The qualitative method has grown to become an important methodological alternative
within social science research. The qualitative method can to some extent be
regarded as uniform and to some extent as varied. Unity of the qualitative method
manifests on a higher level of scientific reflection. There are mainly the ontological
and epistemological assumptions that constitute common foundations for qualitative
In spite of these common foundations the qualitative method has become increasingly
varied. Development of qualitative method has resulted in many, more or
less, complex methodological procedures, which are well defined and well delimited
in relation to each other. Researchers can today choose from several different
research approaches. These approaches have their own specific research purposes,
which lead to specific patterns of analysis and the structuring of empirical data. Examples
of such qualitative research approaches are grounded theory, empirical phenomenology
and heuristic research. The development of qualitative method has
also resulted in a large variation within research approaches. An example of the
variety within the same research approach consists of different variants of empirical
phenomenology, developed by Colaizzi, Van Kaam and Giorgi. Another example
consists of two variants of grounded theory, the first one developed by Glaser and
the other one developed by Strauss in cooperation with Corbin.
This report focuses on the issues of interpretation, understanding and validity of
qualitative research. The qualitative method is interpretative in its character but can
include different types of interpretation and understanding in its various qualitative
research approaches. Two basic types of interpretation in qualitative research lead
to two different kinds of understanding. The first concentrates on interpretative understanding
of the direct meaning, which can be communicated consciously. The
direct meaning can appear both in explicit and implicit form. Explicit meaning is
communicated more distinctly in a linguistic way and implicit meaning is less distinctly
communicated in an extra-linguistic way, for example, with the help of metaphors
or anecdotes. The other type of interpretation exceeds the horizon of direct
meaning and concentrates on meta-interpretative understanding of non-direct meaning.
In this type of interpretation the researcher interprets the meaning with the
help of an external frame of reference.
Depending on the type of interpretation and understanding used, the different validation
procedures can be, more or less, useful for various qualitative research approaches.
Meta-interpretative validation is necessary, for example, in phenomeno21
graphic and hermeneutical studies for the justification of the researchers interpretations
of non-direct meaning. On the contrary, within empirical phenomenology
meta-interpretative validation is not needed, because phenomenological research
results only concentrate on interpretative understanding of the direct meaning. Theoretical
validation is necessary in most qualitative research approaches, but to various
extents. In contrast to phenomenography or empirical phenomenology, grounded
theory claims full theoretical validation.
Högskolan i Borås, Institutionen för pedagogik , 2002.