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The Discipline and
Practice of Qualitative Research
Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln

W riting about scientific research,

including qualitative research, from
the vantage point of the colonized,
a position that she chooses to privilege, Linda
Tuhiwai Smith (1999) states that “the term
and qualitative, is scientific. Research provides
the foundation for reports about and represen-
tations of “the Other.” In the colonial context,
research becomes an objective way of represent-
ing the dark-skinned Other to the white world.
‘research’ is inextricably linked to European Colonizing nations relied on the human dis-
imperialism and colonialism.” She continues, ciplines, especially sociology and anthropology,
“The word itself is probably one of the dirtiest to produce knowledge about strange and foreign
words in the indigenous world’s vocabulary. . . . It worlds. This close involvement with the colonial
is implicated in the worst excesses of colonial- project contributed, in significant ways, to quali-
ism,” with the ways in which “knowledge about tative research’s long and anguished history, to its
indigenous peoples was collected, classified, and becoming a dirty word (for reviews, see in this
then represented back to the West” (p. 1). This volume Foley & Valenzuela, Chapter 9; Tedlock,
dirty word stirs up anger, silence, distrust. “It is Chapter 18). In sociology, the work of the
so powerful that indigenous people even write “Chicago school” in the 1920s and 1930s estab-
poetry about research” (p. 1). It is one of colonial- lished the importance of qualitative inquiry for
ism’s most sordid legacies. the study of human group life. In anthropology
Sadly, qualitative research, in many if not during the same period, the discipline-defining
all of its forms (observation, participation, inter- studies of Boas, Mead, Benedict, Bateson, Evans-
viewing, ethnography), serves as a metaphor for Pritchard, Radcliffe-Brown, and Malinowski
colonial knowledge, for power, and for truth. The charted the outlines of the fieldwork method (see
metaphor works this way. Research, quantitative Gupta & Ferguson, 1997; Stocking, 1986, 1989).

Authors’ Note. We are grateful to many who have helped with this chapter, including Egon Guba, Mitch Allen, David Monje, and
Katherine E. Ryan.

2– 1
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The agenda was clear-cut: The observer went to locate this volume and its contents within their
a foreign setting to study the culture, customs, and historical moments. (These historical moments
habits of another human group. Often this was a are somewhat artificial; they are socially con-
group that stood in the way of white settlers.Ethno- structed,quasi-historical,and overlapping conven-
graphic reports of these groups where incorporated tions. Nevertheless, they permit a “performance”
into colonizing strategies, ways of controlling the of developing ideas. They also facilitate an increas-
foreign, deviant, or troublesome Other. Soon quali- ing sensitivity to and sophistication about the
tative research would be employed in other social pitfalls and promises of ethnography and qualita-
and behavioral science disciplines, including tive research.) We also present a conceptual frame-
education (especially the work of Dewey), history, work for reading the qualitative research act as
political science, business, medicine, nursing, a multicultural,gendered process and then provide
social work, and communications (for criticisms of a brief introduction to the chapters that follow.
this tradition, see Smith, 1999; Vidich & Lyman, Returning to the observations of Vidich and Lyman
2000; see also Rosaldo 1989, pp. 25–45; Tedlock, as well as those of hooks, we conclude with a brief
Chapter 18, this volume). discussion of qualitative research and critical
By the 1960s, battle lines were drawn within race theory (see also Ladson-Billings & Donnor,
the quantitative and qualitative camps. Quanti- Chapter 11, this volume). We also discuss the
tative scholars relegated qualitative research to threats to qualitative, human subject research from
a subordinate status in the scientific arena. In the methodological conservatism movement men-
response, qualitative researchers extolled the tioned briefly in our preface.As we note in the pref-
humanistic virtues of their subjective, inter- ace, we use the metaphor of the bridge to structure
pretive approach to the study of human group what follows. This volume is intended to serve as
life. In the meantime, indigenous peoples found a bridge connecting historical moments, politics,
themselves subjected to the indignities of both the decolonization project, research methods, par-
approaches, as each methodology was used in adigms, and communities of interpretive scholars.
the name of colonizing powers (see Battiste,
2000; Semali & Kincheloe, 1999).
Vidich and Lyman (1994, 2000) have charted 2 DEFINITIONAL ISSUES
many key features of this painful history. In their
now-classic analysis they note, with some irony, Qualitative research is a field of inquiry in its
that qualitative research in sociology and anthro- own right. It crosscuts disciplines, fields, and
pology was “born out of concern to understand subject matters.2 A complex, interconnected
the ‘other’” (Vidich & Lyman, 2000, p. 38). family of terms, concepts, and assumptions sur-
Furthermore, this “other” was the exotic Other, a round the term qualitative research. These include
primitive, nonwhite person from a foreign culture the traditions associated with foundationalism,
judged to be less civilized than ours. Of course, positivism, postfoundationalism, postpositivism,
there were colonialists long before there were poststructuralism, and the many qualitative
anthropologists and ethnographers. Nonetheless, research perspectives, and/or methods connected
there would be no colonial, and now no neocolo- to cultural and interpretive studies (the chapters
nial, history were it not for this investigative in Part II take up these paradigms).3 There are
mentality that turned the dark-skinned Other separate and detailed literatures on the many
into the object of the ethnographer’s gaze. From methods and approaches that fall under the cate-
the very beginning, qualitative research was gory of qualitative research, such as case study,
implicated in a racist project.1 politics and ethics, participatory inquiry, inter-
In this introductory chapter, we define the viewing, participant observation, visual methods,
field of qualitative research, then navigate, chart, and interpretive analysis.
and review the history of qualitative research In North America, qualitative research oper-
in the human disciplines. This will allow us to ates in a complex historical field that crosscuts at
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Denzin & Lincoln: Introduction– 2–3

least eight historical moments. (We discuss these (see below), learning how to borrow from many
moments in detail below.) These moments over- different disciplines.
lap and simultaneously operate in the present.4 The blurred genres phase produced the next
We define them as the traditional (1900–1950); stage, the crisis of representation. Here researchers
the modernist, or golden age (1950–1970); blurred struggled with how to locate themselves and their
genres (1970–1986); the crisis of representation subjects in reflexive texts.A kind of methodological
(1986–1990); the postmodern, a period of experi- diaspora took place, a two-way exodus. Humanists
mental and new ethnographies (1990–1995); migrated to the social sciences, searching for new
postexperimental inquiry (1995–2000); the social theory, new ways to study popular culture
methodologically contested present (2000–2004); and its local, ethnographic contexts. Social scien-
and the fractured future, which is now (2005– ). tists turned to the humanities, hoping to learn how
The future, the eighth moment, confronts the to do complex structural and poststructural read-
methodological backlash associated with the ings of social texts. From the humanities, social
evidence-based social movement. It is concerned scientists also learned how to produce texts that
with moral discourse, with the development of refused to be read in simplistic, linear, incontro-
sacred textualities. The eighth moment asks that vertible terms. The line between text and context
the social sciences and the humanities become blurred.In the postmodern, experimental moment,
sites for critical conversations about democracy, researchers continued to move away from foun-
race, gender, class, nation-states, globalization, dational and quasi-foundational criteria (see in
freedom, and community.5 this volume Smith & Hodkinson, Chapter 36;
The postmodern and postexperimental Richardson & St. Pierre, Chapter 38). Alternative
moments were defined in part by a concern for evaluative criteria were sought, criteria that might
literary and rhetorical tropes and the narrative prove evocative, moral, critical, and rooted in local
turn, a concern for storytelling, for composing understandings.
ethnographies in new ways (Bochner & Ellis, Any definition of qualitative research must
2002; Ellis, 2004; Goodall, 2000; Pelias, 2004; work within this complex historical field. Qualita-
Richardson & Lockridge, 2004; Trujillo, 2004). tive research means different things in each of these
Laurel Richardson (1997) observes that this moments. Nonetheless, an initial, generic defini-
moment was shaped by a new sensibility, by tion can be offered: Qualitative research is a situ-
doubt, by a refusal to privilege any method or ated activity that locates the observer in the world.
theory (p. 173). But now at the dawn of this new It consists of a set of interpretive,material practices
century we struggle to connect qualitative that make the world visible. These practices trans-
research to the hopes, needs, goals, and promises form the world. They turn the world into a series
of a free democratic society. of representations, including field notes, inter-
Successive waves of epistemological theorizing views, conversations, photographs, recordings, and
move across these eight moments. The traditional memos to the self.At this level, qualitative research
period is associated with the positivist, founda- involves an interpretive, naturalistic approach to
tional paradigm. The modernist or golden age the world. This means that qualitative researchers
and blurred genres moments are connected to the study things in their natural settings, attempting
appearance of postpositivist arguments. At the to make sense of, or interpret, phenomena in terms
same time, a variety of new interpretive, quali- of the meanings people bring to them.7
tative perspectives were taken up, including Qualitative research involves the studied use
hermeneutics, structuralism, semiotics, phenom- and collection of a variety of empirical materials—
enology, cultural studies, and feminism.6 In the case study; personal experience; introspection; life
blurred genres phase, the humanities became story; interview; artifacts; cultural texts and pro-
central resources for critical, interpretive theory, ductions; observational, historical, interactional,
and the qualitative research project broadly and visual texts—that describe routine and prob-
conceived. The researcher became a bricoleur lematic moments and meanings in individuals’
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lives. Accordingly, qualitative researchers deploy which is the result of the bricoleur’s method is an
a wide range of interconnected interpretive prac- [emergent] construction” (Weinstein & Weinstein,
tices, hoping always to get a better understanding 1991, p. 161) that changes and takes new forms
of the subject matter at hand. It is understood, as the bricoleur adds different tools, methods, and
however, that each practice makes the world visible techniques of representation and interpretation
in a different way. Hence there is frequently a to the puzzle. Nelson et al. (1992) describe the
commitment to using more than one interpretive methodology of cultural studies as “a bricolage. Its
practice in any study. choice of practice, that is, is pragmatic, strategic
and self-reflexive” (p. 2). This understanding can
be applied, with qualifications, to qualitative
The Qualitative Researcher
as Bricoleur and Quilt Maker The qualitative researcher as bricoleur, or
The qualitative researcher may be described maker of quilts, uses the aesthetic and material
using multiple and gendered images: scientist, tools of his or her craft, deploying whatever
naturalist, field-worker, journalist, social critic, strategies, methods, and empirical materials are
artist, performer, jazz musician, filmmaker, quilt at hand (Becker, 1998, p. 2). If the researcher
maker, essayist. The many methodological prac- needs to invent, or piece together, new tools
tices of qualitative research may be viewed as soft or techniques, he or she will do so.Choices regard-
science, journalism, ethnography, bricolage, quilt ing which interpretive practices to employ are
making, or montage. The researcher, in turn, may not necessarily made in advance. As Nelson et al.
be seen as a bricoleur, as a maker of quilts, or, as (1992) note, the “choice of research practices
in filmmaking, a person who assembles images depends upon the questions that are asked, and
into montages. (On montage, see Cook, 1981, the questions depend on their context” (p. 2),
pp. 171–177; Monaco, 1981, pp. 322–328; and the what is available in the context, and what the
discussion below. On quilting, see hooks, 1990, researcher can do in that setting.
pp. 115–122; Wolcott, 1995, pp. 31–33.) These interpretive practices involve aesthetic
Harper (1987, pp. 9, 74–75, 92), de Certeau issues, an aesthetics of representation that goes
(1984, p. xv), Nelson, Treichler, and Grossberg beyond the pragmatic or the practical. Here the
(1992, p. 2), Lévi-Strauss (1966, p. 17), Weinstein concept of montage is useful (see Cook, 1981,
and Weinstein (1991, p. 161), and Kincheloe p. 323; Monaco, 1981, pp. 171–172). Montage is
(2001) clarify the meanings of bricolage and a method of editing cinematic images. In the
bricoleur.8 A bricoleur makes do by “adapting the history of cinematography, montage is most
bricoles of the world. Bricolage is ‘the poetic mak- closely associated with the work of Sergei
ing do’” (de Certeau, 1984, p. xv) with “such Eisenstein, especially his film The Battleship
bricoles—the odds and ends, the bits left over” Potemkin (1925). In montage, several different
(Harper, 1987, p. 74). The bricoleur is a “Jack of images are juxtaposed to or superimposed on one
all trades, a kind of professional do-it-yourself” another to create a picture. In a sense, montage
(Lévi-Strauss,1966,p.17).In their work,bricoleurs is like pentimento, in which something that has
define and extend themselves (Harper, 1987, been painted out of a picture (an image the
p. 75). Indeed, the bricoleur’s life story, or biogra- painter “repented,” or denied) becomes visible
phy, “may be thought of as bricolage” (Harper, again, creating something new. What is new is
1987, p. 92). what had been obscured by a previous image.
There are many kinds of bricoleurs—inter- Montage and pentimento, like jazz, which is
pretive, narrative, theoretical, political, method- improvisation, create the sense that images,
ological (see below). The interpretive bricoleur sounds, and understandings are blending together,
produces a bricolage—that is, a pieced-together overlapping, forming a composite, a new creation.
set of representations that is fitted to the specifics The images seem to shape and define one another,
of a complex situation. “The solution (bricolage) and an emotional,gestalt effect is produced.In film
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Denzin & Lincoln: Introduction– 2–5

