Margins of uncertainty: a qualitative study of marginality in multiple dimensions of experience

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Jones, Lee Spark
Department of Psychology
thesis / dissertation description
This thesis explores marginality from the twin perspectives of theory and lived experience. Theoretical discussion takes an interdisciplinary approach to the exploration of marginality as a sociocultural and liminal phenomenon. It focuses on two main concepts: margin as periphery and margin as threshold. A three-phase study explores how these theoretical concepts of marginality manifest in everyday life worlds. It responds to recent critiques of unidimensional approaches to cultural diversity in therapeutic psychology (Weinrach & Thomas, 1996), as well as the call to conduct diversity research from perspectives that recognize the social construction of knowledge (Pedersen, 1997). The purpose of the study is to explore how marginality is perceived, experienced and understood in the lived experience of culturally diverse psychotherapists and non-therapists. It investigates marginal and mainstream experience across multiple areas of cultural influence (Hays, 1996a), and 'in between-ness' in intrapersonal experience and intercultural interaction. Framed from an interpretive perspective influenced by postmodernism (Kvale, 1996), critical hermeneutics and phenomenology (Hagan, 1986) and guided by a pragmatic metanarrative (Hoshmand, 1994), the three-phase study adopts a qualitative approach to inquiry. It was conducted in Portland, Oregon, U.S.A. Using purposive intensive sampling, Phase I addresses the experience of nine residents of an inner-city neighbourhood. Phase II addresses the experience of nine psychotherapists. In both phases, in-depth interviewing is the primary data generation strategy. This is supplemented in Phase II by two types of researcher-generated document: guided journal entries and an original instrument, a 'web-wheel' diagram. A concomitant focus of the study is the development of this diagram as innovative research tool. Phase III, focuses on praxis and empowerment. It explores effects of participation in the study, and solicits feedback on research strategies and outcomes. Interpretive analysis is guided by Kvale's (1996) 'ad hoc' approach to theory-driven and data-driven thematic analysis, and is assisted by QSR NUD*IST 4.0 and Nvivo 1.1 software. Outcomes include the identification of eight thematic threads: complexity of sociocultural status and identification, hardship, multiple dimensions of power, awareness, margin as teacher, process, margin as limen, and uncertainty. 'Not knowing' is found to be a salient aspect of intercultural interaction. Outcomes point to the pitfalls of over-generalizing the experience of marginal or mainstream groups; and the need for multidimensional approaches to diversity which reflect the complexity, ambiguity and uniqueness of lived experience. Implications for various fields of inquiry are discussed, with particular reference to the training of culturally sensitive psychotherapeutic practitioners, and methodological developments in qualitative research.