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Conference Round-up: European Congress of Qualitative Inquiry, 6-9 February, 2018, KU Leuven, Belgium

28 February 2018 - BY Silvana di Gregorio

This is the second conference of the European Congress of Qualitative Inquiry. This conference grew from the European Network Qualitative Inquiry (https://kuleuvencongres.be/enqi/articles) through the leadership of Karin Hannes as conference chair. This conference series is a sister event of the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry which began in 2005.  However, it has attracted speakers from not only Europe but worldwide. The conference aims not only to be a place for exchanging ideas and research but as a place for change as well.


This year's conference theme was – Nomadic Inquiry. Qualitative researchers are always pushing boundaries and the ECQI keynote presentations reflected trends in questioning the ontological and epistemological basis for conducting qualitative inquiry. Keynotes included Rosi Braidotti, Philosopher and Distinguished University Professor at Utrecht University and Ali Madanipour, Professor of Urban Design, Newcastle University. Professor Elizabeth de Freitas of Manchester Metropolitan University was unable to deliver her keynote due to illness but provided a link to her keynote paper – Method as a Problem - https://kuleuvencongres.be/ECQI2018/de-freitas-ecqi-presentation-feb4-18.pdf  The main message is that we are in the middle of a methodological crisis due to the deluge of data not only from free-floating social data whenever we use online banking, shopping, mobile phones etc but also from bio-sensors which open up a "more than human milieu" or what Braidotti describes as our "post-human" historical moment. For de Freitas "what makes this data deluge unique is the synchronizing of data gathering and analytics". The call is to find better ways to research this "more than human society".

Art-based and Design-based research

I am always on the lookout for new trends in conducting qualitative research and I was not disappointed in the number of presentations where researchers teamed up with artists or designers on projects. I attended a pre-conference workshop on visual analysis in arts-based research run by Richard Siegesmund (Northern Illinois University) and Sara Coemans (KU Leuven). One of the projects they highlighted was a collaboration of qualitative researchers with the Fine Arts department at SLAC – the Arts conservatory in Leuven, Belgium. The project was on a study of a Leuven neighborhood which has been the object of regeneration. Qualitative researchers had already worked with residents in the area about their perceptions of the change going on and the artists were asked to create artworks based on their sensory experiences of the neighborhood. One artist created a short art video based on the report of the project by Sara Coemans. In the workshop, we were asked to reflect on this video using the vocabulary of fine art training – that is, the elements of art: line, shape, form, color, texture, space; and the principles of design:  balance, movement, rhythm contrast, pattern unity. I was paired with an artist and professor of art – who felt it was a bit Art 101 for her but we had an interesting conversation on interpreting the video. It was an engaging exercise in exploring interpretation from a ‘right-side of the brain' perspective. There were several other papers during the conference that explored alternative ways of presenting data – including collages and even one person had written up her doctoral dissertation as a graphic comic book. One key point about arts-based research is that it can reach a much wider audience than an academic monograph – in particular, community members and policymakers.
Many qualitative researchers are also working with designers. Liesbeth Huybrechts (Faculty of Architecture, UHasselt) presented a paper on the urban design of an unused railway track in the industrial city of Genk. The city wanted to transform it into a bicycle track but as the space was used by poor residents for a variety of purposes including subsistence farming, the designers teamed with qualitative researchers to use these people to co-design the space. The method involved a combination of collecting stories from residents, bringing people together, mapping of the space, listing core skills of the residents, to designing a prototype plan of developing market stalls along the proposed bicycle track. Planning was shared with the community and qualitative data and analysis was part of the plan.

Research using NVivo

I am also always searching out examples of research using NVivo. I found many at this conference including a meta-synthesis of literature of the transition out of foster care – using EndNote and NVivo (Ole Steen Kristensen, Aarhus University); use of retrospective timelines as a data collection and analysis technique on the career transitions of divorced parents (Dries Van Gasse, University of Antwerp); psychotherapy case study research (John William Hills, University of Leeds); and an autoethnography on finding out the ‘truth' about e-cigarettes (Marisa de Andrade, University of Edinburgh) amongst others. We hope to write up some methodological case studies from these examples to share with you.

Next conference

I look forward to the next conference which will be hosted by the Centre for Creative-Relational Inquiry at the University of Edinburgh, 13-15 February 2019. The theme is "Qualitative Inquiry as Activism".