montage, images are often combined in a swiftly stitches, edits, and puts slices of reality together.
run sequence that produces a dizzily revolving This process creates and brings psychological and
collection of several images around a central or emotional unity—a pattern—to an interpretive
focused picture or sequence; directors often use experience. There are many examples of montage
such effects to signify the passage of time. in current qualitative research (see Diversi, 1998;
Perhaps the most famous instance of montage Holman Jones, 1999; Lather & Smithies, 1997;
in film is the Odessa Steps sequence in The Ronai, 1998; see also Holman Jones, Chapter 30,
Battleship Potemkin.9 In the climax of the film, the this volume). Using multiple voices, different tex-
citizens of Odessa are being massacred by czarist tual formats, and various typefaces, Lather and
troops on the stone steps leading down to the Smithies (1997) weave a complex text about AIDS
harbor. Eisenstein cuts to a young mother as she and women who are HIV-positive. Holman Jones
pushes her baby in a carriage across the landing in (1999) creates a performance text using lyrics
front of the firing troops. Citizens rush past her, from the blues songs sung by Billie Holiday.
jolting the carriage, which she is afraid to push In texts based on the metaphors of montage,
down to the next flight of stairs. The troops are quilt making, and jazz improvisation, many dif-
above her, firing at the citizens. She is trapped ferent things are going on at the same time—
between the troops and the steps. She screams. A different voices, different perspectives, points
line of rifles points to the sky,the rifle barrels erupt- of views, angles of vision. Like autoethnographic
ing in smoke. The mother’s head sways back. The performance texts, works that use montage
wheels of the carriage teeter on the edge of the simultaneously create and enact moral meaning.
steps. The mother’s hand clutches the silver buckle They move from the personal to the political,
of her belt. Below her, people are being beaten by from the local to the historical and the cultural.
soldiers.Blood drips over the mother’s white gloves. These are dialogical texts. They presume an
The baby’s hand reaches out of the carriage. The active audience. They create spaces for give-and-
mother sways back and forth. The troops advance. take between reader and writer. They do more
The mother falls back against the carriage. A than turn the Other into the object of the social
woman watches in horror as the rear wheels of science gaze (see in this volume Alexander,
the carriage roll off the edge of the landing. With Chapter 16; Holman Jones, Chapter 30).
accelerating speed, the carriage bounces down the Qualitative research is inherently multi-
steps, past dead citizens. The baby is jostled from method in focus (Flick, 2002, pp. 226–227).
side to side inside the carriage. The soldiers fire However, the use of multiple methods, or
their rifles into a group of wounded citizens. A triangulation, reflects an attempt to secure an
student screams as the carriage leaps across the in-depth understanding of the phenomenon in
steps, tilts, and overturns (Cook, 1981, p. 167).10 question. Objective reality can never be captured.
Montage uses brief images to create a clearly We know a thing only through its representa-
defined sense of urgency and complexity. It invites tions. Triangulation is not a tool or a strategy of
viewers to construct interpretations that build on validation, but an alternative to validation (Flick,
one another as a scene unfolds. These interpreta- 2002, p. 227). The combination of multiple
tions are based on associations among the con- methodological practices, empirical materials,
trasting images that blend into one another. The perspectives, and observers in a single study is
underlying assumption of montage is that viewers best understood, then, as a strategy that adds
perceive and interpret the shots in a “montage rigor, breadth, complexity, richness, and depth to
sequence not sequentially, or one at a time, but any inquiry (see Flick, 2002, p. 229).
rather simultaneously” (Cook, 1981, p. 172). The In Chapter 38 of this volume, Richardson
viewer puts the sequences together into a mean- and St. Pierre dispute the usefulness of the
ingful emotional whole, as if at a glance, all at once. concept of triangulation, asserting that the cen-
The qualitative researcher who uses montage is tral image for qualitative inquiry should be the
like a quilt maker or a jazz improviser. The quilter crystal, not the triangle. Mixed-genre texts in the
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postexperimental moment have more than three be mingled or synthesized. That is, one cannot
sides. Like crystals, Eisenstein’s montage, the jazz easily move between paradigms as overarching
solo, or the pieces in a quilt, the mixed-genre text philosophical systems denoting particular ontolo-
“combines symmetry and substance with an gies, epistemologies, and methodologies. They
infinite variety of shapes, substances, transmu- represent belief systems that attach users to par-
tations. . . . Crystals grow, change, alter. . . . ticular worldviews. Perspectives, in contrast, are
Crystals are prisms that reflect externalities and less well developed systems, and one can move
refract within themselves, creating different between them more easily. The researcher as
colors, patterns, arrays, casting off in different bricoleur-theorist works between and within
directions” (Richardson, 2000, p. 934). competing and overlapping perspectives and
In the crystallization process, the writer tells paradigms.
the same tale from different points of view. For The interpretive bricoleur understands that
example, in A Thrice-Told Tale (1992), Margery research is an interactive process shaped by his
Wolf uses fiction, field notes, and a scientific arti- or her own personal history, biography, gender,
cle to give three different accounts of the same social class, race, and ethnicity, and by those of the
set of experiences in a native village. Similarly, in people in the setting. The critical bricoleur stresses
her play Fires in the Mirror (1993), Anna Deavere the dialectical and hermeneutic nature of inter-
Smith presents a series of performance pieces disciplinary inquiry, knowing that the boundaries
based on interviews with people who were that previously separated traditional disciplines no
involved in a racial conflict in Crown Heights, longer hold (Kincheloe, 2001, p. 683). The political
Brooklyn, on August 19, 1991. The play has multi- bricoleur knows that science is power, for all
ple speaking parts, including conversations with research findings have political implications. There
gang members, police officers, and anonymous is no value-free science. This researcher seeks a
young girls and boys. There is no one “correct” civic social science based on a politics of hope
telling of this event. Each telling, like light hitting (Lincoln, 1999). The gendered, narrative bricoleur
a crystal, reflects a different perspective on this also knows that researchers all tell stories about the
incident. worlds they have studied. Thus the narratives, or
Viewed as a crystalline form, as a montage, stories, scientists tell are accounts couched and
or as a creative performance around a central framed within specific storytelling traditions,often
theme, triangulation as a form of, or alternative defined as paradigms (e.g., positivism, postposi-
to, validity thus can be extended. Triangulation is tivism, constructivism).
the simultaneous display of multiple, refracted The product of the interpretive bricoleur’s labor
realities. Each of the metaphors “works” to create is a complex, quiltlike bricolage, a reflexive collage
simultaneity rather than the sequential or linear. or montage—a set of fluid, interconnected images
Readers and audiences are then invited to explore and representations. This interpretive structure is
competing visions of the context, to become like a quilt, a performance text, a sequence of rep-
immersed in and merge with new realities to resentations connecting the parts to the whole.
The methodological bricoleur is adept at per-
Qualitative Research as a
forming a large number of diverse tasks, ranging
from interviewing to intensive self-reflection and
Site of Multiple Interpretive Practices
introspection. The theoretical bricoleur reads Qualitative research, as a set of interpretive
widely and is knowledgeable about the many activities, privileges no single methodological
interpretive paradigms (feminism, Marxism, practice over another. As a site of discussion, or
cultural studies, constructivism, queer theory) discourse, qualitative research is difficult to define
that can be brought to any particular problem. He clearly. It has no theory or paradigm that is dis-
or she may not, however, feel that paradigms can tinctly its own. As the contributions to Part II of
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Denzin & Lincoln: Introduction– 2–7

