A Philosophical Analysis of the General Methodology of Qualitative Research: A Critical Rationalist Perspective [Book Review]

Health Care Analysis 22 (3):1-10 (2014)

Abstract

Philosophical discussion of the general methodology of qualitative research, such as that used in some health research, has been inductivist or relativist to date, ignoring critical rationalism as a philosophical approach with which to discuss the general methodology of qualitative research. This paper presents a discussion of the general methodology of qualitative research from a critical rationalist perspective (inspired by Popper), using as an example mental health research. The widespread endorsement of induction in qualitative research is positivist and is suspect, if not false, particularly in relation to the context of justification (or rather theory testing) as compared to the context of discovery (or rather theory generation). Relativism is riddled with philosophical weaknesses and hence it is suspect if not false too. Theory testing is compatible with qualitative research, contrary to much writing about and in qualitative research, as theory testing involves learning from trial and error, which is part of qualitative research, and which may be the form of learning most conducive to generalization. Generalization involves comparison, which is a fundamental methodological requirement of any type of research (qualitative or other); hence the traditional grounding of quantitative and experimental research in generalization. Comparison—rather than generalization—is necessary for, and hence compatible with, qualitative research; hence, the common opposition to generalization in qualitative research is misdirected, disregarding whether this opposition’s claims are true or false. In conclusion, qualitative research, similar to quantitative and experimental research, assumes comparison as a general methodological requirement, which is necessary for health research

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