Friday, July 01, 2011

Reading :: The Science of Qualitative Research

The Science of Qualitative Research
By Martin Packer

This is a significant book that digs into the history and development of qualitative research, providing a sustained critique of current research approaches informed by philosophy. It appears to be solidly researched, solidly argued, and based on a remarkably broad base of knowledge in qualitative research methodology and history as well as philosophy.

On the other hand, I didn't love it. Part of the reason had to do with the fact that Packer is dealing with such broad trends in qualitative research that it's hard to characterize them well, so he ends up characterizing localized implementations as universal ones. For instance, in Chapter 3, he critiques grounded theory's approach to coding as a process of decontextualizing statements and thus denying the interpretive context that make those statements meaningful. His extended example is Auerbach & Silverstein's introduction to GT coding, Qualitative Data: An Introduction to Coding and Analysis. But I looked up this book and it's hardly an exemplar - Auerbach & Silverstein had just discovered qualitative research, having come from a quantitative tradition, and this book decribes a coding approach that is frankly underthought and quite undercontextualized. When Packer uses this book rather than one by experienced qualitative researchers, I lose some faith in the argument he's making.

But then again, in rhetoric and writing studies, we made the interpretive turn in the mid 1990s. The interpretive approach to which Packer turns in the later chapters characterized qualitative research as it was introduced to me in my graduate classes. I wonder if the book might be a greater revelation to those who have not yet made the interpretive turn.

In any case, I think the key contribution of the book is how Packer traces qualitative traditions' roots to basic movements in philosophy. If that's your interest, this book is certainly for you.

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