The nature and role of qualitative methodology in psychology: a scientific realist perspective
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Interest in qualitative research in psychology has never been stronger, but although qualitative research is making inroads into some areas of psychology, it is still marginalised within the discipline. Psychological researchers remain unconvinced as to the scientific worth of qualitative inquiry. This scepticism is due in good part to qualitative approaches not being accompanied by convincing arguments or demonstrations of their scientific adequacy. The aim of this thesis is to explore the possibility of a broader, scientifically credible role for qualitative inquiry in psychology. For this to occur, a scientifically credible basis for qualitative research needs to be established, or, if such a scientific basis already exists, made more apparent. There are three barriers to overcome. First, qualitative writers argue that the key barrier to the broader use of qualitative inquiry in psychology is the domination of psychology by positivism/empiricism/postpositivism/realism. However, these writers generally misunderstand and conflate the nature of positivism, empiricism, postpositivism, and realism, because none of these metatheories exclude the use of qualitative methodology. Second, the real barrier to qualitative research in psychology is the 'quantitative imperative' (Michell, 1990), or the belief credible science must involve measurement. This barrier can also be removed by demonstrating that being non-quantitative is no restriction to being rigorously scientific. Third, an analysis of the history of the relationship between qualitative inquiry and psychological science demonstrates the continuing lack of a broadly credible metatheoretical framework for qualitative approaches in psychology. Of the metatheoretical positions that currently argue over the appropriate role of qualitative methodology in psychology, a specific form of scientific realism is favoured over radical social constructionism. Scientific realism offers qualitative researchers in psychology a scientifically credible metatheory that accepts mindindependence, epistemic realism, the correspondence theory of truth, methodism, but accepts a systematic fallibilism.