Critical Q Methodology

A study participant completes a Q-sort in Fall 2017

Critical Q methodology is an innovative mixed methods approach combining critical discourse analysis and standard Q methodology.

I see Q methodology as a form of ‘worldview mapping.’ Standard Q methodology melds qualitative and quantitative approaches to measure shared worldviews about the topic of study. As the picture above shows, participants sort a set of subjective statements about the topic onto a distribution board. These Q-sorts are later analyzed using factor analysis to identify groups of participants who sorted the statements in a similar pattern. Each factor represents a shared worldview, providing a ‘map’ of different perspectives and how they relate to each other.

I developed Critical Q as a central methodological intervention within my dissertation research on agricultural production and shale gas development. I have also piloted critical Q analysis with my earlier work on raw milk and the politics of knowledge, and am continuing to refine its framework and protocol through the Pathways to Sustainable Urban Water Security project. Critical Q combines standard Q protocol with critical discourse analysis to make the methodology more attentive to the uneven social and power relations which shape discourses, perspectives, and worldviews.

In addition to using critical Q methodology in my research, I employ it in the classroom in two ways: 1) by having students complete their own Q study as a class, and 2)  as a means to measure student learning. Because of its unique combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches, integrating student-designed and implemented Q studies gives students experience across a range of research methods and analysis, including critical discourse analysis, semi-structured interviews, qualitative coding, and by-person factor analysis. In-class Q studies also serve as a tool for measuring learning and as formative feedback mechanism for my teaching effectiveness.


Sneegas, G. 2020. “Making the case for critical Q methodology.” The Professional Geographer 72(1): 78-87. DOI: 10.1080/00330124.2019.1598271

Lehrer, N. and G. Sneegas. 2018. “Beyond polarization: Using Q methodology to explore stakeholders’ views on pesticide use, and related risks for agricultural workers, in Washington State’s tree fruit industry.” Agriculture and Human Values 35(1): 131-147. DOI: 10.1007/s10460-017-9810-z

Selected Presentations:

Sneegas, G. 2019. Environmental subjectivity, shale gas, and agriculture: Integrating critical Q methodology and social theory in the Marcellus Basin. Department of Sociology Speaker Series, Texas A&M University, December 4.

Sneegas, G. 2019. Critical Q methodology. Roundtable Discussion (organized). Annual Meetings of the Association of American Geographers, Washington, DC, April 3-7.

Sneegas, G. 2018. Making the case for critical Q method. Southeastern Division of the Association for American Geographers Annual Meeting, Johnson City, TN, November 18-19. 

Sneegas, G. 2018. Productive tensions between Q method and Critical Discourse Analysis. 34th Annual Q Conference for the Scientific Study of Subjectivity, Charlotte, NC, October 10-13.

Sneegas, G. 2018. Using critical Q Method to study environmental governance and subjectivity among farmer-landowners in the Marcellus Shale Basin. Fourth Annual Environmental Politics and Governance Conference, Stockholm, Sweden, June 28-July 1.

Sneegas, G. 2014. A Q methodological analysis of raw milk, regulation, and risk. Association for the Study of Food and Society/Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Conference, Burlington, VT, June 18-22.

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