Theorising Qualitative Methods: Paradigms and Methods Seminar organised by Qualiti for ESRC National Centre for Research Methods Edinburgh University, 15 June 2006 ‘Theorising Qualitative Research in Practice Oriented Disciplines’ Ian Shaw, Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of York The range of this subject is daunting. I have spent much of my career wandering round its rooms.i For today I have walked round the inside, looking for windows and keyholes that seem to facilitate both illumination and conversation. To keep my, and hopefully your, mind fresh I have stuck to problems that are part of my current preoccupations. The title is in part simply for the sake of argument. I am none too enthusiastic about the implied distinction in the phrase ‘practice oriented disciplines’. It says – both by way of assertion and of denial - too much. But it has useful currency. For example, the recent report on the demographics of the social sciences rests significant arguments and recommendations on the basis of such a distinction (Mills, et al, 2006), and on related distinctions within social science, between, for example, importer and exporter disciplines. ‘Theorising’ is, to borrow Popper’s term, a ‘bucket word’. By and large I take it in the sense of a scheme of ideas, a framework that provides orientations or perspectives that act as approaches to framing, understanding or solving problems (Schwandt, 2001). I will use the time we have to reflect on theorising four problems: 1. 2. 3. 4. Applied (Qualitative) Research Qualitative Research as Advocacy The Practice/Research Relationship Quality in practice-oriented disciplines And add an aside about theorising discipline recognition. 1 Applied (Qualitative) Research My caution about the implied distinction in the phrase ‘practice oriented disciplines’ is a worry that it sets up a discontinuity that risks fracturing the overall coherence of the social sciences. In fairness, David Mills and his colleagues express themselves carefully. Referring to criminology, media studies, planning, development studies, social policy, education, management and business studies, planning and the like, they say: Their dual identities as fields of academic research and areas of professional practice should be seen as a strength rather than a weakness, but one that makes the development of autonomous disciplinary research traditions and intellectual debates all the more vital (Mills et al, 2006: 38). I have found John Furlong and Alis Oancea’s paper (2005) on applied educational research a stimulating contribution to this area. For example, they draw on the work of Stokes to suggest that the applied/basic distinction is too one-dimensional. They distinguish two questions: Is research inspired by considerations of use? Does research seek fundamental knowledge? The answers to these questions, so they reason, are not dependent on each other. For example, we can have ‘use-inspired basic research’ (What Stokes calls Pasteur’s Quadrant). This is helpful in that we no longer are pushed into seeing ‘pure’ and ‘applied’ as being at opposite ends of a single continuum. The distinction is of value for us today by pointing to the need to conceptualise practice-oriented research in such a way that ‘pure’ and ‘applied’ are not in conflict but rather that contributions to basic knowledge and contributions to practice can be seen as compatible and potentially synergistic dimensions. Of course this is quite different from collapsing disciplinary boundaries. I wonder how far we can chart the territory of disciplines in ways that have useful specificity but avoid seeing each as an independent island state. I think there may be four ways of charting the territory of practice-oriented disciplinary work, in terms of purpose, contexts, practices and methods, and domains. These might sound easy enough to be banal. Apart from the domains in which research takes place consensus may look simple enough. But the devil may be in the detail. The first three may look like the following. Here is what I think may work as a set of purposes for research: Providing objective, impartial evidence for decision-making; providing public accountability. Generating or enhancing theory and knowledge about social and practiceoriented problems, policy and professional work. Improving interventions and practice. Highlighting and advancing the quality of lived experience, practical wisdom, and personal and organizational learning Promoting social inclusion, justice and social change Second, the contexts that shape the practice and purpose of such research include social, relational, political and ethical dimensions of research as a practice engaged with people. Structural (especially governmental) contexts for research. Politics and values in research Practice oriented research and ethics Professional/occupational practice contexts of research Theory and theorizing: intellectual contexts of practice-oriented research The uses of research. Time and place, culture and history. In an effort to rise above but not ignore the quantitative/qualitative debate, the practices and methods of practice-oriented research are better approached by considering their critical relation to the purposes of research. I have deliberately set this up in a loosely formulated way, believing that undue specificity risks foreclosing too many options. Methods for providing evidence of effectiveness