By Kerry Chamberlain
Some years ago, Jack S. Hatcher* published a (rather unusual) article in Qualitative Research in Psychology (Hatcher, 2011). Who was this person, and how did this come about?
The story starts a few years beforehand. One day I realised that I was working with a considerable number of very smart post-grad thesis students and post-doc researchers on a wide range of qualitative projects. We were all keen to improve our understanding of qualitative research, so we formed a reading group, the Albany Discourse and Narrative Group (ADaNG). We met every two to three weeks, in the late afternoon. Members proposed articles which we read, discussed and debated, and we all became more sophisticated about critical theory, qualitative methodology, and lots of other stuff.
After 18 months or so we were starting to get bored with the format, and I proposed that we should do something other than just talk, like do some actual research with the (faint) hope of publishing it as an article. Only about two-thirds of the group were keen; a few members were moving on, and some were in the final stage of thesis wrap-up and submission. The keen ones started to meet and plan. We decided we should collect and analyse data from ourselves, using memory work methodology, since this was new to us (although we had read Stephenson and Kippax, 2008). We chose to explore the varieties and complexities of the relationship between ourselves as researchers and our research participants. We recalled and wrote memories using memory work guidelines, recorded all our meetings, and started some analysis. But we quickly realised we were straying quite a long way from memory work methodology.
Undeterred, we continued to struggle to make sense of our data, with our discussions roaming around the nature of researcher-participant relationships and the implications this had for our own research practice. Worse, we were completely failing to draw together anything that might lead to a viable, publishable article. Out of the blue, one of our members proposed that we should write a play! This was initially greeted with horror until we began to examine the benefits. A play, as a form of academic (re)presentation, would allow us to do things you cannot do and say things you cannot say in a regular academic paper – lots of vernacular talk, a good dose of humour and sarcasm, no academic references in the text (the academic work of the article was all deliberately placed in footnotes), and so on.
So we started to write an article that would be a play, or rather, a play that would be an article. We had an agreement that all our meetings and activities had to be conducted outside of ‘normal’ work hours, so they would not steal time from more important projects. Initially, we met fortnightly on a weekday, starting at 4.00pm and working until 9.00pm with a break for a shared take-away dinner. In the later stages, desperate to get this finished, we met at my house at the weekends, and worked for a whole day with a break for lunch. By now we were all very familiar with our characters and their foibles.
But were having trouble finding a way to get some of our key points across (at least we had some key points by then!), which we solved by creating a new character, a person that floated on stage behind the other characters, unseen by them but very visible to the audience, a person who could make important asides (a meta-voice). We called this character Jack S. Hatcher, an anagram of almost all our initials. Soon after, we decided to make him the author of the paper, which reinforced his role and status in the play (and allowed him to make comment in the footnotes as well).
After 18 months we finally had an article, which we submitted it to QRiP. It went out for review, and we received two largely positive reviews. We were asked for a revision; the reviewers wanted more humour and felt that there were too many characters! We removed a character, and revised the play so nothing important spoken by that character was lost (not a simple task). We added a little more humour. We sent it back and it was accepted. But there was a snag. The publishers were not happy to publish an article under an alias. The author, Jack S. Hatcher, was in danger of disappearing. In the end, they agreed to a footnote identifying the real authors (and curiously these are the ones that come up in a Google Scholar search).
So Jack is now unmasked, but lives on*.
And the point of all this? It serves as an example to take chances, to seize opportunities, when they arise. It serves as an example to make opportunities wherever you are. It also provides an example of how publication formats can be challenged and subverted. This project allowed us to achieve a publication, working outside normal hours, that would not have arisen had everyone not joined in and contributed. And we all learned a lot, about arts-based research, about playwriting, about journal publication processes, and about working in teams, so it also involved a lot of professional development. It was immensely challenging (none of us had written a play before), but we all had immense fun doing it, perhaps the most important message of all.
About the Authors
Kerry Chamberlain is Professor Emeritus at Massey University in Auckland, New Zealand. The Jack S. Hatcher article stimulated his interest in arts-based and creative forms of research. He has long been a champion of brief presentations. He brought pecha kucha and 5-minute challenge presentations to ISCHP conferences, starting at the 2011 Conference in Adelaide, Australia, and he coordinated the Snapshots symposia (3-5 minute arts-based presentations) at the 2019 and 2021 ISCHP Conferences. In 2018, he co-edited a special issue of Qualitative Research in Psychology on arts-based research with colleagues Kathryn McGuigan, David Anstiss, and Kayla Marshall. This special issue accepted 40 submissions, with 26 published as the special issue (and one of these contained 16 55-word flash fiction pieces), and the remaining 14 published in the journal over the following two years. Currently he is coordinating a special issue with Cassandra Phoenix on arts-based methods for the journal Methods in Psychology.
*Jack S. Hatcher: Thanks for giving me the last word. I was interested in how these researchers grappled with the problems of reflexivity, an issue that continues to trouble psychology researchers. Just read the article by Lisa Lazard and Jean McAvoy in QRiP to see the debate continuing. And collective reflexivity is getting some mileage as well. I had a soft spot for these researchers (although of course they didn’t know it) so I have kept track of them. Jan moved to a university in the UK, Hugo is still in the same role, now promoted to Associate Professor. Ruth returned to her university in Canada, and is now a Professor there, and has actually published some memory work research. Dylan went off to Australia and completed a post-doc (on medical marijuana) and then dropped out of academia to become an artist. Ariel finally completed her PhD and went to work in a community organisation for homeless people. Ah, memories!
Hatcher, J. S. [Alias for Leggatt-Cook, C., Sheridan, J., Madden, H., Cain, T., Munro, R., Tse, S. C., Jeon, H., & Chamberlain, K.] (2011). Collective reflexivity: Researchers in play: A play in one act. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 8(3), 223-246.
Lazard, L., & McAvoy, J. (2020). Doing reflexivity in psychological research: What’s the point? What’s the practice? Qualitative research in psychology, 17(2), 159-177.
Stephenson, N. & Kippax, S. (2008), Memory work. In C. Willig & W. Stainton Rogers (Eds.), Sage handbook of qualitative research in psychology (pp. 127–46). Sage.