What is qualitative research?
It used to be that research meant isolating the variables that you studied from the rest of the world. You set up some kind of experiment where you changed the independent variable and then you recorded what kind of change happened to the dependent variable... This kind of approach works OK with physical science fields like physics.... It was extended to the study of human beings however... where to some extent it works also... However it was also carried to absurdity by the Behaviorism movement and Skinner's followers... that is another story however. There has been and is some excellent experimental research done in psychology.
However at a certain time, some anthropologists made some excellent criticisms of this type of research:
- Human behavior can not be realistically studied out of social context.
- What you find scientifically depends on your frame of reference... therefore if you want to study some people you should try to discover the meaning from their point of view....
The long and short of it is that a qualitative research style was born.... where scientist go native and interviews people, takes notes, doesn't disturb people's behavior but tries to understand it in context, by seeing the meaning of the universe and whatever subject is at hand from the people studied (called participants or sometimes informants) point of view.
By the way, if you possibly can, buy or go to your library and get a book called "Coming of Age in Samoa" by Margaret Mead. This is a classic in qualitative research. Another example, not very classic, but quite fun is The Teachings of Don Juan, by Carlos Castenada (The first book in this series seems like qualitative research. The rest in the series become more and more like fantasy)...>
Characteristics of Qualitative Research
Some researchers "hang around" schools with notepads in hand to collect their data. Others rely on video equipment in the classroom and would never conduct research without it. Still others draw charts and diagrams of student-teacher verbal communication patterns. All of them, though, have this in common: Their work fits our definition of qualitative research and they study an aspect of educational life. In this section we elaborate on the common strands and show why, in spite of differences, their research fits in our category of qualitative research.
There are five features of qualitatACive research as we define it. All studies that we would call qualitative do not exhibit all the traits with equal potency. Some, in fact, are almost completely barren of one or more. The question is not whether a particular piece of research is or is not absolutely qualitative; rather it is an issue of degree. As we mentioned earlier, participant observation and in-depth interview studies tend to be exemplary.
1. Qualitative research has the natural setting as the direct source of data and the researcher is the key instrument. Researchers enter and spend considerable time in schools, families, neighborhoods, and other locales learning about educational concerns. Although some people use videotape equipment and recording devices, many go completely unarmed save for a pad and a pencil. Even when equipment is used, however, the data are collected on the premises and supplemented by the understanding that is gained by being on location. In addition, mechanically recorded materials are reviewed in their entirety by the researcher with the researcher's insight being the key instrument for analysis. In a major study of medical education, for example, researchers went to a midwestern medical school where they followed students to classes, laboratories, hospital wards, and the places where they gathered for social occasions as well: their cafeterias, their fraternities, and study halls (Becker et al., 196 1). For a study of educational stratification in California (Ogbu, 1974), it took the author twenty-one months to complete the fieldwork of visiting, observing, and interviewing teachers, students, principals, families, and members of school boards.