and improving direct or indirect interventions. Methods for enhancing theory and knowledge about problems, policies and practice Methods for understanding, learning and social justice. Relying solely on ‘purposes’ risks being detached from the practicalities of science at work. Using preliminary conclusions from a study of the nature and quality of social work research in UK HEI’s research outputs submitted to the last RAE, a more subject-specific list emerges. I would be interested to know how far this list is translatable into, say, education, criminology or development studies. I would also be interested in discussing the extent of common ground with, say, politics, human geography or sociology. What is the primary issue or problem focus of the research?ii 1. Understand/explain/resolve issues related to risk, vulnerability, abuse, resilience, challenging behaviour, separation, attachment, loss or trauma. 2. Understand/assess/develop/evaluate social work practice customs, methods, or interventions. 3. Understand/address issues of ethnicity, racism in relation to the field of study 4. Understand/address issues of gender, sexism, the role of women, masculinities in relation to the field of study 5. Understand/promote the nature and quality of informal care, carer activity, volunteering, and their relation to formal care. 6. Understand/assess/strengthen user/carer/citizen/community involvement in social work; empowerment; equality; diversity; inclusion. 7. Understand/evaluate/strengthen social work services, including voluntary/independent sector 8. Understand/promote learning and teaching about social work or related professions 9. Demonstrate/assess the value of inter-disciplinary approaches to social work servicesiii 10. Demonstrate/assess the value of comparative, cross-national research 11. Develop general theorising (with exception of methods of social work intervention) 12. Understand/appraise/develop the practice and quality of social work research (including advocacy research agenda in the planning, practice and utilization of research) 13. Understand/explain/promote good practice in social work organizations and management 14. Describe, understand, explain, or develop good practice in relation to social work/er beliefs, values, political positions, faith, or ethics. 2 Qualitative Research as Advocacy This initial mapping poses a tricky question. How far and in what, if any, ways are social science disciplines distinctive in character?iv I will take an example and relate it to qualitative research. In social work it is often claimed that an emancipatory research agenda, delivered prominently through the involvement of service users and carers in the research process, is part and parcel of good researchv. It is also (sometimes) claimed that qualitative commitments better serve this purpose than quantitative methods. David Hamilton, in a little noticed argument, concluded several years ago that ‘its commitment to participate rationally in the prosecution of worthwhile, even emancipatory, social change is probably the most enduring tradition of qualitative research’ (Hamilton, 1998: 127). However, an advocacy position on research has often been associated with a diminished concern with methodological cogency, in which instrumental procedures take second place to wider political issues. Lorenz summarizes this position as follows. It is not the choice of a particular research method that determines social work’s position socially and politically. Rather it is the ability to engage critically in the political agenda of defining the terms on which knowledge and truth can be established which should form the basis for the search of appropriate research approaches in social work. (Lorenz, 2000: 8) In a thoughtful analysis of black research, Stanfield concludes that ‘even in the most critical qualitative research methods literature there is a tendency to treat “human subjects” as the passive prisoners of the research process’ (Stanfield, 1994: 168). A similar argument has been put forward by participatory researchers such as John Heron. Others have been more optimistic regarding the affinity of qualitative methodology with moral or political agenda. Riessman, for example, has written about narrative methods through which ‘an individual links disruptive events in a biography to heal discontinuities – what should have been and what was’ (1994: 114). She makes a more general link between qualitative methodology and liberatory positions. ‘Because qualitative approaches offer the potential for representing human agency – initiative, language, emotion – they provide support for the liberatory project of social work; (1994: xv; cf Froggatt and Chamberlayne, 2004). Dingwall arrives at a similar conclusion, albeit from a different standpoint. In his consideration of the moral discourse of interactionism, he is impatient with the postmodern repudiation of moral concerns and is concerned with how the moral and empirical plug together. He reaches back to the philosophy of Adam Smith, for viewing sociology as studying the very preconditions for mutual society. ‘If we have a mission for our discipline, it may be to show the timeless virtues of compromise and civility, of patient change and human decency, of a community bound by obligations rather than rights’ (Dingwall, 1997: 204). This quotation has been deliberately chosen in contrast to emancipatory models of