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Qualitative Research

Common Threads Of Qualitative Inquiry, Qualitative Research Methods

Qualitative research aims to understand the richness and complexity of social experience by attending closely to the actions, interactions, and social contexts of everyday life. It involves systematically ‘‘watching people in their own territory’’ (Kirk and Miller, p. 9) or speaking with them in depth about their thoughts and feelings. In some instances, this will lead to descriptions of multilayered and intricate worlds of experience. In other cases, the researcher may show how everyday experience is meaningfully constructed in social interaction. In still others, the results are reports of experience from the perspectives of the research subjects. Throughout, qualitative research strives to be rigorously empirical, even while its subject matter requires flexible methodologies and hands-on involvement in the lives of the persons being studied.

Qualitative research focuses on the ‘‘qualities’’ of social life. The goal is to describe the dynamics and texture of everyday life that quantitative research methods typically overlook in their formal operationalizations and numerical representations. Rather than simply designating and enumerating categories of experience, qualitative researchers provide detailed descriptions of the social organization and interpersonal processes in question. Quantitative researchers who seek predictive or explanatory models of social behavior often diminish the importance of qualitative studies by calling them ‘‘preliminary,’’ ‘‘exploratory,’’ or ‘‘merely descriptive.’’ Qualitative researchers staunchly resist this, insisting that we must have clear understandings of the qualities of the social world before we can attempt to explain or predict it.

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