Qualitative researchers go to the particular setting under study because * Directory: they are concerned with context. They feel that action can best be understood * Description: Micros, when it is observed in the setting in which it occurs. The setting has to be March understood in the context of the history of the institutions of which they are a part. When the data with which they are concerned are produced by subjects, as in the case of official records, they want to know where, how, and under what
circumstances they came into being. Of what historical circumstances and movements are they a part? To divorce the act, word, or gesture from its context is, for the qualitative researcher, to lose sight of significance. As one anthro-pologist described it:
If anthropological interpretation is constructing a reading of what happens, then to divorce it from what happens-from what in this time or that place specific people say, what they do, what is done to them, from the whole vast business of the world to divorce it from its application and render it vacant. A good interpre-tation of anything-apoem, a person, a history, a ritual, an institution, a societ)--takes us to the heart of that of which it is the interpretation. (Geertz, 1973) Whether the data are collected on classroom interaction by videotape machines (Florio, 1978; Mehan, 1979), on science education through interview-
ing (Denny, 1978a), or on desegregation by participant observation (Metz, 1978), qualitative researchers assume that human behavior is significantly influenced by the setting in which it occurs, and whenever possible, they go to
2. Qualitative research is descriptive. The data collected are in the form of words or pictures rather than numbers. The written results of the research contain quotations from the data to illustrate and substantiate the presentation. The data include interview transcripts, field notes, photographs, videotapes, personal documents, memos, and other official records. In their search for understanding, qualitative researchers do not reduce the pages upon pages of narration and other data to numerical symbols. They try to analyze the data with all of their richness as closely as possible to the form in which they were recorded or transcribed. Qualitative articles and reports have been described by some as "anec- dotal." This is because they often contain quotations and try to describe what a particular situation or view of the world is like in narrative form. The written word is very important in the qualitative approach, both in recording data and disseminating the findings. In collecting descriptive data, qualitative researchers approach the world in a nitpicking way. Many of us are locked into our "taken for granted" worlds, oblivious to the details of our environment, and to the assumptions under which we operate. We fail to notice such things as gestures, jokes, who does the
talking in a conversation, the decorations on the walls, and the special words we use and to which those around us respond. The qualitative research approach demands that the world be approached with the assumption that nothing is trivial, that everything has the potential of being a clue that might unlock a more comprehensive understanding of what is being studied. The researcher constantly asks such questions as: Why are these desks arranged the way they are? Why are some rooms decorated with pictures and others not? Why do certain teachers dress differently from others? Is there a reason for certain activities being carried out where they are? Why is there a television in the room if it is never used? Nothing is taken as a given, and no statement escapes scrutiny. Description succeeds as a method of data gathering when details face accounting.
3. Qualitative researchers are concerned with process rather than simply with outcomes or products. How do people negotiate meaning? How do certain terms and labels come to be applied? How do certain notions come to be taken as part of what we know as "common sense"? What is the natural history of the activity or events under study? In studies of mainstrearning and integration in schools, for instance, the researchers examined teachers' attitudes toward certain kinds of children and then studied how these attitudes were translated into daily interactions with them and how the daily interactions then reified those taken - for-granted attitudes (Bruni, 1980; Rist, 1978). In interviews with school administrators and candidates for administrative positions, a researcher showed how attitudes that reflected lower expectations, sexual fears, and other stereotypical notions toward women were integrated into the hiring process (Schmuck, 1975).
The qualitative emphasis on process has been particularly beneficial in educational research in clarifying the self-fulfilling prophecy, the idea that students' cognitive performance in school is affected by teachers' expectations of them (Rosenthal and Jacobson, 1968). Quantitative techniques have been able to show by means of pre- and posttesting that changes occur. Qualitative strategies have suggested just how the expectations are translated into daily activities, procedures, and interactions. A particularly brilliant rendition of the self-fulfilling prophecy in a kindergarten classroom can be found in a participant observation study of an African-American kindergarten class in St. Louis. The children were divided into groups based on essentially social and economic criteria within the first few days of school. The teacher interacted more with her top group, allowed the top-group students more privileges, and even permitted them to discipline members of the lower group. The day-to-day process of interaction is richly portrayed (Rist, 1970). This kind of study focuses on how definitions (teacher's definitions of students, students' definitions of each other and themselves) are formed.
4. Qualitative researchers tend to analyze their data inductively. They do not search out data or evidence to prove or disprove hypotheses they hold before entering the study; rather, the abstractions are built as the particulars that have been gathered are grouped together.
Theory developed this way emerges from the bottom up (rather than from the top down), from many disparate pieces of collected evidence that are interconnected. It is called grounded theory (Glaser and Strauss, 1967). As a qualitative researcher planning to develop some kind of theory about what you have been studying, the direction you will travel comes after you have been collecting the data, after you have spent time with your subjects. You are not putting together a puzzle whose picture you already know. You are constructing a picture that takes shape as you collect and examine the parts. The process of data analysis is like a funnel: Things are open at the beginning (or top) and more directed and specific at the bottom. The qualitative researcher plans to use part of the study to learn what the important questions are. He or she does not assume that enough is known to recognize important concerns before undertaking the research.
