Qualitative Methods for Family Studies & Human Development

Books

Kerry J. Daly

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  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
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  • Dedication

    This book is dedicated to all of the students who have taken my Qualitative Methods class—you keep reminding me of how much there is still to learn.

    Copyright

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    Preface

    I have resisted writing this book for some time. After the release of the 1992 edited book, Qualitative Methods in Family Research, that I worked on with Jane Gilgun and Gerry Handel, there have been a number of opportunities to do a follow-up book. It always seemed like it was too much for one person to tackle. One of the reasons we did an edited book in the first place was to provide exemplars of the many possible ways of doing qualitative family research. Furthermore, as with many types of learning and knowledge acquisition, my confidence in what I knew in relation to qualitative methods seemed to diminish over time. The more I came to know the area, the more I came to an appreciation of the limits of my knowledge. Even though I have been practicing and teaching qualitative research for more than 20 years, I still struggle with whether I am doing it right. Qualitative research methods have always been complicated, but with the increasing variation in the types of methodologies that are emerging across disciplines, it has become even more difficult to keep pace with the proliferation of new epistemologies, methods, and ethical challenges.

    My starting point for this book was uncertainty. In my own life, I have come to realize that there is little we can be certain of. In my efforts to study various aspects of this life qualitatively, I have come to the parallel conclusion that there is little I can be certain of when trying to understand complex and changeable human realities. This is never a comfortable state of being, for there is always a tension between the scientific pressure to find certainty and the human reality of unpredictability, contradiction, and complexity. This seems to be especially true when trying to understand developmental change and family dynamics.

    As a result, writing a book from a standpoint of uncertainty and awareness of the limits of my knowledge was not a particularly enticing prospect. What I have come to realize in life and in the decision to write this book, however, is that staying with the uncertainty is the most important thing. As soon as I could embrace the idea that this book was primarily about offering choices in a complicated (and uncertain) landscape, I could begin to think about it as possible.

    This book is about providing a range of options so that students and researchers can make choices about how to proceed with their own research. Therefore, I invite you, the reader, to join in the uncertainty. The book is not formulaic; it is not a recipe book for how to do it right. It is probably more in keeping with a style of cooking that I learned from my mother, who was raised on a farm in Tompkins, Saskatchewan. Most recipes were in her head, and when she was asked to communicate them, she would use phrases like “make sure it is a good cup of sugar”—meaning a heaping cup somewhat more akin to a cup and a quarter. This is cooking that involves judgment, discretion, and intuitive knowledge but within a tradition and a set of guidelines that ensures that the quality is repeated time and again.

    In providing a range of alternatives in the book, I too have had to make choices about what to include and leave out. There are several key decisions that I made about the structure of the book. The first of these was to write from a conviction that qualitative research is part science and part art. While much of qualitative work that is done and published is a form of science, the quality of the product is shaped in large part by the extent to which researchers are able to bring imagination, creativity, and aesthetic practices to the endeavor. Hence, in writing the book, I have emphasized the importance of scientific learning and of following a set of practices agreed upon by the broader community of qualitative researchers. Equally, I have emphasized the importance of cultivating perceptual skills, of self-awareness, and of being creative in both the design and interpretation of our research.

    The second choice I made was to try to balance epistemological issues with practical concerns. My decision to place a strong emphasis on paradigms and epistemology is reflective of the belief that how we think about human reality and our relationship as knowers of that reality profoundly influences how we make choices when we conduct our research. I am aware that not everyone shares this view and that there are many who would prefer a more pragmatic approach involving getting right to the design, data collection, and analysis parts of the book. In these parts of the book, I have tried to provide checklists, guiding questions, and examples from the literature in human development, family relations, and family therapy as a way of facilitating the concrete and practical decisions that are made in doing the research. For those who wish to use the book in a more practical way, it is possible to focus on these chapters. At the same time, however, there is no escape from some level of reflexivity and consideration of epistemological positioning, regardless of the methodology chosen. Hence, while questions of ontology and epistemology are concentrated in the early chapters, these issues are carried throughout the book. I have provided examples of how my own epistemological beliefs have changed over time. I think our epistemological beliefs are always somewhat unresolved, and while we may express allegiance to certain beliefs at a particular time, they are subject to review and fluctuation.

    The third choice I made had to do with the scope and audience of this book. My intention was to tailor a qualitative methods book for those working in the areas of human development and family relationships. Here my own background and biases influenced the direction of the book. I was trained as a family sociologist with phenomenology and Chicago School symbolic interactionism as my theoretical home and grounded theory as my preferred methodology. Grounded theory thereby receives a lot of attention in this book. While at some level this is a reflection of my playing to my strong suit, I believe it is also a function of the strong presence that grounded theory has in the methodological literature. It has emerged as one of the most clearly articulated and commonly used qualitative approaches across a number of disciplines. Although most of my research has focused on understanding family processes and dynamics, I was deliberate in my efforts to include examples of studies and practices from life course research, couple and family therapy, and the broad domain of family studies.

    Finally, I chose to focus the book on what I perceived to be the five methodologies most commonly used in the broad area of human development and family relations research. These include ethnography, phenomenological inquiry, grounded theory methodology, narrative inquiry, and critical inquiry. Again, not all would agree that these were the best choices, and I was aware of the methodologies that I did not include (e.g., discourse analysis, conversation analysis). In the book, I encourage researchers to position themselves within a particular methodology so their work can be assessed according to established practices in that area. That said, I am aware that the boundaries between any of these methodologies are often fuzzy and somewhat fluid, and as a result, researchers are often more comfortable straddling or borrowing from some of these traditions. This is due in part to the compatibilities among various approaches and a practice of “doing qualitative research” as if “qualitative research,” at a general level, was the methodology. Because qualitative research methodologies proliferate, I believe there is merit in being clear about the methodological choices we make.

    So I invite you now into a world of uncertainty. While we often associate uncertainty with anxiety, it is equally important to learn to embrace uncertainty as a way of staying open to the wonder of our changing world. Families are at the center of this changing world, and it is the stance of openness associated with inductive qualitative inquiry that puts us in a strategic position to understand and communicate about these changes.

    Acknowledgments

    Sage Publications gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:

    • Katherine R. Allen
    • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
    • David C. Dollahite
    • Brigham Young University
    • Jerry Gale
    • University of Georgia
    • Jane Gilgun
    • University of Minnesota
    • Sandra L. Hofferth
    • University of Maryland
    • Kevin Roy
    • University of Maryland
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    About the Author

    Kerry J. Daly (PhD, Sociology, McMaster University) is a full professor in the Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition at the University of Guelph. In more than a decade of teaching a graduate course on qualitative methods, he has had students from his own interdisciplinary department as well as students from Psychology, Sociology, Nursing, and Nutrition, thus sensitizing him to the many different values and procedures that exist across the varied audiences and disciplines that contribute to family studies. With Jane Gilgun and Gerald Handel, he coedited the book Qualitative Methods in Family Research (Sage, 1992), and he has authored a number of articles focusing on qualitative methodology in journals such as Qualitative Inquiry, The Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Qualitative Sociology, Symbolic Interaction, and Journal of Marriage & Family. He coauthored the chapter on qualitative research methods in Leon Kuczynski's Handbook of Dynamics in Parent-Child Relations (Sage, 2003). He was recipient of the Anselm Strauss Award for the best qualitative research article in 2001. He was a member of the Steering Committee for the Qualitative Family Research Network, then Chair for three years, and served for a period as Editor of the Qualitative Family Research newsletter. His teaching, research, and professional background combine to offer the perfect combination for undertaking this new text.


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