Over 20 years ago, in 2000, Franz Breuer, Jo Reichertz and Wolff-Michael Roth started a FQS debate on the “Quality of Qualitative Research.” In past contributions to this debate a wide range of issues has been discussed, such as various qualitative techniques of collecting or analyzing data, or the application of such methods within different disciplinary and institutional contexts. Since its beginning, the call for contributions to this debate has remained unchanged, while academic discussions surrounding this topic have changed substantially. The questions that were raised originally—What is “good” science? What are “good” social sciences? What is “good” qualitative social research? What are the criteria and standards for such evaluations?—are still relevant today and will continue to provide a baseline for future contributions, however, an update of the call for this FQS debate may be in order.
In the past, qualitative researchers have fought hard for acceptance and recognition of their work; this battle has largely been won. Today, in most social science disciplines (perhaps with the exception of psychology), qualitative epistemologies, theories, and methods are used and taught as “mainstream” science alongside their quantitative counterparts. Most university colleagues, students, and administrators have fully accepted their legitimacy and utility. While this is excellent news, it does not mean that debates about the “quality” of qualitative research have been, or should be, abandoned. Today, such debates take place in multiple contexts of discourse in which the “quality” of qualitative research is understood and treated in very different ways.
- The continued globalization and interdisciplinary appeal of qualitative research has accelerated the diversification of existing frameworks, theories, methodologies and methods. We are encountering many innovative developments that originate within the “older” qualitative approaches, such as social constructionism, symbolic interactionism, ethnomethodology, conversation analysis, phenomenology, hermeneutics, grounded theory methodology, and discourse analysis. In addition, today, many qualitative researchers transcend traditional boundaries and draw on a much broader theoretical canon when using and developing new qualitative methods, including critical approaches such as feminist, postcolonial and critical race theories, political economy frameworks, as well as postmodernism, poststructuralism and arts-based epistemologies. Moreover, collaboration between qualitative social scientists and scholars from discipline as diverse as the arts, design, computer sciences, medicine, and other health sciences have accelerated the development of “alternative” research methods. These developments lead to many new questions, such as: What does the new theoretical landscape of qualitative epistemologies and methodologies look like? How do various national and cultural contexts shape developments and debates of new qualitative frameworks? Finally, how is the “quality” of new qualitative research practices assessed across different disciplines and epistemological contexts?
- Over the past 20 years, qualitative research has been influenced by tremendous developments and expansions in technology and social media. Researchers increasingly use tools such as video-cameras, smart phones, and the Internet to collect data. A wide array of software packages has both reduced and increased the complexity of data collection and analysis. We must ask new questions, such as: How does the proliferation of new tools and technologies shape the practical and intellectual work of qualitative researchers? Which new social worlds and relationships have emerged, and how should they be examined and theorized qualitatively?
- Funding mechanisms in the (social) sciences have also changed substantially, alongside institutional structures in the university. Today, in addition to public and non-profit funding bodies, researchers must turn to private and commercial institutions to acquire resources, some of which are very open toward qualitative approaches while others question their utility. New questions, such as the following, emerged: How do changes in funding and other institutional structures influence the theory and practice of qualitative research? How do the new funding and institutional landscapes vary by country, by region, and by discipline? What impacts do these changes have on the selection of research topics and on qualitative research ethics and responsibilities?
- Lastly scientific research has increasingly come under pressure from politicians and policy makers, as well as from other influential experts, who have bluntly questioned the scholarly enterprise and confronted all scientific research with hostility and antagonism. This raises questions, such as: How do researchers who use qualitative theories, methodologies and methods respond to fundamental challenges of their (social) scientific expertise? How do they convince public audiences that their work raises and helps solve important questions?
Despite long-standing discussions about the quality of qualitative research, still no agreement has been reached about a catalogue of criteria that would serve to guarantee its value across the myriad contexts in which it is used today, similar to the classical, canonical standards that exist for quantitative scholars. In fact, we must broaden our understandings of what qualitative research is, and how it is practiced, while we continue to ask questions about its “quality.” The many issues and questions raised above may serve to re-invigorate discussions about the “Quality of Qualitative Research” in this FQS Debates, in alignment with current developments and concerns. As internal and external conditions for qualitative research practice have changed, a new engagement with the original issues, we hope, will invite new participants, raise new questions, and will lead to new insights within this worthwhile “Quality” debate. A reconfigured international FQS debate team eagerly awaits your submissions.
This is a Call without a deadline.
For questions, please contact the Section Editors: Franz Breuer, Paul Eisewicht, Margarethe Kusenbach, Jo Reichertz, Dirk vom Lehn, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org