5. "Meaning" is of essential concern to the qualitative approach. Researchers who use this approach are interested in the ways different people make sense out of their lives. In other words, qualitative researchers are concerned with what are called participant perspectives (Erickson, 1986; see Dobbert, 1982, for a slightly different view). They focus on such questions as: What assumptions do people make about their lives? What do they take for granted? In one educational study, for example, the researcher focused part of his work on parent perspectives on their children's education. He wanted to know what parents thought about why their children were not doing well in school. He found that the parents he studied felt that the teachers did not value their insights about their own children because of their poverty and their lack of education. The parents also blamed teachers who assumed that this very poverty and lack of education meant the children would not be good students (Ogbu, 1974). He also studied the teachers' and the children's perspectives on the same issues in hopes of finding some intersections, and to explore the implications for schooling. By learning the perspectives of the participants, qualitative research illuminates the inner dynamics of situations-dynamics that are often invisible to the outsider.
Qualitative researchers are concerned with making sure they capture perspectives accurately. Some researchers who use videotape show the completed tapes to the participants in order to check their own interpretations with those of the informants (Mehan, 1978). Other researchers may show drafts of articles or interview transcripts to key informants. Still others may verbally check out perspectives with subjects (Grant, 1988). Although there is some controversy over such procedures, they reflect a concern with capturing the people's own way of interpreting significance as accurately as possible.
Qualitative researchers in education can continually be found asking questions of the people they are learning from to discover "what they are experiencing, how they interpret their experiences, and how they themselves structure the social world in which they live" (Psathas, 1973). Qualitative researchers set up strategies and procedures to enable them to consider experiences from the informants' perspectives. But the process of doing qualitative research reflects a kind of dialogue or interplay between researchers and their subjects since researchers do not approach their subjects neutrally.
The concern qualitative researchers have for "meaning," as well as other features we have described as characteristic of qualitative research, leads us to a discussion of the theoretical orientation of the approach. People use the word theory in many ways. Among quantitative researchers in education its use is sometimes restricted to a systematically stated and testable set of propositions about the empirical world. Our use of the word is much more in line with its use in sociology and anthropology and is similar to the term paradigm (Ritzer, 1975). A paradigm is a loose collection of logically held together assumptions, concepts, or propositions that orient thinking and research. When we refer to a "theoretical orientation" or "theoretical perspective," we are talking about a way of looking at the world, the assumptions people have about what is important, and what makes the world work. Whether stated or not, all research is guided by some theoretical orientation. Good researchers are aware of their theoretical base and use it to help collect and analyze data. Theory helps data cohere and enables research to go beyond an aimless, unsystematic piling up of accounts. In this section, we briefly examine the theoretical underpinnings of qualitative approaches.
Most other research approaches trace their roots to positivism and the great social theorist, Auguste Comte. They emphasize facts and causes of behavior. While there are theoretical differences between qualitative approaches and even within single schools (Gubrium, 1988; Meltzer, Petras, and Reynolds, 1975), most qualitative researchers reflect some sort of phenomenological perspective. There are many debates concerning the use of the word phenomenology and we use it in the most general sense. We start our discussion of theory by presenting the phenomenological perspective and clarifying some issues it raises. Next we discuss symbolic interactionism, a well-established particular type of phenomenological framework. "Culture" as ail orientation, the interpretation of which is the undertaking of many anthropologists, is next on our agenda. Then we briefly introduce a newer approach to the qualitative scene, ethnomethodology. We also describe ail alternative theoretical paradigm, the cultural studies approach. Our discussion does not exhaust the types. We have picked the most widely used and those most closely aligned with phenomenology.
Nine Common Questions about Qualitative Research
Hearing about qualitative research for the first time usually causes a number of questions to come to mind. We address nine questions others have raised that you may also have.
