Grounded Theory Research

August 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Corbin and Strauss (1990) say that “Grounded theorists share a conviction with many other qualitative researchers that the usual canons of ‘good science’ should be retained, but require redefinition in order to fit the realities of qualitative research and the complexities of social phenomena,” (p.4).They suggest that the canons of science need to be re-evaluated.

Corbin and Strauss mention two principles in grounded theory, Pragmatism and Symbolic Interactionism: “The first principle pertains to change. Since phenomena are not conceived of as static but as continually changing in response to evolving conditions, an important component of the method is to build change, through process, into the method. The second principle pertains to a clear stand on the issue of ‘determinism.’ Strict determinism is rejected, as is non-determinism. Actors are seen as having, though not always utilizing, the means of controlling their destinies by their responses  to conditions. They are able to make choices according to their perceptions, which are often accurate, about the options they encounter” (p.5).

In other words, grounded theory needs to include change into the method; it needs to understand and accept the idea of process. Secondly, it needs to have a view on determinism that is not ‘strict’; namely, that people make choices based on their perceptions. While they can control what happens by their responses, they do not always do so.

In addition, Corbin and Strauss say that “Data Collection and Analysis are Interrelated Processes” and that “The carrying out of procedures of data collection and analysis systematically and sequentially enables the research process to capture all potentially relevant aspects of the topic as soon as they are perceived. This process is a major source of the effectiveness of the grounded theory approach” (p.6). So what makes Grounded Theory effective is that it is systematic and sequential. Although, not all research theory could capture all potentially relevant aspects of a topic as they are perceived.

Basically, what Corbin and Strauss are here suggesting is a bit of transparency with regards to research methods. That is, “researchers using grounded theory procedures should discuss their procedural operations, even if briefly” (p.20) so that people know how to judge the research. If the procedural operations are presented up front, readers can understand how the research was performed, and can take it for its own value without either imposing standards that don’t fit or wondering about the efficacy of the methods used. It would make everyone pay more attention to the way research is done, and would make it easier “to identify and convey the limitations of their studies” (p.20).

So basically, Grounded Research is about being up front and open about HOW the research is done, in order to better identify the limits of that research, so that either those limits can be explored in later works, or so that they research can be taken with the appropriate grain of salt given said limit.

Strauss and Corbin (1990) suggest that a researcher does not begin a project with a preconceived theory in mind. The researcher begins with an area of study and allows the theory to emerge from the data. Theory derived from data is more likely to resemble the “reality” than is theory derived by putting together a series of concepts based on experience or solely through speculation. However, Smith (1997) suggested that general reading of the literature may be carried out to obtain a feel for the issues at work in the subject area, and identify any gaps to be filled using grounded theory. The researcher is able, therefore to approach the subject with some background knowledge, but it is important that the reading is not too extensive as the theories should evolve from the data itself, producing a grounded theory. In these particular studies both researchers have acquired background knowledge on the areas under investigation, however, the literature for both studies will be used to confirm or challenge the theory after the point at which theoretical saturation is reached.

The Elements Of Grounded Theory

The three basic elements of grounded theory are concepts, categories and propositions. Concepts are the basic units of analysis since it is from conceptualisation of data, not the actual data per se, that theory is developed. Corbin and Strauss (1990, p. 7) state:

Theories can’t be built with actual incidents or activities as observed or reported; that is, from “raw data.” The incidents, events, happenings are taken as, or analysed as, potential indicators of phenomena, which are thereby given conceptual labels. If a respondent says to the researcher, “Each day I spread my activities over the morning, resting between shaving and bathing,” then the researcher might label this phenomenon as “pacing.” As the researcher encounters other incidents, and when after comparison to the first, they appear to resemble the same phenomena, then these, too, can be labelled as “pacing.” Only by comparing incidents and naming like phenomena with the same term can the theorist accumulate the basic units for theory.

The second element of grounded theory, categories, are defined by Corbin and Strauss (1990, p. 7) thus:

Categories are higher in level and more abstract than the concepts they represent. They are generated through the same analytic process of making comparisons to highlight similarities and differences that is used to produce lower level concepts. Categories are the “cornerstones” of developing theory. They provide the means by which the theory can be integrated. We can show how the grouping of concepts forms categories by continuing with the example presented above. In addition to the concept of “pacing,” the analyst might generate the concepts of “self-medicating,” “resting,” and “watching one’s diet.” While coding, the analyst may note that, although these concepts are different in form, they seem to represent activities directed toward a similar process: keeping an illness under control. They could be grouped under a more abstract heading, the category: “Self Strategies for Controlling Illness.”

