National Centre for Research Methods



Seminar 4: Theorising qualitative research: paradigms and methods
Room G1, Godfrey Thomson Hall, Ground floor of Thomson's Land
Edinburgh University

Thursday 15th June

The nature and application of methodology is theory dependent. Moreover theoretical frameworks are often discipline specific. In terms of qualitative research methods, disciplines can place different emphases on different strategies for data collection and analysis. Indeed qualitative inquiry can mean rather different things to different disciplinary communities, within and outwith the social sciences. Hence a diverse range of methodological, epistemological and disciplinary positions potentially inform qualitative approaches. This seminar explores some of the ways in which theoretical frameworks and epistemological understandings are and can be used to inform qualitative research practice.

Welcome and Introduction
- Chris Taylor, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University

How realist are you? Revisiting realism in qualitative research
Lynn Jamieson
, School of Social and Political Studies, Edinburgh University

Socially relevant research is arguably research that results in new understanding of a 'real world'. Qualitative researchers have sometimes struggled to demonstrate that qualitative research is not 'soft' in comparison to the 'hard' evidence of numbers. At the same time, key thinkers across the social sciences and humanities have produced sophisticated critiques of versions of realism. This presentation will begin by briefly considering traditions of doing qualitative research in terms of realism, noting the long running tradition in sociology which is basically realist and that, despite various persuasive arguments against taking people literally at their word, in much of current qualitative sociological work, interviews are taken as telling us about the meanings and experiences of research participants, albeit with some caveats. Comparative reference will be made to psychology and the take up of discourse analysis, before turning to discussions of feminist methodology and reference to critical realism for further commentary inciting adoption and rejection of realism in qualitative research. Finally consideration will be given to whether there is a necessary bent towards a narrow realism in mixed methods approaches.

Theorising Qualitative Research in Practice Oriented Disciplines
Ian Shaw,
Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of York

Applicability, Credibility and Context
Tim May, SURF, University of Salford

Universities are subject to considerable changes as environmental pressures increasingly place their futures in question. As core sites of social scientific activity, it is important to understand not only why these changes are occurring, but their consequences for practices within universities. A central reason for this is in order to constitute their distinctiveness and viability for the future under pressure from other sites of knowledge production and transmission. This talk, using examples from qualitative work undertaken at SURF, examines these issues in terms of working in an environment that has to balance applicability for clients and credibility according to academic standards or, to express it another way, excellence and relevance.

Building things with fictions: what film can tell us about housing
Peter King,
CCHR, De Montfort University

In this paper I want to look at some aspects of the nature and status of housing studies as a field. Housing is clearly not an academic discipline, but has traditionally been based around economics, sociology, geography and politics. More recently there has been some influence from psychology, social anthropology, social theory and philosophy. However, much housing research is undertaken within a narrow positivist framework that deliberately eschews cross-disciplinary or theoretical approaches. The first part of the paper will consider the reasons for this, which are seen to be disciplined based, but also related to the institutional nature of housing education and research.

One issue that has held housing studies back is the very manner in which the term 'housing' is used and appreciated. Housing academics usually use the term to denote collective physical entities - a stock of dwellings - and see research as concerned with policy making that influences this stock. The result is a concern on a very narrow set of issues and a minority of the housing stock. But housing is also an activity and something that that is quite singular: we are housed and most often in a place we see as 'mine' or 'ours'. One way that we can explore this different sense of housing is through the use of film studies. I shall argue that film can open up our understanding of housing in a manner not available to more traditional disciplines. The paper draws on a number of films by directors such as Bergman, Fincher, Shyamalan and Tarkovsky to demonstrate the meaning housing has and the manner in which we are able to use it. This approach can be seen as additive to more traditional approaches to housing research, but also one that takes the field beyond social policy to understand the broader cultural significance of housing.

'What there is & what to do with it: Historical sociology, archive research and the redundancy of the so-called qualitative/quantitative divide'
Liz Stanley,
School of Social and Polictical Studies, Edinburgh University

Since the late 1970s (eg. Stanley & Wise 1979, 1983, 1993), I have argued that the so-called divide between quantitative and qualitative methods is at the least unhelpful, at the most reifies someting that 'in life' does not exist, because words and numbers are frequently used in tandem. Historical sociology and archive research exemplifies the redundancy of the often presumed division, in which data sources may frequently include both within one document as well as one collection. The result is that the presumed-to-be-qualitative method of archive and documentary research in practice often transcends such divisions.

Drawing on the collections of the Chief Superintendents of Burgher Camps Collections (Free State Archives Depot, Bloemfontein; and Transvaal Archives Depot, Pretoria; both in South Africa) concerning the concentration camps of the South African War (1899-1902), I shall argue that the only viableapproach for the archive researcher is to work with what there is, and to decide what to do with it on the basis that it is 'there' and must be grappled with. Archive research as a consequence offers an example of a 'post-divide' approach which focuses on methodology and epistemology, rather than method in the narrow sense of technique. This argument will be discussed in relation to a nunber of key archive documents

Discussant: Sheila Riddell, Professor of Inclusion & Diversity, University of Edinburgh.

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ESRC National Centre for Research Methods
ESRC - Economic & Social Research Council