this volume reveal, multiple theoretical paradigms analyses in literary studies, for example, often
claim use of qualitative research methods and treat texts as self-contained systems. On the other
strategies, from constructivist to cultural studies, hand, a researcher working from a cultural studies
feminism, Marxism, and ethnic models of study. or feminist perspective reads a text in terms of its
Qualitative research is used in many separate location within a historical moment marked by a
disciplines, as we will discuss below. It does not particular gender,race,or class ideology.A cultural
belong to a single discipline. studies use of ethnography would bring a set of
Nor does qualitative research have a distinct set understandings from feminism, postmodernism,
of methods or practices that are entirely its own. and poststructuralism to the project.These under-
Qualitative researchers use semiotics, narrative, standings would not be shared by mainstream
content, discourse, archival and phonemic analy- postpositivist sociologists.Similarly, postpositivist
sis, even statistics, tables, graphs, and numbers. and poststructural historians bring different
They also draw on and utilize the approaches, understandings and uses to the methods and find-
methods, and techniques of ethnomethodology, ings of historical research (see Tierney, 2000).
phenomenology, hermeneutics, feminism, rhi- These tensions and contradictions are all evident
zomatics, deconstructionism, ethnography, inter- in the chapters in this volume.
viewing, psychoanalysis, cultural studies, survey These separate and multiple uses and mean-
research, and participant observation, among ings of the methods of qualitative research make
others.11 All of these research practices “can pro- it difficult for scholars to agree on any essential
vide important insights and knowledge” (Nelson definition of the field, for it is never just one
et al., 1992, p. 2). No specific method or practice thing.12 Still, we must establish a definition for
can be privileged over any other. purposes of this discussion. We borrow from, and
Many of these methods, or research practices, paraphrase, Nelson et al.’s (1992, p. 4) attempt to
are used in other contexts in the human disciplines. define cultural studies:
Each bears the traces of its own disciplinary history.
Thus there is an extensive history of the uses and Qualitative research is an interdisciplinary, trans-
disciplinary, and sometimes counterdisciplinary
meanings of ethnography and ethnology in educa-
field. It crosscuts the humanities and the social and
tion (see in this volume Ladson-Billings & Donnor, physical sciences. Qualitative research is many
Chapter 11; Kincheloe & McLaren, Chapter 12); things at the same time. It is multiparadigmatic in
of participant observation and ethnography in focus. Its practitioners are sensitive to the value of
anthropology (see Foley & Valenzuela, Chapter 9; the multimethod approach. They are committed to
Tedlock, Chapter 18; Brady, Chapter 39), sociology the naturalistic perspective and to the interpretive
(see Holstein & Gubrium, Chapter 19; Fontana & understanding of human experience. At the same
Frey, Chapter 27; Harper, Chapter 29), communica- time, the field is inherently political and shaped by
tions (see Alexander, Chapter 16; Holman Jones, multiple ethical and political positions.
Chapter 30), and cultural studies (see Saukko, Qualitative research embraces two tensions at
Chapter 13); of textual, hermeneutic, feminist, psy- the same time. On the one hand, it is drawn to a
choanalytic, arts-based, semiotic, and narrative broad, interpretive, postexperimental, postmodern,
feminist, and critical sensibility. On the other hand,
analysis in cinema and literary studies (see Olesen,
it is drawn to more narrowly defined positivist,
Chapter 10; Finley, Chapter 26; Brady, Chapter 39); postpositivist, humanistic, and naturalistic concep-
and of narrative, discourse, and conversational tions of human experience and its analysis. Further,
analysis in sociology, medicine, communications, these tensions can be combined in the same project,
and education (see Miller & Crabtree, Chapter 24; bringing both postmodern and naturalistic, or both
Chase, Chapter 25; Perakyla, Chapter 34). critical and humanistic, perspectives to bear.
The many histories that surround each method
or research strategy reveal how multiple uses and This rather awkward statement means that
meanings are brought to each practice. Textual qualitative research, as a set of practices, embraces
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within its own multiple disciplinary histories achievements of Western civilization, and in their
constant tensions and contradictions over the practices it is assumed that “truth” can transcend
project itself, including its methods and the forms opinion and personal bias (Carey, 1989, p. 99;
its findings and interpretations take. The field Schwandt, 1997b, p. 309). Qualitative research is
sprawls between and cuts across all of the human seen as an assault on this tradition, whose adher-
disciplines, even including, in some cases, the ents often retreat into a “value-free objectivist
physical sciences. Its practitioners are variously science” (Carey, 1989, p. 104) model to defend
committed to modern, postmodern, and postex- their position. They seldom attempt to make
perimental sensibilities and the approaches to explicit, or to critique, the “moral and political
social research that these sensibilities imply. commitments in their own contingent work”
(Carey, 1989, p. 104; see also Guba & Lincoln,
Chapter 8, this volume).
Resistances to Qualitative Studies Positivists further allege that the so-called
The academic and disciplinary resistances to new experimental qualitative researchers write
qualitative research illustrate the politics embed- fiction, not science, and that these researchers
ded in this field of discourse. The challenges to have no way of verifying their truth statements.
qualitative research are many. As Seale, Gobo, Ethnographic poetry and fiction signal the death
Gubrium, and Silverman (2004) observe, we can of empirical science, and there is little to be
best understand these criticisms by “distin- gained by attempting to engage in moral criti-
guish[ing] analytically the political (or external) cism. These critics presume a stable, unchanging
role of [qualitative] methodology from the proce- reality that can be studied using the empirical
dural (or internal) one” (p. 7). Politics situate methods of objective social science (see Huber,
methodology within and outside the academy. 1995). The province of qualitative research,
Procedural issues define how qualitative method- accordingly, is the world of lived experience, for
ology is used to produce knowledge about the this is where individual belief and action intersect
world. with culture. Under this model there is no preoc-
Often, the political and the procedural inter- cupation with discourse and method as material
sect. Politicians and “hard” scientists sometimes interpretive practices that constitute representa-
call qualitative researchers journalists or soft sci- tion and description. Thus is the textual, narrative
entists. The work of qualitative scholars is termed turn rejected by the positivists.
unscientific, or only exploratory, or subjective. It is The opposition to positive science by the post-
called criticism rather than theory or science, or it structuralists is seen, then, as an attack on reason
is interpreted politically, as a disguised version of and truth. At the same time, the positivist science
Marxism or secular humanism (see Huber, 1995; attack on qualitative research is regarded as an
see also Denzin, 1997, pp. 258–261). attempt to legislate one version of truth over
These political and procedural resistances another.
reflect an uneasy awareness that the interpretive
traditions of qualitative research commit the
Politics and Reemergent Scientism
researcher to a critique of the positivist or post-
positivist project. But the positivist resistance to The scientifically based research (SBR) move-
qualitative research goes beyond the “ever-present ment initiated in recent years by the National
desire to maintain a distinction between hard Research Council (NRC) has created a hostile
science and soft scholarship” (Carey, 1989, p. 99; political environment for qualitative research.
see also Smith & Hodkinson, Chapter 36, this Connected to the federal legislation known as the
volume). The experimental (positivist) sciences No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, SBR embodies
(physics, chemistry, economics, and psychology, a reemergent scientism (Maxwell, 2004), a posi-
for example) are often seen as the crowning tivist,evidence-based epistemology.The movement
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Denzin & Lincoln: Introduction– 2–9

encourages researchers to employ “rigorous, “dispensing a curriculum,” and the “effects” of an

systematic, and objective methodology to obtain educational experiment cannot be easily mea-
reliable and valid knowledge “ (Ryan & Hood, sured, unlike a “10-point reduction in diastolic
2004, p. 80). The preferred methodology employs blood pressure” (p. 48; see also Miller & Crabtree,
well-defined causal models and independent and Chapter 24, this volume).
dependent variables. Researchers examine causal Qualitative researchers must learn to think
models in the context of randomized controlled outside the box as they critique the NRC and its
experiments,which allow for replication and gener- methodological guidelines (Atkinson, 2004). They
alization of their results (Ryan & Hood,2004,p.81). must apply their imaginations and find new ways
Under such a framework, qualitative research to define such terms as randomized design, causal
becomes suspect. Qualitative research does not model, policy studies, and public science (Cannella
require well-defined variables or causal models. & Lincoln, 2004a, 2004b; Lincoln & Cannella,
The observations and measurements of qualita- 2004a, 2004b; Lincoln & Tierney, 2004; Weinstein,
tive scholars are not based on subjects’ random 2004). More deeply, qualitative researchers must
assignment to experimental groups. Qualitative resist conservative attempts to discredit qualita-
researchers do not generate “hard evidence” using tive inquiry by placing it back inside the box of
such methods. At best, through case study, inter- positivism.
view, and ethnographic methods, researchers can
gather descriptive materials that can be tested
Mixed-Methods Experimentalism
with experimental methods. The epistemologies
of critical race, queer, postcolonial, feminist, and As Howe (2004) notes, the SBR movement finds
postmodern theories are rendered useless by the a place for qualitative methods in mixed-methods
SBR perspective, relegated at best to the category experimental designs. In such designs, qualitative
of scholarship, not science (Ryan & Hood, 2004, methods may be “employed either singly or in
p. 81; St. Pierre, 2004, p. 132). combination with quantitative methods, including
Critics of the SBR movement are united on the use of randomized experimental designs”
the following points.“Bush science” (Lather, 2004, (p. 49). Mixed-methods designs are direct descen-
p. 19) and its experimental, evidence-based dants of classical experimentalism. They presume
methodologies represent a racialized masculinist a methodological hierarchy in which quantitative
backlash to the proliferation of qualitative inquiry methods are at the top and qualitative methods are
methods over the past two decades.The movement relegated to “a largely auxiliary role in pursuit of
endorses a narrow view of science (Maxwell, 2004) the technocratic aim of accumulating knowledge of
that celebrates a “neoclassical experimentalism ‘what works’” (pp. 53–54).
that is a throwback to the Campbell-Stanley era The mixed-methods movement takes qualita-
and its dogmatic adherence to an exclusive reliance tive methods out of their natural home, which is
on quantitative methods” (Howe, 2004, p. 42). The within the critical, interpretive framework (Howe,
movement represents “nostalgia for a simple and 2004, p. 54; but see Teddlie & Tashakkori, 2003,
ordered universe of science that never was” p. 15). It divides inquiry into dichotomous cate-
(Popkewitz, 2004, p. 62).With its emphasis on only gories: exploration versus confirmation. Quali-
one form of scientific rigor, the NRC ignores the tative work is assigned to the first category,
value of using complex historical, contextual, and quantitative research to the second (Teddlie &
political criteria to evaluate inquiry (Bloch, 2004). Tashakkori, 2003, p. 15). Like the classic experi-
As Howe (2004) observes, neoclassical experi- mental model, it excludes stakeholders from dia-
mentalists extol evidence-based “medical research logue and active participation in the research
as the model for educational research, particularly process. This weakens its democratic and dialog-
the random clinical trial” (p. 48). But dispensing ical dimensions and decreases the likelihood that
a pill in a random clinical trial is quite unlike previously silenced voices will be heard (Howe,
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2004, pp. 56–57). As Howe (2004) cautions, it is of qualitative research: the British tradition and
not just the “‘methodological fundamentalists’ its presence in other national contexts; the
who have bought into [this] approach. A sizable American pragmatic, naturalistic, and inter-
number of rather influential . . . educational pretive traditions in sociology, anthropology,
researchers . . . have also signed on. This might communications, and education; the German and
be a compromise to the current political climate; French phenomenological, hermeneutic, semi-
it might be a backlash against the perceived otic, Marxist, structural, and poststructural per-
excesses of postmodernism; it might be both. It spectives; feminist studies, African American
is an ominous development, whatever the expla- studies, Latino studies, queer studies, studies of
nation” (p. 57). indigenous and aboriginal cultures. The politics
of qualitative research creates a tension that
Pragmatic Criticisms of Antifoundationalism informs each of these traditions. This tension
itself is constantly being reexamined and interro-
Seale et al. (2004) contest what they regard as gated as qualitative research confronts a changing
the excesses of an antimethodological, “anything historical world, new intellectual positions, and
goes,” romantic postmodernism that is associated its own institutional and academic conditions.
with our project. They assert that too often the To summarize: Qualitative research is many
approach we value produces “low quality qualita- things to many people. Its essence is twofold: a
tive research and research results that are quite commitment to some version of the naturalistic,
stereotypical and close to common sense” (p. 2). interpretive approach to its subject matter and an
In contrast, they propose a practice-based, prag- ongoing critique of the politics and methods of
matic approach that places research practice at postpositivism. We turn now to a brief discussion
the center. They note that research involves an of the major differences between qualitative and
engagement “with a variety of things and people: quantitative approaches to research. We then
research materials . . . social theories, philosoph- discuss ongoing differences and tensions within
ical debates, values, methods, tests . . . research qualitative inquiry.
participants” (p. 2). (Actually, this approach is
quite close to our own, especially our view of the
bricoleur and bricolage.) Seale et al.’s situated 2 QUALITATIVE VERSUS
methodology rejects the antifoundational claim QUANTITATIVE RESEARCH
that there are only partial truths, that the dividing
line between fact and fiction has broken down The word qualitative implies an emphasis on the
(p. 3). These scholars believe that this dividing qualities of entities and on processes and mean-
line has not collapsed, and that qualitative ings that are not experimentally examined or
researchers should not accept stories if they do measured (if measured at all) in terms of quan-
not accord with the best available facts (p. 6). tity, amount, intensity, or frequency. Qualitative
Oddly, these pragmatic procedural arguments researchers stress the socially constructed nature
reproduce a variant of the evidence-based model of reality, the intimate relationship between the
and its criticisms of poststructural, performative researcher and what is studied, and the situational
sensibilities. They can be used to provide political constraints that shape inquiry. Such researchers
support for the methodological marginalization emphasize the value-laden nature of inquiry. They
of the positions advanced by many of the contrib- seek answers to questions that stress how social
utors to this volume. experience is created and given meaning. In con-
trast, quantitative studies emphasize the measure-
2 2 2 ment and analysis of causal relationships between
variables, not processes. Proponents of such stud-
The complex political terrain described ies claim that their work is done from within a
above defines the many traditions and strands value-free framework.
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Denzin & Lincoln: Introduction– 2–11