The third element of grounded theory are propositions which indicate generalised relationships between discrete categories and between a category and its concepts.

The generation and development of concepts, categories and propositions is an iterative process. Grounded theory is not generated a priori and then subsequently tested. Rather, it is,

inductively derived from the study of the phenomenon it represents. That is, discovered, developed, and provisionally verified through systematic data collection and analysis of data pertaining to that phenomenon. Therefore, data collection, analysis, and theory should stand in reciprocal relationship with each other. One does not begin with a theory, and then prove it. Rather, one begins with an area of study and what is relevant to that area is allowed to emerge. (Strauss and Corbin, 1990, p. 23. Emphasis added.)


Corbin, J., & Strauss, A. (1990). Grounded theory research: Procedures, canons, and evaluative criteria. Qualitative Sociology, 13, 3-21.

Smith, K. & Biley, F. (1997). Understanding grounded theory: Principles and evaluation, Nurse Researcher, 4(3)

Strauss, A. and Corbin, J. (1990) Basics of Qualitative Research: Grounded Theory Procedures and Techniques. Thousand Oaks: Sage

Categories: Journal

Introduction to Evaluation Research

August 3, 2010 Leave a comment

Weiss defines evaluation as “the systematic assessment of the operation and/or the outcomes of a program or policy, compared to a set of explicit or implicit standards, as a means of contributing to the improvement of the program or policy” (1998, p. 4). In her previous book, Weiss (1972) defines evaluation research as “an elastic word that stretches to cover judgments of many kinds” (p.1).

The focus of evaluation research is on evaluating an event and to make judgment about its usefulness. This type of research is probably not truly quantitative due to the elements of value judgment made by the researcher.

In terms of methodology, a consensus exists with respect to the fact that both quantitative and qualitative methods have an important place in programme evaluation (Clarke and Dawson, 1999). Impact evaluation uses the canonical research procedures of social sciences. In addition, Clarke and Dawson mention that the importance of systematic evaluative research as a phenomenon across the Social Sciences has been evident in recent years.

Evaluation is inherently political: what happens when a new technology is introduced is both affected by organizational and implementation processes, as well as affecting them. Evaluation, too, is political in nature because it concerns needs, values, and interests of different stakeholders. Evaluation can be used to influence system design, development, and implementation. While results of post-hoc or summative assessments may influence future development, formative evaluation, which precedes or is concurrent with the processes of systems design, development, and implementation, can be a helpful way to incorporate people, social, organizational, ethical, legal, and economic considerations into all phases of a project.

Weiss (1998, pp. 20-28) identifies several purposes for evaluating programs and policies. They include the following:

1. Determining how clients are faring

2. Providing legitimacy for decisions

3. Fulfilling grant requirements

4. Making midcourse corrections in programs

5. Making decisions to continue or culminate programs

6. Testing new ideas

7. Choosing the best alternatives

8. Recording program history

9. Providing feedback to staff

10. Highlighting goals

Process evaluation focuses on “what the program actually does” (Weiss, 1998, p. 9). Process indicators are somewhat similar to performance measures, but they focus more on the activities and procedures of the organization than on the products of those activities.

Any evaluation method that involves the measurement of quantitative/ numerical variables probably qualifies as a quantitative method, and many of the methods already examined fall into this broad category. Among the strengths of quantitative methods are the evaluator can reach conclusions with a known degree of confidence about the extent and distribution of that the phenomenon; they are amenable to an array of statistical techniques; and they are generally assumed to yield relatively objective data (Weiss, 1998, pp. 83-84).

Experimental methods usually, hut not always, deal with quantitative data and are considered to be the best method for certain kinds of evaluation studies. Indeed, “the classic design for evaluations has been the experiment. It is the design of choice in many circumstances because it guards against the threats to validity” (Weiss, 1998, p. 215). The experiment is especially useful when it is desirable to rule out rival explanations for outcomes. In other words, if a true experimental design is used properly, the evaluator should be able to assume that any net effects of a program are due to the program and not to other external factors.

As is true for basic research, qualitative methods are becoming increasingly popular. In fact, “the most striking development in evaluation in recent years is the coming of age of qualitative methods. Where once they were viewed as aberrant and probably the refuge of those who had never studied statistics, now they are recognized as valuable additions to the evaluation repertoire” (Weiss, 1998, p. 252).

