Researching Intimacy and Sexuality – a Guest Lecture by Jacqui Gabb

On 22nd March, Sociologist Professor Jacqui Gabb, from the Open University, delivered a guest lecture to our level 5 Sociology and Criminology students about qualitative research methods and researching sexualities and intimacy.

Dr Em Temple-Malt, Post Graduate Course Leader in Sociology and Criminology organised the lecture for the students:

During the lecture [Jacqui] captivated us with insightful stories drawn from three of her research studies: ‘Perverting Motherhood?’, ‘Behind Closed Doors’ and ‘Enduring Love?

Lessons were learned about thinking carefully through our recruitment practices. The way we write ourselves and who we are looking for into our research project advertisements might unintentionally exclude and silence certain people from coming forward to tell their family stories, because they don’t feel they quite fit what we are looking for in a research participant.

I am a massive fan of creative research methods and using elicitation tools and techniques in my own qualitative research projects. Thus, I personally loved hearing the motivations behind weaving different methodological techniques together in order to bring about multi-sensory and more holistic stories which might not otherwise emerge if only one research method technique was used.

I concurred with Jacqui’s conclusion that as researchers, we need to be braver and push ourselves to use the data that emerges when we embed elicitation techniques into conventional interview methods.

“It was great to meet another researcher and get an insight into adaptations of research methods we have already been taught. it emphasised that research is not a one size fits all type of thing, and that sometimes you need to adapt methods and yourself to achieve greater results” – Nat Campbell, BA (Hons) Sociology.

For many of us, and I am guilty of this too, the well-trodden path of analysing certain forms of data is all too easy to replicate. We insert materials into our interviews to encourage a participant to tell more detailed, richer stories (e.g. time line, weekly-diary, task-grid, photos, concentric circles, collage or sketch etc) and then only analyse the narrative told within the interview transcript, for example, rather than analysing the work that the participant does with this additional elicitation material. This point has certainly inspired me to be braver in future work I do with elicitation techniques.

“Personal is Political”

She also reminded us about the capacity of our research to be political and to make a difference. The personal is indeed political and where possible, it is crucial to take up those opportunities to tell decision makers and stake holders about the lives of those who we are researching.

A memorable quote: “What does it cost to keep a relationship together? The cost of a cup of tea”

While the lecture was brilliant, I would imagine that the biggest highlight for the student audience was the workshop activities. Jacqui provided small examples of data from the Enduring Love study and, in small groups, the audience were invited to drill down and analyse key aspects of the data. Engaging in such tasks meant students were left with an appreciation of the extraordinary efforts and ‘relationship work’ that some research participants were undertaking, in order to make quite difficult, intimate relationships work.

“What does it cost to keep a relationship together? The cost of a cup of tea”

The final part of the workshop invited students to have a go at making their own emotion maps with colourful emoticon stickers.

“Having Jacqui speak to us not only gave us the opportunity to ask any questions about her research, but also gave me more ideas on how to use multiple data collection techniques in my own research.” – Jack Whalley, BA (Hons) Sociology, Criminology and Deviance

They then had the opportunity to feedback to Jacqui how they might use this particular approach within their own dissertation research projects.

Using emotion maps in research

I have followed Jacqui’s research with a keen and passionate interest since I started my academic studies in 2006. One of the reasons her work is so compelling and satisfying is the equal amount of attention she gives to the research methods used to elicit the ‘messy’ stories of relational, emotional practices of queer families and relationships.

Her approach to qualitative research methods is inspirational – and I’ve attempted to instill this passion for research methods into my teaching of my undergraduate students. I won’t lie, this is one of the proudest moments in my career to date. I am immensely proud of my undergraduate students and the research projects that they are pursuing, and I got to introduce my fabulous level 5 students to Professor Jacqui Gabb!