research, to show that the qualitative analysis ‘of what it might take to live a moral life’ (p. 204) is neither novel nor the exclusive province of any single political position. My own position is that qualitative research informed by critical concerns ‘must neither ignore instrumental issues nor privilege them’ (Vanderplaat, 1995: 94). It seems difficult to controvert the conclusion that social work has given an emphasis to the general position that marks it out from other social science disciplines, including cognate fields such as social policy and education vi. Social workers, to borrow apt phrasing from Robert Stake, have become ‘reluctant to separate epistemology from ideology, findings from yearnings’ (Stake, 1997: 471). My own position is close to Cathy Riessman’s (above). But is advocacy research a sine qua non of good (qualitative) research in a practice-oriented discipline? I would claim it is a necessary part of the overall research mission, but it is not a necessary dimension of each and every research project. In the case of social work, a strong version of advocacy research - user-led research – widens and challenges the foci from those academics and practitioners think are key questions for research, extends what is regarded as good intervention, and provides a powerful sense of what is stigmatising (cf Hanley, 2005). For example, user-led research and evaluation shifts the focus from what practitioners or researchers think are key questions for research to those that sufferers and survivors think are central. They are likely to include: Coping Identity Information needs Support needs Self-help Carers Women’s issues Rights and opportunitiesvii. This anchors an abiding tension in applied qualitative research – that between expertise and democratising values in social research. I think I detect an emerging level of accommodation, or at least conversation, in this vexed field. Thus Hammersley conceded recently that ‘if we can see how educational research could be characterized by competing paradigms (in a non Kuhnian sense)…and therefore necessarily divided by allegiances to discrepant world-views, then we perhaps should resist any inclination to dismiss paradigm differentiation as entirely the product of bias, theoretical or methodological fashion, career building, etc as some of us (myself included) sometimes do’ (Hammersley, 2005) 3 The Practice/Research Relationship I want to limit myself to a couple of very particular arguments, but ones I believe open up extensive opportunities for qualitative inquiry. We can and should theorise the practice/research relationship in two ways. First, by taking a fresh look at how we see the science/practice influence. Second, by challenging the assumptions about the hierarchy of influence. Historically, the influence of science on direct social work practice has taken two forms. One is the use of the scientific method to shape practice activities, for example, gathering evidence and forming hypotheses about a client’s problem. The other form is the provision of scientific knowledge about human beings, their problems and ways of resolving them. (Reid, 1998: 3) Reid’s distinction is fundamental and too little appreciated. I have tried to develop an example of this approach through work on evaluating-in-practice (eg Shaw, 1996). Three aspects of the approach need emphasising. First, evaluating in practice is not about the application of research findings to practice but about the method of inquiry and evaluation. We may label this the difference between research as ‘source’ for practice and research as ‘model’ for practice. Second, evaluating-in-practice is a cluster of practice skills and not research skills as such. Third, my own orientation draws primarily on the rich literature and practice of qualitative inquiry and evaluation. A demanding set of skills is necessary to achieve this shaping of practice – skills that I convey through the use of metaphors such as ‘translation’ and ‘countercolonizing’ and through ideas of transfer of learning. Implicit in this argument is a challenge to conventional ways of seeing expert/beneficiary relationships. ‘Counter-colonization’ is an allusion to the typical dominance of social science and research over practice and the potential for practice to challenge social science. To illustrate from psychology, endeavours have been made to liberate practitioner research from a personalized model that takes academic research and disciplines as given, and limits practitioner inquiry to applying research to practice (Fahl and Markand, 1999). Fahl and Markand’s project seeks to create an identity for practitioner research as critique rather than individualised application – critique of social science as well as of practice. Their point about psychology will stand for social science in general when they conclude that ‘if existing academic psychology and existing professional psychological practice can only be brought together with difficulty, then this “only” says that this type of psychology needs to be criticized and developed’ (p. 75)viii. 4 Theorising quality in practice-oriented disciplines As part of the study mentioned earlier about the nature and quality of social work research, we have explored the rhetorics of quality used in the previous RAE submissionsix, in order to accomplish a relatively ‘systematic “stocktaking” of the postulated and enacted judgment criteria