Research Styles: of the grounded theory approach to qualitative

Doing the Same Things Differently? research, attempted to modify the usual canons of
good (positivist) science to fit their own postpos-
Of course, both qualitative and quantitative itivist conception of rigorous research (but see
researchers “think they know something about Charmaz, Chapter 20, this volume; see also Glaser,
society worth telling to others, and they use a 1992). Some applied researchers, while claiming
variety of forms, media and means to communi- to be atheoretical, often fit within the positivist or
cate their ideas and findings” (Becker, 1986, postpositivist framework by default.
p. 122). Qualitative research differs from quanti- Flick (2002) usefully summarizes the dif-
tative research in five significant ways (Becker, ferences between these two approaches to
1996). These points of difference, discussed in inquiry, noting that the quantitative approach
turn below, all involve different ways of address- has been used for purposes of isolating “causes
ing the same set of issues. They return always to and effects . . . operationalizing theoretical rela-
the politics of research and to who has the power tions . . . [and] measuring and . . . quantifying
to legislate correct solutions to social problems. phenomena . . . allowing the generalization of
findings” (p. 3). But today doubt is cast on such
Uses of positivism and postpositivism. First, projects: “Rapid social change and the resulting
both perspectives are shaped by the positivist and diversification of life worlds are increasingly con-
postpositivist traditions in the physical and social fronting social researchers with new social con-
sciences (see the discussion below). These two pos- texts and perspectives. . . . traditional deductive
itivist science traditions hold to naive and critical methodologies . . . are failing. . . . thus research
realist positions concerning reality and its percep- is increasingly forced to make use of inductive
tion. In the positivist version it is contended that strategies instead of starting from theories and
there is a reality out there to be studied, captured, testing them. . . . knowledge and practice are
and understood, whereas the postpositivists argue studied as local knowledge and practice” (p. 2).
that reality can never be fully apprehended, only Spindler and Spindler (1992) summarize their
approximated (Guba, 1990, p. 22). Postpositivism qualitative approach to quantitative materials:
relies on multiple methods as a way of capturing “Instrumentation and quantification are simply
as much of reality as possible. At the same time, procedures employed to extend and reinforce cer-
it emphasizes the discovery and verification of tain kinds of data, interpretations and test hypo-
theories. Traditional evaluation criteria, such as theses across samples. Both must be kept in their
internal and external validity, are stressed, as is the place. One must avoid their premature or overly
use of qualitative procedures that lend themselves extensive use as a security mechanism” (p. 69).
to structured (sometimes statistical) analysis. Although many qualitative researchers in the
Computer-assisted methods of analysis that permit postpositivist tradition use statistical measures,
frequency counts, tabulations, and low-level statis- methods, and documents as a way of locating a
tical analyses may also be employed. group of subjects within a larger population, they
The positivist and postpositivist traditions seldom report their findings in terms of the kinds
linger like long shadows over the qualitative of complex statistical measures or methods to
research project. Historically, qualitative research which quantitative researchers are drawn (e.g.,
was defined within the positivist paradigm, where path, regression, and log-linear analyses).
qualitative researchers attempted to do good
positivist research with less rigorous methods Acceptance of postmodern sensibilities. The use
and procedures. Some mid-20th-century qualita- of quantitative, positivist methods and assump-
tive researchers reported participant observation tions has been rejected by a new generation of
findings in terms of quasi-statistics (e.g., Becker, qualitative researchers who are attached to post-
Geer, Hughes, & Strauss, 1961). As recently as structural and/or postmodern sensibilities. These
1998, Strauss and Corbin, two leading proponents researchers argue that positivist methods are but
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one way of telling stories about societies or social life. Qualitative researchers, on the other hand,
worlds. These methods may be no better or no are committed to an emic, idiographic, case-
worse than any other methods; they just tell based position that directs their attention to the
different kinds of stories. specifics of particular cases.
This tolerant view is not shared by all qualita-
tive researchers (Huber, 1995). Many members of Securing rich descriptions. Qualitative researchers
the critical theory, constructivist, poststructural, believe that rich descriptions of the social world
and postmodern schools of thought reject posi- are valuable, whereas quantitative researchers,
tivist and postpositivist criteria when evaluating with their etic, nomothetic commitments, are
their own work. They see these criteria as irrele- less concerned with such detail. Quantitative
vant to their work and contend that such criteria researchers are deliberately unconcerned with
reproduce only a certain kind of science, a science rich descriptions because such detail interrupts
that silences too many voices. These researchers the process of developing generalizations.
seek alternative methods for evaluating their
work, including verisimilitude, emotionality, per- 2 2 2
sonal responsibility, an ethic of caring, political
praxis, multivoiced texts, and dialogues with The five points of difference described above
subjects. In response, positivists and postposi- reflect qualitative and quantitative scholars’ com-
tivists argue that what they do is good science, mitments to different styles of research, different
free of individual bias and subjectivity. As noted epistemologies, and different forms of representa-
above, they see postmodernism and poststruc- tion.Each work tradition is governed by a different
turalism as attacks on reason and truth. set of genres; each has its own classics, its own
preferred forms of representation, interpreta-
Capturing the individual’s point of view. Both tion, trustworthiness, and textual evaluation (see
qualitative and quantitative researchers are Becker, 1986, pp. 134–135). Qualitative researchers
concerned with the individual’s point of view. use ethnographic prose, historical narratives, first-
However, qualitative investigators think they can person accounts, still photographs, life histories,
get closer to the actor’s perspective through fictionalized “facts,” and biographical and autobio-
detailed interviewing and observation. They graphical materials, among others. Quantitative
argue that quantitative researchers are seldom researchers use mathematical models, statistical
able to capture their subjects’ perspectives tables, and graphs, and they usually write about
because they have to rely on more remote, infer- their research in impersonal, third-person prose.
ential empirical methods and materials. Many
quantitative researchers regard the empirical
materials produced by interpretive methods as 2 TENSIONS WITHIN
unreliable, impressionistic, and not objective.
Examining the constraints of everyday life. It is erroneous to presume that all qualitative
Qualitative researchers are more likely to researchers share the same assumptions about
confront and come up against the constraints of the five points of difference described above. As
the everyday social world. They see this world in the following discussion reveals, positivist, post-
action and embed their findings in it. Quantita- positivist, and poststructural differences define
tive researchers abstract from this world and and shape the discourses of qualitative research.
seldom study it directly. They seek a nomothetic Realists and postpositivists within the inter-
or etic science based on probabilities derived pretive, qualitative research tradition criticize
from the study of large numbers of randomly poststructuralists for taking the textual, narrative
selected cases. These kinds of statements stand turn. These critics contend that such work is navel
above and outside the constraints of everyday gazing. It produces the conditions “for a dialogue
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Denzin & Lincoln: Introduction– 2–13

of the deaf between itself and the community” realists advocate. Throughout the past century,
(Silverman, 1997, p. 240). Critics accuse those who social science and philosophy have been continu-
attempt to capture the point of view of the inter- ally tangled up with one another. Various “isms”
acting subject in the world of naive humanism, of and philosophical movements have crisscrossed
reproducing “a Romantic impulse which elevates sociological and educational discourse, from posi-
the experiential to the level of the authentic” tivism to postpositivism, to analytic and linguistic
(Silverman, 1997, p. 248). philosophy, to hermeneutics, structuralism, post-
Still others assert that those who take the structuralism, Marxism, feminism, and current
textual, performance turn ignore lived experi- post-post versions of all of the above. Some have
ence. Snow and Morrill (1995) argue that “this said that the logical positivists steered the social
performance turn, like the preoccupation with sciences on a rigorous course of self-destruction.
discourse and storytelling, will take us further We do not think that critical realism will keep
from the field of social action and the real dramas the social science ship afloat. The social sciences
of everyday life and thus signal the death knell of are normative disciplines, always already embed-
ethnography as an empirically grounded enter- ded in issues of value, ideology, power, desire, sex-
prise” (p. 361). Of course, we disagree. ism, racism, domination, repression, and control.
We want a social science that is committed up front
to issues of social justice, equity, nonviolence,
Critical Realism peace, and universal human rights.We do not want
For some, there is a third stream, between naive a social science that says it can address these issues
positivism and poststructuralism. Critical realism if it wants to. For us, that is no longer an option.
is an antipositivist movement in the social sciences With these differences within and between
closely associated with the works of Roy Bhaskar interpretive traditions in hand, we must now
and Rom Harré (Danermark, Ekström, Jakobsen, & briefly discuss the history of qualitative research.
Karlsson, 2002). Critical realists use the word criti- We break this history into eight historical
cal in a particular way. This is not “Frankfurt moments, mindful that any history is always
school” critical theory, although there are traces of somewhat arbitrary and always at least partially
social criticism here and there (see Danermark a social construction.
et al., 2002, p. 201). Instead, critical in this context
refers to a transcendental realism that rejects
methodological individualism and universal claims 2 THE HISTORY OF
to truth. Critical realists oppose logical positivist, QUALITATIVE RESEARCH
relativist, and antifoundational epistemologies.
Critical realists agree with the positivists that there The history of qualitative research reveals that the
is a world of events out there that is observable and modern social science disciplines have taken as
independent of human consciousness. They hold their mission “the analysis and understanding of
that knowledge about this world is socially con- the patterned conduct and social processes of
structed. Society is made up of feeling, thinking society”(Vidich & Lyman, 2000, p.37).The notion
human beings, and their interpretations of the that social scientists could carry out this task
world must be studied (Danermark et al., 2002, presupposed that they had the ability to observe
p. 200). Critical realists reject a correspondence this world objectively. Qualitative methods were a
theory of truth.They believe that reality is arranged major tool of such observations.13
in levels and that scientific work must go beyond Throughout the history of qualitative research,
statements of regularity to analysis of the mecha- qualitative investigators have defined their work
nisms, processes, and structures that account for in terms of hopes and values, “religious faiths,
the patterns that are observed. occupational and professional ideologies” (Vidich
Still, as postempiricist, antifoundational, criti- & Lyman, 2000, p. 39). Qualitative research (like
cal theorists, we reject much of what the critical all research) has always been judged on the
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“standard of whether the work communicates or Herbert Gans, Stanford Lyman, Arthur Vidich, and
‘says’ something to us” (Vidich & Lyman, 2000, Joseph Bensman. The post-1960 ethnicity studies
p. 39), based on how we conceptualize our reality challenged the “melting pot” hypotheses of Park
and our images of the world. Epistemology is the and his followers and corresponded to the emer-
word that has historically defined these standards gence of ethnic studies programs that saw Native
of evaluation. In the contemporary period, as we Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and African
have argued above, many received discourses on Americans attempting to take control over the
epistemology are now being reevaluated. study of their own peoples.
Vidich and Lyman’s (2000) work on the The postmodern and poststructural challenge
history of qualitative research covers the follow- emerged in the mid-1980s. It questioned the
ing (somewhat) overlapping stages: early ethnog- assumptions that had organized this earlier
raphy (to the 17th century), colonial ethnography history in each of its colonizing moments. Quali-
(17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century explorers), the tative research that crosses the “postmodern
ethnography of the American Indian as “Other” divide” requires the scholar, Vidich and Lyman
(late-19th- and early-20th-century anthropol- (2000) argue, to “abandon all established and pre-
ogy), community studies and ethnographies conceived values, theories, perspectives . . . and
of American immigrants (early 20th century prejudices as resources for ethnographic study”
through the 1960s), studies of ethnicity and (p. 60). In this new era the qualitative researcher
assimilation (midcentury through the 1980s), and does more than observe history; he or she plays a
the present, which we call the eighth moment. part in it.New tales from the field will now be writ-
In each of these eras, researchers were and ten, and they will reflect the researchers’ direct and
have been influenced by their political hopes and personal engagement with this historical period.
ideologies, discovering findings in their research Vidich and Lyman’s analysis covers the full
that confirmed their prior theories or beliefs. sweep of ethnographic history. Ours is confined
Early ethnographers confirmed the racial and to the 20th and 21st centuries and complements
cultural diversity of peoples throughout the many of their divisions. We begin with the early
globe and attempted to fit this diversity into a foundational work of the British and French as
theory about the origins of history, the races, well as the Chicago, Columbia, Harvard, Berkeley,
and civilizations. Colonial ethnographers, before and British schools of sociology and anthropology.
the professionalization of ethnography in the This early foundational period established the
20th century, fostered a colonial pluralism that norms of classical qualitative and ethnographic
left natives on their own as long as their leaders research (see Gupta & Ferguson, 1997; Rosaldo,
could be co-opted by the colonial administration. 1989; Stocking, 1989).
European ethnographers studied Africans,
Asians, and other Third World peoples of color.
Early American ethnographers studied the 2 THE EIGHT MOMENTS
American Indian from the perspective of the con-
queror, who saw the lifeworld of the primitive as
a window to the prehistoric past. The Calvinist As we have noted above, we divide our history of
mission to save the Indian was soon transferred to qualitative research in North America in the 20th
the mission of saving the “hordes” of immigrants century and beyond into eight phases, which we
who entered the United States with the begin- describe in turn below.
nings of industrialization. Qualitative community
studies of the ethnic Other proliferated from the
early 1900s to the 1960s and included the work of
The Traditional Period
E. Franklin Frazier, Robert Park, and Robert We call the first moment the traditional period
Redfield and their students, as well as William (this covers the second and third phases discussed
Foote Whyte, the Lynds, August Hollingshead, by Vidich & Lyman, 2000). It begins in the early
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Denzin & Lincoln: Introduction– 2–15

