Thursday, May 24, 2007

Rennie’s Meta-Methodological Framework for Qualitative Research

Entry for 24 May 2007:

I have been following David Rennie’s investigation of key philosophical issues underlying qualitative research for many years, and always enjoy going along with him on his latest adventures exploring different philosophers. This past March he gave a really interesting paper at the British Psychological Society Conference in York. In this paper, I could finally see the outlines of a complete philosophical framework emerging, and I found this so exciting that I volunteered to do a presentation on it for the MSc course. Tonight the time for this presentation finally arrived. My lecture notes follow. Disclaimer: This is my version of what I understood David to be saying; if you want to really be sure you’ve got it right, it’s a good idea to read him in the original.

1. “Methodology” = a set of methods, rules and rationales those methods; also, the study of methods
•not the Method section of an scientific report!
“Meta-Methodology”: a set of methods for evaluating methodologies

2. Rennie argues that qualitative research has not reached the status of quantitative research because it lacks a compelling, coherent meta-methodology comparable to positivism

3. Following Kvale (and the Odyssey), Rennie warns of twin dangers:
•Scylla (=scary monster with claws): Rigid metholatry (“all method”)
•Charbdis (=giant whirlpool in the ocean): Relativism, post-modernism (“no method”)
•Instead, Rennie advocates taking the dangerous middle passage between these two, which he refers to as Methodical Hermeneutics
•A meta-methodology that he believes is suitable as a elegant foundation for qualitative research

4. Hermeneutics
•The activity of interpreting the meaning of text
•Hermes = Greek messenger god, carried messages: Scroll sealed in a tube = metaphor for interpretation
•Originally referred to Bible scholarship; broadened by Dilthey
•Central concept: Hermeneutic Circle: Understanding any part of a text requires understanding to whole text, and vice versa
•Distinguishes between
•Philosophic Hermeneutics (Gadamer)
•Methodical Hermeneutics (relevant to research)

5. Four Main Elements of Rennie’s Methodical Hermeneutics
•Critical Realism
•Abduction & Induction
•Disclosed Reflexivity

6. Element 1: Rhetoric
•Rhetoric = the art of persuasion (figures of speech, lines of argument)
•Hermeneutics requires rhetoric:
•Multiple interpretations possible; how to persuade audience of your version?
•Anti-rhetoric prejudice since the Enlightenment (=modernism)
•But science always uses rhetorical devices, disguised as methods
•Incorporate sets of scientific good practice into sets of scientific canons or standard
•E.g.,: Elliott, R., Fischer, C., & Rennie, D. (1999). Evolving guidelines for publication of qualitative research studies in psychology and related fields. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 38, 215-229.

7. Element 2: Critical Realism
•Realism says that that entities really exist outside of us and that we can know them
•Critical Realism says that our knowledge of these entities is always imperfect/ approximate
•Through the lense of our pre-understandings, expectations, methods, and language
•Understandings are both representations of reality and constructions
•Equivalent to Dialectic Constructivism (Piaget, Pascual-Leone)
•Emphasizes that knowledge and understanding emerges out of the dialog between dialectically opposing perspectives

8. Element 3: Abduction
•C.S. Peirce (American logician, founder of semiotics)
•Deduction = deriving a logical conclusion from a set of propositions
•Based on logical relationships (tautology)
•Therefore, can’t use to discover anything new about the world
•Induction = generalizing from a sample of similar observation to a whole class of observations
•Can never be certain that the inference is valid
•Abduction = imagining the most likely explanation/hypothesis for a novel observation
•Peirce argued that scientists go back and forward between Induction and Abduction, using each to support and correct the other
•Application to qualitative research:
•Abduction: empathic/imaginative understanding of a piece of text in terms of proposed category
=> Leads to hypothesis that category will be relevant to rest of the text/corpus of texts
•Induction: careful search for additional examples to support or refute the generalizability of the category
•Another version of the Hermeneutic Circle?

9. Element 4: Disclosed Reflexivity
•Providing the audience with relevant information about the researcher/interpreter’s values and expectations
•A form of rhetoric
•Missing from Modernism/positivist science
This part of Rennie’s framework not well-worked out yet

10. Rennie’s Larger Philosohical Meta-Methodological Framework:
A. Ontology (philosophy of being): Multi-Level and Entity Pluralism, Complexity Theory, Dialectics
Description: An account of what kinds of things exist; e.g., Self organizing systems give rise to qualitatively different higher-order processes as emergent properties: e.g., biology => embodied experience => language

B. Epistemology (philosophy of knowing, i.e., Meta-methodology): Critical Realism, Dialectical Constructivism, Philosophical Hermeneutics, Multiple Truth Criteria
Description: An account of whether and how knowledge is possible, including how we know if something is true. (Criteria and psychological processes); e.g., reality can be known, but only imperfectly, thus requiring multiple converging criteria and processes.

C. Methodology (system of methods): Methodical Hermeneutics, Methodological Pluralism, Converging Operations
Description: A system of general methodological principles; e.g., involving abduction; induction; rhetoric; disclosed subjectivity

D. Method (set of procedures): e.g., Grounded Theory Analysis, Empirical Phenomenology
Description: Detailed description of general strategies used in the method, e.g, theoretical sensitivity; bracketing

E. Procedure (sequence of activities): e.g., Constant Comparison, Meaning Units
Description: Detailed description of specific procedure in terms of actual activities, e.g., compare meaning unit to existing categories, then…

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