Timescapes is an ESRC-funded resource to collect, archive and disseminate qualitative longitudinal data which explores how personal and family relationships develop and change over time. Its focus is on relationships with significant others: parents, grandparents, siblings, children, partners, friends and lovers, using the method of ‘walking alongside’ people to document their changing relationships.
On Wednesday Bren Neale, director of Timescapes, gave an excellent talk on ‘Thinking Qualitatively through Time’. Bren talked about temporal understandings of the life course. The life-course may be used as an imaginative framework for understanding the relationship between biography, generation and history. She identified a number of key concepts that included:
- biographical time – how people make journeys through their life, what is the experience like. She argues that the nature of the journey is as important of the destination with turning points, critical moment or epiphanies often being identified.
- generational time sees individuals as part of a generational convoy and allows a focus on linked lives and an intergenerational research design
- historical time, takes longer to grasp and is often access by oral life history work, or documentary research
Bren emphasised the Importance of reflection and working through causality in a backwards direction. Times lines allow one to go backwards and also to predict forwards.
Qualitative longitudinal work could be seen as ‘walking alongside people’, either over a long time (eg a number of years) or over a much shorter time period (eg a period in hospital). Research designs can combine prospective and retrospective perspectives, and also qualitative and quantitative elements.
However, analysis is complex and time consuming; in many ways much harder than the data collection. Tools for analysis include: Framework (a software package developed by NatCen), life history charts and the use of timelines.
Bren also talked about the ethical issues that may be rather greater with longitudinal qualitative data than with cross-sectional qualitative data.
Overheads from Bren’s talk are at here.
Libby Bishop, Timescapes and UK Data Archive, followed up with an excellent talk on reusing qualitative data. Libby outlined the Timescapes seven empirical projects, collected over 10 years with over 400 participants, that are currently archived and available for re-use. She provided a number of examples of how qualitative data can be used in way that are quite different to the purposes for which they were collected. Analysis is so hard that reusing some existing data gives you more time for analysis issues such as causal mechanisms, methods developments, theory development. It is often possible to use ‘blended strategies’ which use some of your own data alongside some archived data, for example, comparing a subsample of your data with a subsample of archived data. Timescapes datasets have some common information to allow comparisons across the different studies. Overheads from Libby’s talk are at the same web-site, above.
Angela Dale, November 18th, 2010
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