that play themselves out in routine scientific research’ in our field (Breuer and Reichertz, 2002). I wish we had time to do some comparative work on submissions from other social science fields. In general, the motifs of quality claims included: Knowledge/epistemic claims Recognition/esteem claims Capacity claims Influence claims. Value claims. Having a mission While there is common ground, what has struck us is the diversity of claims. This comes across especially in what we interpret as ‘mission statements’. Compare, for example, the following from two equally highly rated outlets: University Ax ‘Our raison d’être, to improve policies and services for service users and carers… provide products that will help to translate research findings into policy and practice’. University B [Our approach] ‘brings together conceptual, methodological and theoretical creativity and innovation but in a way which is empirical and has clear practice implications…Our long-standing, overall philosophy has been to encourage an approach to social work research which makes a significant contribution to theory, policy and practice …’ Universities were not required to present a ‘mission statement’ but these claims certainly read like such. I have quoted them because of the apparent differences between them. They seem to imply that these two social work centres would place themselves rather differently on any basic/applied continuum. University B is making what looks much more like a discipline claim, whereas University A isn’t. University A’s gaze is outward to the world of policies and services. University A is more obviously ‘applied’ whereas University B is more apparently interested in the world of ideas.xi The point is not at all that social work needs to get its act together but rather that this kind of diversity will exist in practiceoriented disciplines. Theorising discipline recognition By way of an aside, as a consequence of a recent study (Shaw, Arksey and Mullender, 2004, 2006) we reflected on the implications of the invisibility of social work research within the ESRC. Disciplines within universities are not fixed and abiding realities. ‘Recognizing’ social work is a dynamic, socially negotiated process, shaped by the construction and ordering of knowledge claims within social work and social science communities, and reflecting power differentials that are mediated through structural mechanisms that tend to exclude new ‘claimants’ such as social work. Conclusion ‘….not too much’ We should not expect too much from science, theory and qualitative research. ‘Scientists are neither Gods nor charlatans; they are merely experts’ (Collins and Pinch, 1998:143), and there is a risk of overestimating the benefits to be gained from research. The products of systematic inquiry will not necessarily be better than the presuppositions built into traditional ways of doing things. It is a modernist fallacy to assume otherwise. (Hammersley, 1993: 438) Hence we should not be precious about our theories. ‘Theory is too often used to protect us from the awesome complexity of the world’ and In the name of emancipation, researchers impose meanings on situations rather than constructing meaning through negotiation with research participants. (Lather, 1986: 267, 265) Our vision of the relationship between our practice concerns and qualitative research must never be utopian – but it must always be radical. With the whole of the social sciences in mind, Science can be socially framed, possess political meaning, and also occasionally be sufficiently true, or less false, in such a way that we cherish its findings. The challenge comes in trying to understand how knowledge worth preserving occurs in time, possesses deep social relations, and can also be progressive…and seen to be worthy of preservation. (Jacob, 1992: 501) ‘Theorising Qualitative Research in Practice Oriented Disciplines’ Ian Shaw References Bloor, Michael (1997) ‘Addressing social problems through qualitative research’, in Silverman, David (ed) Qualitative Research: Theory, Method and Practice. London: Sage. Breuer, Franz and Reichertz, Jo (2002) ‘Standards of social research’ Forum Qualitative Sozialforscung [online journal] 2(3). Available at: http://www.qualitative-research.net/fqs-texte/3-01/3-01breuerreichertz-e.htm Collins, Harry and Pinch, Trevor (1998) The Golem: What You Should Know about Science Cambridge: University Press Dingwall, Robert (1997) ‘Conclusion: the Moral Discourse of Interactionism’ in Miller G and Dingwall R (eds) Context and Method in Qualitative Research London: Sage. Fahl R. and Markand, M. (1999) ‘The Project “Analysis of Psychological Practice” or: An Attempt at Connecting Psychology Critique and Practice Research’ in Outlines 1: 73-98. Floersch, Jerry (2004) ‘A method for investigating practitioner use of theory in practice; in Qualitative Social Work 3 (2): 161-177. Froggatt, Lynn and Chamberlayne, Prue (2004) ‘Narratives of social enterprise: form biography to practice and policy critique’ in Qualitative Social Work 3 (1): 61-77. Furlong, John and Oancea, Alis (2005) Assessing Quality in Applied and Practice Based Educational Research Oxford University Department of Educational Studies. Available in pdf format at esrc.ac.uk. Hamilton, David (1998) ‘Traditions, Preferences and Postures in Applied Qualitative Research’ in Denzin, N and Lincoln, Y (1998) The Landscape of Qualitative