'When taken as a means, it is for the achievement of desired goals and we are generally speaking of a set of methods or 'tools'. Examples include methods for identifying and recruiting respondents, methods for collecting data, methods for making sense of the data (data analysis), and strategies for reporting the research findings. [...] Within this perspective, qualitative research serves a functional purpose, a means to an end' (Pernecky, 2016, p. 187)
- Qualitative research as a 'means' -
To help navigate the heterogeneous landscape of qualitative research, one can think of qualitative inquiry in terms of 'means' and 'orientation'. Below is a set of probing questions designed to assist novice researchers in deliberating their own position.
Means vs. Orientation
- Qualitative research as 'orientation' -
'At the end of this spectrum, we are no longer speaking merely of 'means' and 'tools', but deeper concerns intertwined with the act of acquiring knowledge and the potential implications for various stakeholders. Qualitative research as orientation pays more attention to the ways in which knowledge is created - it is more probing, critical, and discursive process. [...] Researchers can draw on various forms of relfexivity and reflectivity, pay specific attention to matters of politics and power, and also critically examine who is silenced, empowered, or disadvantaged' (Pernecky, 2016, p. 188)
Qualitative research as a 'means'
Qualitative research as 'orientation'
One can think about a variety of decisions that shape the research design and situate her/himself on an attitudinal continuum. Below are some examples of probing questions that can be useful.
1. I am most concerned about understanding the Subject or Self as opposed to the Object or Structure/s.
2. Social science and qualitative research are fundamentally different from the methods and approaches in the natural sciences.
Probe #1 Self vs. Structure; Subject vs. Object
1. There are scholars who are interested in the study of structures whereby people are regarded as objects shaped by wider environmental, political, economic and social forces. Human action and behaviour can be understood by examining such structures and systems.
2. The second question focuses on the extent to which the scientific method of the natural sciences is applicable to the social sciences. Those researchers who strongly disagree with the second statement (i.e. they hold that the methods of the social sciences - including qualitative research - are not fundamentally different) are likely to approach qualitative research as a 'means'. This way, qualitative research is designed in such ways as to become the ground for reliable, rigorous and objective study of human experience and bahviour.
1. On the other side of the attitudinal spectrum are those researchers who are interested in the Subject or the Self. Understanding the individual and unique subject becomes the central focus of inquiry.
2. Those researchers who agree with the second statement are likely to maintain that there are fundamental differences between the methods of the natural sciences and the methods of the social sciences. With regard to qualitative methods, one does not strive for reliability and objectivity but seeks to understand the unique experiences (or views and attitudes) of individuals. Moreover, one is likely to employing techniques designed to build relationship and trust in order to enter the world of the research participant.
Both approaches can employ the methods of, and thus be called, qualitative research. Yet it is clear that there are fundamental differences and that a range of perspectives can be obtained on this continum. A self-probing analysis on a variety of issues is important for maintaining philosophical and methodological integrity across all aspects of the research process. One can further ask, for example, about truth, the researcher, and additional concerns, such as human rights and social justice. By doing so, one can finetune one's philosophical and methodological stance and pursue qualitative research with greater clarity and confidence.