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Chapter 11

Chapter 11

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Connie Boudens

Chapter 11: Qualitative Methods FUNDAMENTALS OF QUALITATIVE RESEARCH o Qualitative methods involve “an interpretive, naturalistic approach to the world” in which things are studied “in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of, or interpret, phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them” o Attitudes are assessed by listening to people talk, not by requesting answers to a series of questions with fixed response choices. Behavior observed as it happens, not based on responses to planned treatments delivered to randomly assigned groups. o There are many different types of qualitative methods, but we will begin by pointing out several common features that distinguish these methods from experimental and survey research designs ­ Collection primarily of qualitative rather than quantitative data  Any research design may collect both qualitative and quantitative data, but qualitative methods emphasize observations about natural behavior, attitudes, and artifacts that capture life as it is experienced by the participants rather than in categories predetermined by the researcher ­ Exploratory research questions, with a commitment to inductive reasoning  Qualitative researchers typically begin their projects seeking not to test preformulated hypotheses but to discover what people think, how they act, and why, in some setting. Only after many observations do qualitative researchers try to develop general principles to account for their observations ­ A focus on previously unstudied processes and unanticipated phenomenon  Previously unstudied attitudes and actions can’t adequately be understood with a structured set of questions or within a highly controlled experiment. So qualitative methods have their greatest appeal when we need to explore new issues, investigate hard to-study groups, or determine the meaning people give to their lives and actions ­ A focus on human subjectivity, on the meanings that participants attach to events and that people give to their lives  Unlike quantitative methods, in which the researcher attempts to measure attitudes and behavior “objectively” with standardized instruments, the qualitative researcher tries to learn how people make sense of what is happening to them ­ Reflexive research design, in which the design develops as the research progresses  Qualitative research is sensitive to how “the activity of studying something will always change it, will affect it”  Each component of the design may need to be reconsidered or modified in response to new developments or to changes in some other component ­ Sensitivity to the researcher’s subjectivity  Many qualitative researchers question the possibility of achieving an objective perspective on human behavior—coming to conclusions about the data that any psychologist would see as valid—and instead focus attention on how their own backgrounds might influence their observation o These qualitative techniques can be used as supplements or as alternatives to experimental or survey designs when investigations focus on previously unstudied issues, how people interpret their experiences, or on the broader social context of behavior o Qualitative methods may be the only reasonable choice for some people or settings where controlled designs and systematic measures are not feasible METHODS FOR COLLECTING QUALITATIVE DATA o Approaches to collecting qualitative data 1. Qualitative Interviewing ­ Involves open-ended, relatively unstructured questioning in which the interviewer seeks in- depth information on the interviewee’s feelings, experiences, and perceptions 2. Participant Observation ­ Gathering data that involves developing a sustained relationship with people while they go about their normal activities 3. Focus Groups ­ Involves unstructured group interviews in which the focus group leader actively encourages discussion among participants on the topics of interest o Participant observation and intensive interviewing are often used in the same project; focus groups are a unique data-collection strategy that combines some elements of these two approaches QUALITATIVE INTERVIEWING o Qualitative interviewing is used to find out about people’s experiences, thoughts, and feelings, often with a goal of understanding how they make sense of their experiences o Unlike the more structured interviewing that may be used in survey research qualitative interviewing relies on open-ended questions o Rather than asking standard questions in a fixed order, qualitative interviewers may allow the specific content and order of questions to vary from one interviewee to another. ; Rather than presenting fixed responses, qualitative interviewers expect respondents to answer questions in their own words o What distinguishes qualitative interviewing from less planned forms of questioning is consistency and thoroughness o Qualitative interviewing engages researchers more actively with subjects than standard survey research does ­ As a result, qualitative interviews are often much longer than standardized interviews, sometimes as long as 15 hours, conducted in several different sessions ­ The qualitative interview becomes more like a conversation between partners than an interview between a researcher and a subject  “a conversation with a purpose” o The qualitative interview follows a preplanned outline of topics ­ Qualitative interviewers must adapt nimbly throughout the interview, paying attention to nonverbal cues, expressions with symbolic value, and the ebb and flow of the interviewee’s feelings and interests Selecting Interviewees o Random selection is rarely used to select respondents for intensive interviews, but the selection method still must be considered carefully o Researchers should try to select interviewees who are knowledgeable about the subject of the interview, who open to talking, and who represent the range of perspectives o Selection of new interviewees should continue, if possible, at least until the saturation point is reached, the point when new interviews seem to yield little additional information (exhibit 11.2, p.359) Asking Questions and Recording Answers o Qualitative interviewers must plan their main questions around an outline of the interview topic. The questions should