Qualitative Research

in Psychology





Edited by

                Paul M.Camic

                    Jean E. Rhodes

                            Lucy Yardley

Foreword by Michael Bamberg


 American Psychological Association, Washington, DC




Michael Bamberg

Every newly established research tradition has its own way of coming into being, and qualitative research is no exception. With regard to my own initial involvement with what later became established as qualitative research – or, as I call it when presenting it to my students, qualitative inquiry – it is hard to pinpoint when and how it all began. I do not think that there was a particular event or a sudden insight that can be woven into my academic life story and labeled as my "turning point." It simply happened. However, I clearly recall many events over 8 to 10 years (in the late 1970s and early 1980s) at different places (Berkeley, San Diego, Nijmegen, Berlin) and involving friends and col­leagues around the same age cohort though from quite different disciplines (sociology, anthropology, linguistics, education, political science, comparative literature, health sciences and nursing studies, psychology). These events con­sisted of meetings in which my colleagues and I discussed transcripts of interviews, observational records, or papers we had come across before they were published. During them something took place that contributed to my slow and gradual turn to qualitative methods as the preferred inquiry method in psychology. Although these meetings often had some flavor of subversiveness and conspiracy, taking place most often outside the institutions where we were doing our research and teaching, they were not governed by an anti-institutional stance but, as strange as this may sound, by work with actual data. These data came from real people with real lives; people who were sharing aspects of their subjective, experiential life-worlds – including their emotions, desires, and moral values. We, as investigators, were bystanders, allowed to catch a glimpse of who these people were, how they wanted to be understood, or how they made sense of others and themselves, including their own experi­ences and their lives.

What stood out most for us at that time was our interest in singular cases and discursive processes that seemed to represent the individuality and subjectivity of experiences of our research participants – something that thus far had not been central to the social and humanistic sciences, not even in psychology. In contrast to our traditional endeavors to generalize across individ­ual cases, to discover patterns, laying out "underlying" structures or systems that seemed to govern particular actions or events, possibly even as an attempt to uncover underlying universals, it was the unique that aroused our interest.

Explanatory approaches that had been developed and worked up within the hypothetico-deductive model of knowledge as something that was out there to be conquered were out. Observing, describing, and understanding became the new key terms and the new business was knowledge building and knowledge generation rather than affirmation or falsification of some previously estab­lished hypotheses. To seek and to understand what was subjective in the experience and lives from the point of view of our research participants became the primary task – asking to be empathic with regard to the subjectivity and experience of our participants, particularly of those who were vulnerable, disadvantaged, or opening their wounds from social or personal maltreatments. In sum, the original but initially relatively unreflected turn to make the individual participants with their unique experiences more central to the research process gave birth to a redefinition of the role of the researcher and his or her relation­ship to what now became the "research participant" and consequently to what could count as knowledge, the status of data, and the status of interpretation and analysis.

Reflecting on a time before the debates between quantitative versus quali­tative and between explanatory versus interpretive methods, I do not think that any of us had in mind that what we were doing could become codified, canonized, and handed down to new students of psychology in the form of a systematic methodology. The idea that this type of working with observational data and recorded conversations could possibly be integrated back into the disciplines that we were representing, particularly into the discipline of psychology, was foreign to us back then. But exactly this has happened in the course of the past 15 or so years – again, as a slow and gradual process, resulting in quite a number of, at first, self-designed courses and quite a number of textbooks, handbooks, and cookbooks for how to better understand and how to carry out qualitative research across the disciplines. It is interesting to note that psychology lagged considerably behind in this development.

This volume is one of the first books to appear in psychology that substan­tially addresses the importance of qualitative inquiry as a vital means of ap­proaching the problems studied by psychologists. Paul M. Camic, Jean E. Rhodes, and Lucy Yardley have chosen some of the best minds in the field to produce an eloquent volume that will have great appeal to graduate students and seasoned researchers alike. This book is organized and written in a way that invites readers to come along for an adventure of discovery that enlivens the essence of research in the field.

The first part of the book, which acts as a cornerstone of qualitative inquiry for psychologists does not get bogged down by epistemological and ontological foundational debates that often turn young students of qualitative data more off than on. These first four chapters provide an excellent introduction to qualitative methodology within the context of existing and emerging social sciences research. The second part goes on to introduce 10 different methods used in qualitative research. Each chapter reveals and develops its stance with regard to the connection between theory and (moral and political) practice and communicates effectively where and how to apply (and not to apply) the suggested methodological exigencies. Each chapter is thoughtfully laid out as an apprenticeship to a field of study on its own, exemplifying the methods and applying them. At the same time all chapters leave considerable space for students of qualitative data to try out their own ambitions and to explore their own questions and interests in novel ways, taking what has been offered in this book as stepping stones into a deeper involvement – not just with method­ological approaches but with psychology as a whole.

I am confident that the collection presented in this book will help overcome old rifts and controversies and contribute to the development of a much more inclusive psychology – one that clearly sees the challenges qualitative research brings to the discipline – but also one that is no longer threatened but willing and able to integrate the world of subjective experience and the processes of its construction as central.