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Social Work Qualitative Research
by
James Drisko

Introduction

“Qualitative research” is a term that encompasses a wide variety of research types and methods. Its great variety makes it difficult to define and describe succinctly. This bibliography will offer a general introduction but will inevitably be incomplete. Qualitative research in the social sciences has deep roots in sociology and anthropology. For example, fieldwork and ethnography continue to be pivotal methods in these and other disciplines. The professions have also drawn extensively on qualitative research, though emphasis on quantitative research in the academy after World War II and the current ideology of evidence-based approaches among academics and service funders devalue it. Qualitative research is widely found and widely taught in nursing and in education. It is quite evident, but less prominent, in social work, in medicine, in psychology, and in occupational therapy.

Introductory Works

In social work, Jane Addams’s portrayals of the circumstances of immigrant populations in Chicago (Addams 1895) are public qualitative research works that are still highly valued. Indeed, Addams is sometimes claimed as a role model by scholars outside the profession as well as within social work. Mary Richmond’s 1917 Social Diagnosis (Richmond 1955) details a method for learning the psychosocial needs of clients and families in context, drawing on qualitative interviews, observations, and documents. These social work contributions emerged as sociology began to define its research methods (Znaniecki 1934). The widely used traditional case study is one well-known form of qualitative research (Gilgun 1994), though case study methods, purposes, and reporting vary, as does its quality. Social work education has long included both formal and informal training in qualitative data collection methods, including interviewing and participant observation, described by Zimbalist 1977. Further, the traditional method of process recording has provided both a technique and active training in recording interview data. Beyond documentation, process recording also provided an introduction to active reflection on the participant and on the self that is a key element of professional practice as well as of qualitative research. Since 1994 qualitative research has been required content in the Council on Social Work Education’s accreditation standards for all bachelor’s and master’s level programs.

  • Addams, Jane, Agnes Sinclair Holbrook Florence Kelley, Alzina P. Stevens, Isabel Eaton, Charles Zeublin, Josefa Humpal Zeman, Alessandro Mastro-Valerio, Julia C. Lathrop, and Ellen Gates Starr . 1895. Hull House maps and papers. New York: Crowell.

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    Addams sought to document and publicize the living conditions of immigrant populations in Chicago. Her goal was to raise public awareness and to catalyze social change. Both Addams’s methods, which draw on fieldwork from sociology, and her goals, which affirm social justice, are widely evident in qualitative research across disciplines in the early 21st century. Seminal, groundbreaking work from a social work pioneer.

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  • Gilgun, Jane F. 1994. A case for case studies in social work research. Social Work 39:371–380.

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    Gilgun argues for the wide applicability of the case study method to social work research and to social work practice. The article offers an overview of the case study method and takes stock of the method’s strengths and limitations. A very widely known, classic article.

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  • Richmond, Mary Ellen. 1955. Social diagnosis. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

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    First published in 1917. The originator of the psychosocial perspective, Richmond details a qualitative method of diagnosis that balances attention to macro-level social issues with micro-level family and individual concerns. Several case studies portray people-in-environments in great detail and with broad perspective. An early example of social work case studies based on planned interviews and observations—key tools in qualitative research as well.

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  • Zimbalist, Sidney. 1977. Historic themes and landmarks in social welfare research. New York: Harper & Row.

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    A unique book on the history of social work research. Chronological in plan, the book shows the development of social work research models in context. Extensive use of qualitative methods is documented, and the forces that have promoted quantitative research as a dichotomous alternative to qualitative research are noted. Lacks contemporary perspective, however, given its publication date.

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  • Znaniecki, Florian. 1934. The method of sociology. New York: Farrar & Rinehart.

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    In this early, classic work in sociology, Znaniecki details the method of analytic induction. Analytic indication seeks deductively to frame new concepts and preliminary theory while maintaining clear connections to its evidence base. This method is clearly the foundation of grounded theory, which followed it in the 1960s.

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Definitions and Descriptions

Since “qualitative research” is a term that encompasses a wide variety of research types and many kinds of methods and reports, scholars have struggled to conceptualize this territory for heuristic and educational purposes. Too often single methods are used as limited textbook exemplars of the range of qualitative research. Even introductory survey courses cover but a few widely used methods. This review will “locate” qualitative research through a continuum of highly structured to less structured methodologies to give an overview of qualitative research methods. The methods also divide into more deductively oriented research approaches and those that are more inductive in orientation. One approach to describing or defining qualitative research began by distinguishing qualitative research from quantitative research. This limited dichotomous approach quickly evolved into chronological portrayals of the many key developments that distinguish the several types of qualitative research. Lincoln and Guba1989 is one fine representative of the chronological portrayal style, as is the later Denzin and Lincoln 1994. Denzin and Lincoln 1994 focuses on key aspects of research purposes, epistemologies, values, and research reporting as well as on research methods. Atkinson, et al. 2003 also identifies several “key themes” that recur in qualitative research methods. This method highlights differences between qualitative and quantitative research as well as among qualitative research approaches in terms of research purposes, epistemologies, and values positions. Another approach, used here, offers a map of the variety of qualitative research in terms of methods.

  • Atkinson, Paul, Aamanda Coffey, and Sarah Delamont. 2003. Key themes in qualitative research: Continuities and changes. Lanham, MD: AltaMira.

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    This book offers an introduction to key ideas and concepts in qualitative research. Their evolution and the origins of new ideas are detailed. The book yields a solid orienting perspective on the diverse territory called “qualitative research.”

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  • Denzin, Norman, and Yvonne Lincoln, eds. 1994. Handbook of qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    The first of an ongoing series of handbooks, each with somewhat different content, this huge volume expands the reach of qualitative research and qualitative inquiry. One valuable feature is the chapter offering a chronological perspective on key, reorienting developments within qualitative research methods. Very widely used.

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  • Lincoln, Yvonna, and Egan Guba. 1989. Fourth generation evaluation. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.

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    Applicable to all qualitative research and not solely to evaluation, this volume draws clear distinctions among several ways of knowing and research purposes and methods. In addition, it offers a solid introduction to widely used research methodologies.

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Software

Technology has long been a part of qualitative research, starting with the use of cameras in ethnography and later the use of tape recorders to record interviews. Computers offered a new way to organize and manage the large datasets common in qualitative research projects. Note carefully, however, that computers cannot make any analytic decisions (in contrast to statistical software that does). The researcher still personally makes all the analytic decisions. Software can help manage, track, and thoroughly search the data. It can also make possible use of audio or video datasets without transcription, adding posture, inflection, and action to flat text. Software can also facilitate large-scale and multi site qualitative research, which was almost impossible using paper methods. While some researchers find the use of software in qualitative research to be unwelcome and even anathema, the use of qualitative data analysis software is increasingly mentioned in qualitative reports. It does seem to be interpreted as demonstrating seriousness and rigor on the part of the researcher, but this impression is too often misleading and inaccurate. Strong qualitative research can be done just as well without software. That said, there are new ways of exploring data and of reporting data made available by computers and electronic data sets. Lee and Fielding 1995 finds that people who perceive the software as too complex simply stop using it. Contemporary software packages still have a considerable learning curve (Lewins and Silver 2007). They are also converging in functionality. ATLAS.ti, MAXQDA, NVivo, and HyperRESEARCH offer different bells and whistles, but all do core analytic functions (organizing, coding, searching) effectively. ATLAS.ti is strong in analysis of non text data types. Further information on software can be found online by searching the software product name. Products offer helpful manuals and online tutorials, and some offer Listserv problem solving. Gibbs 2002 is a book on using NVivo software. Richards 2009 offers an overview of managing a qualitative research project. Weitzman and Miles 1994 provides a still relevant overview of qualitative data analysis software types, their merits, and their limitations. Dey 1993 is still a useful starting point, though software evolves rapidly and the details of products change almost annually. Kelle 1995 compiles a range of chapters on several aspects of using qualitative data analysis software. Drisko 1998 addresses qualitative software use specifically geared to a social work audience.

  • Lewins, Ann, and Christina Silver. 2007. Using software in qualitative research: A step-by-step guide. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    What the UK-based authors Lewins and Silver call computer assisted qualitative data analysis (CAQDAS) is thoroughly introduced in this excellent introductory volume. Focusing on widely used coding and theory development software (such as ATLAS.ti and NVivo), the authors help readers learn what the different products can do and how they are used in research practice.

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  • Dey, Ian. 1993. Qualitative data analysis: A user-friendly guide for social scientists. New York: Routledge.