Weiss (1998) reminds us that the evaluator should also give careful thought to the best time to conduct the evaluation, the types of questions to ask, whether one or a series of studies will be necessary, and any ethical issues that might be generated by the study.

Inconsistent data collection techniques, biases of the observer, the data collection setting, instrumentation, behaviour of human subjects, and sampling can affect the validity and/or reliability of measures. The use of multiple measures can help to increase the validity and reliability of the data. They are also worth using because no single technique is up to measuring a complex concept, multiple measures tend to complement one another, and separate measures can be combined to create one or more composite measures (Weiss, 1998).

The basic tasks of data analysis for an evaluative study are to answer the questions that must be answered in order to determine the success of the program or service, and the quality of the resources. “The aim of analysis is to convert a mass of raw data into a coherent account. Whether the data are quantitative or qualitative, the task is to sort, arrange, and process them and make sense of their configuration. The intent is to produce a reading that accurately represents the raw data and blends them into a meaningful account of events” (Weiss, 1998, p. 271). Those questions should, of course, be closely related to the nature of what is being evaluated and the goals and objectives of the program or service. In addition, the nature of the data analysis will be significantly affected by the methods and techniques used to conduct the evaluation.

Most data analyses, whether quantitative or qualitative in nature, will employ some of the following strategies: describing, counting, factoring, clustering, comparing, finding commonalities, examining deviant cases, finding co-variation, ruling out rival explanations, modeling, and telling the story. Evaluators conducting quantitative data analyses will need to be familiar with techniques for summarizing and describing the data; and if they are engaged in testing relationships or hypotheses and/or generalizing findings to other situations, they will need to utilize inferential statistics (Weiss, 1998).

As part of the planning, the evaluator should have considered how and to whom the findings will be communicated and how the results will be applied. A good report will be characterized by clarity, effective format and graphics, timeliness, candour about strengths and weaknesses of the study, and generalizability (Weiss, 1998), as well as by adequacy of sources and documentation, appropriateness of data analysis and interpretation, and basis for conclusions.


Clarke, A. & Dawson, R. 1999. Handbook of Evaluation Research, An Introduction to Principles, Methods and Practice, SAGE Publications.

Weiss, C.H. 1972. Evaluation Research: Methods of Assessing Program Effectiveness. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Weiss, C. H. 1998. Evaluation: Methods for Studying Programs and Policies (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Quantitative Research and Appreciative Inquiry

July 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Quantitative methods measure the difference between the before and the after states of a research object of interest to quantify the state at that moment of the object being studied. Quantitative analysis of the measurements usually involves statistics, and the study results are usually also communicated using statistics. Quantitative methods can be found in all forms of science in which measurement is involved.

The debate between quantitative and qualitative researchers is based upon the differences in assumptions about what reality is and whether or not it is measurable. The debate further rests on differences of opinion about how we can best understand what we know, whether through objective or subjective methods.

The use of reliability and validity are common in quantitative research and now it is reconsidered in the qualitative research paradigm. Since reliability and validity are rooted in positivist perspective then they should be redefined for their use in a naturalistic approach. It is also through this association that the way to achieve validity and reliability of a research get affected from the qualitative researchers’ perspectives which are to eliminate bias and increase the researcher’s mindfulness of a proposition of phenomenon.  Like reliability and validity as used in quantitative research are providing springboard to examine what these two terms mean in the qualitative research paradigm, triangulation as used in quantitative research to test the reliability and validity can also illuminate some ways to test or maximize the validity and reliability of a qualitative study. Triangulation is defined to be “a validity procedure where researchers search for convergence among multiple and different sources of information to form themes or categories in a study” (Creswell & Miller, 2000, p. 126). Therefore, reliability, validity and triangulation, if they are relevant research concepts, particularly from a qualitative point of view, have to be redefined in order to reflect the multiple ways of establishing truth.

Triangulation of methods provides the researcher with a greater degree of confidence in reporting findings, although subjective interpretation is still needed. I will use triangulation method in my future research on teacher`s professional development because it has advantages, for example:

  • There were some perspectives which could only be accessed via one method, eg. teachers’ management of time and their engagement with reading.
  • Findings from one method could be put in a wider perspective through comparison with those from other methods, eg. teachers’ accounts of their online activity could be compared to the objective data concerning frequency of message postings.
  • Consistency between findings gave greater authority in reporting, eg. student teacher value the learning material.

In my opinion, the only disadvantage with triangulation of methods is its time consuming.

Data collection for quantitative methods generally falls into two categories: survey instruments” or “tools” and biological measurements. There are many outcome questionnaires, all carefully developed and researched so that their strengths and weaknesses are known.

