Throughout March we will explore research design, with a focus on theory and conceptual frameworks. Find the unfolding series here. This post is from this month’s Mentor in Residence, Sharon Ravitch. She segues from our February focus on Indigenous methods into a discussion of practical design steps for researchers who want to approach their work with respect for local knowledge and cultures.
The Purpose Behind the Book
The new edition of Qualitative Research offers a decidedly hopeful framework for qualitative research, which we conceptualize as asset-based, non-impositional, critical equity work that is in direct opposition to the social forces that seek to reproduce inequities writ large.
Within the contexts of globalization, and top-down social policy and education mandates, the 2nd edition positions qualitative research as a powerful stance, as a set of methods that can generate agentic storytelling and the development of counter-narratives—that counter grand deficit narratives—upon which local, data-based resistance(s) can be cultivated, validated, and made public. Building on the 1st edition, we argue for anti-hegemonic, anti-discriminatory, resource-oriented ways of considering and approaching theory-research-action connections and integrations.
I have dedicated my career to teaching about the transformative possibilities of qualitative research that works from decidedly relational, contextualized, person-centered, equity-oriented, inter- and transdisciplinary perspectives and methodologies because I have seen what solid research can provide to social and organizational change efforts.
Qualitative Methodologies: Respect for Local Stories
As an applied researcher, I see the generation and sharing of local knowledge through local data generation as a tool for survival and survivance within and across communities. We think particularly of the need—indeed the right—for marginalized and deficitized individuals, groups, and communities to tell their own stories, lead agentic self-advocacy that pushes back, with valid and credible data (and with allies when wanted) in hand, against hegemonic policies and broader constraints that have intensified in the current sweep of top-down conservatism worldwide. Local data can provide a more systematic way to approach such efforts to transform people’s lives and help heal our world.
In this book we engage in considerable discussion of the transformative possibilities of qualitative research. We acknowledge, however, that even making such an assertion about what constitutes transformation (i.e., According to whom? Evaluated by whom? With what criteria? Who sets those criteria?) involves power asymmetries and internalized biases that must be thoughtfully considered, such as issues of representation, voice, reciprocity, and for whom is research transformative. That is part of why we advocate for criticality in qualitative research and present specific processes throughout this book that can help support you to cultivate your own bespoke approach to qualitative research. We argue for an approach that actively resists reinscribing—to the fullest extent possible—inequity, power asymmetries, hegemony, and the co-optation of others people’s experiences, narratives, and voices.
We believe that qualitative research, when done with intention and criticality, has the potential to provide interruptive and ultimately transformative experiences (as defined by the range of people whom it affects) as a result of its ability to generate local knowledge and understanding, its potential for informed action, and how it attends to the complexity of lived experiences.
While some qualitative research does not explicitly work towards social change or transformation, which is understandable given the range of important uses of qualitative research, we believe at the very least that qualitative researchers should actively resist reinscribing inequity and enacting symbolic violence—meaning a dominant group’s imposition of an ideology that legitimates and naturalizes a status quo formed by, and exclusively benefitting, the dominant group—in its methods and articulations. This critical inquiry stance on qualitative research is an ethical issue for us, it is at the heart of humanizing methodologies that work to do justice in an unjust world.
Relevant MethodSpace Posts
- Thinking about collecting qualitative data using digital methods? Introducing Tracking and Trawling
- Watch the MethodSpace Live Webinar: Doing Research Online
- Netnography Explained
- Researching Lives Qualitatively through Time: Broadening the Evidence
- The Value of Researching Lives Qualitatively through Time
- Gather Your Data Online: New SAGE Campus Course
- Creative Approaches to Biographical and Life History Interviews
- Ethics & Ethnography