Qualitative Research Methods used in Social Sciences
Dr. Shinde Anand Dnyaneshwar,
Laxmibai Bhaurao Patil Mahila
Research is considered as a more designed and systematic process of carrying on a scientific method of analysis that is focussed towards discovery and development of an organized body of knowledge. It is a planned activity to get answers to meaningful questions about phenomena or events through the application of scientific approach. Research is an objective, impartial, empirical and logical analysis and recording of controlled observations. It also may lead to the development of generalizations, principles or theories resulting to some extent in prediction and control of events. The knowledge received by the research is of highest order. But it is not based on assumptions, beliefs and untested generalizations. To seek such knowledge a researcher must develop scholarship, accurate observation and integrity, willingness to spend long hours to collect and study all forms of evidence before arriving at conclusions.
In a process of research, research methods are most important. Because they describe the various steps of the plan to be adopted in solving a research problem, such as the formulation of problems, the definition of technical terms, the choice of subject for research, the validation of data collecting tools, the collection, analysis and interpretation of data and the processes of inferences and generalizations.
A researcher must have a comprehensive understanding of all research methods with particular reference to their strengths, limitations, applicability and appropriateness. It will help him to carefully plan the steps undertaken in the research process. It will also help him to describe the method clearly before he starts working on the solutions of the problem. A pre-planned and well described method will provide the researcher a scientific and possible plan for solving the problem under investigation.
The selection of appropriate method and the specific design will depend upon the nature of the problem, research questions and type of data. However the method selected should be in harmony with scientific principles and adequate enough to lead to dependable generalization. In any specific study, it is a common practice to use any one method in the research. But there is no reason why two or more methods cannot be useful effectively in combination in certain research situations. For example a researcher may get the solution of a problem by studying its history through an examination of documents and then determining its present status by using survey method.
Methods of research are classified in various ways but most of the authors were agreeing on two basic paradigms i.e. logical positivism and phenomenological inquiry.
Logical positivism uses experimental and quantitative research methods and they are based on assumptions of natural sciences. These assumptions are universal and apply to all natural sciences and social sciences.
Phenomenological inquiry utilises qualitative methods derived from humanities and social sciences, particularly from history, philosophy, sociology and anthropology. These methods consist of phenomenology, ethnography, case study and grounded theory.
? Types of qualitative research:
The various types of qualitative research are based on the varieties in the methods as well as varieties in the sources of data. For example a researcher may focus on different sources of data like one’s own immediate experience, others experiences through writing, behaviour and products etc. and collecting data which concerns past, present and future.
In the situation of social science researches, following four major types of qualitative research are used.
Phenomenology is the descriptive study of how individuals experience a phenomenon. The researchers try to obtain access to individuals ‘life worlds’ which is their world of experiences where consciousness exists. Phenomenologist’s used in-depth interviews for obtaining access to individual’s life world. His task is to develop empathic understanding to reproduce in one’s own mind feelings, motives and thoughts behind the action of others. In order to understand the meanings of individual’s behaviour the phenomenologist sees things from that individual’s point of view. He frequently searches for commonalities across individuals rather than only focussing on what is unique to a single individual.
In the analysis of this research data, the phenomenologist registers or list significant statements, determines meaning of statements and identifies the real meaning of the phenomenon. After analysing the research data, the final report of the study is in the narrative form focuses on the rich description of necessary structures of the experiences in respect of phenomenon studied.
Ethnography deals with the discovery and description of the culture of a group. Culture is the system of shared beliefs, values, practices, language, customs, norms, rituals and material things that group members use to understand their world. Observation is the main technique is used to collect information in respect of cultural qualities. This study uses participant’s observation and the interviews with the group members for collection of primary data. This research involves qualitative data uses coding for further analysis. The analysis includes the ’emic perspective’, the ‘etic perspective’, the symbols, tacit knowledge, the hypotheses, actions and interactions within the organization and nature of observation.
The data analysis approach used in an ethnographic study aims at holistic description of the cultural characteristics of a group of people. It searches for the cultural themes in the data. The final report of the study is narrative in nature and focuses on the rich description of the context and cultural themes.
3. Case study:
The case study method is undertaken to examine a social unit as a whole. The unit may be a person, a social group, a family, a social institute or a community. Case study methods are used in the fields of social sciences, law, education, psychology and medicine because of its multidisciplinary roots. Case study research is classified into three types:
a) Intrinsic case study
b) Instrumental case study and
c) Collective case study
Multiple methods of data collection are used in case study research. These include observations, interviews, questionnaires, opinnaires, tests, inventories, recorded data in the form of documents etc.
Data analysis of this research focuses on the holistic description of the case including individual or individuals, community or communities, institution or institutions etc. the data analysis may also cross-case analysis. Final report of the case study research is a rich and holistic description of case. It is the detailed discussion of the themes and issues concerning the cases or cases along with their implications.
4. Grounded Theory:
The focus of grounded theory approach is on the development of inductive ‘bottom up’ theory that is ‘grounded’ directly in the experimental data. The data collected in this study by a various tools including observations, interviews, documents, videotapes and census data.
The analytical and interpretive procedures are used for analysing and conceptualizing data through coding, non statistical sampling, writing of memos, diagramming of conceptual relationships, written and verbal reports in this research. The final report is in the narrative form and it is the description of theme and people studied and end with the presentation of the grounded theory.
There are many advantages and disadvantages of qualitative research methods. No particular research method can claim to be the only and appropriate approach which may be used for conducting researches in social science. Social science has a extensive base with diverse concerns that’s why many of its problems can certainly be meaningfully investigated by various methods. But there is a need for adopting multi-method approach involving quantitative and qualitative paradigm to the methodology of social science studies.
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4. Strauss, A. & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of Qualitative Research : Grounded Theory Procedures and Techniques. Newbury Park, CA : Sage Publications.
Qualitative Research Methods used in Social Sciences