Qualitative variations: the sources of divergent qualitative methodological approaches

Abstract

Epistemological differences between positivists and interpretivists and methodological divisions between quantitative and qualitative scholars elide very important divisions within qualitative methods based on ontology. These differences can lead qualitative methodologists to make conflicting prescriptions and embrace incompatible standards. Though divergent standards may divide qualitative methodologists, what unite them are similar tools.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    As an example, Huntington’s Political Order in Changing Societies (1968), with its broad scope and generalizable theories explicitly argued to have predictive power, comfortably represents a QE approach.

  2. 2.

    Despite this seeming openness regarding trade-offs, the EP approach still hold restrictive standards that are not necessarily shared across the camps, particularly on conceptualization and specificity of causal mechanisms. Moreover, the openness is often disregarded when critiquing another work, as even EP scholars will have a predilection towards generality or accuracy, depending on their own epistemological tendencies.

  3. 3.

    A classic example of this approach is Moore’s Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (1966), with its strong focus on necessary conditions [“No bourgeois, no democracy” (p. 418).] and use of equifinality.

  4. 4.

    In QCA this is the coverage score, which measures the degree to which the empirical data corresponds to the postulated subset relationship. Best practices recommend that one sets a threshold for the coverage score at the outset of the analysis.

  5. 5.

    This is best exemplified in the symposium in the most recent Qualitative and Multi-Method Research newsletter “The Set-Theoretic Comparative Method: Critical Assessment and the Search for Alternatives,” (Spring 2014).

  6. 6.

    Also for the purposes of this discussion we will treat X and Y as binary variables though this would hold for continuous variables as well.

  7. 7.

    The threshold of how many cases should fall into these categories should be determined prior to the analysis. This is the coverage score, and assesses the extent to which the empirical data corresponds to the postulated subset relationship.

  8. 8.

    Tests for sufficiency follow a similar logic; researchers should choose cases based on scores on the independent variable.

  9. 9.

    That these were reviews written half a century ago also indicates how enduring these epistemological and ontological differences may be.

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Correspondence to Erin Kimball Damman.

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Koivu, K.L., Damman, E.K. Qualitative variations: the sources of divergent qualitative methodological approaches. Qual Quant 49, 2617–2632 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11135-014-0131-7

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Keywords

  • Qualitative methods
  • Set theory
  • Interpretive methods