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A Methodology for Accessing the Pre-Conscious: Obstacles to Senior Women's Career Progression

By: Published: 2014 | Product: SAGE Research Methods Cases Part 1
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The methodology to access the pre-conscious discussed in this case study originates in research which was concerned with highlighting the neglect of the pre-conscious as a characteristic of agency or people. Through a critique of existing conceptions of agency in the social sciences, I argue that there is an over-emphasis on characteristics of agency such as reflexivity and conscious deliberation and a concomitant neglect of the pre-conscious. Inclusion of the pre-conscious enables recognition that agency contains depth and complexity and that while agents are often fully conscious and deliberate in their behaviour, their actions may also be the result of pre-conscious motivations and the impact of social structures on their pre-conscious. This case study outlines a methodology based on life-history interviews for accessing the pre-conscious and examines the particular challenges involved in documenting this elusive aspect of agency. This methodology is explored in the context of research on unconscious bias which is argued to be a key factor which perpetuates gender inequality in the workplace. ‘Unconscious’ bias refers to the same aspect of agency as does my notion of the pre-conscious, but the latter term is preferred because it distinguishes the idea from psychoanalysis' notion of the unconscious, a very different concept. It is argued that this literature on unconscious bias in the workplace doesn't adequately discuss the aspects of agency involved in this process or acknowledge the particular methodological challenges involved in accessing the pre-conscious. The methodology developed here draws on primary research conducted with men and women about their perceptions of gender in the workplace in a private sector organisation called Axis.

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