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    Dey examines the merits and challenges of using data analysis software in a balanced manner. Though product descriptions are quite dated, the key issues are plainly set forth and are still relevant to contemporary software users. A user-friendly book.

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  • Drisko, James. 1998. Using qualitative data analysis software. Computers in Human Services 15.1: 1–19.

    DOI: 10.1300/J407v15n01_01Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article provides an overview of computer software in qualitative research as well as an analysis of four widely used software packages. Challenges and strengths are detailed.

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  • Kelle, Udo, ed. 1995. Computer-aided qualitative data analysis: Theory, methods, and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This edited volume includes chapters on how to use qualitative data analysis software appropriately, examples of actual projects, and reflection on the pros and cons of computer-aided analysis.

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  • Lee, Raymond M., and Nigel Fielding. 1995. User’s experiences of qualitative data analysis software. In Computer-aided qualitative data analysis: Theory, methods, and practice. Edited by Udo Kelle, 29–40. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This chapter examines how users learn, use, and finally stay with or reject qualitative data analysis software. This software has a considerable learning curve, is best learned through hands-on methods, and has many quirks. Users stay with or leave the products based on ease of use and fit to personal research goals and style.

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  • Gibbs, Graham. 2002. Qualitative data analysis: Explorations with NVivo. Philadelphia, PA: Open Univ. Press.

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    This book offers an introduction to using NVivo software. It covers setting up a project, coding, theory building, comparative analysis, modeling, and the transition to report writing.

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  • Richards, Lyn. 2009. Handling qualitative data: A practical guide. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    Richards, a creator of NUDIST and NVivo software products, provides an overview of managing the large datasets inevitable with qualitative research. Setting up projects, managing data on a case-by-case basis, clarifying overall aims, undertaking comparative analyses, and planning for report writing are all covered.

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  • Weitzman, Eben, and Matthew Miles. 1994. Computer programs for qualitative data analysis: A software sourcebook. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    The handbook of software offers highly detailed analyses of twenty-four programs organized into five major types: text retrievers, text base managers, code-and-retrieve programs, code-based theory builders, and conceptual network builders. Each package is individually reviewed to profile its many features and offer cross-program comparison. An outstanding resource and overview, though details are dated.

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Journals

While many social work journals are open to qualitative manuscripts, it is fair to say that many editorial missions and associated peer reviewers seek only mainstream, realist/post positivist reports. Some old and new journals, both in social work and beyond, offer a wider range of outlets for qualitative research and have peer reviewers who are more roundly knowledgeable about this varied intellectual terrain.

  • Action Research.

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    This international, peer-reviewed journal was edited in 2010 by Hilary Bradbury and Peter Reason. The journal provides a forum for the development of the theory and practice of action research. Its overall aim is to offer a viable alternative to dominant “disinterested” models of social science, one that is relevant to people in the conduct of their lives, their organizations, and their communities.

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  • Ethnography.

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    Ethnography is an international, interdisciplinary journal addressing the ethnographic study of social and cultural change. Edited in 2010 by Paul Willis, the journal now emphasizes dialogical exchanges between monadic ethnographers and those involved in ethnography and society.

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  • Families in Society.

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    Families in Society is the oldest professional journal in American social work. Edited in 2010 by William Powell, the journal addresses social workers in direct practice, management, supervision, education, research, and policy planning. The journal has a long tradition of publishing qualitative research in many forms, from case studies to innovative reports to advice for authors on writing up qualitative research.

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  • Forum: Qualitative Social Research.

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    FQS is an open-access, peer-reviewed, multilingual online journal for qualitative research. FQS seeks empirical studies conducted using qualitative methods as well as contributions addressing theory, methodology, and application of qualitative research. Edited in 2010 by Katja Mruck, the journal looks for “innovative ways of thinking, writing, researching and presenting.”

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  • Qualitative Health Research.

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    This international, interdisciplinary, peer-refereed journal seeks to enhance health care and further the development and understanding of qualitative research methods in health care settings. Edited in 2010 by Janice Morse, it seeks manuscripts regarding the analysis of the illness experience, health-related behaviors, experiences of patients and caregivers, the sociocultural aspects of health care, and related topics. Includes a section on computer software.

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  • Qualitative Inquiry.

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    This peer-reviewed international journal, edited in 2010 by Norman Denzin and Yvonna Lincoln, provides an interdisciplinary forum for qualitative methodology, critical perspectives, and related issues in the human sciences. Qualitative Inquiry is an innovative journal open “comprehensively” to qualitative research projects, including postmodern and post-structural reports.

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  • Qualitative Research.

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    Qualitative Research is a fully peer-reviewed international journal that publishes original research and review articles on the methodological diversity and multidisciplinary focus of qualitative research within the social sciences. Edited in 2010 by Paul Atkinson and Sara Delamont, the journal seeks to promote dialogue about qualitative methods.

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  • Qualitative Social Work.

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    This international, interdisciplinary, peer-refereed journal seeks to provide a forum for those interested in qualitative research, evaluation, and qualitative approaches to practice. Edited in 2010 by Ian Shaw and Roy Ruckdeschel, the journal seeks to facilitate dialogue among those interested in qualitative research and methodology and those in the world of social work practice.

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Textbooks

There are few textbooks on qualitative research specific to social work. Padgett 2008 is widely used and is a sound introduction to mainstream, realist research methods and approaches. Shaw and Gould 2002 is a solid, edited introductory volume. Morris 2006 is a balanced research text that centers on four different epistemologies to guide research education. Rodwell 1998 explores constructivist social work research in a book with exceptional detail on methods. In allied disciplines, Crabtree and Miller 1999, cited under Methodologies) offers a broader view based in family practice medicine but useful in social work. Creswell 2006 is widely used but examines and cross-compares five “traditions” of qualitative research. Patton 2001 offers a valuable introductory text on qualitative evaluation with a realist epistemology. Flick 2002 is widely used outside the United States and offers a strong conceptual approach to learning qualitative research. Both Padgett 2003 and Sherman and Reid 1994 offer valuable compilations of qualitative research exemplars done by social workers coupled with reflective commentaries.

  • Creswell, John. 2006. Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    The most widely purchased text in qualitative research. Creswell, an educational psychologist, profiles five widely used methods: narrative research, phenomenology, grounded theory, ethnography, and the case study. The purposes and methods of the methods are defined and carefully contrasted, offering perspective of the different research objectives among qualitative approaches. More of an overview than a how-to book.

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  • Flick, Uwe. 2002. An introduction to qualitative research. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    Flick offers a European slant on qualitative research. This text examines theoretical foundations, research designs, both textual and visual data collection, data analysis, and preparation of reports. Clear and widely used outside the United States.

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  • Morris, Teresa. 2006. Social work research methods: Four alternative paradigms. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    Morris’s text addresses bachelor’s and beginning master’s level students. It draws distinctions among four “paradigms” of qualitative research: positivism, post positivism, critical theory, and constructivism. This foundation will help students understand the choices made among epistemologies and related research purpose in qualitative research (not just a realist/post positivist stance). Fills a major gap in research education where dichotomous introductions blur important decisions.

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  • Padgett, Deborah, ed. 2003. The qualitative research experience. Rev. ed. New York: Wadsworth Thompson Learning.

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    This useful edited volume addresses both the methods and the experiences of each author in undertaking a qualitative research study. Exemplar chapters are followed by reflective commentary to round out the experience of doing case studies, grounded theory, ethnography, and other common qualitative research approaches.

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  • Padgett, Deborah. 2008. Qualitative methods in social work research. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    The sole American social work text on qualitative research for bachelor’s and master’s level students. A fine introduction to the issues and methods of realist/pragmatic qualitative research. The text also includes some content on mixed-methods research.

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  • Patton, Michael Quinn. 2001. Qualitative research and evaluation methods. 3d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    From a realist/pragmatic perspective, Patton details how to plan and complete qualitative evaluation projects. A very strong step-by-step volume.

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  • Rodwell, Mary Catherine. 1998. Social work constructivist research. New York: Garland.

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    This hard-to-find but excellent text offers a democratically oriented model of constructivist research. With strong attention to methods, it is a valuable introductory text to one kind of qualitative research in social work. (Rodwell is now better known by by the surname O’Connor.)

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  • Shaw, Ian, and Nick Gould, eds. 2002. Qualitative research in social work. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This edited text covers the steps of planning and implementing qualitative research in social work from many perspectives. The overall impact of the book is excellent despite its several different chapter authors. Addresses doing qualitative research and offers a solid overview of associated issues.

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  • Sherman, Edmund, and William Reid, eds. 1994. Qualitative research in social work. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    This edited volume explores the conceptual base of qualitative research, many different qualitative methods, and many important issues in qualitative research. Exemplar chapters are followed by short commentaries.