generally be short and to the point. More details can then be elicited through nondirective probes (e.g.. Can you tell me more about that? Or “uh-huh” or moment of silence) o Tape recorders commonly are used to record intensive and focus-group interviews o Constant note taking during an interview prevents adequate displays of interest and appreciation by the interviewer and hinders the degree of concentration that results in the best interviews Developing Rapport o In the first few minutes of the interview, the goal is to show interest in the interviewee and to explain clearly what the purpose of the interview is o During the interview, the interviewer should maintain an appropriate distance from the interviewee, one that doesn’t violate cultural norms; the interviewer should maintain eye contact and not engage in districting behaviour o An appropriate pace is also important; pause to allow the interviewee to reflect, elaborate, and generally not feel rushed o When an interview covers emotional or otherwise stressful topics, the interviewer should give the interviewee an opportunity to unwind at the interview’s end PARTICIPANT OBSERVATION o Participant observation is a qualitative method in which natural social processes are studied as they happen (in “the field” rather than in the laboratory) and left relatively undisturbed o By observing people and interacting with them in the course of their normal activities, participant observers seek to avoid the artificiality of experimental designs and the unnatural structured questioning of survey research o Participant observation is not the method used to study the psychotherapeutic process; It would be too intrusive to have an observer sitting in sessions, and observer couldn’t interrupt to ask questions o The first concern of every participant observer is to decide what balance to strike between observing and participating o Problem of Reactive Effects. It is not “natural” in most social situations for someone to be present who will record her or his observations for research and publication purposes, and so individuals may alter their behavior o The observer is even more likely to have an impact when the social setting involves few people or if observing is unlike the usual activities in the setting. Observable differences between the observer and those being observed also increase the likelihood of reactive effects o Most Field Researchers adopt a role that involves some active participation in the setting. Usually they participate in enough group activities to develop rapport with members and to gain a direct sense of what group members experience o But being a participant as well as an observer inevitably creates some boundary issues: Participants in the setting can simply forget about the researcher’s role and the researcher can start to function simply as a participant o Experienced participant observers try to lessen some of the resulting problems by evaluating both their effect on others in the setting and the effect of others on their observations. Participant observers write about these effects throughout the time they are in the field and while they analyze their data. They also try to preserve some physical space and regular time when they can concentrate on their research, and they schedule occasional meetings with other researchers to review the field work Entering the Field o Entering the field, the setting under investigation, is a critical stage in a participant observation project because it can shape many subsequent experiences o Researchers must learn in advance how participants dress and what their typical activities are so as to avoid being caught completely unprepared. Finding a participant who can make introductions is often critical and formal permission may be needed in an organizational setting o It can take weeks or even months until entry is possible Managing Relationships o Researchers must be careful to manage their relationships in the research setting so they can continue to observe and interview diverse members of the social setting throughout the long period typical of participant observation o Every action the researcher takes can develop or undermine this relationship. Interaction early in the research process is particularly sensitive, because participants don’t know the researcher and the researcher doesn’t know the routines. o Experienced participant observers have developed some sound advice for others seeking to maintain relationships in the field ­ Develop a plausible (and honest) explanation for yourself and your study ­ Maintain the support of key individuals in groups or organizations under study. ­ Be unobtrusive and unassuming. Don’t show off your expertise. ­ Don’t be too aggressive in questioning others (e.g., don’t violate implicit norms that preclude discussion of illegal activity with outsiders). Being a researcher requires that you not simultaneously try to be the guardian of law and order Instead, be a reflective listener. ­ Ask very sensitive questions only of informants with whom your relationship is good. ­ Be self-revealing, but only up to a point. Let participants learn about you as a person, but without making too much of yourself ­ Don’t fake your social similarity with your subjects. Taking a friendly interest in them should be an adequate basis for developing trust. ­ Avoid giving or receiving monetary or other tangible gifts but without violating norms of reciprocity You can’t be a participant observer without occasionally helping others, but you will lose your ability to function as a researcher if you come to be seen as someone who gives away money or other favors. ­ Be prepared for special difficulties and tensions if multiple groups are involved. It is hard to avoid taking sides or being used in situations of intergroup conflict Taking Notes o It is almost always a mistake to try to take comprehensive notes while engaged in the field—the process of writing extensively is just too disruptive. The usual procedure is to jot down brief notes about highlights of the observation period  jottings o Jottings can then serve as memory joggers when writing the actual field notes at a later sessions 1. Describe the context, including the physical setting 2. Describe the participants, including potentially important variables such as age, gender, and clothing
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