I need to begin to employ different ways of studying online learning that will increase the rigor of the research results. Design based research is one increasingly popular approach that will likely strengthen some of the research conducted on online learning. I also need to be aware of the complexities of conducting mixed research and some of the issues that can be overlooked. Further, and even more importantly, I need to be aware that intentionally and systematically applying mixed research has the possibility to improve my research in distance education area and may increase the fields’ understanding of the nuances of online learning. Creswell and Plano Clark have concluded that ‘today, we see cross-cultural international interest, interdisciplinary interest, publication possibilities, and public and private funding opportunities for mixed methods research’ (2007, p. 18).

The overall purpose and central premise of mixed methods studies is that the use of quantitative and qualitative approaches in combination provides a better understanding of research problems and complex phenomena than either approach alone (Creswell & Plano Clark 2007). Mixed research, according to Creswell and Plano Clark (2007), is a research design with philosophical assumptions as well as methods of inquiry. As a methodology, it involves the philosophical assumptions that guide the direction of the collection and analysis of data and the mixture of qualitative and quantitative approaches in many phases in the research process. As a method, it focuses on collecting, analyzing, and mixing both quantitative and qualitative data in a single study or series of studies. Mixed researchers believe that “the use of quantitative and qualitative approaches in combination provides a better understanding of research problems than either approach alone” (p. 5).

Conducting mixed research is more complicated than most researchers realize. It is more complex than simply conducting quantitative and/or qualitative studies separately. Further, because it is a relatively new form of research. Therefore, I need formal training on how to conduct mixed research. I need to carefully consider both why I am integrating quantitative and qualitative research in my study and how I am going to accomplish this integration in practice.

A large-group method, often used at times of organizational change, to discover the most valuable aspects of the organization’s past that should be carried forward into its future. The Appreciative Inquiry (AI) process, developed by David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney, is a positive way to incorporate change in an organization that focuses on the “high moments” of people and which values this complexity. AI can help people develop healthy relationships by mobilizing and building high quality connections between students and students, teachers and teachers, teachers and students, parents and students, and teachers and parents (Cooperrider, Whitney, & Stavros, 2008).

Appreciative Inquiry is not magical, but by following the process, it provides a different pro-active angle of vision for school stakeholders to rise to the occasion by bringing out the best in each other.


Cooperrider, D., Whitney, D., and Stavros, J. M. 2008. Appreciative Inquiry Handbook: For Leaders of Change.  Crown Custom Publishing: OH and Berrett-Koehler Publishers: CA

Creswell, J. W. & Miller, D. L. 2000. Determining validity in qualitative inquiry. Theory into Practice, 39(3), 124-131

Creswell JW & Plano Clark VL 2007. Designing and conducting mixed methods research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Categories: Journal

Phenomenology in My Future Research

July 19, 2010 2 comments

Creswell (1998) states “a phenomenological study describes the meaning of the lived experience for several individuals about a concept or phenomenon” (p. 51). I will use this approach in my future research. I choose phenomenological research because it involves both rich description of the lifeworld or lived experience, and where I will adopt a special, open phenomenological attitude which, at least initially, refrains from importing external frameworks and sets aside judgements about the realness of the phenomenon. I will seek to examine a single phenomenon – the perceptions of student teachers. One focus of this study was to investigate the differences and commonalities between the teacher’s professional development and how these characteristics affected their perceptions about their impact on student achievement. In particular, my study will attempt to investigate the effectiveness of the distance learning program and its impact on teachers’ perceptions of the quality of their practice. I will incorporate a variety of methods to uncover the underlying meaning or structure of these perceptions in this phenomenological study. I also will examine the perceptions of student teachers through a qualitative interview design, through surveys, individual interviews, and group discussion.

The choice of a suitable approach to conducting my future research is, according to Creswell (2003), tied to three main considerations as follows:

1. The nature of the problem to be investigated

2. The personal experiences of the researcher; and

3. The audience for whom the research is intended.

These outlined issues are considered in the choice of my particular methodology.

Moustakas (1994) embraces the common features of human science research such as the value of qualitative research, a focus on the wholeness of experience and a search for essences of experiences, and viewing experience and behaviour as an integrated and inseparable relationship of subject/object. The transcendental emphasis includes these features, but “launches” (p. 22) a phenomenological study with the researcher setting aside prejudgments as much as possible and using systematic procedures for analyzing the data. Setting aside prejudgments is called “epoche,” a Greek work meaning to refrain from judgment. Thus, the process is called transcendental because the researcher sees the phenomenon “freshly, as for the first time” and is open to its totality (p. 34).