1900s and continues until World War II. In this the period of the Lone Ethnographer, the story of
period, qualitative researchers wrote “objective, “ the man-scientist who went off in search of his
colonizing accounts of field experiences that were native in a distant land. There this figure “encoun-
reflective of the positivist scientist paradigm. They tered the object of his quest . . . [and] underwent
were concerned with offering valid, reliable, and his rite of passage by enduring the ultimate ordeal
objective interpretations in their writings. The of ‘fieldwork’” (p. 30). Returning home with his
“Other” whom they studied was alien, foreign, and data, the Lone Ethnographer wrote up an objective
strange. account of the culture studied. This account was
Here is Malinowski (1967) discussing his field structured by the norms of classical ethnography.
experiences in New Guinea and the Trobriand This sacred bundle of terms (Rosaldo, 1989, p. 31)
Islands in the years 1914–15 and 1917–18. He is organized ethnographic texts around four beliefs
bartering his way into field data: and commitments: a commitment to objectivism,
a complicity with imperialism, a belief in monu-
Nothing whatever draws me to ethnographic mentalism (the ethnography would create a muse-
studies. . . . On the whole the village struck me umlike picture of the culture studied), and a belief
rather unfavorably. There is a certain disorganiza- in timelessness (what was studied would never
tion . . . the rowdiness and persistence of the people change). The Other was an “object” to be archived.
who laugh and stare and lie discouraged me some-
This model of the researcher, who could also write
what. . . .Went to the village hoping to photograph a
few stages of the bara dance.I handed out half-sticks
complex, dense theories about what was studied,
of tobacco, then watched a few dances; then took holds to the present day.
pictures—but results were poor. . . . they would not The myth of the Lone Ethnographer depicts
pose long enough for time exposures. At moments the birth of classic ethnography. The texts of
I was furious at them, particularly because after Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown, Margaret Mead, and
I gave them their portions of tobacco they all went Gregory Bateson are still carefully studied for what
away. (quoted in Geertz, 1988, pp. 73–74) they can tell the novice about fieldwork, taking
field notes, and writing theory. But today the
In another work, this lonely, frustrated, isolated image of the Lone Ethnographer has been shat-
field-worker describes his methods in the follow- tered. Many scholars see the works of the classic
ing words: ethnographers as relics from the colonial past
(Rosaldo, 1989, p.44).Whereas some feel nostalgia
In the field one has to face a chaos of facts. . . . in for this past, others celebrate its passing. Rosaldo
this crude form they are not scientific facts at all; (1989) quotes Cora Du Bois, a retired Harvard
they are absolutely elusive, and can only be fixed by
anthropology professor, who lamented this pass-
interpretation. . . . Only laws and generalizations
are scientific facts, and field work consists only and
ing at a conference in 1980, reflecting on the crisis
exclusively in the interpretation of the chaotic in anthropology:“[I feel a distance] from the com-
social reality, in subordinating it to general rules. plexity and disarray of what I once found a justifi-
(Malinowski, 1916/1948, p. 328; quoted in Geertz, able and challenging discipline. . . . It has been
1988, p. 81) like moving from a distinguished art museum into
a garage sale” (p. 44).
Malinowski’s remarks are provocative. On the one Du Bois regards the classic ethnographies
hand they disparage fieldwork, but on the other as pieces of timeless artwork contained in a
they speak of it within the glorified language of museum. She feels uncomfortable in the chaos
science, with laws and generalizations fashioned of the garage sale. In contrast, Rosaldo (1989) is
out of this selfsame experience. drawn to this metaphor because “it provides a pre-
During this period the field-worker was lion- cise image of the postcolonial situation where cul-
ized, made into a larger-than-life figure who went tural artifacts flow between unlikely places, and
into the field and returned with stories about nothing is sacred, permanent, or sealed off. The
strange peoples. Rosaldo (1989) describes this as image of anthropology as a garage sale depicts our
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present global situation” (p. 44). Indeed, many & Taylor, 1975; Cicourel, 1964; Filstead, 1970;
valuable treasures may be found in unexpected Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Lofland, 1971, 1995;
places, if one is willing to look long and hard. Old Lofland & Lofland, 1984, 1995; Taylor & Bogdan,
standards no longer hold. Ethnographies do not 1998).14 The modernist ethnographer and socio-
produce timeless truths. The commitment to logical participant observer attempted rigorous
objectivism is now in doubt. The complicity with qualitative studies of important social processes,
imperialism is openly challenged today, and the including deviance and social control in the class-
belief in monumentalism is a thing of the past. room and society. This was a moment of creative
The legacies of this first period begin at the ferment.
end of the 19th century, when the novel and the A new generation of graduate students across
social sciences had become distinguished as the human disciplines encountered new interpre-
separate systems of discourse (Clough, 1998, tive theories (ethnomethodology, phenomenol-
pp. 21–22). However, the Chicago school, with its ogy, critical theory, feminism). They were drawn
emphasis on the life story and the “slice-of-life” to qualitative research practices that would let
approach to ethnographic materials, sought to them give a voice to society’s underclass. Post-
develop an interpretive methodology that main- positivism functioned as a powerful epistemo-
tained the centrality of the narrated life history logical paradigm. Researchers attempted to fit
approach. This led to the production of texts that Campbell and Stanley’s (1963) model of internal
gave the researcher-as-author the power to repre- and external validity to constructionist and inter-
sent the subject’s story. Written under the mantle actionist conceptions of the research act. They
of straightforward, sentiment-free social realism, returned to the texts of the Chicago school as
these texts used the language of ordinary people. sources of inspiration (see Denzin, 1970, 1978).
They articulated a social science version of liter- A canonical text from this moment remains
ary naturalism, which often produced the sympa- Boys in White (Becker et al., 1961; see also Becker,
thetic illusion that a solution to a social problem 1998). Firmly entrenched in mid-20th-century
had been found. Like the Depression-era juvenile methodological discourse, this work attempted to
delinquent and other “social problems” films make qualitative research as rigorous as its quan-
(Roffman & Purdy, 1981), these accounts roman- titative counterpart. Causal narratives were central
ticized the subject. They turned the deviant into a to this project. This multimethod work combined
sociological version of a screen hero. These socio- open-ended and quasi-structured interviewing
logical stories, like their film counterparts, usually with participant observation and the careful
had happy endings, as they followed individuals analysis of such materials in standardized, statis-
through the three stages of the classic morality tical form. In his classic article “Problems of
tale: being in a state of grace, being seduced by Inference and Proof in Participant Observation,”
evil and falling, and finally achieving redemption Howard S. Becker (1958/1970) describes the use of
through suffering. quasi-statistics:
Participant observations have occasionally been
Modernist Phase gathered in standardized form capable of being
The modernist phase, or second moment, transformed into legitimate statistical data. But the
builds on the canonical works from the traditional exigencies of the field usually prevent the collection
of data in such a form to meet the assumptions of
period. Social realism, naturalism, and slice-of-life
statistical tests, so that the observer deals in what
ethnographies are still valued.This phase extended
have been called “quasi-statistics.” His conclusions,
through the postwar years to the 1970s and is still while implicitly numerical, do not require precise
present in the work of many (for reviews, see quantification. (p. 31)
Wolcott,1990,1992,1995; see also Tedlock,Chapter
18, this volume). In this period many texts sought In the analysis of data, Becker notes, the qualita-
to formalize qualitative methods (see, e.g., Bogdan tive researcher takes a cue from more quantitatively
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Denzin & Lincoln: Introduction– 2–17

