"I am energised by the use of qualitative methods to change our ways of thinking and acting to redistribute power. In collaboration with communities, activists and creative practitioners, participatory methods help me democratise research and cultivate emergent, critical, hopeful articulations of social structures and problems."
- Dr Flora Cornish shares the most exciting aspect of her research as part of our 30th Anniversary celebrations. Read the full close-up with Methodology faculty.
I am Associate Professor in Qualitative Research Methodology. I received my PhD in Social Psychology from LSE in 2004, and before that, graduated from the Department of Methodology’s MSc in Social Research Methods. Following positions at the University of Cambridge and Glasgow Caledonian University, I joined LSE as a Lecturer in 2011.
I am a community psychologist investigating the role of grassroots mobilisation in improving public health, both through local-level community responses to health crises, and through wider organising, coalition-building and campaigning.
I aim to do research that has transformative potential, with an interest in democratising knowledge, using qualitative methods, community collaborations, and theoretical resources that resonate with health-promoting struggles.
Community-led recovery post-Grenfell
My current research investigates the process of community-led recovery in West London in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire. In a paper titled 'Grenfell changes everything? Activism beyond hope and despair', I try to make sense of the activist experience of fighting for life-protective policy change and care of one's community, against institutional inertia and set-back, as a form of 'staying with the trouble'.
The project began as a knowledge-exchange project, marshalling materials with which to build accounts of the process of recovery from different points of view, collaborating with community members on their own stories of recovery. The project also supports knowledge exchange with emergency management professionals and policy-makers in the interest of improving the environment for community-led disaster response and recovery. It is funded by an LSE Knowledge Exchange and Impact grant.
A visual output presents a timeline of the unfolding of knowledge about the contamination of air and soil in the local area. It shows the steps through which, over 22 months, residents’ calls for investigation of potential health-damaging contamination eventually resulted in the commencement of a full scientific investigation.
Public health activism in a changing socio-political environment
More broadly, I am interested in contemporary potentials for public health activism in a changing socio-political environment. Recent years have produced crisis conditions for health justice, stemming partly from long-running economic conditions producing ever-increasing inequalities, and partly from a rapid rise in authoritarianism and divisive forms of populism. Yet health activists are opening up spaces for novel forms of health-promoting agency. Working with scholar-activist colleagues, we have created a special issue of Critical Public Health, titled 'Public Health Activism in changing times: relocating collective agency', building on an earlier special issue in the Journal of Social & Political Psychology.
My understanding of the role of activism in producing advancements in public health is founded in 15 years of research on sex worker-led HIV prevention in low income contexts.
Evidence, evaluation and qualitative methods
Most recently, I have written on generalisation from case studies, putting forward the idea of generalisation as a communicative process. I work with a group of scholars of dialogue on doing research from a dialogical point of view, and our first special issue yielded key dimensions for a dialogical methodology of case studies.
The role of qualitative methods in improving understandings of how and why health and development interventions work is a key concern. I co-authored the book ‘Qualitative Research for Development: A guide for practitioners’. With colleagues I have written critically about simplistic applications of monitoring and evaluation tools, assessments of social impacts of HIV/AIDS, and misuses of systematic reviews, to which I propose a pragmatist alternative.
For full publications, see Google Scholar.