By clearing my mind through the epoche process, I will recall my own personal and professional mentoring experiences throughout the past 10 years, all of which are positive and meaningful. Through this bracketing process, I will reflectively meditate, letting the preconceptions and prejudgments enter and leave my mind freely.

The way of analyzing phenomenological data, according to Moustakas, follows a systematic procedure that is rigorous yet accessible to qualitative researchers. The inquirer describes their own experiences with the phenomenon (epoche), identifies significant statements in the database from participants, clusters these statements into meaning units and themes. Next, the researcher synthesizes the themes into a description of the experiences of the individuals, both textual and structural descriptions, and then constructs a composite description of the meanings and the essences of the experience.

In addition, phenomenological analysis has many benefits, for example:

  1. Phenomenological analysis commences as soon as the first data is collected and the goal is to find common themes and broad patterns in data.
  2. It involves a return to individual or corporate experience in order to obtain comprehensive descriptions about a phenomenon and this was done through interviews and focus groups.
  3. The structures of an experience, i.e. the experiences and opinions of those interviewed during the data collection phase, is interpreted during phenomenological analysis. Moustakas (1994:13)

In conclusion, I will use phenomenology as a diagnostic research tool and I believe that it can and should be applied to professional development research. The benefits of the methodology is that it creates room for research problems to be studied within the context in which they occur allowing those who experience a phenomenon first hand to give an account of their own perceptions of these experiences before any theorizing. Moreover, It is a rather tedious methodology involving the use of multiple data collection protocols within the same study. Although it is rather qualitative in nature, it lends itself to quantitative data analysis. Therefore, the method needs to be applied with rigour and used by researchers who are expert in their field.


Creswell, J. W. (1998). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five traditions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Creswell, J.W. (2003). Research design. Qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Moustakas, C.E. (1994). Phenomenological research methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Categories: Journal

The Scholarly Practitioner

July 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Bentz and Shapiro (1998) in the chapter five (“The Scholarly Practice – Facing the Loss of Identity through the Onslaught of the Information Age”) suggest scholarly practitioners to accomplish their research project with good groundwork. The researcher’s role involves “using professional practice and knowledge as a resource for the formulation and production of scholarly practice and knowledge as well as for evaluating, testing, applying, extending, or modifying existing knowledge” (p. 66). Because of debates and controversies surrounding the knowledge crisis, researchers must justify their choices. The authors’ pedagogical strategy trains practitioners to actively engage in the critical evaluation of their activities throughout their research project. They identify the primary functions of the scholarly practitioner as follows: personal transformation, the improvement of professional practice, the generation of knowledge, and appreciation of the complexity, intricacy, structure and – some would say – the beauty of reality (p. 68).

Professionals and scholars should create outlines of research traditions that are relevant to their projects. The framework includes the theories that shape those traditions, the empirical findings that pertain to each tradition, their outstanding problems and questions, and good quality activities and summaries, useful for teaching (e.g. four points on ‘how to construct a valid map of one or more research traditions into which your research fits’ (p. 71)). They also provide guidance on skills competencies for the researcher, a list of habits to become informed about the various research traditions (pp. 72–73), and a list of critical questions for the evaluation of a research proposal (pp. 74–75). Another list of questions is used to evaluate the epistemological authenticity of the research (p. 75).

Reflective awareness of the acts of generating and validating an idea prepares researchers to detect inexplicit biases and assumptions in their research. Finally, a set of questions helps researchers select a method (p. 78). Motivations for selecting a particular topic should be examined. Factors are cited that are used to appraise the feasibility of the project (p. 81). These pedagogical strategies are invaluable for “sculpting” a researcher.

In the Dialogue Central, the presenters of individual research proposal (Toha and Kendra) could use the first central concept to develop an approach to their research tasks that is the idea that the researcher is a scholarly practitioner at the centre of the research process (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998). This concept of the researcher and a professional is not unique to these authors, but they are perhaps unusual in that they have made this kind of researcher the key audience for their approach. They define a scholarly practitioner as:

someone who mediates between her professional practice and the universe of scholarly, scientific, and academic knowledge and discourse. She sees her practice as part of larger enterprise of knowledge generation and critical reflection (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998, p.66).