oriented colleagues. The researcher looks for proba- Blurred Genres

bilities or support for arguments concerning the
likelihood that, or frequency with which, a conclu- By the beginning of the third phase (1970–
sion in fact applies in a specific situation (see also 1986), which we call the moment of blurred genres,
Becker, 1998, pp. 166–170). Thus did work in the qualitative researchers had a full complement of
modernist period clothe itself in the language and paradigms, methods, and strategies to employ
rhetoric of positivist and postpositivist discourse. in their research. Theories ranged from sym-
This was the golden age of rigorous qualitative bolic interactionism to constructivism,naturalistic
analysis, bracketed in sociology by Boys in White inquiry, positivism and postpositivism, phenom-
(Becker et al., 1961) at one end and The Discovery enology, ethnomethodology, critical theory, neo-
of Grounded Theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) at Marxist theory,semiotics,structuralism,feminism,
the other. In education, qualitative research in and various racial/ethnic paradigms.Applied qual-
this period was defined by George and Louise itative research was gaining in stature, and the pol-
Spindler, Jules Henry, Harry Wolcott, and John itics and ethics of qualitative research—implicated
Singleton. This form of qualitative research is still as they were in various applications of this work—
present in the work of scholars such as Strauss were topics of considerable concern. Research
and Corbin (1998) and Ryan and Bernard (2000). strategies and formats for reporting research
The “golden age” reinforced the picture of qual- ranged from grounded theory to the case study, to
itative researchers as cultural romantics. Imbued methods of historical, biographical, ethnographic,
with Promethean human powers, they valorized action, and clinical research. Diverse ways of col-
villains and outsiders as heroes to mainstream lecting and analyzing empirical materials were also
society. They embodied a belief in the contingency available, including qualitative interviewing (open-
of self and society, and held to emancipatory ideals ended and quasi-structured) and observational,
for “which one lives and dies.” They put in place a visual, personal experience, and documentary
tragic and often ironic view of society and self, and methods. Computers were entering the situation,
joined a long line of leftist cultural romantics that to be fully developed as aids in the analysis of qual-
included Emerson, Marx, James, Dewey, Gramsci, itative data in the next decade,along with narrative,
and Martin Luther King, Jr. (West, 1989, chap. 6). content, and semiotic methods of reading inter-
As this moment came to an end, the Vietnam views and cultural texts.
War was everywhere present in American society. Two books by Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation
In 1969, alongside these political currents, Herbert of Cultures (1973) and Local Knowledge (1983),
Blumer and Everett Hughes met with a group of defined the beginning and the end of this moment.
young sociologists called the “Chicago Irregulars” In these two works,Geertz argued that the old func-
at the American Sociological Association meetings tional, positivist, behavioral, totalizing approaches
held in San Francisco and shared their memo- to the human disciplines were giving way to a more
ries of the “Chicago years.” Lyn Lofland (1980) pluralistic, interpretive, open-ended perspective.
describes this time as a This new perspective took cultural representations
and their meanings as its points of departure.
moment of creative ferment—scholarly and politi- Calling for “thick description” of particular events,
cal. The San Francisco meetings witnessed not rituals, and customs, Geertz suggested that all
simply the Blumer-Hughes event but a “counter- anthropological writings are interpretations of
revolution.” . . . a group first came to . . . talk about interpretations.15 The observer has no privileged
the problems of being a sociologist and a
voice in the interpretations that are written. The
female. . . . the discipline seemed literally to be
central task of theory is to make sense out of a local
bursting with new . . . ideas: labelling theory, eth-
nomethodology, conflict theory, phenomenology, situation.
dramaturgical analysis. (p. 253) Geertz went on to propose that the boundaries
between the social sciences and the humanities
Thus did the modernist phase come to an end. had become blurred. Social scientists were now
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turning to the humanities for models, theories, Geertz’s “blurred genres” interpretation of the
and methods of analysis (semiotics, hermeneu- field in the early 1980s.16
tics).A form of genre diaspora was occurring: doc- Qualitative researchers sought new models
umentaries that read like fiction (Mailer), parables of truth, method, and representation (Rosaldo,
posing as ethnographies (Castañeda), theoretical 1989). The erosion of classic norms in anthropol-
treatises that look like travelogues (Lévi-Strauss). ogy (objectivism, complicity with colonialism,
At the same time, other new approaches were social life structured by fixed rituals and customs,
emerging: poststructuralism (Barthes), neoposi- ethnographies as monuments to a culture) was
tivism (Philips), neo-Marxism (Althusser), micro- complete (Rosaldo, 1989, pp. 44–45; see also
macro descriptivism (Geertz), ritual theories of Jackson, 1998, pp. 7–8). Critical theory, feminist
drama and culture (V. Turner), deconstructionism theory, and epistemologies of color now competed
(Derrida), ethnomethodology (Garfinkel). The for attention in this arena. Issues such as validity,
golden age of the social sciences was over, and a reliability, and objectivity, previously believed set-
new age of blurred, interpretive genres was upon tled, were once more problematic. Pattern and
us. The essay as an art form was replacing the interpretive theories, as opposed to causal, linear
scientific article. At issue now was the author’s theories, were now more common, as writers con-
presence in the interpretive text (Geertz, 1988). tinued to challenge older models of truth and
How can the researcher speak with authority in an meaning (Rosaldo, 1989).
age when there are no longer any firm rules con- Stoller and Olkes (1987, pp. 227–229) describe
cerning the text, including the author’s place in it, how they felt the crisis of representation in their
its standards of evaluation, and its subject matter? fieldwork among the Songhay of Niger. Stoller
The naturalistic, postpositivist, and construc- observes: “When I began to write anthropological
tionist paradigms gained power in this period, texts, I followed the conventions of my training.
especially in education, in the works of Harry I ‘gathered data,’ and once the ‘data’ were
Wolcott, Frederick Erickson, Egon Guba, Yvonna arranged in neat piles, I ‘wrote them up.’ In one
Lincoln, Robert Stake, and Elliot Eisner. By the case I reduced Songhay insults to a series of neat
end of the 1970s, several qualitative journals were logical formulas”(p. 227). Stoller became dissatis-
in place, including Urban Life and Culture (now fied with this form of writing, in part because he
Journal of Contemporary Ethnography), Cultural learned “everyone had lied to me and . . . the data
Anthropology, Anthropology and Education I has so painstakingly collected were worthless. I
Quarterly, Qualitative Sociology, and Symbolic learned a lesson: Informants routinely lie to their
Interaction, as well as the book series Studies in anthropologists” (Stoller & Olkes, 1987, p. 9). This
Symbolic Interaction. discovery led to a second—that he had, in follow-
ing the conventions of ethnographic realism,
edited himself out of his text. This led Stoller to
Crisis of Representation
produce a different type of text, a memoir, in
A profound rupture occurred in the mid- which he became a central character in the story
1980s.What we call the fourth moment, or the cri- he told. This story, an account of his experiences
sis of representation, appeared with Anthropology in the Songhay world, became an analysis of the
as Cultural Critique (Marcus & Fischer, 1986), The clash between his world and the world of Songhay
Anthropology of Experience (Turner & Bruner, sorcery. Thus Stoller’s journey represents an
1986), Writing Culture (Clifford & Marcus, 1986), attempt to confront the crisis of representation in
Works and Lives (Geertz, 1988), and The Predica- the fourth moment.
ment of Culture (Clifford, 1988). These works Clough (1998) elaborates this crisis and
made research and writing more reflexive and criticizes those who would argue that new forms
called into question the issues of gender, class, of writing represent a way out of the crisis. She
and race. They articulated the consequences of argues:
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Denzin & Lincoln: Introduction– 2–19

While many sociologists now commenting on finally to the research text, which is the public
the criticism of ethnography view writing as presentation of the ethnographic and narrative
“downright central to the ethnographic enterprise” experience. Thus fieldwork and writing blur into
[Van Maanen, 1988, p. xi], the problems of writ- one another. There is, in the final analysis, no
ing are still viewed as different from the problems difference between writing and fieldwork. These
of method or fieldwork itself. Thus the solution
two perspectives inform one another throughout
usually offered is experiments in writing, that is a
self-consciousness about writing. (p. 136)
every chapter in this volume. In these ways the
crisis of representation moves qualitative research
It is this insistence on the difference between in new and critical directions.
writing and fieldwork that must be analyzed.
(Richardson & St. Pierre are quite articulate about
this issue in Chapter 38 of this volume).
A Triple Crisis
In writing, the field-worker makes a claim to The ethnographer’s authority remains under
moral and scientific authority. This claim allows assault today (Behar, 1995, p. 3; Gupta & Ferguson,
the realist and experimental ethnographic texts to 1997, p. 16; Jackson, 1998; Ortner, 1997, p. 2). A
function as sources of validation for an empirical triple crisis of representation, legitimation, and
science. They show that the world of real lived praxis confronts qualitative researchers in the
experience can still be captured, if only in the human disciplines. Embedded in the discourses
writer’s memoirs, or fictional experimentations, of poststructuralism and postmodernism (Vidich
or dramatic readings. But these works have the & Lyman, 2000; see also Richardson & St. Pierre,
danger of directing attention away from the ways Chapter 38, this volume), these three crises are
in which the text constructs sexually situated coded in multiple terms, variously called and asso-
individuals in a field of social difference. They ciated with the critical, interpretive, linguistic, femi-
also perpetuate “empirical science’s hegemony” nist, and rhetorical turns in social theory. These
(Clough, 1998, p. 8), for these new writing tech- new turns make problematic two key assumptions
nologies of the subject become the site “for the of qualitative research. The first is that qualitative
production of knowledge/power . . . [aligned] researchers can no longer directly capture lived
with . . . the capital/state axis” (Aronowitz, 1988, experience. Such experience, it is argued, is created
p. 300; quoted in Clough, 1998, p. 8). Such experi- in the social text written by the researcher. This
ments come up against, and then back away from, is the representational crisis. It confronts the
the difference between empirical science and inescapable problem of representation, but does so
social criticism. Too often they fail to engage fully within a framework that makes the direct link
a new politics of textuality that would “refuse the between experience and text problematic.
identity of empirical science” (Clough, 1998, The second assumption makes problematic
p. 135). This new social criticism “would inter- the traditional criteria for evaluating and inter-
vene in the relationship of information econom- preting qualitative research. This is the legitima-
ics, nation-state politics, and technologies of mass tion crisis. It involves a serious rethinking of such
communication, especially in terms of the empir- terms as validity, generalizability, and reliability,
ical sciences” (Clough, 1998, p. 16). This, of terms already retheorized in postpositivist
course, is the terrain occupied by cultural studies. (Hammersley, 1992), constructionist-naturalistic
In Chapter 38 of this volume, Richardson and (Guba & Lincoln, 1989, pp. 163–183), feminist
St. Pierre develop the above arguments, viewing (Olesen, Chapter 10, this volume), interpretive
writing as a method of inquiry that moves and performative (Denzin, 1997, 2003), post-
through successive stages of self-reflection. As structural (Lather, 1993; Lather & Smithies,
a series of written representations, the field- 1997), and critical discourses (Kincheloe &
worker’s texts flow from the field experience, McLaren, Chapter 12, this volume). This crisis
through intermediate works, to later work, and asks, How are qualitative studies to be evaluated
01-Denzin.qxd 2/7/2005 9:20 PM Page 20


in the contemporary, poststructural moment? editors of these journals were committed to

The first two crises shape the third, which asks, publishing the very best new work. The success
Is it possible to effect change in the world if of these ventures framed the seventh moment,
society is only and always a text? Clearly these what we are calling the methodologically con-
crises intersect and blur, as do the answers to the tested present (2000–2004). As discussed above,
questions they generate (see Ladson-Billings, this is a period of conflict, great tension, and, in
2000; Schwandt, 2000; Smith & Deemer, 2000). some quarters, retrenchment.
The fifth moment, the postmodern period of The eighth moment is now, the future (2005–).
experimental ethnographic writing, struggled to In this moment scholars, as reviewed above, are
make sense of these crises. New ways of compos- confronting the methodological backlash associ-
ing ethnography were explored (Ellis & Bochner, ated with “Bush science” and the evidence-based
1996). Theories were read as tales from the social movement.
field. Writers struggled with different ways to
represent the “Other,” although they were now
joined by new representational concerns (Fine,
Reading History
Weis, Weseen, & Wong, 2000; see also Fine & We draw several conclusions from this brief
Weis, Chapter 3, this volume). Epistemologies history, noting that it is, like all histories, some-
from previously silenced groups emerged to offer what arbitrary. First, each of the earlier historical
solutions to these problems. The concept of the moments is still operating in the present, either
aloof observer was abandoned. More action, as legacy or as a set of practices that researchers
participatory, and activist-oriented research was continue follow or argue against. The multiple
on the horizon. The search for grand narratives and fractured histories of qualitative research
was being replaced by more local, small-scale now make it possible for any given researcher
theories fitted to specific problems and specific to attach a project to a canonical text from any
situations. of the above-described historical moments.
The sixth moment, postexperimental inquiry Multiple criteria of evaluation compete for atten-
(1995–2000), was a period of great excitement, tion in this field. Second, an embarrassment
with AltaMira Press, under the direction of Mitch of choices now characterizes the field of qualita-
Allen, taking the lead.AltaMira’s book series titled tive research. Researchers have never before
Ethnographic Alternatives, for which Carolyn Ellis had so many paradigms, strategies of inquiry,
and Arthur Bochner served as series editors, and methods of analysis to draw upon and uti-
captured this new excitement and brought a host lize. Third, we are in a moment of discovery and
of new authors into the interpretive community. rediscovery, as new ways of looking, inter-
The following description of the series from the preting, arguing, and writing are debated and
publisher reflects its experimental tone: “Ethno- discussed. Fourth, the qualitative research act
graphic Alternatives publishes experimental can no longer be viewed from within a neutral
forms of qualitative writing that blur the bound- or objective positivist perspective. Class, race,
aries between social sciences and humanities. gender, and ethnicity shape inquiry, making
Some volumes in the series . . . experiment with research a multicultural process. Fifth, we are
novel forms of expressing lived experience,includ- clearly not implying a progress narrative with
ing literary, poetic, autobiographical, multivoiced, our history. We are not saying that the cutting
conversational, critical, visual, performative and edge is located in the present. We are saying
co-constructed representations.” that the present is a politically charged space.
During this same period, two major new Complex pressures both within and outside of
qualitative journals began publication: Qualita- the qualitative community are working to erase
tive Inquiry and Qualitative Research. The the positive developments of the past 30 years.
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Denzin & Lincoln: Introduction– 2–21

