Qualitative Research

Qualitative and quantitative refers to the distinction between non numerical and numerical data

• It is possible to make qualitative data quantitative (e.g., Mary is prettier than Bertha; Mary is a 9, Bertha is a 4, if the information is available
• It is possible to make quantitative data qualitative (Harry is 6 feet tall, Fred is 5 ft. 10 in. tall; Harry is taller than Fred or Harry is tall, Fred is average)

Characteristics of qualitative data

• Tends to be in words (though nominal data is qualitative)
• Often is richer in meaning (more nuanced) than quantitative data
• More ambiguous than quantitative data (e.g., "She is older than her years.")
• Not amenable to statistical analysis so other analytic methods are employed

Qualitative Data Analysis

• Searching for patterns of similarity and dissimilarity (similarities may be norms or universals)
• in observational studies, you may watch to see if all jaywalkers first look for cops; if all churchgoers say "amen" at appropriate times, etc.
• in interviews, you may look for similar responses from informants (how do you determine what "similar" is?)
• Ways of looking for patterns
• frequencies: How often do people use park district facilities in the area? (Note that people may not be accurate in their reports.)
• magnitudes: What is the level of use; do they just walk in the park or actually use (use up) facilities? Magnitudes can be described in Boolean terms ("More people use park facilities on Saturdays than on Sundays.")
• structures: What different sorts of facilities are used; what different sorts of activities take place?
• processes: Is there any order among the elements of structures? That is, do those who use some facilities tend to use others?
• causes: Why do some people use facilities while others do not? Are there characteristics common to users/non users?
• consequences: How does the use of park facilities affect the users? The facilities?

• The search for explanations
• typically, tentative conclusions guide future observations (as in anthropological field research)
• alteration of explanations & conclusions as you proceed is not only normal, it is proper. In a survey, you are stuck with the questions that you have; not so in qualitative research.
• introspection: examining your own thoughts and feelings-taking the role of the "other"
• sometimes explanations come in the form of "interpretations," that is, what it means to be a member of a particular group, for example.

• Strengths and weaknesses of qualitative (field) research
• validity: there is opportunity to examine meanings in detail
• good for examining social processes over time
• flexibility: you can alter your methods when needed
• problem: Presumably, seeing is believing but believing might lead to seeing, so validity can be compromised.
• reliability: how is reliability to be determined? (Examples from anthropology)
• subjectivity: how can you (as the reader) evaluate the position of the researcher (his or her religious beliefs, political stance, feelings toward the research subjects, etc.)

Kinds of Qualitative Methods

• Participant-observation ("field research")
• The interview
• in-depth
• guided
• unstructured
• iterative, flexible, interactive
• Documentary/archival research

Possible contrasts between qualitative and quantitative methods

• Ideographic and nomothetic
• particular vs. general
• humanizing vs. dehumanizing (???)
• individual vs. statistical
• exhaustive vs. partial
• Emic vs. etic
• Interpretive vs. explanatory
• Emergent theory vs. theory-driven (inductive vs. deductive)
• Social constructionism vs. realism

Issues in qualitative and quantitative research

• What is the research goal?
• Reliability and validity
• Epistemology: are we (or should we) be more interested in meaning or in explanation of causes and effects?
• Natural vs. artificial setting
• Participation vs. observation (and everything in between): "going native" vs. "the Martian"
• Reactivity
• "Objective" and "subjective"