(Re)using Qualitative Data?

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Recent interest by social scientists in the questions posed by reusing qualitative data has been prompted by two related events. The first is the establishment of the Qualitative Data Archival Resource Centre (QUALIDATA, and, since 2003, ESDS Qualidata) at the University of Essex in 1994. The second is the publication of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Datasets Policy (1996) which asks that those in receipt of ESRC grants offer copies of their data for deposit to QUALIDATA. This perceived injunction to archive data has been met with resistance by recalcitrant researchers who are wary of the implications of depositing data, and the possibilities of reusing data. The debate risks becoming polarised between those advocating the archiving and reuse of qualitative data, and those more sceptical of these possibilities. This paper aims to open up this debate and to seek a more fruitful path between these positions. I begin by calling into question the supposed ‘newness’ of reusing qualitative data, through turning to examine some of the assumptions embedded in the key terms and premises of the debate thus far, including the reliance on distinctions between primary and secondary data and primary and secondary analysis. I examine some common tropes in accounts of reusing data: comparisons with secondary analysis of quantitative data; efforts to distinguish between reusing qualitative data in a sociological context and other disciplinary and methodological traditions; and reliance on particular interpretations of key principles of qualitative research, context and reflexivity, in establishing the challenges of the reusing of qualitative data. I suggest that reuse may be more productively understood as a process of recontextualising data, and that attending to the reflexive production of data in the contemporary research project may offer more hopeful possibilities for reuse. I conclude by offering some reflections on why discussions of reusing qualitative data appear to have become so fraught.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
JournalSociological Research Online
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 30 May 2007


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