2 QUALITATIVE RESEARCH AS PROCESS competent observers can, with objectivity, clarity,

and precision, report on their own observations
Three interconnected, generic activities define the of the social world, including the experiences of
qualitative research process. They go by a variety others.Second,researchers have held to the belief in
of different labels, including theory, analysis, a real subject, or real individual, who is present in
ontology, epistemology, and methodology. Behind the world and able,in some form,to report on his or
these terms stands the personal biography of the her experiences. So armed, researchers could blend
researcher, who speaks from a particular class, their own observations with the self-reports pro-
gender, racial, cultural, and ethnic community vided by subjects through interviews and life story,
perspective. The gendered, multiculturally situ- personal experience, and case study documents.
ated researcher approaches the world with a set of These two beliefs have led qualitative
ideas, a framework (theory, ontology) that speci- researchers across disciplines to seek a method
fies a set of questions (epistemology) that he or that will allow them to record accurately their
she then examines in specific ways (methodology, own observations while also uncovering the
analysis).That is, the researcher collects empirical meanings their subjects bring to their life expe-
materials bearing on the question and then ana- riences. Such a method would rely on the subjec-
lyzes and writes about those materials. Every tive verbal and written expressions of meaning
researcher speaks from within a distinct inter- given by the individuals studied as windows into
pretive community that configures, in its special the inner lives of these persons. Since Dilthey
way, the multicultural, gendered components of (1900/1976), this search for a method has led to
the research act. a perennial focus in the human disciplines on
In this volume we treat these generic activities qualitative, interpretive methods.
under five headings, or phases: the researcher and Recently, as noted above, this position and its
the researched as multicultural subjects, major beliefs have come under assault. Poststructuralists
paradigms and interpretive perspectives, research and postmodernists have contributed to the under-
strategies, methods of collecting and analyzing standing that there is no clear window into the
empirical materials, and the art of interpretation. inner life of an individual. Any gaze is always fil-
Behind and within each of these phases stands tered through the lenses of language, gender, social
the biographically situated researcher. This indi- class, race, and ethnicity. There are no objective
vidual enters the research process from inside observations, only observations socially situated
an interpretive community. This community has in the worlds of—and between—the observer and
its own historical research traditions, which the observed. Subjects, or individuals, are seldom
constitute a distinct point of view. This perspec- able to give full explanations of their actions or
tive leads the researcher to adopt particular views intentions; all they can offer are accounts,or stories,
of the “Other” who is studied. At the same time, about what they have done and why. No single
the politics and the ethics of research must also method can grasp all the subtle variations in ongo-
considered, for these concerns permeate every ing human experience. Consequently, qualitative
phase of the research process. researchers deploy a wide range of interconnected
interpretive methods, always seeking better ways to
make more understandable the worlds of experi-
2 THE OTHER AS RESEARCH SUBJECT ence they have studied.
Table 1.1 depicts the relationships we see
Since its early-20th-century birth in modern, inter- among the five phases that define the research
pretive form, qualitative research has been haunted process. Behind all but one of these phases stands
by a double-faced ghost. On the one hand, qualita- the biographically situated researcher. These five
tive researchers have assumed that qualified, levels of activity, or practice, work their way
01-Denzin.qxd 2/7/2005 9:20 PM Page 22


through the biography of the researcher. We take epistemological and ontological premises which—
them up briefly in order here; we discuss these regardless of ultimate truth or falsity—become
phases more fully in our introductions to the partially self-validating” (Bateson, 1972, p. 314).
individual parts of this volume. The net that contains the researcher’s episte-
mological, ontological, and methodological
premises may be termed a paradigm, or an inter-
Phase 1: The Researcher pretive framework, a “basic set of beliefs that
Our remarks above indicate the depth and guides action” (Guba, 1990, p. 17). All research is
complexity of the traditional and applied qualita- interpretive; it is guided by the researcher’s set of
tive research perspectives into which a socially beliefs and feelings about the world and how it
situated researcher enters. These traditions locate should be understood and studied. Some beliefs
the researcher in history, simultaneously guiding may be taken for granted, invisible, only assumed,
and constraining the work that is done in any whereas others are highly problematic and con-
specific study. This field has always been charac- troversial. Each interpretive paradigm makes
terized by diversity and conflict, and these are particular demands on the researcher, including
its most enduring traditions (see Greenwood & the questions the researcher asks and the inter-
Levin, Chapter 2, this volume). As a carrier of this pretations he or she brings to them.
complex and contradictory history, the researcher At the most general level, four major interpre-
must also confront the ethics and politics of tive paradigms structure qualitative research:
research (see in this volume Fine & Weis, Chapter positivist and postpositivist, constructivist-
3; Smith, Chapter 4; Bishop, Chapter 5; Christians, interpretive, critical (Marxist, emancipatory),
Chapter 6). Researching the native, the indige- and feminist-poststructural. These four abstract
nous Other, while claiming to engage in value-free paradigms become more complicated at the level
inquiry for the human disciplines is over. Today of concrete specific interpretive communities.
researchers struggle to develop situational and At this level it is possible to identify not only the
transsituational ethics that apply to all forms of constructivist, but also multiple versions of femi-
the research act and its human-to-human rela- nism (Afrocentric and poststructural)17 as well
tionships. We no longer have the option of defer- as specific ethnic, Marxist, and cultural studies
ring the decolonization project. paradigms. These perspectives, or paradigms,
are examined in Part II of this volume.
The paradigms examined in Part II work
Phase 2: Interpretive Paradigms against and alongside (and some within) the pos-
All qualitative researchers are philosophers itivist and postpositivist models. They all work
in that “universal sense in which all human within relativist ontologies (multiple constructed
beings . . . are guided by highly abstract princi- realities), interpretive epistemologies (the knower
ples” (Bateson, 1972, p. 320). These principles and known interact and shape one another), and
combine beliefs about ontology (What kind of interpretive, naturalistic methods.
being is the human being? What is the nature of Table 1.2 presents these paradigms and their
reality?), epistemology (What is the relationship assumptions, including their criteria for evaluat-
between the inquirer and the known?), and ing research, and the typical form that an inter-
methodology (How do we know the world, or gain pretive or theoretical statement assumes in each
knowledge of it?) (see Guba, 1990, p. 18; Lincoln & paradigm.18 These paradigms are explored in
Guba, 1985, pp. 14–15; see also Guba & Lincoln, considerable detail in the chapters in Part II by
Chapter 8, this volume). These beliefs shape how Guba and Lincoln (Chapter 8), Olesen (Chapter
the qualitative researcher sees the world and acts 10), Ladson-Billings and Donnor (Chapter 11),
in it. The researcher is “bound within a net of Kincheloe and McLaren (Chapter 12), Saukko
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Denzin & Lincoln: Introduction– 2–23

Table 1.1. The Research Process

Phase 1: The Researcher as a Multicultural Subject

History and research traditions
Conceptions of self and the other
The ethics and politics of research

Phase 2: Theoretical Paradigms and Perspectives

Positivism, postpositivism
Interpretivism, constructivism, hermeneutics
Racialized discourses
Critical theory and Marxist models
Cultural studies models
Queer theory

Phase 3: Research Strategies

Case study
Ethnography, participant observation, performance ethnography
Phenomenology, ethnomethodology
Grounded theory
Life history, testimonio
Historical method
Action and applied research
Clinical research

Phase 4: Methods of Collection and Analysis

Artifacts, documents, and records
Visual methods
Data management methods
Computer-assisted analysis
Textual analysis
Focus groups
Applied ethnography

Phase 5: The Art, Practices, and Politics of Interpretation and Evaluation

Criteria for judging adequacy
Practices and politics of interpretation
Writing as interpretation
Policy analysis
Evaluation traditions
Applied research
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Table 1.2. Interpretive Paradigms

Paradigm/Theory Criteria Form of Theory Type of Narration

Positivist/ Internal, external validity Logical-deductive, Scientific report
postpositivist grounded
Constructivist Trustworthiness, credibility, Substantive-formal Interpretive case
transferability, confirmability studies, ethnographic
Feminist Afrocentric, lived experience, dialogue, Critical, standpoint Essays, stories,
caring, accountability, race, class, experimental writing
gender, reflexivity, praxis, emotion,
concrete grounding
Ethnic Afrocentric, lived experience, dialogue, Standpoint, critical, Essays, fables, dramas
caring, accountability, race, class, gender historical
Marxist Emancipatory theory, falsifiable, Critical, historical, Historical, economic,
dialogical, race, class, gender economic sociocultural analyses
Cultural studies Cultural practices, praxis, social texts, Social criticism Cultural theory-as
subjectivities criticism
Queer theory: Reflexivity, deconstruction Social criticism, Theory as criticism,
historical analysis autobiography

(Chapter 13), and Plummer (Chapter 14). We Feminist, ethnic, Marxist, cultural studies,
have discussed the positivist and postpositivist and queer theory models privilege a materialist-
paradigms above. They work from within a realist realist ontology; that is, the real world makes a
and critical realist ontology and objective episte- material difference in terms of race, class, and
mologies, and they rely on experimental, quasi- gender. Subjectivist epistemologies and natural-
experimental, survey, and rigorously defined istic methodologies (usually ethnographies) are
qualitative methodologies. Ryan and Bernard also employed. Empirical materials and theoreti-
(2000) have developed elements of this paradigm. cal arguments are evaluated in terms of their
The constructivist paradigm assumes a rela- emancipatory implications. Criteria from gender
tivist ontology (there are multiple realities), a and racial communities (e.g., African American)
subjectivist epistemology (knower and respon- may be applied (emotionality and feeling, caring,
dent cocreate understandings), and a naturalistic personal accountability, dialogue).
(in the natural world) set of methodological pro- Poststructural feminist theories emphasize
cedures. Findings are usually presented in terms problems with the social text, its logic, and its
of the criteria of grounded theory or pattern inability ever to represent the world of lived expe-
theories (see in this volume Guba & Lincoln, rience fully. Positivist and postpositivist criteria of
Chapter 8; Charmaz, Chapter 20; see also Ryan evaluation are replaced by other criteria, including
and Bernard, 2000). Terms such as credibility, the reflexive, multivoiced text that is grounded in
transferability, dependability, and confirmability the experiences of oppressed peoples.
replace the usual positivist criteria of internal and The cultural studies and queer theory para-
external validity, reliability, and objectivity. digms are multifocused, with many different
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Denzin & Lincoln: Introduction– 2–25

strands drawing from Marxism, feminism, and connects him or her to specific sites, persons,
the postmodern sensibility (see in this volume groups, institutions, and bodies of relevant
Saukko, Chapter 13; Plummer, Chapter 14; interpretive material, including documents and
Richardson and St. Pierre, Chapter 38). There is a archives. A research design also specifies how the
tension between a humanistic cultural studies, investigator will address the two critical issues of
which stresses lived experiences (meaning), and a representation and legitimation.
more structural cultural studies project, which A strategy of inquiry comprises a bundle of
stresses the structural and material determinants skills, assumptions, and practices that the
(race, class, gender) and effects of experience. Of researcher employs as he or she moves from
course, there are two sides to every coin, and both paradigm to the empirical world. Strategies of
sides are needed—indeed, both are critical. The inquiry put paradigms of interpretation into
cultural studies and queer theory paradigms use motion. At the same time, strategies of inquiry
methods strategically—that is, as resources for also connect the researcher to specific methods of
understanding and for producing resistances to collecting and analyzing empirical materials. For
local structures of domination. Scholars may do example, the case study strategy relies on inter-
close textual readings and discourse analyses of viewing, observing, and document analysis.
cultural texts (see in this volume Olesen, Chapter Research strategies implement and anchor para-
10; Saukko, Chapter 13; Chase, Chapter 25) as well digms in specific empirical sites or in specific
as local, online, reflexive and critical ethnogra- methodological practices, such as making a case
phies, open-ended interviewing, and participant an object of study. These strategies include the
observation. The focus is on how race, class, and case study, phenomenological and ethnomethod-
gender are produced and enacted in historically ological techniques, and the use of grounded
specific situations. theory, as well as biographical, autoethnographic,
Paradigm and personal history in hand, historical, action, and clinical methods. Each of
focused on a concrete empirical problem to these strategies is connected to a complex litera-
examine, the researcher now moves to the next ture, and each has a separate history, exemplary
stage of the research process—namely, working works, and preferred ways of putting the strategy
with a specific strategy of inquiry. into motion.

