Introduction to qualitative research and
data analysis techniques
Research Methods and
Intended learning outcomes
At the end of this lecture and with additional
reading you will be able to:
understand the difference between realism and
describe different data collecting methods in
qualitative research
describe the differences between IPA, grounded
theory and discourse analysis
Qualitative methods - a historical
Epistemology is a branch of philosophy
concerned with the theory of knowledge
In research methods we need to know what
our objectives are and what we may find out
We must be able to identify our goals and
justify our choice
we need to adopt an epistemological approach
Qualitative research
Shared concerns
the importance of how people make sense of the
world and how they experience events; meanings
rather than cause-effects relationships
Epistemological differences
how we define the status of the text will depend
on our theoretical framework
Ongoing epistemological debate in
psychology: Realism Vs Relativism
 Realism:
there is a direct link between the world
and our perception and understanding of it
 Critical realism: we can separate the world from
our knowledge of it e.g., embodied experience;
but need to accept that psychological ‘facts’ are
socially constructed
 Relativism: psychological ideas/concepts useful
constructions; & multiple versions of truth &
 Social constructionism: role of “discourse”
(historically, culturally, socially contextual) in
constituting ‘objects’, subjective experience, and
scientific knowledge
 Extreme relativism: rejection of concepts such as
Epistemological positions
Qualitative research
Small Q's and big Q’s
little Q's; methods used to incorporated non
numerical data into hypo-deductive research
methods (content analysis, repertory grid)
big Q’s; open ended induced research
Qualitative research: defining
Common investigative goals in qualitative
– looking to understand experience, not cause
and effect
– interested in offering interpretations of
text/narratives , not test a prediction about
– looking for participant-defined meanings, not
researcher-imposed ones
– acknowledging ‘human messiness’ and
– valuing contextual influences on the data, rather
than tying to reduce it
Ethical considerations
Informed consent
No deception
Right to withdraw
Semi structured interviews
The most widely used form of data collecting
in qualitative research
A variety of methods can be used to analyse
interview transcripts
non directive
research question drives the interview
interviewer must be aware of their impact on the
the interviewer must be aware of the linguistic
The interview agenda
how the interviewee organises their knowledge
general accounts of what happened
makes comparisons between events and
interviewee’s feelings towards someone/thing
Focus groups
The focus group is a group interview that
uses interactions amongst participants as a
source of data
The researcher acts as a moderator and
steers the discussion
Statements are challenged, extended,
developed, undermined or qualified
generating rich data
Focus groups cont’d
Focus groups can be
concerned or native participants
Diaries methods
Participants make a commitment to maintain a record
of their experiences, activities, and feelings over a
period of time
There are not provided with a set of questions and
can be more or less unstructured
The researcher must provide participants with
guidance on:
– how frequent they are meant to make entries
– which medium of reporting
– what to write about
– the time period covered
Grounded theory
Grounded theory is designed to facilitate the
process of discovery through theory
Grounded theory was created by Glaser and
Strauss (1967)
they wanted a method which could translate data
to theory ‘ that would be grounded in the data’
rather than analytical constructs, categories or
variables from pre-existing theories
Basic principles of grounded
Building blocks
Constant comparative analysis
Negative case analysis
Theoretical sensitivity
Theoretical sampling
Theoretical saturation
Memo writing
Limitations of grounded theory
The problem of induction
grounded theory is meant to give rise to new
theories, in that observations give rise to new
however this ignores the role of the researcher
suggesting that the data speaks for itself
therefore grounded theory does not address
Limitations of grounded theory II
Suitability for psychological research
grounded theory was developed to study social
process from the ‘bottom up’
therefore relating it to understanding experience it
produces maps and concepts used by the
respondent to make sense of their experience
and this in itself does not constitute a theory
the nature of experience is more suitably
addressed using phenomenological research
Interpretative phenomenological
IPA is an approach that is informed by the
principles of phenomenology (Jonathan
Smith, 1997)
phenomenology is concerned with the way
individuals again knowledge form the world
around them
Basic principles in
Phenomenology methods requires three
epoche: the suspension of presuppositions,
assumptions and judgments
phenomenological reduction: what makes the
experience what it is (this includes physical and
experiential features)
imaginative variation: how is the experience made
possible (an examination of its structure in
relation to time, space, social relationships)
Limitations to IPA
The role of language
– IPA uses language in the forms of text to
communicate experience. However it could be
argued that language constructs rather than
describes experience. The same event may
described in many ways, therefore language
cannot simply give expression to experience
Suitability of accounts
– phenomenology relies on participants descriptions
of accounts, but how good are the participants at
communicating their experiences to the
Limitations to IPA II
Explanation versus description
although IPA allows rich text of an individuals
perception of the world it does not further our
understanding of why such experiences take
place and why individuals experience may be
different. ‘it describes and documents the lived
experience of participants but it does not attempt
to explain it’
Limitations to IPA III
Is IPA genuinely phenomenological
it could be argued that genuinely
phenomenological research should not study
peoples cognition, instead it should aim to
understand lived experience
Discourse analysis - the turn to
Language is seen to construct versions of
social reality and achieve social objectives
The relationship between
language and representation
That talk is a route to cognition
That cognition's are based on perception
That an objective perception of reality is
theoretically possible
That there are consensual objects of
That there are cognitive structures which are
relatively enduing
Discursive and foucauldian
discourse analysis
Discursive psychology asks how participants
use language in order to negotiate and
manage social interactions
Foucauldian discourse analysis seeks to
describe and critique discursive worlds
people inhabit and explore their implications
for subjectivity and experience
Limitation to discursive analysis
Discursive psychology does not address questions
about subjectivity
It is unable to account for why different groups
pursue particular discursive objectives (i.e. not being
able to say sorry or I love you, when strategically it
would be appropriate to do so)
Discursive psychology tends to discard the wider
social and material context in which the conversation
takes place
Limitations of foucauldian
Can subjectivity be theorised on the basis of
discourse alone
it can be argued that discursive techniques do not
account for the emotional investment individuals
What is the relationship between discourse
and material reality
if discourse constructs reality can reality constrain
Key differences between
foucauldian and discursive
Research question
discursive: how do participants use language to
manage stake in social interaction
foucauldian: what characterises the discursive
worlds people inhabit and what are the
implications for possible ways of being
Key differences between
foucauldian and discursive
analysis II
discursive: the speaker as an active agent who
uses discursive strategies to manage stake in
social interactions
foucaldian: the power of discourse to construct
objects, including the human subject itself
Key differences between
foucauldian and discursive
analysis III
discursive: questions the value of the category
‘experiences’ itself, instead it conceptualises it as
a discursive move whereby speakers use it to
justify their claims
foucauldian: does not attempt to theorise
‘experience’, discursive constructions are
implicated in the ways in which we experience

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