Corresponding to these clarifications of the importance of the theory-practice connection and also remaining true to their interests and roots in both areas, they could manage the research with both theoretical and practical questions and goals. In this manner, they are identifying themselves as scholarly practitioners, reflecting on their own practices and the practice of others with the intent of influencing the practice of those involved in similar work as well as contributing to knowledge construction.


Bentz, V. M., & Shapiro, J. J. (1998). Mindful Inquiry in social research. Thousand Oaks, CA: SagePublication.

Categories: Journal

Cultures of Inquiry

Bentz and Shapiro (1998) introduce the various cultures of inquiry in their book: Mindful inquiry in social research, especially in chapter eight, hermeneutics and ethnography, and chapter eleven, critical social science and critical social theory. These include an orientation to each specific culture of inquiry, its typical problems and concerns, how it views explanation and the nature of explanation, and the relationship between the researcher and subject matter. It is not necessary to remember these terms. Today it is probably more useful to think of the process of phenomenology as description and hermeneutics as interpretation. Phenomenological inquiry, for example, focuses on personal experience as one of its primary goals to understand rather than explain the real world, to understand human experience as it is experienced (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998, pp. 96-104). Bentz and Shapiro (1998) caution that the researcher must allow the data to emerge stating that ‘doing phenomenology’ means capturing “rich descriptions of phenomena and their settings” (p. 104), but that “inquiry doesn’t mean looking for answers”.

The online class and discussion in the Dialogue Central is very interesting. In her research proposal, Erica, uses transpersonal research methods to analyze break-up and re-unite behaviours, seeking to answer the “why” and “how come” questions of human break-up and re-unite. I suggest her to use ethnographic research because this type of research results in a case study or field study such as an analysis of behaviour patterns. Like education scholars, psychology scholars often immerse themselves, participate in and/or directly observe the particular social group being studied.

As Erica has written, her research proposal is a qualitative study conducted with a particular human experience with a number of factors that most of us do not have to contend with. I believe it is useful for its universal as well as its personal qualities. It was inevitable that her experience play a part in it and current literature is supportive of the premise that truly objective work is not desirable or even truly possible (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998). As she has suggested, her own experiences came to play a larger part in that story than she could has predicted, their importance arriving as it did during the analysis phase of observing. Bentz and Shapiro (1998) recommend searching for what they called “a good fit” between the style and world view of the researcher, the context to be studied and the set of research methods to be used in the study.

Erica attempts to “understand the world from the participants’ point of view, to unfold meaning of peoples’ experiences.” At the root of phenomenology “the intent is to understand the phenomena in their own terms – to provide a description of human experience as it is experienced by the person herself” (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998, p. 96) and allowing the essence to emerge. Since the goal of this study is to Investigate the process of break-ups and reunites of non-addicted partners in a long-term relationship with a partner in recovery from addiction, the ethnographic approach was most appropriate because it allows the researcher to explore “the life, behavior, attitudes, and concepts of a particular cultural or social group” (Bentz and Shapiro: 1998: 117). Data for this study could be taken from face-to-face, in-depth, and standardized interviews that took place in the interviewers’ homes at a convenient to them and in the language of their choice. Data could be obtained about how the participants “think and feel in the most direct ways” (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998, p.96). The focus was on “what goes on within” the participants. Participants were asked to “describe the lived experience in a language as free from the constructs of the intellect and society as possible.”

Methodology is no longer bound by the prescribed rules and boundaries of positivist thinking. Instead, the current era of post positivism allows a multiplicity of methods in order to make sense of human experience (Bentz and Shapiro 1998 ). Their work is centred on the posture of the researcher rather than as a methodology for undertaking research, suggesting that research is both moral and spiritual. Both a reflection of and a response to what Bentz and Shapiro (1998) note as the ‘ post – modern turn ’, suggesting we are living at a historical turning point, when modern myths no longer offer adequate explanations, leading to a crisis in ways of knowing and opening a contested space for ways of knowing and what counts as truth.

“[Critical social theory (CST)] attempt[s] to understand, analyze, criticize and alter social, economic, cultural, technological, and psychological structures and phenomena that have features of oppression, domination, exploitation, injustice and misery. They do so with a view to changing or eliminating these structures and phenomena and expanding the scope of freedom, justice and happiness. The assumption is that this knowledge will be used in processes of social change by people to whom understanding their situation is crucial to changing it.” (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998, p. 146). According to Bentz and Shapiro, a central premise of CST is that a more just world is an intrinsically valuable goal for human societies, and a more just world would be one in which unequal power relationships that result in domination and oppression were continually reduced, and ultimately eliminated.

