FQS – Debate: “Quality of Qualitative Research” #sociology #sssi #emca

Announcement, Call for Papers, quantitative/qualitative, research methods, Uncategorized

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.

  1. 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?
  2. 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: deb_quality@qualitative-research.net

Notes from “Goffman and the Interaction Order: 30 Years on” Conference in Cardiff

interaction, sociology, symbolic interactionism

the below I posted earlier on the SSSI Blog



“I have no universal cure for the ills of Sociology. A multitude of myopias limit the glimpse we get of our subject matter” (Erving Goffman, 1983: 2)

On September 27th, a conference was held at the University of Cardiff where participants discussed the influence of Goffman’s concept of the “interaction order” on sociology and related disciplines. Four speakers, Paul AtkinsonGreg SmithRandall Collins, and Susie Scott explicated the origin, application and further development of Goffman’s concepts and analytic devices.

Atkinson delivered a performance that would better be shown as a video-clip than summarised in a written paragraph. He began by highlighting that Goffman’s interest was interaction as it happens and he demanded from his students to “go out and uncover something”, rather than to concern themselves with theory and concepts. By drawing on short video-clips from masterclasses for a tenor Atkinson illustrated some of the aspect of the “interaction order” and highlighted that for Goffman it was important to unpack the intrinsic properties of situations without attributing them to individual participants. This of course is not unproblematic as situations are loaded with a history that can hardly be understood from the situation at hand alone. The sociologist therefore needs to embed themselves within situations, make observations and conduct interviews to be able to understand the events. Thus, they will be able to make sense of how the participants refer to and draw on the history of the situation to go about the action at hand.

Smith illustrated his talk “Interaction Order Controversies” with photographs he had taken on the Shetland Islands where Goffman had gathered the data that form the basis for his PhD and for what we know today as “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.” It is the original PhD thesis where Goffman uses the term “interaction order” for the first time. Then however it took until 1982/3 before he again uses the term to highlight the myopia of contemporary sociology. In the time he deployed concepts like “copresence” and “small behaviours” to denote the organisation of conduct in situations. Aside from exploring the origin and use of “interaction order” and related concept in Goffman’s writings Smith also discussed how the concepts sits within the micro-/macro debate that has been ongoing since sociology was founded as a discipline. Aside from talking about Goffman’s work, Smith also talked about Goffman as an academic who at his time was one of the best paid sociologists in the USA; he obviously was very much aware of his value and was able to use it to advance his career.

This leads us to Randall Collins’ talk who drew relations between Goffman and Garfinkel as well as to other areas of sociology that often are described as macro-sociology; Giddens to mention but one representative, used Goffman and Garfinkel to underpin his structuration theory. In his talk Collins drew attention to some curious aspects of Goffman’s work, such as his heavy reliance on codes of conduct as resources for his studies whilst at the same time in the 1960s young people were distancing themselves from just that order and the related rituals described in these books. He pointed out however the richness of Goffman’s work and how he addressed the micro-/macro-question by explicating the ingredients of interaction rituals and their link to social structure; for instance, he showed that different people deploy different greeting rituals, wear different clothes etc. displaying their ‘place’ in society. Collins, of course, is very well known for his studies of violence and conflict. In his talk he showed how that research links in to Goffman’s studies of interaction rituals in that people when being violent manage the impression they give of themselves.

The final talk was delivered by Susie Scott whose interest in Goffman is known for example through her work on Total Institutions and Shyness. In her talk she elaborated on four facets she sees in Goffman: the hero, the detective, the villain and the magician. She brought these four images of Goffman to life by referring to her research on shyness, intimate deception,  and others. At various points her talk showed close relationships to the points raised by the talks by Atkinson, Smith and Collins. In particular her reference to Goffman the villain linked nicely into Smith talk that touched on the sometimes not easy character of Goffman and his very well known ‘unusual’ behaviour at social gatherings.

The presentations together with the discussions during sessions and in breaks showed how relevant and influential Goffman still is for sociology. As time goes by his influence is growing beyond sociology and reaches into performance studies, management and marketing as well as into various areas engineering including the design of virtual worlds and social networking sites.

The conference was organised by Martin Innes and William Housley. A Twitter stream accompanied the event managed by Robin Smith. With the #socsigoffman you can trace some of the information of the event.

Recent Articles in Symbolic Interaction related to Goffman

Phil Strong: The Importance of Being Erving

Susie Scott et al. Goffman in the Gallery: Interactive Art and Visitor Shyness

Chris Conner’s Review of Stigma Revisited