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Methodologies

Tesch 1990 identifies forty-six “named brands” of qualitative research, and many new ones have subsequently been created by researchers. Renata Tesch created a useful typology of qualitative data analysis methods that provides one way to conceptualize this broad array of methods. She imagined qualitative research on a continuum from more highly structured methods to those with less formally structured methods. Crabtree and Miller 1999 relabels Tesch’s continuum to make its terminology more accessible while retaining the core continuum concept. Crabtree and Miller 1999 presents a continuum of qualitative methods with four defining points: quasi-statistical approaches, such as content analysis, which require coding of unstructured documents but use statistical data analysis methods; template approaches, which use deductively generated semi structured interview formats for data collection or use similar pre defined templates for data analysis (such as epidemiological studies seeking short oral responses to highly structured questions about tuberculosis risk factors); editing approaches, which are inductive and seek the participant’s views in a minimally structured manner, such as grounded theory and ethnography; and immersion approaches, which may have minimally defined methods and research goals of raising consciousness and perspective.

  • Crabtree, Benjamin, and William Miller, eds. 1999. Doing qualitative research. 2d ed. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.

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    An excellent introduction to qualitative research methods. Includes an exceptional orienting overview drawing on the work of Renata Tesch as well as chapters on all aspects of qualitative research methods.

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  • Tesch, Renata. 1990. Qualitative research: Analysis types and software tools. New York: Falmer.

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    Tesch’s book details a typology encompassing the great range and variety of qualitative research. Organizing the book by analytic methods, Tesch provides a framework for scholars to see the continuity and distinctions among qualitative research methods. With a strong focus on analytic methods, this classic volume offers an introduction to software-aided analysis as well as a wonderful overview.

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Quasi-Statistical Approaches

Content analysis seeks to identify the amount or proportion of content within a defined set of documents that have a specific focus, such as end-of-life content or political views. Other forms of analysis may also look for correlations between passages with specific content, such as proper names correlated with ranked connotation of following verbs. Some content analyses seek to develop a concordance or complete listing with page locations of words found within specific documents, such as the Bible or the Qur’an. Two main forms of content analysis have been developed: Weber’s “basic content analysis,” with a somewhat more concrete approach to identifying content, and Krippendorff’s “interpretive content analysis.” As the names imply, the former takes a more concrete approach to identifying meaningful passages, while the later takes a more interpretive approach. Content analysis may draw upon a range of probability and purposive sampling methods. The nature of the content to be coded—the relevant unit of analysis—is generally deductively determined prior to the start of data analysis. Coding rules are established and treatment of inapplicable data defined (Weber 1990). The documents under study in content analysis are typically not created for research purposes. This may limit some potential forms of bias. Memos and field notes may be given very secondary importance. The process of coding texts is very much in keeping with other forms of qualitative research, but the use of descriptive and inferential statistics is what makes content analysis a “quasi-statistical” approach. In social work, Kramer, et al. 2003 uses basic content analysis to determine the amount of end-of-life content in social work textbooks. Drisko 2008 uses interpretive content analysis to document the amount and types of qualitative research content found in foundation-year research syllabi. In closely allied professions, Gottschalk 1995 uses content analysis as a technique to differentially diagnose patients. Brun 1997 uses content analysis to examine the nature of qualitative research in fifty-four social work dissertations.

  • Brun, Carl. 1997. The process and implications of doing qualitative research: An analysis of 54 doctoral dissertations. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare 24.4: 95–112.

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    Applies content analysis to an examination of social work dissertations to define the contemporary state of the art in qualitative research. Very thoroughly done and clearly reported. Samples among existing documents, all fully available to the researcher.

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  • Drisko, James W. 2008. How is qualitative research taught at the master’s level? Journal of Social Work Education 48:85–101.

    DOI: 10.5175/JSWE.2008.200500537Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    By content analysis of syllabi, the amount of qualitative research content in social work syllabi was documented and the associated types of content and teaching materials identified. Sampling plan centers on a mailed solicitation, yielding a 30 percent return rate.

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  • Gottschalk, Louis A. 1995. Content analysis of verbal behavior: New findings and clinical applications. Hillside, NJ: Erlbaum.

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    Gottschalk used content analysis of patient s’ stories to devise a method of differential diagnosis that appears quite accurate and effective. Differences in language use are documented across several different psychiatric diagnostic types. An applied content analysis with both practical and theoretical implications.

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  • Kramer, Betty, Cyndi Hovland-Scafe, and Lori Pacourek. 2003. Analysis of end of life content in social work textbooks. Journal of Social Work Education 39.2: 299–320.

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    The authors used basic content analysis to document the percentage of content within widely used social work textbooks that covered end-of-life content. Illustrates sampling issues (in selecting texts) as well as coding challenges (defining what constitutes end-of-life content). A very large-scale work yielding both a summary overview and a set of principles for end-of-life work.

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  • Krippendorff, Klaus. 2004. Content analysis: An introduction to its methodology. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    Allowing for somewhat more interpretation than does Weber’s approach, Krippendorff thoroughly details the steps of the most widely used form of content analysis in the social sciences. Interpretation is relative of course and must remain grounded in compelling evidence within the data texts.

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  • Neuendorf, Kimberly. 2001. The content analysis guidebook. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    As the title implies, this widely used textbook offers a practical step-by-step approach to doing content analysis. Clear and chronologically oriented, a useful starting text for researchers.

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  • Weber, Robert P. 1990. Basic content analysis. 2d ed. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.

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    Weber’s content analysis model sticks concretely to the facts in the text and allows for somewhat less interpretation than does Krippendorff’s model. All steps of content analysis are detailed: sampling documents, sampling within documents, coding, and analysis.

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Template Analysis

Crabtree and Miller 1999 applies the term “template analysis” to those qualitative research methods that employ a structured template during data collection or data analysis. For example, semi structured interviews used in social work, epidemiology, and other fields seek to collect narrative responses from participants to answer very specific, previously identified questions. Semi structured interviews use deductively determined content to collect and organize large amounts of data and/or data from large samples efficiently. The other variant of template analysis employs a template to shape the data analysis rather than the data collection. This type of template is particularly useful in secondary analysis of qualitative data. Participants’ responses are coded using a set of preestablished or a priori categories, again derived deductively from prior theory and knowledge. The research goal is to efficiently organize and summarize large datasets where discovery and theory generation is not the primary focus. An example is coding stories using the Labov 1997 linguistic typology to identify the elements of a spoken narrative process. King 1998 and King, et al. 2002 note that any template will have some limitations and that novel or unpredictable responses will always require some expansion of the template to capture these new views. Template approaches yield descriptions, typologies, and taxonomies, often reported as matrices or charts. Rains, et al. 1998 uses a structured form of data collection as a template. Waring and Wainwright 2008 offers an analysis of the strengths and practical challenges in using template analysis with large datasets. LeCompte and Preissle 1993 offers very helpful templates for organizing qualitative research projects. Many applications of the Miles and Huberman 1994 “matrix analysis” approach can be considered template approaches, as can the Bliss, et al. 1983 “systemic networks.” Matrices often portray processes in a chronological fashion that serves as a form of template to organize and summarize the flow of events found in the data. Memos and field notes may be given very secondary importance. Analysis is very often focused on visual displays, flowcharts, decision trees, or network maps rather than mostly textual reports.

  • Bliss, Joan, Martin Monk, and Jon Ogborn. 1983. Qualitative data analysis for educational research: A guide to uses of systemic networks. London: Croom Helm.

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    Geared toward research on processes, this book details a network approach to qualitative data analysis. Presuming an orienting model that deductively guides the analysis, systemic networks map the interconnection of events in an appealing summary fashion.

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  • Crabtree, Benjamin, and William Miller. 1999. Using codes and code manuals: A template organizing style of interpretation. In Doing qualitative research. 2d ed. Edited by Benjamin Crabtree and William Miller, 163–177. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.

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    Acknowledging that much qualitative research is deductively informed and descriptive rather than discovery oriented, Crabtree and Miller show how structured codebooks can be useful in analyzing short narratives. Such models are widely used in epidemiology to study public knowledge of health risk factors. Large-scale sampling is vital, as are narrative data, to learn about language and variation in understanding.

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  • King, Nigel, C. Carroll, P. Newton, and T. Dornan. 2002. You can’t cure it so you have to endure it: The experience of adaptation to diabetic renal disease. Qualitative Health Research 12.3: 329–346.

