Philosophical assumptions and positions, beliefs, and identity that have shaped my approach to Qualitative Research
(Note: This paper was written in the late 2020/early 2021 as part of a Qualitative Research course)
I count it a blessing to have grown up as a woman straddling the middle class and the bottom of the pyramid in a patriarchal society. It was filled with many defining experiences, overcoming barriers, crossing seemingly insurmountable hurdles, and attaining successes such as coming to study in the USA. Through living on meager means, one knows by intuition that resources, especially hard-earned cash, have to be used judiciously. One also learns to opt for effective do-it-yourself alternatives by default. It is no surprise that my background and experiences have shaped my philosophical assumptions and positions as a researcher.
I began research as a quantitative researcher but soon developed an interest in qualitative research as I had the opportunity to work on qualitative projects. As a quantitative researcher, I am looking for statistically significant results and areas of improvement that will positively affect other areas. As such, grounded theory became interesting to me. Grounded theory was the approach for many of the social science and health-focused projects I worked on. Grounded theory reports multiple realities and different perspectives. As themes develop from findings (Creswell J. and Cheryl P. 2018), the important themes across various target groups are identified. Through this ontological approach, the researcher has better guidance on how best to design targeted interventions or communications for participants and target groups.
I also learned the importance of taking myself out of the research, being a clean slate, assuming no prior knowledge of the subject matter, and being as objective and unbiased as possible. However, as I experienced numbers with paltry context and open-ended responses did not provide enough clarity, it became important to think of a qualitative approach to understand the meaning and implications of the numbers from quantitative research. Therefore, the methodological approach became important to me, the process of understanding “particulars” before moving on to “generalizations” (Creswell J. and Cheryl P. 2018). Although “continually revising questions based on experiences in the field” can be problematic to track, it ensures more valuable research and complete findings.
Some elements of epistemological assumption are also important to me because qualitative responses from participants may be biased. Observing people in their natural setting may unearth meaning that a grounded research based on interviews or focus groups may not lead the researcher to. However, I think ethnographies could take too much time and generate too much data to analyze. I have heard of ethnographers who spent years in a community. The thought of doing an ethnography makes me fatigued. I see the time I have spent in the US as some sort of unstructured ethnography. However, I look forward to taking part in a real research ethnography someday.
Therefore, my practice as a researcher tends towards the direction of the postpositivist — with their focus on “series of logically related steps,” belief in “multiple perspectives” and the use of “rigorous methods of qualitative data collection and analysis” — and transformative approaches. Transformative approaches use participatory action research that allows people to play a pivotal role in designing their studies, provide them the opportunity to come up with questions, and interpret the findings. Transformative frameworks are based on “acting for societal improvements,” understanding the “power and social relations within society,” and adopting “an agenda for addressing the injustices of marginalized groups.”
I also embrace or wish to embrace the feminist and critical approaches because of their intersections with empowering persons to overcome constraints and developing an action plan to reduce inequities. My identity as a woman in a patriarchal society leads me to be sensitive to ways where women, children, or other vulnerable populations are deprived of the opportunity to thrive because of the action of others and systemic barriers.
I also think of myself as a pragmatist looking for ways to combine approaches that best help answer the question at hand. The use of mixed-methods allows both qualitative and quantitative research to contribute their quota towards addressing more effectively issues at hand. I might do case studies to understand what worked in a specific case and why. However, because case studies do not provide guidance in another case, I might not consider it the best use of time and resources. As I study case studies more, I am sure I will understand researchers’ justifications for its’ value and relevance.
I believe people can overcome the challenges against them if they are provided the needed support and mentoring to help themselves. I am interested in seeing the impacts and changes that come from implementing the recommendations from research. The qualitative questions that interest me are those focused on empowering people, providing educational opportunities, vocational and skills training, and ensuring food access through local supplies. Other questions of interest to me include studying health outcomes and how this affects economic opportunities and understanding the concerns of persons at the bottom of the pyramid faced with myriads of systemic problems that jeopardize their attempts to move out of poverty.
Creswell J. and Cheryl P. 2018. Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches. 4th Edition. Sage Publications.