Pluralistic Qualitative Methods for Male Eating Disorders

My new project has a novel twist on studying male eating disorders using qualitative analysis. Often in qualitative research, a researcher will take a set of data from something like interviews (or in my case, written stories). This data will then be subjected to an analytical approach that works idiographically with people’s experiences in order to reveal what potential patterns and themes emerge when we talk to ‘sufferers’.

The approaches available to a qualitative researcher are numerous and the decision of which to apply to the data emanates from what will likely yield new understanding about experience. This, in turn, is informed by what is being investigated, i.e. what question is being asked.

There’s been so little qualitative research, however, that thus far, male experience has been under-scrutinised and few qualitative approaches have actually been applied to men. In a later post I’ll provide a synopsis of which analyses have bene done on male experience.

More than one analytical approach…

Pluralistic research can sometimes be wrongly confused with a mixed-methods study design. The key here is not about combining quantitative and qualitative approaches within one project. Rather, the ‘plural’ aspect comes from two factors. Either, the same data are exposed to multiple analysts, often with different perspectives. Or, the same data are trated to different analytical paradigms within the qualitative approach.

This allows the data to be investigated through multiple, differing lenses. In my case, I will take the same set of written accounts of male eating disorders and analyse them using different methods. Pluralistic research has at its heart a belief that findings from rich qualitative data can be greatly enhanced if the analyst is not strait-jacketed by being limited to a single method of interpreting the data.

Instead, a single broad question can be addressed from a mulitiplicity of angles or, indeed, multiple questions can feasibly be answered using the same set of data.

Pluralistic Research on Disordered Eating

From narrative analysis to discourse analysis, from phenomenological analysis to dialogical analysis, there are many variants of interpretive frameworks that I can draw on in order to further our understanding of male eating disorders. I have no idea as I write of which method combinations will represent the completed project. I just know that I am initially beginning with some narrative analyses. At the present time, I am doing a lot of reading about pluralistic work. I’ve found the information on N-PQR’s Blog useful and illuminating. I’d also recommend reading Frost et al. (2010) as it establishes the key tenets for anyone wanting to work pluralistically.

What I am hoping to achieve through the use of pluralistic research is the exposition of a multiplicity of experiences shared by men that can be interpreted in the richest, fullest way possible. This is so that clinicians and practitioners can take something away from my research that they can think about when it comes to working with men who present with eating disorders.

I’ll update here, offering edited snippets from my audit-trail (Jasper 2005) work as i progress the analysis of the stories I have access to.


Frost, N., Nolas, S. M., Brooks-Gordon, B., Esin, C., Holt, A., Mehdizadeh, L., & Shinebourne, P. (2010). Pluralism in qualitative research: The impact of different researchers and qualitative approaches on the analysis of qualitative data. Qualitative research, 10 (4), 441-460.

Jasper, M. A. (2005). Using reflective writing within research. Journal of research in nursing, 10 (3), 247-260.