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The Oxford Handbook of Qualitative Research with Patricia Leavy, Ph.D.

The Oxford Handbook of Qualitative Research with Patricia Leavy, Ph.D.
Photo contributed by Patricia Leavy, Ph.D.

Who is the editor?

Patricia Leavy, PhD is an internationally known author (formerly Associate Professor of Sociology, Founding Director of Gender Studies and Chairperson of Sociology & Criminology at Stonehill College). She has published a dozen non-fiction books including the best-seller Method Meets Art: Arts-Based Research Practice, and Essentials of Transdisciplinary Research: Using Problem-Centered Methodologies and Fiction as Research Practice. She has also published two novels, the award-nominated American Circumstance and Sense Publisher’s top-selling title, Low-Fat Love. She is the editor for four book series with Oxford University Press and Sense Publishers. Frequently called on by the media, she has appeared on national television, radio, is regularly quoted by the news media, publishes op-eds and is a blogger for The Huffington Post. She frequently makes presentations and keynote addresses at universities as well as national and international conferences. The New England Sociological Association named her the “2010 New England Sociologist of the Year” and The American Creativity Association is awarding her a prestigious 2014 Special Achievement Award. She has recently been nominated for a Lifetime Achievement Award by the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry.

What is your book about?

There are a few ways that researchers can conduct their research, and I mean researchers in many different fields, social sciences like sociology and psychology, health, education and so on. Qualitative research is one large category for how researchers can approach their work. Qualitative research tends to value people’s subjective experiences and how we develop meaning in our lives and culture. So researchers who use qualitative methods do things like interview people, observe people in their natural settings, investigate cultural documents or media to unpack their meanings and so forth. The Oxford Handbook of Qualitative Research is a huge collection of 34 chapters by leading and emerging qualitative researchers with different specializations. In total the book is about 750 pages and I think of it as an all-you-need-to-know about qualitative research from what it is, to how and when to do it. The look at the history of the field, where it is now, and they offer a prospective or future-oriented view. It’s a one-stop text for qualitative researchers, both novices and those who are experienced. While it was written with social science students and researchers in mind, it may also be of value to researchers working in nonprofits, community based organizations, business/management and health care.

How did this project come to be?

This project was six years in the making. Really I usually say it was six years and a career in the making [laughs] because it was just about exactly six years from the day I first discussed the project with an editor at Oxford to when we released the handbook, but it was also the culmination of my work for many years prior. I was at a conference in New York promoting a book and I ended up having lunch with my then editor at Oxford University Press, Lori. At that lunch Lori told me about Oxford’s new handbook line and the ground-breaking electronic library of psychology Oxford was building. I was extremely impressed. Oxford was building something special and of course I wanted to be a part of it. There was some talk about the possibility of a qualitative research handbook, which is one of my main areas. But we were also focused on a new book series called Understanding Qualitative Research which I wanted to write a book for. Over the next year or so I came to an agreement with Oxford to not only write a book in that series but also become series editor for it. We continued to talk from time to time about the possibility of a handbook as well. I began sketching out ideas for a potential table of contents which is critical in a project of this kind. Essentially after on and off conversation Oxford invited me to formally take the project on. Oxford is as prestigious a press as you’ll find so I was elated for the chance to do this project with them. Around that time Lori left Oxford to pursue other interests and Abby Gross took over as my editor. Together Abby and I came up with a plan for the handbook and she’s now seen the project through to completion. So really it was probably about two or three years of thinking about, talking about, conceptualizing the handbook and coming to an agreement about the project and then several years of bringing it to life. It’s been a long road but I think we all feel that seeing the finished product makes it all worth it.

Why did you want to take this on?

A handbook is a definitive contribution to a field. Basically a handbook details, in a comprehensive way, the history, present and anticipated future of an entire field of study. So having the chance to determine the contents of a book like that, both the topics covered and authors who will contribute chapters, is a huge opportunity to help shape a field one is a part of. It’s an enormous task and to be honest, it’s a little scary. As soon as the possibility of doing this handbook with Oxford came up I knew that I would do it if given the chance, but there was some measure of fear too. You really have to be careful about how you put the table of contents together, writing the introduction and conclusion, all of it. Handbooks are very visible in the field and you’re asking so many other people to invest their time and expertise. It’s important to do a good job. So I always knew it was a major responsibility but also a huge honor and opportunity. At the end of the day I do love a challenge.

What makes your book unique?