    DOI: 10.1177/104973202129119928Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Exploring patients’ views about renal disease, where the course of the disease is quite well known, King and colleagues used semi structured interviews to orient data collection on adaptations to illness. The template structures the study and analysis while also allowing for unexpected content.

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  • King, Nigel. 1998. Template analysis. In Qualitative methods and analysis in organizational research. Edited by Gillian Symon and Catherine Cassell, 118–134. London: SAGE.

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    In this chapter King details his view of template analysis. The template offers an orienting perspective to the researcher but requires heavy reliance on prior knowledge, which may not be optimal for discovery-oriented qualitative research.

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  • Labov, William. 1997. Some further steps in narrative analysis. Journal of Narrative and Life History 7.1–4: 395–415.

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    Labov, a linguist, offers a simple but compelling six-part template suitable for the analysis of narratives. His focus is structural, on how the teller orients the listener, introduces complicating actions, and evaluates events. A generic template for examining the telling of stories.

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  • LeCompte, Margaret, and Judith Preissle. 1993. Ethnography and qualitative design in educational research. 2d ed. New York: Academic Press.

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    While not explicitly oriented by template analysis, this book offers excellent general templates for the planning of qualitative research projects. These templates help researchers structure and complete research proposals and carry out projects efficiently.

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  • Miles, Matthew, and A. M. Huberman. 1994. Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE.

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    An excellent and very detailed approach to analyzing semi-structured data. Their matrix approach is useful for portrayal of processes and yields a “flow-chart” of events and their relationships. A widely known but underutilized text.

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  • Rains, P., Linda Davies, and M. McKinnon. 1998. Taking responsibility: An insider view of teen motherhood. Families in Society 79:308–319.

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    A semi structured approach yields an innovative, though preliminary, typology of views of teen motherhood. Data collection is structured but allows for unexpected responses that extend prior conceptualization.

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  • Waring, Teresa, and David Wainwright. 2008. Issues and challenges in the use of template analysis: Two comparative case studies from the field. Electronic Journal of Business Research Methods 6.1: 85–94.

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    Describes the use of template analysis with large-scale semi structured datasets. The cases center on the distribution of new data management systems for the United Kingdom’s health services.

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Editing Approaches

Tesch 1990 emphasizes the “seeking meaning” aspect of these related methods, while Crabtree and Miller 1999 emphasizes the fluid “editing” or developing coding style used by the researcher. In the editing approaches, there are no, or very few, a priori codes. In many cases prior theory or conceptualization is viewed as limited or flawed or not applicable to the location and participants under study. For example, a subgroup of a larger population may not seem to fit the conceptualization developed to represent that larger group, so new, discovery-oriented work is undertaken. The researcher is deeply involved in the data, combining spoken and observational data with reflections from field notes. Drawing on hermeneutics, a more politicized, critical stance may be a purposeful part of the data analysis and interpretation. There are many varieties of editing approaches, with shared and unique features. Among the most widely known are Grounded Theory, which seeks to generate new conceptualization and theory; Ethnography, which seeks to learn and document the story of a culture; Phenomenology, which seeks to understand the lived experience of a group; and Hermeneutics, which centers on the evolving interpretation of theory in social, economic, and historic context. Each “editing” method will be examined.

Grounded Theory

Developed in Glaser and Strauss 1967 to offer a method for creating new theory with a clear connection to the evidence that grounds it, grounded theory has become a widely used method in social work and allied fields (see Strauss and Corbin 1990). It aims at creating mid-level theories through a series of steps involving sampling, data collection, data analysis, and review of developing theory with participants and content experts (see Charmaz 2006). Drawing on the researcher’s theoretical sensitivity, sensitization based on knowledge, personal experience, and methodology, grounded theory begins with a clear contrast to the bracketing used in phenomenology. An iterative sequence of purposive sampling, data collection, and data analysis yields concepts and theory that are sequentially elaborated and tested against evidence. Interviews are a core method, but a range of methods may be used to provide strong evidence for concepts and developing theory (see Oktay 2004). Weiss 1994 offers a useful introduction to qualitative interviewing relevant to grounded theory projects. Grounded theory reports are often lengthy. Wells 1995 notes the method is often not evident in social work reports that claim to use it. A review of the contemporary social work literature shows many articles generating themes and typologies but few that show theories with dimensions and that develop theories or statements of the specific types of relationships found among variables. Article-length grounded theory reports are difficult to do thoroughly. Limited use of the “constant comparative method”—the analytic approach to grounding concepts in qualitative evidence clearly—is more common. For example, Drisko 2001 uses a limited grounded theory methodology to explore how clinical social workers evaluate practice, finding that practice setting and involvement with managed care yielded little variation but that education and time in practice were viewed by practitioners as important sources of variation in their evaluation activities. Note that theory, not solely a typology, is the goal of grounded theory studies. Davis and Piercy 2007 uses grounded theory to compare and evaluate prior theory by comparison with interview-based data describing actual practices. This article illustrates the use of grounded theory in an evaluation context.

  • Charmaz, Kathy. 2006. Constructing grounded theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    Charmaz updates the grounded theory method and seeks to link it to a constructivist epistemological position. The book offers step-by-step information on planning and doing a grounded theory project. There is strong emphasis on reflexivity, which brought criticism from Barney G. Glaser, who views Charmaz as overvaluing the views of the researcher, which may diminish emphasis on the views of the participants.

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  • Davis, Sean D., and Fred P. Piercy. 2007. What clients of couple therapy model developers and their former students say about change, Part II: Model-independent common factors and an integrative framework. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy 33.3: 344–363.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.2007.00031.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    By interviewing developers of a multisystemic family therapy (MFT) model, the authors sought to identify and conceptualize variables that fit with the model as well as “common factors” that may shape outcomes but are not specified by the MFT models. The raw data from the interviews are compared and contrasted with the existing theory in an evaluative manner.

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  • Drisko, James. 2001. How do clinical social workers evaluate practice? Smith College Studies in Social Work 71.3: 419–439.

    DOI: 10.1080/00377310109517638Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This study sought the views of social workers on how they understood practice evaluation. Open-ended interviews yielded complex and varied data, in part due to iterative sampling to maximize sample variation. The theory centers on identifying factors that shape how the social workers undertake evaluation and on stating clearly how each factor (generally) relates to varied evaluation practice.

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  • Glaser, Barney G., and Anselm Strauss. 1967. The discovery of grounded theory. Chicago: Aldine.

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    The classic book that introduced grounded theory still works well as a starting point for new learners. The book is more conceptual than a tutorial on methods, which are intentionally left open to allow for selection by the informed researcher. The book may appear positivist, but the authors use symbolic interaction to emphasize how language and interaction shape knowledge and understanding.

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  • Oktay, Julianne S. 2004. Grounded theory. In The qualitative research experience. Rev. ed. Edited by Deborah Padgett, 23–46 Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. 23

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    Oktay offers a clear overview of grounded theory and illustrates its application in research.

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  • Strauss, Anselm, and Juliet M. Corbin. 1990. Basics of qualitative research: Grounded theory procedures and techniques. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.

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    A more technique-oriented book that takes a how-to approach to grounded theory. Strauss responded to requests for more information on methods, which is offered here. The multi phase, iterative process of grounded theory is emphasized in sampling, coding, and analysis. The generation of new theory as the yield of grounded theory research is affirmed.

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  • Weiss, Robert S. 1994. Learning from strangers: The art and method of qualitative interview studies. New York: Free Press.

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    An excellent introduction to interviewing for beginners. Interviews are a key method of data collection for grounded theory. Open-ended interviews are key to good grounded theory work. Grounded theory is a discovery-oriented method that assumes participants know more than the researcher does about the topic, so minimally structured data collection, emphasizing interviews, is optimal.

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  • Wells, Kathleen. 1995. The strategy of grounded theory: Possibilities and problems. Social Work Research 19.1: 33–37.

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    Wells notes that many articles professing to use grounded theory neither include evidence of the application of this method nor result in any new theory. Misinformed researchers use alleged grounded theory methods to create mere typologies, showing inadequate training and knowledge of the method. This concern applies across disciplines. An important caution.

