Outstanding Book Awards: ICQI 2019

At this year’s International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry, it was my great honor to present the outstanding book awards. This year, my colleagues Pat Sikes and Ron Pelias and I reviewed 24 nominations for the book award. This was an exceedingly tough competition, as we had so many excellent books to consider.

Honorable mentions were awarded to:

Bhatia, S. (2018). Decolonizing psychology: Globalization, social justice, and Indian youth identities. New York: Oxford University Press.

Sunil Bhatia’s book, Decolonizing psychology: Globalization, social justice and Indian youth identities reports on his examination of the stories of urban youth in Pune, which is the second largest city in the state of Maharashtra, western India. Using narrative methods, participant observation and analysis of material culture, Bhatia examines the stories of youth from three different classes, elite and upper-class youth, middle and working-class youth including call center workers, and young men and women who live in “basti”, or “settlements”. This study explores multiple questions, including “why 356 million Indian youth, who make up the world’s largest youth population, remain so utterly invisible in the discipline of psychology?” (p. xx). Bhatia offers a “critical voice to the current scholarship that has made calls to move beyond Eurocentric bias of American psychology” (p. xxii) through his deep exploration of how the forces of neoliberalism and globalization both silence and shape young people’s understandings of self and identity. In Bhatia’s words, the project of creating new cultural psychologies is a “constructive and positive project that aims to study interconnected histories, asymmetrical cultural flows, and intersecting cultural stories” (p. xxv). Dr. Bhatia’s book realizes the potential of critical qualitative research for social justice and prompts readers to think deeply about what transnational critical psychology might look like.

Gullion, J. S. (2018). Diffractive ethnography: Social sciences and the ontological turn. New York & London: Routledge.

Jessia Smartt Gullion’s book, Diffractive ethnography: Social sciences and the ontological turn, engages with theoretical perspectives that change how we think about humans’ relationships with the natural world. Writing from the field of environmental and medical sociology, Smartt Gullion looks across disciplines to discuss methodological contradictions in social science inquiry and what research might look like in the ontological turn — when the human is decentered, and the agencies of matter are re-evaluated (p. 2).  The book is not a “how-to” manual and does not provide instructions. Rather, it responds to the question of how we might do research differently — in ways that “engage with complex systems and entanglements in an ethical manner”; that are “beyond the pedestrian”; to conduct studies that are “philosophically thick” (p. 3). In exploring the idea of diffractive ethnography, Smartt Gullion draws on a contemporary scholarship to “plug the machine of the ontological turn with that of ethnography” (p. 7).  She asserts, “if we flatten out onotology and recognize the quantum entanglements between/among ourselves and other entities, we should also be able to make the connection that harm to any entity reverberates through assemblages harming (in often unpredictable ways) other entities” (p. 158). This book synthesizes contemporary theory in a rich and accessible manner while encouraging researchers to take on the numerous challenges and “volatile problems” (p. 160) that characterize the era in which we live.

The co-winners of the 2019 Qualitative Book Award went to:

Denzin, N. (2018). Performance autoethnography: Critical pedagogy and the politics of culture. (2nd ed.). London & New York. Routledge.

Norman Denzin’s book, Performance autoethnography: Critical pedagogy and the politics of culture, represents a manifesto for performance autoethnography. The book epitomizes a profound contribution to critical work that addresses issues relating to democracy and racism in what he calls “post-postmodern America, life, narrative and melodrama under the auspices of late neo-liberal capitalism” (p. vii). In this broad-ranging and provocative book, Denzin discusses the uneasy alliance among ethnography, performance, and theatre, drawing the work of Augusto Boal, Paulo Freire, Erving Goffman, Dwight Conquergood, Richard Schechner, and Johny Saldaña into dialogue. Expanding on earlier work, Denzin discusses how the cinematic society structures the interview society and vice versa (p. 147). Finally, Denzin offers a critical and ethical framework for a “performative politics that leads the way to radical social change” (p. 217). Through stories, scripts and essays, Denzin provides powerful arguments for a critical performative, cultural politics.

Ellis, Carolyn. (2018). Final Negotiations: A Story of Love, Loss, and Chronic Illness. (Revised & expanded ed.). Philadelphia, Rome & Tokyo: Temple University Press.

Writing in 1997, Patricia Clough commented on Carolyn Ellis’ book Final negotiations: A story of love, loss, and chronic illness, which was first published in 1995: “it is precisely because of its unconscious link to television that the autoethnographic writing of Final Negotiations is an important early experiment in writing the social in the aftermath of the postmodern critique of the human sciences” (p. 108). Some 23 years later, Ellis has revised and expanded on the first edition of her book, which recounts her love affair, caretaking through chronic illness, and eventual loss of her partner, Gene Weinstein to emphysema. In this deeply engaging book, Ellis reflects on her earlier experiences, and revisions her understandings as a young woman living through the dying and death of her partner, and the nine years in which she reflected and wrote about this experience. This revision reflects on questions such as what was learned, how people cope with illness, grief, and loss, and in Ellis’ words: offers “companionship and comfort to readers who are dealing with loss in their own lives” (p. xviii). Given that illness, grief and loss are universal life experiences, this book will both appeal to new audiences, in addition to provoking fresh questions about how personal stories are told and re-told.

Kathy Roulston

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