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.
|Methodology||Focuses on||Commonly Used Qualitative Methods||Epistemologies|
|Narrative Research||Capturing stories||Interpretive: 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) element||Constructivist, critical, unlikely to be positivist|
|Phenomenology||Understanding how people experience and describe phenomena (not as facts but as interpretations of experiences)||Interpretive: Interviews, observations, diary-like documents||Interpretive & subjective; can be critical (Butler 1988); never positivist; can be seen as its own epistemology and methodology|
|Grounded Theory||Developing a theory from the data||Interpretive or scientific/objective/positivist: Interviews, observations||Emerged in the positivist tradition (Glaser and Strauss 1967), or can be constructivist (Charmaz 2006), critical, and/or feminist (Wuest 1995)|
|Ethnography||Describing and interpreting a group that shares a culture||Interpretive: Observation, interviews, document analysis||Constructivist, critical, feminist, and/or (less frequently anymore) positivist|
|Case Study||Developing an in-depth description and analysis of a case or multiple cases||Interpretive or scientific/objective/positivist: Interviews, observation, document analysis||Can 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 analysis||Constructivist & critical (anti-racist and feminist)|