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Ethnography

Ethnography is both a method and a kind of research report, as laid out in Wolcott 1999. Ethnography seeks to portray a culture, whether of a people, an organization, or a group. Atkinson, et al. 2001 is an introductory handbook of ethnography with chapters on theory, technique, and reporting. Similarly, Fetterman 1998 addresses issues of overall research design, practical issues, and data collection. Ethnography draws on a range of research methods but emphasizes fieldwork and participant observation. Spradley 1980 provides a detailed introduction to participant observation as a technique of data collection and data analysis. Lengthy and varied involvement in a range of social activities is required to understand the culture from an insider’s perspective. Hammersley and Atkinson 2007 explores many practical issues in doing ethnographic research. Ethnography reports usually shift perspectives, beginning with a macro overview locating the culture, then sequentially zooming in to detail specific relationships and events of interest. For example, Williams 1992 locates the reader in the Spanish Harlem section of New York City, then moves to a neighborhood and to a specific house before introducing the people living in the house and detailing their interactions, views, methods, and language. Mallon 1998 uses ethnographic methods to portray the lives of gay and lesbian foster children in care. Floersch 2002 uses an ethnographic approach to study strengths-based case management of severe mental illness.

  • Atkinson, Paul, Amanda Coffey, Sarah Delamont, John Lofland, and Lyn Lofland, eds. 2001. Handbook of ethnography. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This edited volume offers chapters on the history and development of ethnography, practical chapters on doing ethnography, exemplars of ethnographic research on several topical areas, and critical analysis. Several models of ethnography, among them traditional, feminist, drama, and post-structural, are examined. Includes a chapter on computer applications for ethnography.

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  • Atkinson, Paul, and Martyn Hammersley. 1994. Ethnography and participant observation. In Handbook of qualitative research. Edited by N. Denzin and Y. Lincoln, 248–261. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This chapter examines the key role of participant observation in ethnographic research and outlines its merits and challenges. A very useful point of introduction to ethnography and its methods.

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  • Fetterman, David M. 1998. Ethnography: Step by step. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    A classic and well-respected introduction to ethnography. Fetterman details the research purposes, data collection, data analysis, and reporting method of ethnography. An excellent overview with attention to theory and specific methods.

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  • Floersch, Jerry. 2002. Meds, money, and manners. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    Floersch’s ground breaking book examines case management from an ethnographic perspective. The voices of patients, case managers, and administrators are all captured via case illustrations. A critical-realist perspective is taken and examined in the methodological appendices.

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  • Hammersley, Martyn, and Paul Atkinson. 2007. Ethnography: Principles in practice. 3d ed. New York: Routledge.

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    The authors view ethnography as an interactive and reflexive process. This text provides an introduction to core principles, methods, and practical issues. This edition includes content on the use of visual methods, Internet research, and hypermedia software. Issues of access, data collection, and analysis are addressed in this practice-friendly text.

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  • Mallon, Gerald P. 1998. We don’t exactly get the welcome wagon. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    Mallon examines the experiences of fifty-four gay and lesbian foster children as they move through the child welfare system. This book gives voice to a marginalized and often invisible population and helps readers understand the divide between misinformation about gay and lesbian adolescents and their lives in out-of-home placements, a key social work concern.

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  • Spradley, James P. 1980. Participant observation. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

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    As the title implies, this book examines the data collection method of participant observation, which is central to ethnography. Observations allow comparison of oral claims with actual behaviors. Includes content on ethical issues in participant observation.

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  • Williams, Terry. 1992. Crackhouse: Notes from the end of the line. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

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    Williams’s ethnography of life in a crack house introduces readers to the location, participants, and actions of crack users. The book is descriptive and clear, showing daily life in full, including the many degradations these people suffer. We learn how crack is understood, purchased, prepared, and used in the users’ own words and descriptions.

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  • Wolcott, Harry. 1999. Ethnography: A way of seeing. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira.

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    Wolcott addresses the overall purposes of ethnography in an accessible manner and provides an insightful and provocative introduction to the method. Issues in interpretation are a core focus throughout the book.

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Phenomenology

Interpretive phenomenology assumes that internal, subjective experiences may not be fully known to others and are certainly not fully known through external observation. Phenomenological studies therefore focus on the participant’s views of being in the world, emphasizing immediate and compelling descriptions of internal events as experienced by the reporters. This is in marked contrast to the use of the term in the natural sciences, where it means staying simply with empirical description because theory is absent or questioned. Phenomenology has solely descriptive forms, known as eidetic phenomenology, and forms that purposefully allow for more interpretation, known as interpretive phenomenology. Husserl 1931 offers an introduction to phenomenology from a philosophical perspective. In psychology, Moustakas 1990 and Giorgi 2009 have sought to study internal experiences formally through systematic recording and interpretation. Recent models of phenomenology emphasize intersubjectivity as the means by which people in interaction come to better assess and interpret the internal states and meanings of others. Van Manen 1990 details an approach to planning and implementing phenomenologcial research. In social work, Ruckdeshel,et al. 1994 utilizes phenomenology to convey vividly the lived experience of working in a dialysis clinic. Gilgun and Connor 1989 uses phenomenology to convey the too often invisible experiences of child abusers, helping social workers who serve them gain more insight into their clients. Gilgun 2008 also details the author’s views on the use of phenomenological methods and their personal impact. Murphy,et al. 2009 examines the meaning-making processes of victims of sexual assault.

  • Gilgun, Jane. 2008. Lived experience, reflexivity, and research on perpetrators of interpersonal violence. Qualitative Social Work 7.2: 181–197.

    DOI: 10.1177/1473325008089629Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Phenomenological studies seek to understand the lived experience of participants. This case study of reflexivity in action describes the special challenges when the topic is the meaning of violence to perpetrators. Personal impact and an evolution of one’s understanding are profound and shape understanding and research reports.

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  • Gilgun, Jane, and T. Connor. 1989. How perpetrators view child sexual abuse. Social Work 34.3: 249–251.

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    This study sought to understand child sexual abuse from the perpetrator’s perspective. Fourteen prisoners were interviewed for twelve hours to obtain open-ended life histories. Perpetrators were unable to see their victims beyond their own needs. The study findings may be helpful to abuse survivors who struggle with the question of why they were abused.

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  • Giorgi, Amedeo. 2009. The descriptive phenomenological method in psychology: A modified Huessrlian approach. Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne Univ. Press.

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    This book details the phenomenological foundations for qualitative research in psychology. Giorgi views empiricism as a limited fit for grounding the science of psychology. He offers a method grounded in phenomenological philosophy that is still clearly linked to empirically derived data. The rationale for phenomenology is clearly stated, and the steps of undertaking a phenomenological study are explicated.

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  • Husserl, Edmund. 1931. Ideas: A general introduction to pure phenomenology. New York: Humanities Press.

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    This book introduces Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology. This school of thought seeks an understanding of humans through a purposeful series of conceptual reductions. Husserl believes the method conceptualizes or reduces the objects of internal experience into universally applicable fundamental concepts.

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  • Moustakas, Clark. 1990. Heuristic research: Design, method, and applications. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.

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    Moustakas’s heuristic research is a unique form of qualitative research based on phenomenology. As a humanist psychologist, Moustakas emphasizes internal experience as the core focus of psychological study. This book introduces the research method in great detail, providing a helpful starting point for researchers at all levels of knowledge and experience.

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  • Murphy, Sharon B., Mary M. Moynihan, and Victoria L. Banyard. 2009. Moving within the spiral: The process of surviving. Affilia 24.2: 152–164.

    DOI: 10.1177/0886109909331702Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the relational themes and patterns expressed by twelve women survivors of sexual assault. Here, rather than offering individual stories, the results are aggregated to interpret and characterize the subjective meaning-making processes of the women overall.

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  • Ruckdeshel, Roy, P. Earnshaw, and A. Ferrik. 1994. The qualitative case study and evaluation: Issues, methods, and examples. In Qualitative research in social work. Edited by Edmund Sherman and William Reid, 251–264. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    This chapter offers an immersive account of the experiences of students working in a dialysis clinic. Sight, smell, activities, and personal reflections, as experienced subjectively and often never voiced on-site, are convincingly conveyed.

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  • van Manen, Max. 1990. Researching lived experience: Human science for an action sensitive pedagogy. Albany: State Univ. of New York Press.

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    Van Manen joins phenomenological and hermeneutical research approaches to examine meaning construction in action-oriented education. This book offers a practical, clear introduction to designing and implementing phenomenological qualitative research.

