Searching for the Golden Road between Quantitative and Qualitative: Martin Barker’s Workshop (19 October 2016)

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Professor Barker in the workshop. Picture: Aino-Kaisa Koistinen.

Emeritus professor Martin Barker’s workshop, which he hosted a day before the Uses of Fantasy in Changing Media Landscape seminar, began with a question. He asked the participants to help him come to a decision whether his approach to combining qualitative and quantitative research, “Q to Q”, was a methodology, a method, or a research device. Indeed, he preferred to call the event a “Think-together-shop”.

Before the question was posed, the leader of the Uses of Fantasy project, Irma Hirsjärvi introduced Prof. Barker of Aberystwyth University and the leader of the World Hobbit Project to the approximately twenty people gathered in the University of Jyväskylä’s Seminarium building. In some sense much of the event was an introduction to Prof. Barker and his career. After a look at how Q to Q fits into the field of attempts to combine qualitative and quantitative research, he explained his motivations for setting upon the road towards his current approach. These included the wish to bring audience research into cultural studies, but also the need to test the claims of mass communication research that cultural products have negative effects on their consumers.

During the three-hour workshop, the audience had the possibility to ponder whether the latter has also influenced Prof. Barker’s choice of research topics along the years. Prof. Barker introduced a selection of his reception studies from the past 40 years. Many of these examined controversial cultural products ranging from violent, yet thought provoking comics, such as Action and 2000 AD, to films that were almost banned in the UK, like Crash (1996), and, finally, to fantasy films often criticized for being “merely escapism” such as The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies.

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Barker explained, how Crash was studied with a nine-cell structure. Picture: Katja Kontturi.

Through these projects Prof. Barker narrated the development of his research and how he honed his approach to reception studies through trial and error. He kept the audience activated through conversation points and plenty of examples that emphasized the benefits of combining quantitative and qualitative questions and the importance of their contextual honing. In the end, the fellow thinkers’ answer to the prior question was that Q to Q has elements of both a methodology and a method. No doubt, all of them were eager to hear more about it in the future, especially after its application in the near-future Game of Thrones television series reception study.    

By Jani Ylönen

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