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Questioning Q: Studying Subjectivity and the Practice of Using Q Method

Type: Panel
Sponsor Groups: Cultural and Political Ecology Specialty Group
Organizers: Eric Nost, Morgan Robertson
Chairs: Morgan Robertson


This panel explores current developments in and deployments of Q methodology. Over the past two decades, human geographers - especially those concerned with the practice of environmental governance and politics - have drawn on and extended this quantitative approach to qualitative questions of subjectivity. Q method has strong roots in psychology and other clinical settings and its early users promised a way to “quantify subjectivity”. However, geographers and other critical social scientists have adapted Q to understand structures of thought and to help us move beyond, rather than simply to reify, simplistic subject-positions and framings (e.g. “there are environmentalists and there are farmers”). While seeing promise in the assumptions Q method makes around the performative - rather than a priori - nature of being a subject, geographers noted a duplicity in its claim to provide an objective, unbiased assessment of subjectivity, or of the types of people that exist (Eden et al. 2005). In this panel, we take it for granted that Q-method cannot quantify subjectivity - nor can any other method. Instead, we will discuss the intersection of Q as a methodology and as a method - digging into questions about both its productive tensions with other research approaches, such as discourse analysis, and the nuts and bolts assumptions which structure Q as a tool for data generation. Panelists will draw their reflections from recently completed or ongoing surveys.

How might we pair Q-method with other methodologies such as critical discourse analysis (Sneegas 2019) or GIS? (Hawthorne et al. 2008)
To what extent is Q-method localized in geography within political ecology and related human-environment fields? (e.g. Robbins 2006) Why? How might this be challenged?
In what ways could Q-method build bridges between human and physical geography?
In what ways can we extend Q’s sensitivity to the performative, hybrid, and nature of subjectivity? What components of either research design, implementation, or technical analysis might help us in this?
At a nuts and bolts level, how can we do Q better: What ways might we more productively visualize results, beyond Z-score tables? What does it mean to implement Q sorts via the web, either in-person or remotely (e.g. Omerod 2017; Nost et al. 2019)

Hawthorne, T., J. Krygier, and M.-P. Kwan. 2008. Mapping ambivalence: Exploring the geographies of community change and rails-to-trails development using photo-based Q method and PPGIS. Geoforum 39 (2):1058–1078.
Nost, E., M. Robertson, and R. Lave. 2019. Q-method and the performance of subjectivity: Reflections from a survey of US stream restoration practitioners. Geoforum 105:23–31.
Ormerod, K. J. 2017. Common sense principles governing potable water recycling in the southwestern US: Examining subjectivity of water stewards using Q methodology. Geoforum 86:76–85.
Robbins, P. 2006. The politics of barstool biology: Environmental knowledge and power in greater Northern Yellowstone. Geoforum 37 (2):185–199.
Sneegas, G. 2019. Making the Case for Critical Q Methodology. The Professional Geographer:1–10.


Type Details Minutes
Panelist John Connors Boston University 8
Panelist Courtney Cooper University of Idaho 8
Panelist Marissa Matsler Cary Institute 8
Panelist Eric Nost University of Guelph 8
Panelist Kerri Ormerod University of Nevada 8
Panelist Gretchen Sneegas Texas A&M University 8

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