Phase 3: Strategies of Inquiry

and Interpretive Paradigms Phase 4: Methods of Collecting
Table 1.1 presents some of the major strategies
and Analyzing Empirical Materials
of inquiry a researcher may use. Phase 3 begins Qualitative researchers employ several meth-
with research design, which, broadly conceived, ods for collecting empirical materials.19 These
involves a clear focus on the research question, methods, which are taken up in Part IV of this
the purposes of the study, “what information volume, include interviewing; direct observation;
most appropriately will answer specific research the analysis of artifacts, documents, and cultural
questions, and which strategies are most effective records; the use of visual materials; and the use
for obtaining it”(LeCompte & Preissle, 1993, p. 30; of personal experience. The researcher may also
see also Cheek, Chapter 15, this volume). A read and analyze interviews or cultural texts in a
research design describes a flexible set of guide- variety of different ways, including content, narra-
lines that connect theoretical paradigms first to tive, and semiotic strategies. Faced with large
strategies of inquiry and second to methods for amounts of qualitative materials, the investigator
collecting empirical materials. A research design seeks ways of managing and interpreting these
situates the researcher in the empirical world and documents, and here data management methods
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and computer-assisted models of analysis may be come together. Qualitative researchers can isolate
of use. target populations, show the immediate effects of
certain programs on such groups, and isolate the
constraints that operate against policy changes
Phase 5: The Art and Politics of in such settings. Action-oriented and clinically
Interpretation and Evaluation oriented qualitative researchers can also create
Qualitative research is endlessly creative and spaces where those who are studied (the Other)
interpretive. The researcher does not just leave can speak. The evaluator becomes the conduit for
the field with mountains of empirical materials making such voices heard.
and then easily write up his or her findings.
Qualitative interpretations are constructed. The
researcher first creates a field text consisting of 2 BRIDGING THE HISTORICAL
field notes and documents from the field, what MOMENTS: WHAT COMES NEXT?
Roger Sanjek (1990, p. 386) calls “indexing” and
David Plath (1990, p. 374) calls “filework.” The In Chapter 38 of this volume, Richardson and
writer-as-interpreter moves from this text to a St. Pierre argue that we are already in the
research text: notes and interpretations based on post-“post” period—post-poststructuralism,
the field text. This text is then re-created as a post-postmodernism, post-postexperimentalism.
working interpretive document that contains the What this means for interpretive ethnographic
writer’s initial attempts to make sense of what he practices is still not clear, but it is certain that
or she has learned. Finally, the writer produces things will never again be the same. We are in
the public text that comes to the reader. This final a new age where messy, uncertain, multivoiced
tale from the field may assume several forms: texts, cultural criticism, and new experimental
confessional, realist, impressionistic, critical, for- works will become more common, as will more
mal, literary, analytic, grounded theory, and so on reflexive forms of fieldwork, analysis, and inter-
(see Van Maanen, 1988). textual representation. The subject of our final
The interpretive practice of making sense of essay in this volume is these sixth, seventh,
one’s findings is both artistic and political.Multiple eighth, and ninth moments. It is true that, as the
criteria for evaluating qualitative research now poet said, the center no longer holds. We can
exist, and those that we emphasize stress the situ- reflect on what should be at the new center.
ated,relational,and textual structures of the ethno- Thus we come full circle. Returning to our
graphic experience. There is no single interpretive bridge metaphor, the chapters that follow take the
truth.As we argued earlier,there are multiple inter- researcher back and forth through every phase of
pretive communities, each with its own criteria for the research act. Like a good bridge, the chapters
evaluating interpretations. provide for two-way traffic, coming and going
Program evaluation is a major site of qualita- between moments, formations, and interpretive
tive research, and qualitative researchers can communities. Each chapter examines the relevant
influence social policy in important ways. The histories, controversies, and current practices that
chapters in this volume by Greenwood and Levin are associated with each paradigm, strategy, and
(Chapter 2), McTaggart and Kemmis (Chapter method. Each chapter also offers projections for
23), Miller and Crabtree (Chapter 24), Tedlock the future, where a specific paradigm, strategy, or
(Chapter 18), Smith and Hodkinson (Chapter 36), method will be 10 years from now, deep into the
and House (Chapter 42) trace and discuss the formative years of the 21st century.
rich history of applied qualitative research in In reading the chapters that follow, it is
the social sciences. This is the critical site where important to remember that the field of qualita-
theory, method, praxis, action, and policy all tive research is defined by a series of tensions,
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Denzin & Lincoln: Introduction– 2–27

contradictions, and hesitations. These tensions criteria, including the correspondence concept of truth;
work back and forth between and among the there is an independent reality that can be mapped (see
broad, doubting postmodern sensibility; the Smith & Hodkinson, Chapter 36, this volume).
more certain, more traditional positivist, post- 4. Jameson (1991, pp. 3–4) reminds us that any
positivist, and naturalistic conceptions of this periodization hypothesis is always suspect, even one
that rejects linear, stagelike models. It is never clear to
project; and an increasingly conservative,
what reality a stage refers, and what divides one stage
neoliberal global environment. All of the chap- from another is always debatable. Our eight moments
ters that follow are caught in and articulate these are meant to mark discernible shifts in style, genre,
tensions. epistemology, ethics, politics, and aesthetics.
5. Several scholars have termed this model a
progress narrative (Alasuutari, 2004, pp. 599–600; Seale
2 NOTES et al., 2004, p. 2). Critics assert that we believe that
the most recent moment is the most up-to-date, the
1. Recall bell hooks’s (1990, p. 127) reading of the avant-garde, the cutting edge (Alasuutari, 2004,
famous photo of Stephen Tyler doing fieldwork in India p. 601). Naturally, we dispute this reading. Teddlie and
that appears on the cover of Writing Culture (Clifford & Tashakkori (2003, pp. 5–8) have modified our histori-
Marcus, 1986), In the picture, Tyler is seated at some cal periods to fit their historical analysis of the major
distance from three dark-skinned persons. One, a child, moments in the emergence of the use of mixed meth-
is poking his or her head out of a basket. A woman is ods in social science research in the past century.
hidden in the shadows of the hut. A man, a checkered 6. Some additional definitions are needed here.
white-and-black shawl across his shoulder, elbow Structuralism holds that any system is made up of a
propped on his knee, hand resting along the side of his set of oppositional categories embedded in language.
face, is staring at Tyler. Tyler is writing in a field journal. Semiotics is the science of signs or sign systems—a
A piece of white cloth is attached to his glasses, perhaps structuralist project. According to poststructuralism,
shielding him from the sun. This patch of whiteness language is an unstable system of referents, thus it is
marks Tyler as the white male writer studying these impossible ever to capture completely the meaning of
passive brown and black persons. Indeed, the brown an action, text, or intention. Postmodernism is a con-
male’s gaze signals some desire, or some attachment to temporary sensibility, developing since World War II,
Tyler. In contrast, the female’s gaze is completely hidden that privileges no single authority, method, or para-
by the shadows and by the words of the book’s title, digm. Hermeneutics is an approach to the analysis of
which are printed across her face. texts that stresses how prior understandings and prej-
2. Qualitative research has separate and distin- udices shape the interpretive process. Phenomenology
guished histories in education, social work, communi- is a complex system of ideas associated with the works
cations, psychology, history, organizational studies, of Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, and
medical science, anthropology, and sociology. Alfred Schutz. Cultural studies is a complex, interdisci-
3. Some definitions are in order here. Positivism plinary field that merges critical theory, feminism, and
asserts that objective accounts of the real world can be poststructuralism.
given. Postpositivism holds that only partially objective 7. Of course, all settings are natural—that is,
accounts of the world can be produced, for all methods places were everyday experiences take place. Qualitative
for examining such accounts are flawed. According to researchers study people doing things together in the
foundationalism, we can have an ultimate grounding places where these things are done (Becker,1986).There
for our knowledge claims about the world, and this is no field site or natural place where one goes to do this
involves the use of empiricist and positivist episte- kind of work (see also Gupta & Ferguson, 1997, p. 8).
mologies (Schwandt, 1997a, p. 103). Nonfoundational- The site is constituted through the researcher’s interpre-
ism holds that we can make statements about the world tive practices. Historically, analysts have distinguished
without “recourse to ultimate proof or foundations between experimental (laboratory) and field (natural)
for that knowing” (Schwandt, 1997a, p. 102). Quasi- research settings, hence the argument that qualitative
foundationalism holds that we can make certain research is naturalistic. Activity theory erases this dis-
knowledge claims about the world based on neorealist tinction (Keller & Keller, 1996, p. 20; Vygotsky, 1978).
01-Denzin.qxd 2/7/2005 9:20 PM Page 28


8. According to Weinstein and Weinstein (1991), for more recent extensions see Taylor and Bogdan
“The meaning of bricoleur in French popular speech is (1998) and Creswell (1998).
‘someone who works with his (or her) hands and uses 15. Greenblatt (1997, pp. 15–18) offers a useful
devious means compared to those of the crafts- deconstructive reading of the many meanings and
man.’ . . . the bricoleur is practical and gets the job practices Geertz brings to the term thick description.
done” (p. 161). These authors provide a history of the 16. These works marginalized and minimized the
term, connecting it to the works of the German sociol- contributions of standpoint feminist theory and
ogist and social theorist Georg Simmel and, by impli- research to this discourse (see Behar,1995,p.3; Gordon,
cation, Baudelaire. Hammersley (1999) disputes our 1995, p. 432).
use of this term. Following Lévi-Strauss, he reads the 17. Olesen (Chapter 10, this volume) identifies
bricoleur as a mythmaker. He suggests that the term three strands of feminist research: mainstream empir-
be replaced with the notion of the boatbuilder. ical, standpoint and cultural studies, and poststruc-
Hammersley also quarrels with our “moments” model tural, postmodern. She places Afrocentric and other
of the history of qualitative research, contending that it models of color under the cultural studies and post-
implies some sense of progress. modern categories.
9. Brian De Palma reproduced this baby carriage 18. These, of course, are our interpretations of
scene in his 1987 film The Untouchables. these paradigms and interpretive styles.
10. In the harbor, the muzzles of the Potemkin’s 19. Empirical materials is the preferred term for
two huge guns swing slowly toward the camera. Words what traditionally have been described as data.
on the screen inform us, “The brutal military power
answered by guns of the battleship.” A final famous
three-shot montage sequence shows first a sculpture of
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