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changing qualifications, roles, and responsibilities

What is reflexive thematic analysis?

We now call our approach reflexive TA as it differs from most other approaches to TA in terms of both underlying philosophy and procedures for theme development.

We initially outlined our approach in a 2006 paper, Using thematic analysis in psychology. We have written extensively about our approach since then, and our thinking has developed in various ways, so do check out some of our more recent writing.

Although the title of this paper suggests TA is for, or about, psychology, that’s not the case! The method has been widely used across the social, behavioural and more applied (clinical, health, education, etc.) sciences.

The purpose of TA is to identify patterns of meaning across a dataset that provide an answer to the research question being addressed. Patterns are identified through a rigorous process of data familiarisation, data coding, and theme development and revision.

One of the advantages of (our reflexive version of) TA is that it’s theoretically-flexible. This means it can be used within different frameworks, to answer quite different types of research question.

It suits questions related to people’s experiences, or people’s views and perceptions, such as ‘What are men’s experiences of body hair removal?’ or ‘What do people think of women who play traditionally male sports?’

It suits questions related to understanding and representation, such as ‘How do lay people understand therapy?’ or ‘How are food and eating represented in popular magazines targeted at teenage girls?’

It also suits questions relating to the construction of meaning, such as ‘How is race constructed in workplace diversity training?’

(Note these different question types would require different versions of TA, informed by different theoretical frameworks.)Top

Different orientations in thematic analysis

There are different ways TA can be approached – within our reflexive approach all variations are possible:

  • An inductive way – coding and theme development are directed by the content of the data;
  • A deductive way – coding and theme development are directed by existing concepts or ideas;
  • A semantic way – coding and theme development reflect the explicit content of the data;
  • A latent way – coding and theme development report concepts and assumptions underpinning the data;
  • A (critical) realist or essentialist way – focuses on reporting an assumed reality evident in the data;
  • A constructionist way – focuses on looking at how a certain reality is created by the data.

More inductive, semantic and (critical) realist approaches tend to cluster together; ditto more deductive, latent and constructionist ones. In reality, the separation isn’t always that rigid. What is vitally important is that your analysis is theoretically coherent and consistent.

In our reflexive TA approach, you need to think about which approaches suit your project, and actively decide on the ‘version’ of reflexive TA you do.