Postcard from the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry: 2018

This past week marks the 14th International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry at the University of Urbana-Champaign. This year’s congress was just as busy as ever. The main conference kicked off on the evening of Thursday 17 May, with two keynote speakers — Bronwyn Davies and Karen Staller — providing thought-provoking addresses responding to the conference theme of “Qualitative inquiry in troubled times.” I look forward to reading these addresses when they are published.

Even before the keynote addresses, many delegates had already attended activities organized by specific groups on Wednesday and Thursday. These included a Day in Spanish and Portuguese, an arts-based research pre-conference symposium, workshops and paper sessions on autoethnography, and meetings of the Indigenous Inquiries circle, Global qualitative health research group, the coalition for critical qualitative inquiry, the critical and post-structural psychology special interest group, and members of the social work group. On Thursday, there was a selection of 28 pre-conference workshops on a wide variety of topics. In short – something for everyone is to be found at the ICQI.

I attended a variety of sessions, taking in autoethnography, discussions of humanism and post-humanism, and work that applies new materialist approaches. As always, I was struck by the variety of work that exists under the “Big Tent” of qualitative inquiry. I listened to musical performances and readers’ theater as ways to represent autoethnographic work; viewed the incorporation of powerful imagery – both metaphoric and visual into presentations; and was engaged by speakers who used more typical ways to represent academic work (i.e., papers and powerpoints). I learned about references to scholarly work that I want to read, as well as ideas that helped me think through issues that I’ve encountered in my own work. Certainly, this year’s congress represented a feast of ideas to think with.

On Saturday evening, I was honored to present the awards for the Outstanding Qualitative Book Award on behalf of the Qualitative Book Award committee (I’m grateful to have worked with Ron Pelias and Pat Sikes on this committee). This year, we reviewed 27 nominations, and were very impressed with the quality of the nominations.

Honorable mention was awarded to:

de Rond, M. (2017). Doctors at war: Life and death in a field hospital. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

This book provides a powerful account of the author’s time spent in a tour of a field hospital in Afghanistan. Mark De Rond is a Professor of Organisational Ethnography at Cambridge and he was asked by a high ranking medical officer who had read another book of his to write about the work of a trauma surgical team during war. Not surprisingly there was concern about what he wrote which resulted in discussions in Whitehall, and publication came after reassurance from legal experts. De Rond’s book provides a first-hand account of the highs and lows experienced by those working in emergency rooms as they make life and death decisions; contrasting this with the periods of boredom as surgical teams wait for whatever comes next.

Honorable mention was awarded to:

Ellingson, L. L. (2017). Embodiment in qualitative research. New York & London: Routledge.

Research is typically seen as involving the mind. In this book, Laura Ellingson begins her book by reminding readers that “researchers begin with the body” (p. 1). While synthesizing interdisciplinary theories of embodiment and drawing on poststructuralist, posthumanist, and feminist perspectives, Ellingson is “unapologetically eclectic”, with the goal of providing “pragmatic inroads for those [who] would like to engage in more delivery of embodiment of their qualitative research processes” (p. 3).

Left: Kathy Roulston & Laura Ellingson.

The winner of the 2018 Qualitative Book Award went to:

Anderson, P. (2017). Autobiography of a disease. New York & London: Routledge.

This book uses an experimental format to depict the journey of living through a life-threatening illness in US hospitals and clinics. The narrative draws on archival study of the origins of microbiology, as well as interviews with medical professionals, patients and caregivers, review of medical files, and examination of medical, popular and media literature about drug-resistant strains of bacteria. Blending the genres of ethnography, memoir, historiography, and storytelling, author Patrick Anderson involves readers in a highly engaging and evocative tale of what the author describes as “not a patient’s monologue or biography, but a profoundly social, richly durational, and multiply perspectival encounter” (p. ix).

The 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award in Qualitative Inquiry

Dr. Kathy Charmaz, author of numerous books, articles and chapters that demonstrate and discuss the application of grounded theory, was the recipient of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Qualitative Inquiry (see below). I have used many of Dr. Charmaz’s text in teaching qualitative inquiry. If you are not familiar with her work, be sure to look out for the upcoming 2nd edition of the Handbook of Grounded Theory that Dr. Charmaz is working on (with Antony Bryant).


Next year’s congress is scheduled at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign for May 15-18, 2019. The theme is “Qualitative Inquiry and the politics of resistance.” Keynote speakers scheduled are Elizabeth St. Pierre and Aitor Gomez. I look forward to attending ICQI next year. What about you?

Kathy Roulston

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