Subjectivity as Operant: A Conceptual Exploration and Discussion

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Simon Watts


William Stephenson defined subjectivity as an operant. This paper will consider what that definition means for our understanding of subjectivity and what implications it has, if any, for the process of Q sorting and Q methodology in general. Beginning with consideration of the term ‘operant’, its meaning, aetiology and derivation from the work of the behaviourist movement in psychology, a vision will be presented of subjectivity as a ‘non-mental’ concept which is synonymous with the current viewpoint of a particular individual (or participant in a Q- methodological study). The concept of a viewpoint will then be defined and discussed and its advantages as a methodological or operational definition of subjectivity will be outlined. Whilst subjectivity is, and should undoubtedly remain, of considerable theoretical interest to Q methodologists, this paper will argue that the concept is too weighed down by ‘mentalist’ baggage to be used effectively in methodological or applied contexts involving mainstream audiences (or audiences unfamiliar with Q methodology). Q methodology, it will be concluded, is not the foundation for a science of subjectivity, but the basis for an objective science conducted from the first-person rather than the third-person perspective.

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How to Cite
Watts, S. (2011). Subjectivity as Operant: A Conceptual Exploration and Discussion. Operant Subjectivity, 35(1). Retrieved from