1. Can qualitative and quantitative approaches be used together? Some people do use them together (Cronbach et al., 1980; Miles and Huberman, 1984; Reichardt and Cook, 1974). It is common, for example, in designing questionnaires to do open-ended interviews first. You can use in-depth observations to discover why two variables that are shown to be statistically related are related. There are studies with both qualitative and quantitative components. Most often, descriptive statistics and qualitative findings have been presented together (Mercurio, 1979). While it is possible, and in some cases desirable, to use the two approaches together (Fielding and Fielding, 1986), the same person attempting to carry out a sophisticated quantitative study while doing an in depth qualitative study simultaneously is likely to produce a big headache. Researchers, especially novices, trying to combine good quantitative design and good qualitative design have a difficult time pulling it off, and rather than producing a superior hybrid, usually produce a piece of research that does not meet the criteria for good work in either approach (Locke, Spirduso, and Silverman, 1997, p. 96). The two approaches are based on different assumptions (Smith and Heshusus, 1986). While it is useful to have an interplay of competing data, often such studies turn out to be studies in method rather than in the topic the research originally started out to study.
2. Is qualitative research really scientific? In the past, educational researchers modeled their research after what they saw the so-called "hard scientists" doing. Some saw measurement as synonymous with science, and anything straying from this mode was suspect. The irony is that scientists in the hard sciences (physics and chemistry, for example) do not define science as narrowly as some of those who emulate them. Nobel physicist P. W. Bridgeman has this to say of the scientific method: "There is no scientific method as such.... The most vital feature of the scientist's procedure has been merely to do his utmost with his mind, no holds barred" (Dalton, 1967, p. 60). Dalton (1967) says that "many eminent physicists, chemists, and mathematicians quesdon whether there is a reproducible method that all investigators could or should follow, and they have shown in their research that they take diverse, and often unascertainable steps in discovering and solving problems" (p. 60).
Some people may use an extremely narrow definition of science, calling only research that is deductive and hypothesis -testing scientific. But part of the scientific attitude, as we see it, is to be open-minded about method and evidence. Scientific research involves rigorous and systematic empirical inquiry that is data-based. Qualitative research meets these requirements, and in this book we describe some of the conventions in this scientific tradition that define what rigorous and systematic investigation entails.
3. How does qualitative research differ fi-om what other people such as teachers, reporters, or artists do? Let us take teachers first. Many intelligent laypeople are astute observers of their world, do systematic inquiries, and come to conclusions. Good teachers do this consistently. What they do is like qualitafive research, but it is different in a number of ways. First, the observer's primary duty is to the research; he or she does not have to devote time to developing curricula, teaching lessons, and disciplining students. The researcher can thus devote full time and energy to taking it all in. Also, researchers are rigorous about keeping detailed records of what they find. They keep data. Teachers keep records too, but these are much less extensive and of a different Sort, Further, researchers do not have as much of a personal stake in having the observations come out one way or the other. The teacher's life, career, and selfconcept are always intimately tied to seeing what he or she is doing in particular way. This is not to say that teachers cannot transcend this to do research or that researchers do not also have a stake in their studies. But for the researchers, success is defined by doing what certain others define as good research, not seeing what the teacher does in any particular way. Another way the researcher and the teacher differ is that the researcher has been trained in the use of a set of procedures and techniques developed over the years to collect and analyze data. Many of these are described in this book. Finally, the researcher is well-grounded in theory and research findings. These provide a framework and clues to direct the study and place what is generated in a context.
What about reporters? Some people link qualitative research with journalism disparagingly. We do not. As the short history we presented suggests, some traditions of qualitative research are linked to journalism. Journalists share some of the goals and standards social scientists have, and some produce research of greater social-science value than those who flaunt their academic credentials and titles (Levine, 1980a). While this is so, we do believe that academic researchers in general do work in a different way than journalists (Grant, 1979). Journalists tend to be more interested in particular events and issues and tend to have a bias toward the newsmakers. Journalists work under deadlines. Rather than spending years collecting data and carefully analyzing it, they usually write with less evidence; they shoot from the hip. They also tend to write for a different audience and their work is more directed at telling a story than at analyzing it. Journalists also are not necessarily grounded in social theory. Therefore, they do not address their findings to theoretical questions. Of course, journalists also are interested in selling papers and this puts some constraints on what they can say and how they write. Sometimes, however, the line separating social-science research and good investigative journalism is nonexistent (see Douglas, 1976; Levine, 1980a).
