Qualitative Methodologies

There are numerous theories that underlie qualitative methods that depend on what the research is to focus on, the methods (i.e. the techniques) to be used, and the underlying epistemological framework the methodological developers employ. I made this chart to help my undergraduate qualitative methods students better make sense of the various methodologies and their associated epistemologies, though keep in mind that making firm boundaries around each type is nearly impossible. Many types overlap and intersect with each other and don’t always fit perfectly into a chart like this.

MethodologyFocuses onCommonly Used Qualitative MethodsEpistemologies
Narrative ResearchCapturing storiesInterpretive: One-on-one interviews, with open-ended questions; diary-like documents; unlikely to be pure observation or documents that don’t have a narrative (story) elementConstructivist, critical, unlikely to be positivist
PhenomenologyUnderstanding how people experience and describe phenomena (not as facts but as interpretations of experiences)Interpretive: Interviews, observations, diary-like documentsInterpretive & subjective; can be critical (Butler 1988); never positivist; can be seen as its own epistemology and methodology
Grounded TheoryDeveloping a theory from the dataInterpretive or scientific/objective/positivist: Interviews, observationsEmerged in the positivist tradition (Glaser and Strauss 1967), or can be constructivist (Charmaz 2006), critical, and/or feminist (Wuest 1995)
EthnographyDescribing and interpreting a group that shares a cultureInterpretive: Observation, interviews, document analysisConstructivist, critical, feminist, and/or (less frequently anymore) positivist
Case StudyDeveloping an in-depth description and analysis of a case or multiple casesInterpretive or scientific/objective/positivist: Interviews, observation, document analysisCan be based on any of the epistemologies: constructivist, critical, feminist, positivist
Critical (Intersectional)  Identify and interrogate systems of power (specifically centering race and gender)Typically Interpretive (but I say can be scientific/objective) Interviews, observation, document analysisConstructivist & critical (anti-racist and feminist)

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