History of the Qualitatives

"The Qualitatives" traces its beginnings to the 1984 symposium, "Deviance in a Cross-Cultural Context," hosted by Robert Prus at the University of Waterloo (St. Jerome's College) and sponsored by  McMaster University, the University of Waterloo, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

In 1985, the conference became "Qualitative Research: An Ethnographic/Interactionist Perspective," highlighting the need for an intellectual home for those doing interpretivist, symbolic interactionist-based ethnographic research in Canada. The organizing team expanded to include Gottfried Paasche (York University) and William Shaffir (McMaster) alongside Robert Prus.

After staying at the University of Waterloo for the first number of years, by the early 1990s, the conference began a tradition of traveling around, hosted each year by a volunteer, ad hoc team who simply wished to see the conference continue.  Host institutions would offer support alongside other universities, near and far, who saw the benefits of the conference for their faculty and students.  In 1992, for example, Carleton University hosted the conference with additional support from the University of Calgary, McMaster University, the University of Waterloo, the University of Windsor, and York University. During these formative years, the group of regular organizers continued to expand, including Dorothy Pawluch (McMaster) and Florence Kellner (Carleton University) - creating around them a tight community of committed, interactionist researchers and increasingly a group of graduate students with an interest in continuing this tradition.

The conference has additionally been regularly supported by SSHRC through the years.  From the 1990s to the 2010s, a two-year pattern emerged, with an institution hosting two consecutive years.  This started in Ontario, and in 1999 and 2000, Will and Debbie van den Hoonaard brought the conference to the Maritimes for the first time, hosting the Qualitatives in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

In 2010, a new generation of scholars, students of Robert Prus, William Shaffir, and Dorothy Pawluch (among others), began to take the reigns of the Qualitatives led by Carrie Sanders, Steven Kleinknecht, and Antony Puddephatt.  New host institutions entered the rotation of hosts: Wilfrid Laurier University-Brantford Campus in 2010 and 2011, Memorial University in 2012, Brescia University College in 2014 and 2015 and Brock University in 2016.  In 2016, Lisa-Jo and Jeff van den Scott joined the coordinating team, followed in 2017 by Deana Simonetto who hosted the 39th conference for the first time in Western Canada at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan Campus.  In 2024, for the 40th conference, we return to southern Ontario and to Laurier Brantford, under the local leadership of Stacey Hannem.

From its beginnings in 1984, the Qualitatives has grown over the past decade to become an interdisciplinary conference, drawing together scholars from sociology, music studies, health studies, education, folklore, and other disciplines to support each other as we seek to understand "life as it is lived" with our research participants, believing in them as experts of their own experience.  Herbert Blumer, who coined the term symbolic interaction wrote to the 1985 conference:

"I am impressed very much by what you have in mind. Your objectives are excellent and your guiding rules are very much in order. Basically what is at stake is the question of how to see, to study, and to analyze human group life. The answer . . . is to probe into human group life as it is lived, to get intimately close to it, and to develop analytic schema that reflect honestly its empirical character. In my opinion, the prevailing approaches in the social and psychological sciences do not do this successfully, chiefly because of an unwillingness to get close to what is going on and then a reliance on substituting guess work and untested images. . . I wish you the greatest of success in your undertaking! "

That the conference enters its fourth decade, still led each year by an ad hoc committee, speaks to the success of the conference and of the original organizers, many of whom continue to attend and inspire the work of today's participants and organizers.

Keynote and Featured Speakers at the Qualitatives

2023: Keynote Address by Stefan Timmermans, Featured Speakers Kishonna Gray and Hannah Wohl

2022: Keynote Address by Gary Alan Fine, Featured Speakers Waverly Duck and Susie Scott

2021: Keynote Address by Eviatar Zerubavel, Featured Speaker Iddo Tavory

2019: Keynote Address by Joanna Kempner, Featured Speaker Joseph Kotarba

2018: Keynote Address by Thomas Gieryn, Featured Speaker Irene Cieraad

2017: Keynote Address by David Altheide, Featured Speaker Sam Hillyard

2016: Keynote Address by Kirsten Emiko McAllister, Featured Speakers Carrie Sanders, Jacqueline Kennelly, David Butz and Nancy Cook, and Carla Rice

2015: Keynote Address by Janet Chan, Featured Speakers Juliet Corbin, Christopher J. Schneider, and Will C. van den Hoonaard

2014: Keynote Address by Joan Fukimura, Featured Speakers Michael Atkinson, Jeff Ferrell, Staci Newmahr, and Juha Tuunainen

2013: Keynote Address by Sherryl Kleinman, Featured Speakers Ivy Bourgeault, Joseph Kotarba, and Phillip Vannini

2012: Keynote Address by Donileen Loseke, Featured Speakers Beverley Diamond, Andrea Doucet, and Deborah K. van den Hoonaard

2011: Keynote Address by Patricia and Peter Adler, Featured Speakers Adele Clarke, Robert Prus, Andrea Doucet, and Christine Hine

2010: Keynote Address by Neil Gross, Featured Speakers Park Doing, Jeff Ferrell, Joseph Kotarba, William Shaffir, and Stefan Timmermans

2008: Keynote Address by Gary Alan Fine

2007: Keynote Address by Laurel Richardson

2004: Plenary Speakers Robert Stebbins and Will C. van den Hoonaard

2003: Guest Speakers: Kathy Charmaz, Robert Prus, William Shaffir, Gwen Reimer and J.P. Chartrand

2001: Keynote Address by Robert Prus

2000: Plenary Speaker Robert Stebbins