It was important to us to make the handbook very user-friendly. Handbooks are intended to cover a broad field in a one-stop text. One of the problems with compiling handbooks is that because you are asking leaders in the field to write chapters, sometimes they write at a highly advanced level, because of course they are highly advanced. The problem is that the best handbooks need to take into account readers who may be new to the field. We wanted to create a handbook that would be useful for college students, graduate students and researchers at various levels. So I think our handbook is very unique because the content and writing style have those end users in mind and we really offer the meat and potatoes of the field with a lot of examples and instruction so researchers can learn how to use these methods themselves. With that said, given the length of the handbook we were able to include some unique and advanced topics as well with the intent of making the book useful for even highly experienced researchers. Finally, I think our book is distinctive because of some of the topics we chose to cover, which are often left out of books on this topic. For example, we have chapters about how to work in area studies such as disaster research which is increasingly important in this day and age with researchers in different fields studying human made and natural disasters as well as disaster relief efforts. We also have a chapter on the area of museum studies which is often left out of the literature. Finally, I was able to include some often neglected topics that are the areas I am most passionate about. We have a couple of chapters on arts-based research which involves researchers adapting the tenets of the creative arts in their social research projects. Also, in the conclusion I wrote about transdisciplinary approaches to research and the importance of public scholarship. Although it is brief I am quite proud of the conclusion which synthesizes what I think the key issues going forward are, if we are to make our research valuable to the public, which for me is practically and ethically necessary.

How do you think about the competition when you take on a project like this, if you do at all?

I definitely do think about other books on the market. You have to, because if you don’t have anything new or different to say it really doesn’t make sense to commit to a book so you need to know the field. With this project, there was already a wonderful handbook on the topic but like with any book, it can’t be all things to all people. I sort of think of it this way, the competing book is like ketchup, really great ketchup. You know that brand that just about everyone has on their refrigerator door. So I had no desire to try and make ketchup. We already have that and it’s good. So I decided to make mustard. Some people prefer ketchup; some people prefer mustard, and some people like both together. The point is, we all approached this handbook as its own thing and as an alternative to what is already available which to my mind is a compliment to what’s already on the market and a service to readers. We can’t redo what others have done so we did something different and people can elect to use the book or books that are useful to them.

What challenges did you face working on this book?

There are always challenges putting a book together and those are perhaps magnified with a book of this size with so many different authors working on it. Despite the length of the project, the production schedule at the end was quick in order to get the handbook to an important conference. That time period was particularly stressful for contributors who needed to proofread their chapters rather quickly, and I thank them sincerely for their assistance and understanding. Really though I would say the biggest challenge was actually conceptualizing the book, you know putting the table of contents together. Determining what to include and not to include was challenging. The same goes for writing the introduction and conclusion. I felt the weight of every word and the importance of doing my best to honor all of the authors that contributed to the project and to put my stamp on the field.

Best part of working on this book.

Well, my daughter Madeline Leavy-Rosen made the original cover art for the book. Hands down that is the cherry on the sundae. We had decided that the cover should feature abstract or modern art and we had a wide range of options when it occurred to me that my daughter might want a stab at the cover. Obviously I am biased but I’ve always thought she is an exceptionally talented artist. I asked Oxford if she could have an opportunity to put something forth for the cover and they graciously agreed. Madeline was elated for the opportunity. We had a discussion about the themes of the book I hoped the cover would convey, stylistic issues and even colors that might pop on a cover. She came up with a concept which I fell in love with and then made several finished paintings based on her concept. I was instantly drawn to the one that became the cover image. It was perfect. I passed photos of the piece on to Oxford and within hours everyone agreed it would be the cover. For a project of this magnitude that took so many years of work to essentially be gift wrapped in my daughter’s art is just wonderful. I thank everyone at Oxford, especially Abby Gross and Anne Dellinger for making that happen.

A handbook like this only happens because of the work and vision of many people so I would like to thank all of the contributors whose wisdom fills the pages and everyone at Oxford who worked on the project. This was a team effort all the way.

What are you working on now?

I am continuing to build the Oxford Understanding Qualitative Research series. We have some new releases and continue to sign books. I hope to expand my relationship with Oxford and we’re currently talking about some exciting possibilities. I also just released a co-edited book called Gender & Pop Culture: A Text-Reader with my friend and colleague Adrienne Trier-Bieniek so we’re going to be doing some promotional work for that book. I’m also finishing up a second edition of my book Method Meets Art and I have a few new book projects in the hopper so I’ll be busy for a while.

What’s your advice for other authors or editors taking on such large-scale projects?

It’s a marathon not a sprint. Take the time to do your best so you can feel proud of the outcome. Believe in what you are doing, because if you’re not really committed to what you’re trying to do it will be hard to stay the course. And if you have the ability to partner with really talented people, you’re halfway there.

You can find Patricia at

You can read her column A.R.T. on The Creativity Post here:

You can learn more about the handbook or order it here (use promo code 32558 for 20% off):

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