Leeming, Dawn and Boyle, Mary (2013) Exploring paralysis in the face of shame: An example of pluralism in qualitative analysis. In: Annual conference of Qualitative Methods in Psychology Section of British Psychological Society, 4-6 September, Huddersfield. (Unpublished)

This paper discusses the potential value of pluralistic approaches to qualitative analysis, illustrated by data from a project on managing experiences of shame.
Although the norm is for research methods textbooks to present Qualitative Psychology as a collection of distinct methodologies with differing epistemological positions, many researchers are now in fact exploring bridges between varied qualitative perspectives and examining how combined methodological approaches might offer multi-layered, multi-perspective analyses with a greater range of resources for engaging with the complexity of participants’ experiences. This move against ‘methodolatry’ has not been without its critics though. There is debate as to whether we should be wary of epistemological incoherence or celebrate both the creative possibilities arising from epistemological tensions and the way in which multiple analytic starting points can help to challenge researchers’ pre-suppositions.
In order to consider some of these debates, we discuss a project which employed written narratives and an open-ended questionnaire to explore the management and repair of a range of experiences of shame. Two forms of analysis were used. Firstly a thematic analysis with a contextual constructionist epistemology enabled the identification and exploration of themes within the participants’ experiences. Secondly, using a Foucauldian Discourse Analysis, we identified varying discursive constructions of shame and examined the implications of these for managing and repairing shame.
Rather than providing an overview of both analyses, the paper focuses on an account by one of the participants (a young woman) of shame following sexual coercion, in order to explore how the addition of the discursive analysis enabled a fuller understanding of her experience of one of the overarching themes from the thematic analysis - ‘Being disabled by shame’. Previous literature on shame has made sense of experiences of feeling disabled or paralysed by shame with reference to other aspects of the phenomenology of shame such as a sense of submissive powerlessness or the desire to hide or destroy a fundamentally flawed self. However, the present analysis explores the way in which the participant also became mute and unable to act in the face of the contradictory constructions of shame available to her. These positioned her ambiguously as both unfairly shamed and yet also shameful and with limited rights to define the situation, hence silencing her and leaving her without a clear basis for resisting a humiliating attack.
Reflecting on our use of a dual analysis, we note that whilst the thematic analysis was useful for identifying important aspects of the subjective experience of managing shame shared by many of the participants, the discursive analysis drew useful attention to the often contradictory and ambivalent nature of difficult emotional experiences and the way in which these can be embedded within shifting social meanings and power relations. Finally we suggest briefly some benefits to conducting two separate analyses of the data, rather than one ‘blended’ analysis, but note the challenges of bringing together epistemologically disparate interpretations into a coherent whole.

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