The most important thing in CST is context to understand and transform social systems (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998, p. 146). CST involves systems thinking. It “asks how the larger social system manifests itself in and reproduces itself through … individual phenomen[a], while asking what the phenomen[a] add to the social system (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998, p. 147). In CST analyses, systems are historically situated and can only be grasped as products of and active agents within particular histories. CST also engages in immanent critique and ideology critique. In immanent critique, institutions and societies are analyzed according to their ability to keep their word.

Critical theory and critical thinking are related concepts and necessary components of large social change movements. Critical theory is based on the belief that people’s understanding and knowledge of oppression, exploitation, or injustice will provoke people to act and change oppressive or unjust social structures (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998).


Bentz, V. M., & Shapiro, J. J. (1998). Mindful Inquiry in social research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

Categories: Journal

Mindful Inquiry and Action Research

June 28, 2010 1 comment

Given this enormous challenge, how can scholar-practitioners make the best and most productive use of the available information? Bentz and Shapiro suggest that knowledge of social science inquiry methods and theories for interpreting results and data will help practitioners evaluate the quality of the information and make intelligent choices. (Bentz and Shapiro, 1998 p. 36).

As we get into a discussion of the major cultures of inquiry that researchers immerse themselves in, an important distinction needs to be made between what constitutes a “culture/tradition” of inquiry and what can merely be thought of as a “method” of inquiry. Many of us use these terms interchangeably, and it was therefore important for this author to make sense of what appears to be a general controversy. As a matter of fact, Bentz and Shapiro, may have, either inadvertently, or possibly by design, introduced an element of confusion when they make the following suggestion in their book: “Mindful inquiry has elements of hermeneutics, phenomenology, and critical social science, which we will explain briefly in this chapter. Later in this book, we discuss these approaches in some detail as cultures of inquiry—that is, as three specific traditions among a number of others, such as quantitative and behavioral science, ethnography, and action research, within which research is currently carried out in the human and social sciences.” (Bentz and Shapiro, 1998, p.37).

I always consider ethnography, quantitative/qualitative methods, and action research as “research tools and methods”, rather than cultures or traditions of inquiry. They each fall within the purview of a larger, more encompassing discipline. It is important to separate a “culture of inquiry” from a “method of inquiry”, if only to reduce the blurring of boundaries, notwithstanding the fact that social science research is quite multidisciplinary in nature. It is this multidisciplinary and eclectic nature of our social sciences research that has continued to draw a lot of fire from rationalists and positivists, who rely heavily on observed experience and empirical research that is steeped in facts, figures, and quantitative data. They often consider that to be “pure” and objective research.

The “subjectivity” of the human experience is sometimes considered by them as a research contaminant. As we get more involved in this discussion, we will discover that the subjectivity of both, the researcher and the research participant is a critical factor in social science research and cannot be discounted as either non-existent or inconsequential. It often determines the quality of data we will be able to gather in our field work, if we work in the hermeneutic culture of inquiry, as do these authors.

The implementation of conceptual structure assessment in many thesis takes hermeneutical approach. Hermeneutics is especially important in this aspect of the project because of the complexity of the ideas, conceptions, and theories that are incorporated into the discussion of for example adult learning in distance education in new social movements. One main contribution is to “allow the movements of understanding to happen on their own time” (Bentz and Shapiro, 1998 p. 51). Hermeneutics rejects both foundationalism and nihilism (noddings, 1998). All of these characteristics point to the value of this approach for a theoretical inquiry that wants to analyze, synthesize and evaluate threads of thought.

Bentz and Shapiro suggest that hermeneutics is the study of texts and related theories for their “interpretation.” Everything that we experience is interpreted through our existing filters (culture, language, symbols, and concepts). Originally used by theologians as a means of understanding and interpreting religious texts such as the Bible, the field has been extended to make sense of just about any system, using several layers of interpretation. In a reciprocal interpretative process, hermeneutics studies present day texts in a historical context, and vice-versa.

They have done a nice job of drawing a parallel between the twists and turns of each culture of inquiry, and a mechanical spring. One can experience different things as one travels along the twists and turns of the spring. It is particularly this experience of new revelations and insights that make social science research particularly intriguing. In action research, it is taken as axiomatic that the inquirer is connected to, embedded in, the issues and field they are studying. This is particularly evident when the ‘‘personal is political’’, as in inquiry into race, gender or deprivation of some sort, and when our studies take us beyond dominant frameworks and assumptions. However, we suggest that all researchers can benefit from exploring the ways in which they are connected to their research – in terms of topic and methodological approach – and how these connections influence their theorizing and practice.

