The Lady Gaga Saga Kevin Gaffney MA Photography, Royal College of ...
14 pages
English

The Lady Gaga Saga Kevin Gaffney MA Photography, Royal College of ...

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The Lady Gaga Saga Kevin Gaffney MA Photography, Royal College of Art 2010
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07 Seale (JG/d) 18/1/02 9:40 am Page 97
Qualitative Social Work
Vol. 1(1): 97–110 Copyright ©2002 Sage Publications London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi
1473-3250[200203]1:1;97–110;021747
ARTICLE Quality Issues in Qualitative
Inquiry
Clive Seale
University of London, UK
ABSTRACT
In this article I outline the case for methodological aware-
ness as an essential component of the craft skill that
qualitative researchers typically bring to their work. This is
opposed to the view that good quality research can be
produced by opting for the criteria promoted by one variety,
‘paradigm’, ‘moment’ or school, arguing instead that valu-
able lessons for research practice can be learned from each
one. The ‘craft skill’ conception of research suggests that
researchers should regard their activities as relatively auton-
omous from the need to resolve philosophical disputes.
Methodological awareness, involving the capacity to antici-
pate the consequences of methodological decisions while
carrying out a research project, can be acquired from ex-
posure to almost any intelligent methodological discussion,
as well as from critical reading of existing research studies.
In making this case a summary of historical moments in quali-
tative research, and of key ideas presented by selected quali-
KEY WORDS:
tative ‘criteriologists’ is provided.
methodology
qualitative
research
reliability
rigour
validity 97
07 Seale (JG/d) 18/1/02 9:40 am Page 98
98 Qualitative Social Work 1(1)
My interest in quality issues in qualitative inquiry was sharpened a few
years ago when I was asked to write a book about ‘reliability and validity in
qualitative research’. I soon realized this could not be an adequate title, as the
terms would locate the author within a modernist, scientific paradigm that was
only one of several available for framing qualitative research practice. For
example, naturalistic and interpretivist approaches, politically-driven concep-
tions of research such as those stemming from feminist and other commit-
ments, and postmodernist perspectives on social life would not easily rest
within such a title. Norman Denzin (1988) expressed a similar discomfort in
referring to:
. . . a turning point in the history of qualitative research . . . postmodern ethnog-
raphy can no longer follow the guidelines of positivist social science. Gone are
words like theory, hypothesis, concept, indicator, coding scheme, sampling, valid-
ity, and reliability. In their place comes a new language: readerly texts, modes of
discourse, cultural poetics, deconstruction, interpretation, domination, feminism,
genre, grammatology, hermeneutics, inscription, master narrative, narrative struc-
tures, otherness, postmodernism, redemptive ethnography, semiotics, subversion,
textuality, tropes. (p. 432)
Political conceptions of the researcher’s task have become particularly popular
in applied fields such as social work and educational research. Thus Kemmis
and McTaggart (2000) argue that an important aim for qualitative research is
‘to help people recover, and release themselves, from the constraints of irra-
tional, unproductive, unjust, and unsatisfying social structures that limit their
self-development and self-determination’ (p. 597).
I realized that I wanted to reflect more recent paradigm shifts, but at
the same time did not want to abandon what was valuable in what Denzin
and Lincoln (1994, 2000) have dubbed the different ‘moments’ in the quali-
tative research tradition and engage in paradigm warfare. I have found that
many people who want to do research find that much contemporary social
theory (and, to some extent, political perspectives) in so far as this appears to
relate to methodology, is at best somewhat confusing and at worst completely
paralysing. I wanted to show how practising researchers are able to draw on
conflicting methodological debates in a productive way that enhances rather
than inhibits their practice. I feel that today we face a situation rather like that
which Glaser and Strauss (1967) faced when they outlined their famous account
of the discovery of grounded theory. At that time qualitative research faced
being relegated to the margins of social inquiry by the twin dominance of
quantitative methodology that appealed to scientific criteria, and ‘theoretical
capitalists’ (p. 10) such as Talcott Parsons. Grounded theory showed how theory
could be produced by the sociological ‘proletariat’ of research workers rather
