Unit 5: Descriptive Designs: Qualitative
Last summer, as I reviewed educational research textbooks before choosing one for Y520, I noticed that almost all seemed to treat "qualitative" and "ethnography" as synonyms. The other established traditions of qualitative inquiry, and their accompanying methods, seemed to be almost universally ignored by these authors. (The few textbooks that included a wider array of qualitative methods had other serious shortcomings -- such as superficial discussion of quantitative methods). Later, I stumbled across articles written by well-established qualitative reseachers, such as George Spindler and Robin Fox, that confirmed my suspicion. For example, Wolcott (1987, p. 43) states "It has been dismaying in recent years to watch educational researchers affix the label "ethnography" to virtually any endeavor at descriptive research."
Never mentioned in textbooks is another problem of which we should be aware. Again, I let Wolcott (1987, p. 51) state it:
That raises another of the issues that make school ethnography so difficult and even so unlikely. The people interested in doing it are, for the most part, individuals who have invested virtually their entire lives in school, first as students, then as students of the teaching process, and finally as professional educators. Being so totally immersed in and committed to formal education, they are as likely to "discover" school culture as Kluckhohn’s proverbial fish are likely to discover water. The cross-cultural and comparative basis that helps ethnographers identify something they are tentatively willing to describe as culture in someone else’s behavior -- because it is readily distinguishable from their own -- is lacking. These hopelessly enculturated insiders accept as natural and proper the very things an ethnographer from another society -- or even an ethnographer from our own society not so totally familiar with schools -- might want to question.
Later, Wolcott suggests the familiarity of educations can be offset by their insider status.
The lecture notes for this unit draw your attention to other traditions of qualitative inquiry, including ethology, ecological psychology, holistic ethnography, cognitive anthropology, symbolic interaction, biographical studies, phenomenology, and grounded theory. The Jacob (1988) article discusses several of these approaches in more detail. Steiner (1986) explicates phenomenology. Spindler (1992) discusses the characteristics of ethnography in general, and Wolcott (1987) provides an in-depth discussion. LeCompte and Preissle (1994) discuss qualitative methods.
When evaluating qualitative articles, keep Mueller's three questions in mind:
No Lecture Slides this time
Fraenkel & Wallen, Chapters 19, 20
Steiner, Elizabeth. (1986). Crisis in Educology. In James E. Christensen (Ed.). Educology 86: Procedings of Conference on Educational Research, Inquiry and Development with an Educological Perspective. July 10-12. Canberra, Australian National University. Sydney: Educology Research Associates.
None listed for this unit.
Last Updated: 01/02/24