Appropriate Research Methods

9. From Description to Explanation

With respect to qualitative approaches, David Silverman (Professor, University of London) provides an overview of the range and potential of different methods and the unique answers they can provide in the chapter Qualitative Methods.  The considerable potential of ethnomethodologic approaches, including conversation analysis, are addressed by John Heritage, (Professor of Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles) in the Conversation Analysis chapter.  This promising approach is a relatively new development with deep origins in the social sciences, and permits researchers to move from simple description (“how” questions) to explanation (“why” questions).  It is one thing to gather exquisitely detailed and precious qualitative data, but it is another thing entirely to analyze it in a way that satisfies the most rudimentary canons of science – like falsifiability and replication.  Researchers opting for appropriate qualitative approaches do not necessarily discard essential scientific requirements usually associated with quantitative approaches.

Eben Weitzman (Associate Professor, University of Massachusetts, Boston) discusses the ways in which new computer software can assist with the analysis of what can sometimes appear as mountains of qualitative data. Emphasis is given to their potential to assist the qualitative researchers – but to believe one can simply press a button for an answer evidences shallow understanding of the complexities of the analytic task confronting qualitative researchers. It is common for behavioral and social science researchers to want to compare and contrast phenomena between different countries or cultures, or differences between socio-cultural groups within a country. One cannot assume that an instrument developed and validated in one cultural setting can be used in other cultural contexts. Ensuring both conceptual and cultural equivalence is an issue which will be addressed in Chapter 15.