What about artists? Some novelists and poets are very keen observers of the human scene. Again, they may not be as formal or as rigorous as qualitative researchers in their data-collecting techniques, and they may take greater license with the data they do collect. Much of what they have to say, however, is of interest to social scientists. Some people fall between the cracks of social science and art. They write in a very involving style while drawing from socialscience traditions in what they say (Coles, 1964; Cottle, 1976a). Social scientists probably have a lot to learn from novelists and essayists. They had best not set themselves apart, but rather try to understand what it is that they can learn from them to improve their own trade (see Eisner, 1980).
4. Are qualitative findings generalizable? When researchers use the term generalizability they usually are referring to whether the findings of a study hold up beyond the specific research subjects and the setting involved. If you study a particular classroom, for example, people want to know whether other classrooms are like the one you studied. Not all qualitative researchers are concerned with the question of generalizability as we have just defined it. Those who are concerned are very careful to explicitly state that. If they do a case study of a classroom, for example, they do not mean to imply in reporting results of the study that all classrooms are like that one.
Others who are concerned with generalizability, as we have discussed it thus far, may draw upon other studies to establish the representativeness of what they have found, or they may conduct a larger number of less intense ministudies to show the nonidiosyncratic nature of their own work. In a study of day-care centers, for example, after conducting intense observations in one setting for four months, a researcher we know visited three other centers to get a sense of the similarities and differences between the one studied and the others (Freedman, 1980).
Some qualitative researchers do not think of genefalizability in the conventional way. They are more interested in deriving universal statements of general social processes than statements of commonality between similar settings such as classrooms. Here, the assumption is that human behavior is not random or idiosyncratic. Therefore, they concern themselves not with the question of whether their findings are generalizable, but rather with the question of to which other settings and subjects they are generalizable.
In the study of an intensive care unit at a teaching hospital, we mudied the ways professional staff and parents communicate about the condition of the children. As we concentrated on the interchanges, we noticed that the professional staff not only diagnosed the infants but sized up the parents as well. These parental evaluations formed the basis for judgments the professionals made about what to say to parents and how to say it. Reflecting about parentteacher conferences in public schools and other situations where professionals have information about children to which parents might want access, we began to see parallels. In short, we began concentrating on a general social process that appeared clearly in one particular setting. One tack we are presently exploring is the extent to which the findings of the intensive care unit are generalizable not to other settings of the same substantive type, but to other settings, such as schools, in which professionals talk to parents. The approach to generalizabifity as we have just described it is embraced more by researchers who are interested in generating what is called a grounded theory.
Another way some qualitative researchers approach generalizability is to think that if they carefully document a given setting or group of subjects, it is then someone else's job to see how it fits into the general scheme of things. Even a description of a deviant type is of value because theories have to account for all types. They see their work as having the potential to create anomalies that other researchers might have to explain. Some of the explanation might entail enlarging the conception of the phenomena under study.
Before gorillas were studied by detailed observation in their own environments, doing what they naturally do, they were considered to be extremely aggressive and dangerous to humans and other animals. George Schaller went out and studied gorillas in their own environments and found out that they did not resemble the profiles drawn of gorillas in captivity. He observed them to be timid and shy, preferring to flee or avoid people rather than to attack. They would, however, rear up and beat their chests in a ritualistic warning when challenged. Questions about whether all gorillas are like that and under what conditions they are the way they have been described cannot be answered by such limited case-study research, but Schaller's gorillas have to be reckoned with in future discussions about gorilla behavior (Schaller, 1965; Waldorf and Reinarman, 1975).
5. What about the researcher's opinions, prejudices, and other biases and their effect on the data? Qualitative researchers, whether in the tradition of sociology or anthropology, have wrestled over the years with charges that it is too easy for the prejudices and attitudes of the researcher to bias the data. Particularly when the data must "go through" the researcher's mind before they are put on paper, the worry about subjectivity arises. Does, perhaps, the observer record only what he or she wants to see rather than what is actually there? Qualitative researchers are concerned with the effect their owl) subjectivity may have on the data they produce (LeCompte, 1987).