Research Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. Hammersley, Martyn (1993) ‘On methodological purism’, in British Educational Research Journal, 19 (4): 339-341. Hammersley, Martyn (1993) ‘On methodological purism’, in British Educational Research Journal, 19 (4): 339-341. Hammersley, Martyn (2005) ‘Methodological disagreement and the problem of quality’. Paper for seminar on Assessing Quality in Case Study and Qualitative Research, forming part of the ESRC TLRP Seminar Series on Quality in Educational Research. Hanley, Bec, (2005) Research as Empowerment? York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Jacob, Margaret C. (1992) ‘Science and Politics in the Late Twentieth Century’ in Social Research 59 (3): 487-503 Lather, Patti (1986) ‘Research as praxis’ in Harvard Educational Review, 56 (3): 257-277. Lorenz, Walter (2000) ‘Contentious Identities – social work research and the search for professional and personal identities’ paper from ESRC seminar series ‘Theorising social work research’. Accessible via www.scie.org.uk. Pawson, R., Boaz, A., Grayson, L., Long, A. and Barnes, C. (2003) Types and Quality of Knowledge in Social Care London: Social Care Institute for Excellence Reid, William J (1998) Empirically-supported practice: Perennial myth or emerging reality? Distinguished Professorship Lecture. New York: State University at Albany. Riessman, Catherine-Kohler (1994), ‘Preface: Making Room for Diversity in Social Work Research’ in Riessman, C. K. ed. Qualitative Studies in Social Work Research, Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications Schwandt, Thomas (2001) Dictionary of Qualitative Inquiry Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. Shaw, Ian (2005) ‘Practitioner research: evidence or critique?’ British Journal of Social Work Vol. 35, No 8, pp 1231-1248. Shaw, Ian (forthcoming) ‘Is Social Work Research Distinctive?’ Social Work Education Shaw, Ian, Arksey, Hilary and Mullender, Audrey (2004), ESRC Research and Social Work and Social Care London: Social Care Institute for Excellence. Shaw, Ian, Arksey, Hilary and Mullender, Audrey (2006), ‘Recognizing social work’ British Journal of Social Work 36 (2): 227-246. Shaw, Ian and Faulkner, Alex (2006) ‘Practitioner Evaluation at Work’ American Journal of Evaluation, 27 (1): 44-63. Shaw, Ian and Ruckdeschel, Roy (2002) ‘Qualitative social work: a room with a view?’ in Qualitative Social Work I (1): 5-23. Sheppard, Michael and Ryan, Kate (2003) ‘Practitioners as rule using analysts’ British Journal of Social Work 33 (2): 157-176 Stake, Robert (1997) ‘Advocacy in evaluation: a necessary evil?’ in Chelimsky, E. and Shadish, W. (eds), Evaluation for the 21st Century. Thousand Oaks: Sage. Stake, Robert and Schwandt, Thomas (2006) ‘On discerning quality in evaluation’ in Shaw, I, Greene, J and Mark, M (eds) Sage Handbook of Evaluation London: Sage Publications. Stanfield, J. (1994) ‘Empowering the culturally diversified sociological voice’ in A Gitlin (ed) Power and Method: Political Activism and Educational Research New York: Routledge. Vanderplaat, M. (1995) ‘Beyond technique: issues in evaluating for empowerment’, Evaluation, 1 (1): 81-96 Notes i The more extensive products of these wanderings have been Evaluating in Practice (1996, Ashgate); Qualitative Evaluation (1999, Sage), Evaluation and Social Work Practice (1999, Sage, with Joyce Lishman); Qualitative Research in Social Work (2001, Sage. With Nick Gould), Handbook of Evaluation (2006. Sage. With Jennifer Greene and Mel Mark) and the journal ‘Qualitative Social Work’ (Sage). ii There are, of course, other ways of distributing kinds of research by, for example, inquiry methods or ‘targets’, but I suspect these are less illuminating for our present purposes. iii I use ‘inter-disciplinary’ here to include two distinct categories. Research that crosses different occupations/professions (eg health and social work). Research that crosses different higher education disciplines (eg sociology and social work). iv I have discussed the broader version of this question in a pending paper (‘Is social work research distinctive? Journal of Social Work Education). v A moderate version of this claim is implicit in the subject guidelines for social work in the recent ESRC research training recognition exercise. It is also present in major national social work research strategy to be launched next month by the lead developer, the JUC Social Work Education Committee. vi Furlong and Oancea cautiously remain silent on the issue. vii This list is drawn from discussions at a national seminar of user researchers in the mental health field. viii For examples of this, see also Floersch, (2004), Shaw, (2005); Shaw and Faulkner, (2006); Shaw and Ruckdeschel, (2002), Sheppard and Ryan, (2003). Routes in to theorising this area include work on tacit, practical and common sense knowledge, and also explorations of different kinds of knowledge (eg Pawson et al, 2003). See also Bloor, 1997 for a rare example of an ethnographer taking interest in practice implications of research. ix We have also carried out fuller case studies of universities but that data is still to be analysed. x While these are public domain documents I have not named the universities. Their identity is purely incidental to the point. xi For an interesting discussion of the relative suitability of ‘quality-as-experienced’ and ‘quality-asmeasured’ see Stake and Schwandt, 2006.