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.

Standard Q 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. As a result, I consider Q methodology to be a form of “worldview mapping.”

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. 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 a class-run Q study 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. As a means of measuring learning, in-class Q studies can also serve as formative feedback for me and 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.

%d bloggers like this: