A “researcher storyteller,” Brené Brown colorfully discusses her experience as a qualitative researcher in this TED Talk. She explores the personal and professional journey she’s undertaken as a qualitative social science researcher and outlines her changing research perspective from “if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist” to becoming comfortable “lean[ing] into the discomfort of the work.” She does this based upon her interesting research on shame and vulnerability. For this research she drew upon a variety of methods, accumulating “thousands of pieces of data.” Brown brilliantly explains and shares the vulnerability of doing qualitative work, but also that of the people she works with who see vulnerability as an essential part of who they are and recognize the power of it without seeing it as something to be enjoyed.
Beverly M. Pratt (from whom I have taken this summary) shows Brown’s TED Talk to a few different sociology classes, including Introduction to Research Methods, Introduction to Sociology, and Contemporary Social Problems for three reasons. First, Brown’s presentation demonstrates to undergraduates the potential for qualitative methodologies to be fun, creative, non-linear, and profound. Second, the clip shows how social science research can measure—using qualitative methods such as interviews, focus groups, and content analysis—ostensibly tricky “variables” such as wholeheartedness and love. After showing the talk, I have the class discuss “variables” that they are now inspired to sociologically research, via qualitative methods. Finally, Brown validates the potential for social scientists to experience vulnerability when conducting qualitative research; this experience can potentially lead researchers to use their work toward remedying the social problems they study by connecting to their subject matter on an empathetic level.