What qualitative researchers attempt to do, however, is to objectively study the subjective states of their subjects. While the idea that researchers can transcend some of their own biases may be difficult to accept at the beginning, the methods researchers use aid this process. For one thing, qualitative studies are not impressionistic essays made after a quick visit to a setting or after some conversations with a few subjects. The researcher spends a considerable time in the empirical world laboriously collecting and reviewing piles of data. The data must bear the weight of any interpretation, so the researcher must constantly confront his or her own opinions and prejudices with the data. Besides, most opinions and prejudices are rather superficial. The data that are collected provide a much more detailed rendering of events than even the most creatively prejudiced mind might have imagined prior to the study.
Additionally, the researcher's primary goal is to add to knowledge, not to pass judgment oil a setting. The worth of a study is the degree to which it generates theory, description, or understanding. For a study to blame someone for a particular state of affairs, or to label a particular school as "good" or "bad," or to present a pat prejudicial analysis can brand a study as superficial. Qualitative researchers tend to believe that situations are complex, so they attempt to portray many dimensions rather than to narrow the field.
Further, as we discuss in detail in Chapter 3, qualitative researchers guard against their own biases by recording detailed fieldnotes that include reflections on their own subjectivity. Some qualitative researchers work in teams and have their fieldnotes critiqued by a colleague as an additional check on bias. It should be noted that we are talking about limiting observers' biases, not eliminating them. Qualitative researchers attempt to seek out their own subjective states and their effects on data, but they never think they are completely successful. All researchers are affected by observers' bias. Questions or questionnaires, for example, reflect the interests of those who construct them, as do experimental studies. Qualitative researchers try to acknowledge and take into account their own biases as a method of dealing with them.
6. Doesn't the presence of the researcher change the behavior of the people he or she is trying to study? Yes, and these changes are referred to as 11 observer effect." Almost all research is confounded by this problem. Take surveys that try to tap opinions. Asking people to sit down and fill out a questionnaire changes their behavior. Might not asking a person for his or her opinion create an opinion? Some experimental studies create a completely artificial world (in the laboratory) in which to observe people's behavior. Because other research approaches suffer from the problem does not mean that qualitative researchers take the issue of "observer effect" lightly. Throughout the history of qualitative methods practitioners have addressed themselves to this problem and have incorporated procedures to minimize it.
Qualitative researchers try to interact with their subjects in a natural, inobtrusive, and nonthreatening manner. The more controlled and obtrusive the research, the greater the likelihood that the researcher will end up studying the effects of his or her methods (Douglas, 1976, p. 19). If you treat people as 11 research subjects," they will act as research subjects, which is different from how they usually act. Since qualitative researchers are interested in how people act and think in their own settings, they attempt to "blend into the woodwork," or to act so the activities that occur in their presence do not differ significantly from those that occur in their absence. Similarly, since interviewers in this type of research are interested in how people think about their lives, their experiences, and particular situations, they model their interviews after a conversation between two trusting parties rather than oil a formal question-and-answer session between a researcher and a respondent. It is only in this manner that they can capture what is important in the minds of the subjects themselves.
Researchers can never eliminate all of their own effects on subjects or obtain a perfect correspondence between what they wish to study-the "natural setting'~--and what they actually study--2'a setting with a researcher present." They can, however, understand their effect on the subjects through ail intimate knowledge of the setting, and use this understanding to generate additional insights into the nature of social life. Researchers learn to "discount" some of their data, that is, to interpret them in context (Deutscher, 1973). Subjects often attempt to manage impressions of researchers and their activities especially during the early stages of the project (Douglas, 1976). Teachers, for example, might not yell at their students in front of you, or in other ways act more reserved. Knowing that you are seeing teachers' behavior before strangers is important to take into account. Principals may engage in behavior they consider principal-like, and in order to do this upset their normal routines. You can turn this to your advantage to learn what principals consider to be principal-like behavior (see Morris and Hurwitz, 1980). In their reaction to outsiders, people reveal as much as in their reactions to insiders, provided, of course, that you know the difference.
