Conceptual development is at the core of CQ’s mandate to further understanding of health-related phenomena through research that is innovative, sensitive and intellectually rigorous. CQ fellows share interdisciplinary training in the social and health sciences, which allows them to produce theoretical and conceptual work that brings new perspectives to old problems. By theorizing research results, new concepts are created, taken for granted ideas are challenged, and health and health care practices can be re-examined; this form of intellectual innovation gives communities and practitioners new lenses to see everyday health practices and health care work differently.
By changing the way illness, well-being, care work and ethics are understood, CQ’s fellows can potentially contribute to social transformation. Through qualitative inquiry, widely experienced health issues as well as experiences and perspectives that have been marginalized by stigma and silence can be explained in depth, allowing for the transferability of results to other groups facing similar circumstances. Members of the CQ community have made considerable contributions to policy, scientific, and media understanding of dementia (selfhood and embodiment in dementia care), workplace injuries (institutional discourse of abuse about injured workers), power relations in hospital settings (nurses’ power anorexia), patients with communication disabilities (how voice is conceived in research), and many other topics.
Innovation Profile: Joan Eakin
By: Steve Durant
Over the course of her career, Dr. Joan Eakin has advanced conceptual knowledge on many topics related to health and methodology while serving as a leader of initiatives to address marginalization and over-simplification of qualitative research in the health sciences. Through her scholarship, teaching and leadership, Dr. Eakin has advocated for a deeper and wider-reaching role for critical perspectives, qualitative methodologies, and the valuable conceptual knowledges to which they give rise. Building on this experience, Dr. Eakin saw the creation of CQ as a dedicated space for innovation, reflection and teaching in advanced critical-qualitative inquiry as a crucial means of moving beyond the introductory-level methods often used in qualitative health science research.Read More
“To take a critical perspective to the methodology itself is really important, and that doesn’t happen at an introductory level. You can never get to the critical part,” says Dr. Eakin.
She explains that when qualitative research stays at the introductory level, it is often misunderstood as a matter of following procedure – diminishing its potential to develop new concepts, identify dominant assumptions and understand power relations.
“The kind of methodology that many of us espouse at CQ is not procedural. It’s not like conventional science in that the method is everything, and if you do the method right, you have a legitimate and valid scientific process that will produce truth. It’s not that there’s no method, but there are no standardized procedures, no one-to-one relationship to particular outcomes, -which means that you’re talking about things that are pretty elusive,” says Dr. Eakin.
For Dr. Eakin, teaching students how to navigate elusive territory ended up underscoring the importance of putting words to concepts that arose in her own work.
Speaking of the group of colleagues who founded CQ, Dr. Eakin explains, “we began to realize that we need formal curriculum, and a curriculum in the area of more advanced qualitative research.” At this time, Dr. Eakin developed a course for students on qualitative analysis and interpretation which continues to be an essential component of the CQ curriculum, “I particularly wanted to get into analysis, interpretation, because that isn’t in the books. It’s the sort of black-box stuff that nobody says much about, but somehow it’s meant to happen. You do it, but you don’t really know how you do it. I taught from what I did. And in doing so, I had to make it intelligible to students, so I had to make up names for things.”
Meanwhile, in research, naming is an important step toward conceptual development. “Having a term for something is exceedingly important,” says Dr. Eakin. “Calling it something is a start to conceptualization. It’s also about making a claim to something, because so many of the things that interested me actually weren’t labelled: it was about certain forces that happened.”
Among the many concepts to which Dr. Eakin has given names, one that arose from a study of injured workers stands out for its impact on policy and people’s own self-perceptions.
“Everybody talked to me about something that sounded like: ‘Nobody believes me. When you’re an injured worker, you know, they always think you’re a fraud, you just want to stay at home, put your feet up, watch television, drink beer; you don’t want to work’,” she explains. “I eventually labelled it the ‘discourse of abuse’ ”
This concept served as a focal point for further investigations about attitudes and practices toward injured workers. “It also became a centrepiece of the application of that research to the injured-worker community. I did a lot of work with unions and injured-worker groups, and they took it up, and they started to use it,” Dr. Eakin recalls. “They formed a delegation that went to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and said they wanted to eliminate the discourse of abuse at the WSIB. So it gave them the language.”
This language also enabled Dr. Eakin to help members of the injured-worker community see their own perspective in a new light. “I also found that the workers themselves participated in that discourse – much to their astonishment when I started telling them about it,” says Dr. Eakin. “They would say things like, ‘there may be people who do that, but I don’t: I’m not that kind of worker.’ And by doing that, they both bought into and reproduced that discourse themselves; they participated in the discourse that was oppressive to them.”
Meanwhile, objections to the discourse of abuse at the WSIB were bolstered by Dr. Eakin’s finding that beliefs about widespread abuse in the workers-compensation system are actually counter-productive to the system’s goal of reducing the length and extent of disability.
“Because nobody believed them, they had to perform their disability quite visibly. They had to use a cane maybe when they didn’t absolutely need it, because they had to make visible their disability. They had to perform it. And so I had a whole set of concepts around performance, which I adapted from Erving Goffman, who was a sociologist.”
To learn more about Dr. Eakin’s research and career, please visit her profile page. You can also view recent publications by Dr. Eakin below:
Joan M. Eakin, Educating Critical Qualitative Health Researchers in the Land of the Randomized Controlled Trial Qualitative Inquiry, 2016, vol 22(2)107-118
Eric Mykhalovskiy, Joan Eakin, Brenda Beagan, Natalie Beausoleil, Barbara E. Gibson, Mary Ellen Macdonald, Melanie J. Rock, Beyond bare bones: critical, theoretically engaged qualitative research in public health, Canadian Journal of PUblic Health (2018) 109:613-621