Research is always carried out by an individual with a life and a lifeworld . . . a personality, social context, and various personal and practical challenges and conflicts, all of which affect the research, from the choice of a research question or topic, through the method used, to the reporting of the project’s outcome (Bentz and Shapiro, 1998, p. 4).

Recognising that research is an engaged human, social and political activity invites and requires us to seek to account for these aspects in our research and role.

Systemic change in the relationships and boundary dynamics of schools in­volves a call for more qualitative research within school communities. Action research influences system change via participation, self-determination, and knowledge generation (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998).

As we have indicated, the term ‘action research’ can be interpreted quite broadly. Its history is of relevance: Bentz and Shapiro (1998) traced its origin to ‘two independent sources – Kurt Lewin, a person of science, and John Collier, a person of practical affairs.’ They emphasised different aspects of inquiry. Lewin (1946) argued that ‘realistic fact finding and evaluation are prerequisites for any learning’, whereas Collier (1945) stressed ‘the requirement for cooperation among the administrator, the scientist and the layperson’ (Bentz and Shapiro pp.127-128). Bentz and Shapiro comment that ‘early studies … were more concerned with changing the behaviour of persons or organisations in a specific direction than in using action research as a means of participant problem solving.’

They held that it was Paolo Freire who later ‘developed a form of inquiry he called “participatory” action research.’ The authors provide examples of this sort of work where the researcher: ‘…act[s] as a facilitator of a process of inquiry involving as many stakeholders in the situation as wish to be involved. Ideally, these stakeholders will be involved in the research design, data gathering, data analysis, and implementation of action steps resulting from the research. (Bentz and Shapiro,1998, p.128).

It is generally recognised that there is no one method that is ‘right’ for action research. Any method could be used. What makes a piece of research ‘action research’, as opposed to mere audit or evaluation, is the commitment to change. As Bentz and Shapiro (1998) state:

‘Action research is less a separate culture of inquiry than it is a statement of intention and values. The intention is to change a system, and the values are those of participation, self-determination, empowerment through knowledge, and change.’ (p.127).

Given this as the broad aim, the choice of method may be more to do with the nature of the problem that one is seeking to understand and explain. For example, if there is genuine uncertainty about two approaches to do research, it may be appropriate to set up an experiment where one group of participants is treated by one method and the other by another.

The guest lecturer, Dr. Sayyed Mohsen Fatemi, explained about quantitative and qualitative research. Every science has its own ontology, epistemology and consequently its own methodologies. Ontology defines the fundamental categories of reality. Domain ontology as distinct from formal ontology is related to focus of study. Each research field has its own ontology. A biologist, who studies plants, differentiates the plants’ specific constituent parts, actions and contexts. Similarly a sociologist will have implicit and/or explicit presuppositions about categories of reality that are fundamental and related in the human and social systems he studies. Where formal ontology inquiry is to say something general about reality, domain ontology says something specific about different areas of reality. Epistemology defines how we can know and reason that reality. As for domain ontology, each research field has its own epistemology: The maps applied by the biologist studying plants, are traditionally different from the maps applied by the sociologist in his studies of interacting humans. The methodologies of each of these two scientists have followed as different systems of investigative techniques within their focus of study. The biologist and the sociologist traditionally apply different procedures for accomplishing and approaching the phenomena they focus on. They use different scientific methods studying different domains with different epistemology and ontology.

Dr. Fatemi also described the act of creativity. It is not searching for the sameness, is not in pursuit of congruence or compatibility, and is not moving towards convergence. Creativity is not bound to coherence, cohesiveness, conformity, correspondence or consistency in a sign oriented paradigm. Creativity may represent an act of revelation where things are revealed in light of creativity and unconsciousness as it can be an act of disclosure where things are cryptically and yet creatively presented. Creativity is not dutifully at the service of the recognized order as it is not respectful of the relationships and their establishment within the government of signs. Creativity may bring chaos and disorder but this chaotic situation is only as a result of a comparison between the act of creativity and the previously identified system of order within the plane of signs.

Moreover, Dr. Fatemi explained how to understand symbols and their implications. It would provide moments of inspiration where numerous possibilities unfold symbols. It facilitates the process of creative thinking and novel expressiveness.


Bentz, V. M., & Shapiro, J. J. (1998). Mindful Inquiry in social research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Noddings, N. (1998). Philosophy of Education. Boulder: Westview Press.

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