7. Will two researchers independently studying the same setting or subjects come up with the samefindings? This question is related to the quantitative researchers' word reliability. Among certain research approaches, the expectation exists that there will be consistency in results of observations made by different researchers or the same researcher over time. Qualitative researchers do not share exactly this expectation (Agar, 1986, pp. 13-16; Heider, 1988).
Educational researchers come from a variety of backgrounds and have divergent interests. Some have studied psychology, others sociology, others child development, and still others anthropology or social work. Academic training affects the questions a researcher brings to an area of inquiry. In the study of a school, for example, social workers might be interested in the social background of the students, sociologists might direct their attention to the school's social structure, and developmental psychologists might wish to study the self-concept of pupils in the early grades. As such, social workers, sociologists, and developmental psychologists who pursue their interests in different ways may spend more time in some parts of the school than others, or may speak more to certain people than to others. They will collect different types of data and reach different conclusions. Similarly, theoretical perspectives specific to their fields will structure a study.
In qualitative studies, researchers are concerned with the accuracy and comprehensiveness of their data. Qualitative researchers tend to view reliability as a fit between what they record as data and what actually occurs in the setting under study, rather than the literal consistency across different observations. As the preceding discussion indicates, two researchers studying a single setting may come up with different data and produce different findings. Both studies can be reliable. One would only question the reliability of one or both studies if they yielded contradictory or incompatible results.
8. What is the goal of qualitative research? As we have suggested, there is variety in the work done under the rubric of qualitative research. All qualitative researchers do not share the same goal. Some approach their work in an attempt to develop grounded theory. Others emphasize the creation of sensitizing concepts. Description is another objective. If we included applied qualitative research in our discussion of goals the variety in objectives would be greater still. While differences between various approaches to qualitative research exist, researchers operating in the qualitative mode do have some shared understanding about the purpose of their work. Unlike quantitative researchers, qualitative researchers do not see themselves as collecting "the facts" of human behavior, which when accumulated will provide verification and elaboration on a theory that will allow scientists to state causes and predict human behavior, Qualitative researchers understand human behavior as too complex to do that and see the search for cause and prediction as undermining their ability to grasp the basic interpretive nature of human behavior and the human experience.
Qualitative researchers' goal is to better understand human behavior and experience. They seek to grasp the processes by which people construct mean-ing and to describe what those meanings are. They use empirical observation because it is with concrete incidents of human behavior that investigators can the think more clearly and deeply about the human condition.
Some qualitative researchers (including some feminist and action researchers) who study people who have been marginalized also hope to empower their research informants (Roman and Apple, 1990; Lather, 1988). They engage
in dialogue with their informants about their analysis of observed and reported
events and activities. They encourage informants to gain control over their experiences in their analyses of them.
9. How does qualitative differfroin quantitative research? Many au-thors have elaborated the different assumptions, techniques, and strategies of qualitative as opposed to quantitative research. Most of those writing about the qualitative approach defines it in contrast to quantitative (Bruyn, 1966; Risnt 1977). Although a certain amount of comparison is unavoidable, we have attempted in this book to concentrate on describing what qualitative research is of and how to do it rather than presenting what it is not. We refer you to others for examination of the differences (see Campbell, 1978; Eisner, 1980; Guba and Lincoln, 1982; Lincoln and Guba, 1985; Smith and Heshusius, 1986). While we have not been comprehensive in discussing the qualitative quantitative distinction, Figure 1-1 summarizes the characteristics of both approaches. This chart also serves as a useful summary of the points we have raised in this chapter, many of which we elaborate in the pages that follow.
Like the words "sex" and "snakes", ethics is emotionally charged and surrounded with hidden meaning. Nothing is more indicting to a professional than to be charged with unethical practices. While the word conjures up images of a supreme authority, ethics in research are the principles of right and wrong that a particular group accepts. Most academic specialties and professions have codes of ethics that set forth these rules (see, for example, American Sociological Association, 1989). Some codes are thoughtful and help sensitize members to dilemmas and moral issues they must face; others are narrowly conceived and do more to protect the professional group from attack than to set forth a moral position. Two issues dominate recent guidelines of ethics in research with human subjects: informed consent and the protection of subjects from harm.