change; we finally acquiesced to joining before on the grounds that we would then have voting members to support the name change. We had to gather another 640 signatures to become a section. That took some time as we had to start all over again.

 

I’ll share two anecdotes about the politics along the way because I think they are among the most amusing. First, on the cultural clash, while we have found the Division 5 people quite engaging and likeable, the differences among us are quite startling. In 2009, when we were still trying to change the Division name before our joining as a section, we arranged a joint APA Panel called “Beyond the Divide: Quantitative and Qualitative Methods” with the 3 of us (Mark, Ken and I) and 3 of them. Division 5 had polled their membership to get a straw vote of the membership’s readiness to accept us as a section and to change the name. They presented first and offered beautifully-crafted PowerPoint slides showing the distributions of responses to these two questions. We spoke in the second part, had no PowerPoints, and instead told a lot of stories and related a lot of theory. We saw that each side had quite different ideas about what constituted a presentation. Their carefully-analyzed data showed a vast majority in favor of our becoming a section and supporting the proposed umbrella name for the Division: Division of Research Methods and Practices. After the meeting, we asked an officer of Division 5 if she would then go ahead with the name change given how many of their members were in favor of it. No, they wouldn’t, she explained, because of WHO the people were who opposed it. Struck by the irony, we told her that it seemed that in the end, the qualitative prevails.

 

Another amusing moment came in 2011 when the issue of our becoming a section of Division 5 was brought to a vote of the division at the APA Annual Convention. At that point, we had agreed to ask our group to join the Division of Evaluation, Measurement and Statistics before we tried to change the division name. It was a bit of a hard sell, but people trusted us and joined. We explained that if they supported SQIP becoming a section of Division 5, they had to join so they could vote on whether we would become a section. This was to be a closed written ballot filled out by Division 5 members in attendance. As bad luck had it, many of our strongest supporters, like Michelle Fine, Deb Tolman, and some others, were receiving APA awards at exactly the time of the meeting—so many of their friends (also our supporters) went to their presentations but then sprinted down to our room for the last 5 minutes of the hour so they could vote. Todd Little, then President of Division 5, was aware of the opposition to our becoming a section, but he was on our side. So, he began his introduction to the vote by presenting data that showed that the younger members of Division 5 were strongly in support of us joining and, after reviewing the charts he projected on the screen, declared that it was only the “old farts” who opposed us. We won the vote by a landslide.

 

Once a section, what remained was to change the name of the division so the name would include us. We formed a naming commission, they formed a naming commission, and many names were considered. Our little team (again Ken, Mark and me) obsessed endlessly over possible names. (They had rejected the one we initially liked, Division of Research Methods and Practices, because “practices” sounded somehow like clinical practice to them.) I once spent an hour in the Sinai desert on Skype with Ken and Mark, arguing about names, one of many such meetings. By contrast, the other side came to the joint meeting without having met. The Division 5 Executive Committee delayed putting the question on the agenda, but finally, in 2014, our representative to the EC, Fred Wertz, managed to get the question on the table for a vote. The name that emerged, with only minutes of deliberation, was Quantitative and Qualitative Methods. We could live with that. Later that year, the proposal was put before the membership of Division 5 and the membership voted to change the name.

 

One consequence of becoming a section of Division 5 was that we could have an APA journal. We named it Qualitative Psychology. We had chosen Bert Cohler to be the editor, but alas, he died before he could take up this post. I then agreed to take it on. The first issue appeared in the spring 2014.

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The SQIP Executive Committee began meeting formally in 2012 with Mark Freeman as the first president. Ken Gergen took the role of past-president while I was president-elect. The initial group consisted of the three of us, Michelle Fine, and Valerie Futch. Marco Gemignani, Joe Gone, Linda McMullen, and Fred Wertz joined shortly afterwards. Many others have joined since and we have continued to hammer out a working relationship with the other sections of Division 5. The first SQIP conference was held in 2014 at the City University of New York under the stewardship of Michelle Fine. The energy and excitement of that first conference was memorable. People came from all over the U.S. and from abroad. There were many, many panels and we happily exhausted ourselves trying to take it all in. It was a thrilling climax to all our work as well as a very promising prelude to all that has happened since that has proclaimed the growth of SQIP and established the place of qualitative research in psychology.

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