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Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics is the study of interpretation. It may refer to a particular strategy of interpretation or to an interpretive report. In sociology and social work, hermeneutics is also used to refer to the interpretation and understanding of social events through the systematic analysis of their meanings to participants and to the participants’ cultures. Gadamer 1989 argues that the cultural content of interpretations is crucial to all human meaning making and interpretation. Meaning making is viewed as inherently connected to the whole cultural discourse in which it is embedded. Therefore many forms of critical analysis draw on hermeneutical techniques and perspectives. Given social work’s attention to persons-in-environments, this approach offers a useful method to ensure that events are continually located in social context. In terms of methods, the “hermeneutical circle” or “spiral” is often mentioned. Dilthey 2002 argues that interpretation is assumed to be multiple and context dependent, and therefore it may be more fully examined and yields richer understanding when undertaken repeatedly with attention to different aspects of behavior and context. Multiple understandings are assumed, resulting from differing attention to event and content. Traditionally, interpretations of religious documents, such as the Torah, may generate iterative, nuanced understandings and interpretations, offering new insights with each additional analysis. Convergent results are not expected, as is the case with traditional views of validity and reliability in research. Attention to context opens up into critical analysis of economics, politics, and other aspects of society as both content and focal point of hermeneutical studies. Identification of key themes is a common yield of hermeneutical analysis. Multiple perspectives on these key themes are also common, if not universal. Use of reviews of results by participants or others with knowledge of the focal topic is also common to add complexity and ensure clarity. Armour,et al. 2009 undertakes a hermeneutical examination of challenges experienced by African Americans recovering from severe mental illness. Hoffmann, et al. 2009 uses a hermeneutical analysis to distinguish groups of people who gained from group therapy from others who deteriorated in it. Neander and Skott 2006 examines the influence of “important persons” on parents having significant difficulties with their children, yielding a typology of types of influence. Damianakis 2007 explores the role of the arts in social work practice and theory. Staller 2007 offers a “metalogue” combining and cross-critiquing the views of authors, peer reviewers, and editors in a hermeneutical circle.

  • Armour, Marilyn, W. Bradshaw, and D. Roseborough. 2009. African Americans and recovery from severe mental illness. Social Work in Mental Health 7.6: 602–622.

    DOI: 10.1080/15332980802297507Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This study explored the lived experience of African Americans recovering from serious mental illness. Using three semi structured interviews conducted six months apart, four prominent themes were identified: (1) striving for normalcy, (2) striving to stay “up,” (3) coping with the consequences of illness, and (4) leaning on the supports. Findings were peer reviewed by African American research clinicians.

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  • Damianakis, Thecia. 2007. Social work’s dialogue with the arts: Epistemological and practice intersections. Families in Society 88.4: 525–533.

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    Social work practice is still often called a mix of art and science. This article uses Max van Manen’s (1997) phenomenological-hermeneutical method to examine how social workers and writers view how the arts fit with social work practice. An integrated epistemology for practice is generated. Increased attention to the arts is endorsed.

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  • Dilthey, Wilhelm. 2002. The understanding of others and their manifestations of life. In Wilhelm Dilthey: Selected works, Vol. 3, The formation of the historical world in the human sciences. Edited by R. Makkreel and F. Rodi, 213–313. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    This work examines how “carriers of history” (individuals, communities, and cultures) act as systems to generate meaning and values. Dilthey offers an empirical approach to examining “universal” claims in terms of the systems of meaning that generated them. Groundbreaking philosophical work.

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  • Gadamer, Hans. 1989. Truth and method. 2d rev. ed. Translated by J. Weinsheimer and D. Marshall. New York: Crossroad.

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    Gadamer explores “nonscientific truths,” those inaccessible to method and irreducible to bare statement. He reflects on hermeneutical experience to examine the process “above” everyday thinking and doing. Context, history, place, and socialization all affect reading, interpreting, and locating understanding.

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  • Hoffmann, Laura L., Robert L. Gleave, Gary M. Burlingame, and Aaron P. Jackson. 2009. Exploring interactions of improvers and deteriorators in the group therapy process: A qualitative analysis. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy 59.2: 179–197.

    DOI: 10.1521/ijgp.2009.59.2.179Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Using a hermeneutical methodology, the authors examined the interactions of individuals who showed symptom improvement as well as those who showed deterioration in short-term group psychotherapy. Key themes from the group interactions were identified and examined iteratively. Differences in themes across groups were found under careful examination, as were general themes encompassing all group members.

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  • Neander, Kerstin, and C. Skott. 2006. Important meetings with important persons: Narratives from families facing adversity. Qualitative Social Work 5.3: 295–311.

    DOI: 10.1177/1473325006067357Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this study, families struggling with relationships with children identified positive influences. Meetings between the parents and these positive figures were the data source. Applying Max van Manen’s hermeneutical method led to the identification of themes. These included “emerging mutual trust,” which “overcomes obstacles.” Positive figures had a “clear orientation” in their occupation, leading to “new narratives” for families.

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  • Staller, Karen. 2007. Metaloque as methodology: Inquiries into conversations among authors, editors, and referees. Qualitative Social Work 6.2: 137–157.

    DOI: 10.1177/1473325007077236Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Staller examines the intersection of the views of authors, editors, and peer journal reviewers, yielding an argument that a “metalogue” is generated by their interaction. The metalogue identifies areas for further scholarship and is itself an iterative method of inquiry that makes philosophical differences visible through actual examples generated by manuscript review. A hermeneutical circle of ideas yields clarity of meaning and purposes.

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Immersion or Crystallization Methods

The least structured pole of both Tesch’s and Crabtree and Miller’s continua of qualitative methods centers on immersing the reader in the experiences and ideas of the researcher. Immersive qualitative research uses literary and performance methods and reports to put the reader “in the shoes” of the participants or to communicate a specific message. Immersion research emphasizes the researcher’s insight, subjective experience, intuition, and synthetic creativity. Some authors deemphasize the link between collected data and interpretation, using the data as a “jumping-off point.” Denzin and Lincoln 2005 emphasizes the “performance” nature of such reports; many authors do not view this work as “scientific.” Validity is reinterpreted, moving markedly away from correspondence forms of validity applied in realist quantitative research. Kvale 1995 reviews prior ideas of validity and adds communicative validity among groups with shared interests and expertise as a useful form of validity for the professions. Guba and Lincoln 2005 introduces the concept of “authenticity validity,” which builds off efforts to make research more democratic and less hierarchical in nature. Drawing on the ideas of Gilles Deleuze, Patti Lather introduces the idea of transgressive forms of validity intended to challenge, contextualize, and extend traditional concepts of validity. Richardson 2000 offers “crystallization” as yet another multifaceted vision of understanding that offers a concept quite unlike correspondence validity. Some forms of interpretation require expert knowledge and are often targeted to an audience of similarly skilled persons. For example, Eisner 1998 depicts the “connoisseurship” approach to evaluation, which draws on critical appreciation, insider knowledge, and expertise to generate useful conclusions without use of traditional research methodologies. “The Validity of Angels” (Lather 1995) is a performance piece in written form that challenges the reader’s ideas about the form and format of traditional academic articles while simultaneously introducing new ideas about validity and recounting a solid history of angels. Gilgun 2004 offers a beautifully written “fictionalized” account that may not be far from the teller’s subjective truth. Athens 2004 also uses fiction to immerse the reader in the lived experience of the nuances of racism. Staller 1997 offers immersive stories from her work in a runaway shelter coupled with personal self-reflection.

  • Athens, Lonnie. 2004. Three tales from The melting pot boils over. Qualitative Inquiry 10.3: 443–462.

    DOI: 10.1177/1077800404263497Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Athens uses short stories to convey the nuances of racism for immigrant Greeks in the American South in the mid-20th century. The fictive accounts summarize many actual events and convey the experience from the perspective of an omniscient observer. Intended to raise consciousness, the use of fiction may be equally—or more—effective than nonfictional reports.

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  • Denzin, Norman, and Yvonna Lincoln. 2005. Introduction: The discipline and practice of qualitative research. In The SAGE handbook of qualitative research. 3d ed. Edited by Norman Denzin and Yvonna Lincoln, 1–32. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    In their chronological account of the development of qualitative methods, Denzin and Lincoln emphasize the arrival of performance reports that seek to immerse readers/viewers into new knowledge and understanding, using methods beyond the standard academic text.

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  • Eisner, Elliott. 1998. The enlightened eye: Qualitative inquiry and the enhancement of educational practice. 2d ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.

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    Eisner’s book explicates the concept of connoisseurship. The researcher’s expertise may yield helpful insights, new ideas, and suggestions for those seeking consultation despite the fact that traditional methods are not fully employed. Expertise may be seen as a cultivated form of tacit knowledge, the benefits of which may be shared without a requirement that users fully understand the researcher’s methods.

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  • Gilgun, Jane. 2004. Fictionalizing life stories: Yukee the wine thief. Qualitative Inquiry 10.3: 691–705.

