Q Methodology as Process and Context in Interpretivism, Communication, and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Research

By Goldman, Irvin | The Psychological Record, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

Q Methodology as Process and Context in Interpretivism, Communication, and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Research


Goldman, Irvin, The Psychological Record


This paper analyzes the underlying epistemological foundations of Q methodology as a science of subjectivity. Methodological issues are interrogated in the context of the linguistic and interpretive turns in the human sciences. The sociocultural inflections of Q as process are examined and contextualized in terms of its critique of objectivism and dualism. Distinctions are also drawn between Q and other interpretive perspectives. Q methodology as a cultural science is discussed in relation to neo-psychoanalytic perspectives and its effectivity as a psychotherapeutic research framework is demonstrated through a case study.

This study will examine the assertions of Q methodology (Brown 1980; Stephenson, 1953) in terms of its critique of dualism/objectivism, its relationship to the linguistic and interpretive turns, and its relationship to contemporary psychoanalytic theory and research. One can indeed characterize the human sciences in general and psychology in particular as being in a state of extraordinary transformation (see for example, Gergen, 1985; Gergen, 1994, Sampson, 1978; Stephenson, 1977). Broad metatheoretical debates (Fiske & Shweder, 1986) are challenging traditional frameworks of thought, language, truth, and knowledge.

Stephenson (1953) the originator of Q methodology attempted to cultivate a science of subjectivity where self-reference became a locus for understanding the human condition. By blending interpretive methods with statistical-mathematical operations he articulated an alternative framework in the human sciences (Goldman, 1995). Of necessity, Stephenson scrutinized and critiqued the anomalous substructure of hypotheticodeductivism along with its ideologies of determinacy and objectivity (Stephenson, 1961). Q privileges the Peircian notion of abductory inference which valorizes indeterminacy, interpretation, and discovery. The frameworks for understanding human expressivity will therefore be interrogated in this project from the vantage points of Q methodology's central tenets such as factor theory and quantum theory (Stephenson, 1982), concourse theory (Stephenson, 1978) and abductory inference (Stephenson, 1961).

Building on Stephenson's earlier work in psychoanalytic theory and research this project will also contextualize contemporary neo-psychoanalytic frameworks and their relationship to Q methodology. Psychoanalytic theory is in the midst of a paradigm shift and hence is drawing on poststructural theories of language (Schafer, 1992), self-psychology (Kohut, 1971), quantum theory (Kohut, 1977; Scharov, 1992), and other interpretive perspectives. A psychoanalytic psychotherapy Q study will elucidate the abductive princples of Q methodology and illustrate how psychoanalytic practices such as self-representation, transference, and countertransference can be analyzed and understood.

Consciousness, Subjectivity, Self-, and Concourse Theory

Subjectivity according to Stephenson (1975) is essentially "the condition of viewing things exclusively through the medium of one's mind" (p. 100) as opposed to consciousness of one's perceived states (Stephenson, 1968). The modernist notion of "consciousness" can be traced to the Cartesian philosophy of mind, which instituted a subject/object cleavage that has become embedded in Western thought. Descartes conceived of the mind and body as separate but interacting entities. His theory located the body in space and time making it identical to all other bodies that are governed by mechanical laws. Minds, in contrast, were immaterial, private, immune from mechanical laws and governed by innate ideas, such as "unity," "infinity," and "perfection." This outlook with only minor objections became the "official theory" (Ryle, 1949) of mind in Western thought from the Renaissance onward.

Within this Cartesian framework, minds dwell in a world that differs from the physical world, and therefore they require a set of methodological tools through which their contents can be made known, analogous to the ways in which the contents of the physical world are extricated. …

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