07 Seale (JG/d) 18/1/02 9:40 am Page 99
Seale Quality Issues in Qualitative Inquiry 99
than armchair professors, while at the same time asserting its distinctiveness
from quantitative procedures and criteria. The continuing popularity of
grounded theory in the qualitative research community attests to its empower-
ing effect.
As well as conveying a new approach to the relationship between con-
temporary social theory (see for example Turner, 1996) and research practice
– dealing with the rather different situation that qualitative researchers face
nowadays – I knew that I also wanted to question what, for many qualitative
researchers has become a key component of their informal ‘creation myth’, the
idea that quantitative work and quantitative standards have little to offer the
research enterprise. A dream that I had at the time showed me a research paper
in which a deconstructive textual analysis, done with appropriate potential
for emancipatory effect, stood side by side with the results of a multiple
regression. I have not yet made this a reality in my own research work, but I
am getting closer all the time (Seale, 2001a,b,c)! A spirit of postmodern play-
fulness and pastiche, as well as a concern for political and practical effective-
ness, in my view can quite usefully be merged with a craft-like approach to
the use of research skills that are themselves derived from a variety of research
traditions. Good quality social research has the character of a well-crafted
artefact.
It is often said, by those who write textbooks on methods, or felt by
researchers, that philosophical and social theoretical ideas underpin research
practice and techniques. This is a position that I have increasingly wanted to
challenge as I believe it leads to unhelpful ‘foundationalist’ habits of thought in
research practice. In my view, research is primarily a craft skill, relatively auton-
omous from philosophical and theoretical considerations but drawing on these
debates at times to feed creativity or loosen trapped thoughts. This is a prag-
matic view of research process that is rather similar to the position that we all
face in everyday life. We do not normally become anxious about whether the
philosophical problem of induction has been resolved: we are happy to believe
that the sun will rise tomorrow, because it has always done so in the past, and
this seems good enough for us. In a similar way, social researchers ought to feel
that the skills they possess are ‘good enough’ for many useful purposes, without
the need to solve philosophical or social theoretical disputes before proceeding
with research.
To explain how I reached these views it is helpful briefly to review some
historical ‘moments’ in qualitative social research and associated attempts to
derive fixed criteria for judging the quality of studies. Elsewhere (Seale, 1999a),
I have presented a large collection of examples of research skills that I believe
can help produce good quality work. Howard Becker’s (1998) Tricks of the
Trade: How to Think about your Research while you’re Doing it conveys a similar
spirit.
07 Seale (JG/d) 18/1/02 9:40 am Page 100
100 Qualitative Social Work 1(1)
HISTORY AND CRITERIOLOGY
History
Denzin and Lincoln (1994) have helpfully summarized five historical ‘moments’
in qualitative research. It will be helpful to review these briefly in order to
convey a flavour of the diversity of frameworks available to researchers in which
to locate their work. I shall argue that the ideas promoted in all of these
‘moments’ have continuing relevance for the present day, in spite of the impli-
cation of lost or outmoded approaches conveyed by the ‘moments’ device.
The first of these moments, then, is the ‘traditional’ phase, occurring in
the early twentieth century, where qualitative research done by anthropologists
and sociologists such as Malinowski, Mead, Radcliffe Brown and early Chicago
School researchers involved a lone ethnographer entering strange territory and
reporting back to the ‘West’ or the ‘middle class’. The researcher here strove to
be objective and intellectually rigorous through extended episodes of fieldwork,
but there was considerable reliance on the personal integrity of the researcher
rather than procedural formulations in order to achieve work in which readers
could place their faith. By the 1950s, however, there was considerable pressure
on social scientists to appeal to natural scientific standards of proof, most
successfully managed by quantitative social researchers, but increasingly
incorporating qualitative workers. Thus the work of Glaser and Strauss that I
have mentioned, and the early methodological writings of Howard Becker
addressing, for example, problems of inference and proof in participant obser-
vation (Becker, 197

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