    DOI: 10.1177/1077800403261861Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This immersive article offers the perspective of a sexual predator in a beautifully written account that helps the reader understand the views of this man. The result is a rare view of a sexual abuse perpetrator’s actions that may help social workers better understand and treat clients with this issue. Fiction appears a thin cover for narrated subjective meaning.

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  • Guba, Egon, and Yvonna Lincoln. 2005. Paradigmatic controversies, contradictions, and emerging confluences. In The SAGE handbook of qualitative research. 3d ed. Edited by Norman Denzin and Yvonna Lincoln, 191–216. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    Guba and Lincoln add authenticity and fairness forms of validity as another measure of research merit and worth. Promoting a non hierarchical relationship between researchers and participants, authenticity validity focuses on identifying and appraising the ontological, educative, catalytic, and tactical aspects of constructivist research.

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  • Kvale, Steinar. 1995. The social construction of validity. Qualitative Inquiry 1.1: 19–40.

    DOI: 10.1177/107780049500100103Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Kvale provides an excellent exploration of validity, noting correspondence validity’s limitations and arguing for different types of validity as optimally meeting different research purposes. A very strong introduction and critique of methods.

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  • Lather, Patti. 1995. The validity of angels: Interpretive and textual strategies in researching the lives of women with HIV/AIDS. Qualitative Inquiry 1.4: 1–68.

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    This study of HIV-positive women plays with the conventions of the traditional qualitative research report. Methods become footnotes, a playbill follows the introduction, and a superlative literature review shows the author’s scholarly credentials, while the reader’s eyes are opened to new ideas and forms.

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  • Richardson, Laurel. 2000. Writing: A method of inquiry. In Handbook of qualitative research. 2d ed. Edited by Norman Denzin and Yvonna Lincoln, 923–948. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    From a post-structural perspective, social reality is multiple and variable, not singular and unchanging. To convey the multi perspectival views of people, Richardson offers crystallization as an alternative to convergence. Crystallization seeks to fracture simple views, offering a complex, multivocal way of reporting and understanding.

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  • Staller, Karen. 1997. Changing directions. Reflections: Narratives of Professional Helping 3.3: 6–26.

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    Staller offers stories of runaways, portraying the courage of children in the revolving door of shelters. She also reflectively examines what made these children so special to her, noticing how the children embodied reflections of herself.

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Participatory Action Research

Neither Tesch nor Crabtree and Miller emphasized action research in their typologies of qualitative research. Yet Friere 2000 argues that it is a major tool for combining social change with research to help empower the oppressed and directly effect change. Fals-Borda 1991, an originator of the approach, argues that it is a way to build community and democracy through research. Combining a value position of democratically shaping and implementing research, the participatory action research movement extends the boundaries of “research” from an indirect to a more directly active stance in public life. One could argue that efforts at action conflict with or contradict the documentary goals of research. However, this assumption is based in a positivist or realist stance in which objectivity is imagined and convergent results are expected. Critiques note that objectivity is often used to further the ends of dominant powers and may reduce attention to social justice in research. Reason and Bradbury 2008 states that action research seeks to work with communities in defining research questions as well as to work with participants in shaping research methods. Action research assumes that all research leads to change, and it often assumes that objectivity is inherently limited in socially constructed realities and that research can be more democratic and can be defined and shaped by its participants. McIntyre 2008 notes that many different types of research methods may be used within a participatory action framework: it is the underlying values and democratic participation that define this type of research, not its specific methodology. Herr and Anderson 2005 offers useful guidance to students planning a participatory action research dissertation. Eckhardt and Anastas 2007 argues that participatory action research fits well with the diverse interests and needs of disabled populations and appropriately empowers them to guide and frame the research question and methods. Both Gardner and Nunan 2007 and Wilson 2009 apply participatory action research to organizational issues. Balcazar, et al. 2009 uses participatory action research to help empower Colombian immigrants while assessing their service needs.

  • Balcazar, Fabricio E., Edurne Garcia Iriarte, and Yolanda Balcazar Suarez. 2009. Participatory action research with Colombian immigrants. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences 31.1: 112–127.

    DOI: 10.1177/0739986308327080Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors used a participatory, participant-focused needs assessment process in which Colombian immigrants in Chicago collaborated with researchers. Not only were community needs identified, community members were catalyzed by the research to volunteer and help others master the unfamiliar systems offering them services.

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  • Eckhardt, E., and Jeane Anastas. 2007. Research methods with disabled populations. Journal of Social Work in Disability & Rehabilitation 6.1–2: 1–22.

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    Noting a lack of research involving disabled people, the authors advocate for the use of action research methods to foreground the views of disabled people and to reduce bias in research methods and results.

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  • Fals-Borda, Orlando. 1991. Action and knowledge: Breaking the monopoly with participatory action-research. New York: Apex.

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    Participatory action research seeks to join research with economic and social change. It emphasizes that involved people must have a voice in determining the nature of social change. In turn social researchers must democratize research, sharing their expertise, including the voices, feelings, and needs of everyday people in all stages of research.

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  • Freire, Paulo. 2000. Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.

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    This classic book, first published in 1970, argues that oppression is a direct result of economic and political domination, combined with actively socializing citizens into silence. Participatory teaching and research methods encourage speaking out and active participation—key components of democracy. Note that people have undertaken great personal risk to speak truth to power in such efforts: it may be demanding for all involved.

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  • Gardner, Fiona, and Cassy Nunan. 2007. How to develop a research culture in a human services organization: Integrating research and practice with service and policy development. Qualitative Social Work 6.3: 335–351.

    DOI: 10.1177/1473325007080405Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article describes a participatory action research project in Canada with the goal of enhancing research participation and generating a research culture along with more traditional reports. Given widespread participation, the project outcomes enhanced the research culture and promoted further research efforts.

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  • Herr, Kathryn, and Gary Anderson, eds. 2005. The action research dissertation: A guide for students and faculty. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This book offers a historical perspective on participatory action research as well as a step-by-step approach to planning and completing an action research dissertation. Includes several brief exemplars to show what such dissertations look like.

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  • McIntyre, Alice. 2008. Participatory action research. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    Participatory action research is a research method that allows participants to serve as co developers at each stage of the research process. The goal is research programs with people rather than for people. This book provides a history of action research and the core ideas of the model.

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  • Reason, Peter, and Hilary Bradbury, eds. 2008. The SAGE handbook of action research: Participative inquiry and practice. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This work is divided into “groundings” or foundations of action research, practices or methods, chapter-length exemplars, and a closing section on skills. Includes models and content on many areas of interest to social work, including organizational issues and health care. The volume ends with several chapters reviewing the intersection of praxis and research.

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  • Wilson, Sandy. 2009. Proactively managing for outcomes in statutory child protection: The development of a management model. Administration in Social Work 33.2: 136–150.

    DOI: 10.1080/03643100902768816Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Wilson applies action research to a social organization. Child protective workers and management worked jointly to develop a research plan to better understand the limitations and strengths of their organizational model and improve service delivery.

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Qualitative Inquiry

The term “qualitative inquiry” is increasingly used to describe reports utilizing critical perspectives, indigenous methodologies, or efforts at sensitization or testimony. The distinction between “research” and “inquiry” is not a simple one. Willis 2007 argues that qualitative inquiry involves ideas about methods as well as pivotal differences on research purposes, epistemology, theories, and value positions. Collection of new empirical data is not always found in qualitative inquiry, though it may be. Denzin and Lincoln 2005 argues that qualitative inquiry may eschew traditional methods to address epistemic and value issues, to more immediately convey subjective experiences, to give testimony, to highlight standpoint views and cultural differences, and to create new options for conveying new knowledge. Qualitative inquiry often values perspectival differences and seeks to influence audiences other than those of academic publications. At the level of epistemologies and values, many researchers see important limitations to traditional research. What Marcus and Fischer 1999 calls the “crisis of representation” problematizes reporting the lives and views of others. That is, the distinction between “lived” and embodied lives and narrated or represented lives may be profound. Researchers and writers may inherently distort the views of others, objectivity may not be possible, and all writing is a political act whether the author views it as such or not. One source of this perspective is derived from work such as Said 1979, in which the author notes how Western social researchers created a deficit-oriented image of a culture that does not emphasize the values and strengths of the participants’ lived culture. Methods offered no effective limitation on failure to understand the differing views of “others.” Differences that separate people may not solely be cultural; differences by gender, culture, ability, and sexual orientation are just some additional aspects that researchers may misrepresent. One way to address this limitation is to examine one’s own experiences and one’s own social context rather than to seek to portray others (Ellis and Bochner 1996). A second concern is called the “crisis of legitimation.” At a moral and political level, native or aboriginal peoples and oppressed groups have challenged the hegemonic efforts of Western researchers. Smith 1999 states that research is “among the dirtiest words in indigenous people’s vocabularies.” New ways of knowing, centered in the ways of knowing and meaning making of non-Western cultures, have been developed. Harding 2003 offers new ways of knowing through feminist research. Similarly, Delgado and Stefancik 1999 introduces nontraditional ways of viewing race through critical race theory. Jagose 1997 provides an introduction to queer theory.

