Caelli, Ray, and Mill. 2003. “‘Clear as Mud’: Toward Greater Clarity in Generic Qualitative Research.”

Caelli, Kate, Lynne Ray, and Judy Mill. 2003. “’Clear as Mud’: Toward Greater Clarity in Generic Qualitative Research.” International Journal of Qualitative Methods 2(2): 1-24.

Growth in number of qualitative studies that do not follow assumptions and procedures of established qualitative methods; this creates a problem on how to do “generic qualitative studies”. Offers suggestions in how to build such a study well: (1) Identify researcher position (their motives, directions, orientation towards subject, values, prior knowledges, what disciplinary background), (2) Distinguishing method and methodology (tools, techniques, procedures to gather data VERSUS beliefs about knowledge, theoretical frameworks, how to determine saturation of data), (3) Making claims to rigor explicitly (what does one mean by multivocality, reflexivity, privilege, positionality – how does one define the parameters for their own critique, based upon methodological prescriptions?), and (4) Identifying researcher’s analytic lens (making sure/defending methodologies, methods line up with theoretical lenses)

We don’t often train our students in how to establish rigor in qualitative research, yet we also have questions that can only be addressed through qualitative approaches. This creates a disconnect in theory and methodology. Many who study, perform, critique descriptive researcher note it as basic, exploratory, and simplistic – does not focus on culture, theory… the understanding of a specific phenomenon, process, worldview (Merriam 1998). This is often done through combining several qualitative approaches, or claiming no methodological approach at all. Debate exists on what generic qualitative research is – categorical, interpretive, abstract, descriptive – no consensus. Lack of uniformity when applying methodological rigor- must be remedied by clarity of criteria in coding. Most generic works within sociology (amongst other fields) is done to apply a particular instance(s) to a pre-existing theoretical framework. We want to evaluate these ideas, but each set of ideas must be evaluated to its own epistemological, theoretical, and methodological merit (kx^ no way, really?) Argues from a traditionalist (versus post-modern) understanding about how to construct and critique knowledge.

Merriam, S.B. 1998. Qualitative Research and Case Study Applications in Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


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