  • Delgado, Richard, and Jean Stefancik, eds. 1999. Critical race theory: The cutting edge. 2d ed. Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press.

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    This collection opens with a section critiquing liberalism in the United States, leading to a section on the power of naming and storytelling, noting how race has been essentialized and used oppressively in this country. Critical race theory inquiry offers a new perspective on race, economic and political structures, and binary distinctions among groups to empower, inform, and catalyze change.

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  • Denzin, Norman, and Yvonna Lincoln, eds. 2005. The SAGE handbook of qualitative research. 3d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This handbook examines the intersection of science and politics, the colonizing functions and impact of science, and the limitations of research opportunities imposed by politicians and funding sources.

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  • Ellis, Carolyn, and Arthur Bochner, eds. 1996. Composing ethnography: Alternative forms of qualitative writing. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira.

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    Seeking to immerse readers in the lived experiences and meaning making of researcher-authors, Ellis and Bochner expand ethnography to include storytelling to raise consciousness and effectively convey meaning to others. New forms of reporting qualitative inquiry provide more effective ways to communicate, inform, and educate.

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  • Harding, Sandra, ed. 2003. The feminist standpoint theory reader: Intellectual and political controversies. New York: Routledge.

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    Harding opens this volume with an overview of standpoint theory as a site of political, philosophical, and scientific debate. Following chapters examine standpoint in depth and explore truth and method, providing trenchant critiques of and new perspectives for both natural and social sciences.

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  • Jagose, Annamarie. 1997. Queer theory: An introduction. New York: New York Univ. Press.

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    Jagose states that queer theory must serve to create new ways of thinking, replacing essentialist binaries with more complex views of sexuality and social relations. The book documents the origins of queer theory in the homophile movement, in gay liberation, and in lesbian feminism, pointing to a multivocal, perspectival approach. Critically expanding simple categories is the broader purpose of this movement.

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  • Marcus, George, and Michael Fischer. 1999. Anthropology as cultural critique. 2d ed. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    The authors explore some epistemological and value dilemmas facing anthropology. Opening with a statement of the key dilemmas, a review of cultural anthropology’s past accomplishments and their limitations helps locate and identify its current challenges and some possible future approaches for scholars in anthropology and in allied professions and disciplines.

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  • Said, Edward. 1979. Orientalism. New York: Vintage.

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    Using the cultural representation of the mysterious, invariant, and ultimately inferior Orient as a focus, Said explores the theme of how intellectual traditions create images of reality, socialize students to follow the tradition without critical appraisal, and lead to a self-sealing approach to knowledge that effectively oppresses others while falsely representing them in the service of political and economic domination.

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  • Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. 1999. Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. London: Zed.

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    For colonized peoples, research is part of European colonialism, a method for oppressing others. This book examines the foundations of Western research, identifying “regimes of truth” that create misleading images of other cultures and people. It also offers a view of indigenous methodologies, reshaping research to making meaning of their strengths in their own terms.

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  • Willis, Jerry, ed. 2007. Foundations of qualitative research: Interpretive and critical approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This book introduces and examines several core epistemological and value concepts combined with several contemporary illustrative examples. Replete with historical and current real-world examples. A useful introductory text for those seeking to understand critical approaches and their role in qualitative research and inquiry.

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Rigor and Standards

There have been many attempts to establish standards for qualitative research, starting with Lincoln and Guba 1985 and Howe and Eisenhart 1990. Many models take a simple realist/post positivist epistemological stance and fail to address other epistemologies. The two most common approaches are checklist guidelines that require use of particular methods to establish quality and general guidelines or principles. The checklist model is derived from quantitative research and promotes quality via the use of specific methods (Giacomini and Cook 2000). This method has largely gone out of favor as imposing an implicit realist epistemology on the great variety of qualitative research, yet checklists are still found. The guidelines or principles approach sets out aspects of qualitative research that help enhance quality but that may not ensure it, often including specific methods or techniques. Altheide and Johnson 1994 explores standards for new forms of non convergent, interpretive validity. Drisko 1997 proposes a social work guideline approach that assumes that rigor in qualitative research is found in the internal consistency among the research question, chosen epistemology, intended purposes and audience, efforts to insure ethical practice, using appropriate methods thoroughly, establishing reflexivity, and writing a report that both gives the reader enough information to challenge the researcher’s conclusions and is consistent with all other aspects of the research. Models from other professions and disciplines are similar but often much less comprehensive. Malterud 2001 offers standards that are similar in scope but omit ethical issues. Popay, et al. 1998 also offers guidelines for qualitative research in medicine and health care. Standards for qualitative inquiry, for indigenous methodologies, and for critical studies are not well developed. Realization of their intended research purposes, in an internally consistent and thorough manner, effectively delivered to the reader, would seem suitable starting points. Hammersley 2008 explores the challenges of moving from a natural science model to one more based in the arts and in indigenous methods. Hammersley 2008 also addresses the role of qualitative research in evidence-based models, noting that these models devalue the research that provides the conceptual and creative foundation for all the elements of the experiments to follow.

  • Altheide, David L., and John M. Johnson. 1994. Criteria for assessing the interpretive validity in qualitative research. In Handbook of qualitative research. Edited by Norman Denzin and Yvonna Lincoln, 485–499. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    Assuming a constructivist epistemology, the authors explore standards suitable for assessing interpretive validity. What makes for a truthful report of others’ views, alone or in aggregate, requires different standards than does a realist epistemology where a convergent and stable perspective is expected.

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  • Drisko, James. 1997. Strengthening qualitative studies and reports: Standards to enhance academic integrity. Journal of Social Work Education 33:185–197.

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    Professions may need a different standard of accountability and clarity in qualitative reports than do the disciplines. To build confidence in the value of qualitative reports, Drisko offers flexible guidelines to appraise the internal consistency and methodological completeness of qualitative research in social work. Intended to be broadly applicable over diverse research approaches.

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  • Giacomini, Mita K., and Deborah J. Cook. 2000. Users’ guides to the medical literature: XXIII, Qualitative research in health care; A, Are the results of the study valid? Journal of the American Medical Association 284.3: 357–362.

    DOI: 10.1001/jama.284.3.357Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors promote design choices and care in analysis as hallmarks of rigorous qualitative research in medicine and health care. Implicitly realist in epistemology.

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  • Hammersley, Martyn. 2008. Questioning qualitative inquiry: Critical essays. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    Hammersley examines issues involved in moving from natural science models to those of social inquiry and the arts. He examines issues of what constitutes evidence, validity, rhetoric, and methodology. The role and place of qualitative research in evidence-based models that reject qualitative research is explored. Hamersley argues that validity is not undermined by an inability to replicate findings given contextual variation.

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  • Howe, Kenneth, and Margaret Eisenhart. 1990. Standards for qualitative and quantitative research: A prolegomenon. Educational Researcher 19.4: 2–9.

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    A useful set of standards for realist reports. Covers both qualitative and quantitative studies but fails to encompass many forms of qualitative studies and reports.

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  • Lincoln, Yvonna, and Egon Guba. 1985. Naturalistic inquiry. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.

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    Lincoln and Guba argue that credibility, transferability, dependability/replicability, and confirmability are important aspects of rigor in this pioneering work. Several methods are suggested to enhance rigor, some of which may fit realist studies more successfully than other epistemologies.

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  • Malterud, Kirsti. 2001. Qualitative research: Standards, challenges, and guidelines. Lancet 358:483–488.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(01)05627-6Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Strong on careful method and researcher reflexivity, Malterud’s work offers guidelines for medical qualitative research. Includes a strong focus on bias reduction and transparency. Does not address epistemology but seems to allow for constructivist positions.

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  • Popay, Jennie, Anne Rogers, and G. Williams. 1998. Rationale and standards for the systematic review of qualitative literature in health services research. Qualitative Health Research 8.3: 341–351.

    DOI: 10.1177/104973239800800305Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    These authors emphasize the transferability of qualitative standards as a concern for applied, professional qualitative studies. Several methods to enhance transferability/generalization are detailed. Does not address epistemological variation and appears to be implicitly realist.

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LAST MODIFIED: 05/25/2011

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195389678-0047

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