Bridging Positivist and Interpretivist Approaches to Qualitative Methods
Ann Chih Lin
The usual juxtaposition of qualitative research agaimt quantitative research makes it easy to miss the fact that qualitative ruearch itself encompasses at least two traditions: positivist and interpretivist. Positivist work. seeks to identifir qualitative data with propositions that can then be tested or identified in other cases, while interpretive work seeks to combine those data into systems of belief whose manifestatwns are specijll to a case. In this paper, I argue that discovering causal relationships is the province of positivist research, while dkcoverhg causal mechanisms is the province of interpretivkts. I explain why absolutist claims for one or the other approach are mistaken, and argue that the combination of both makes more sense. Finally, I offer suggestions for combinations of positivist and interpretive work, both at the level o thought experiment and in actual f data collection and analysis. Throughout. I draw my examples from recent studies of poverty, a jield in which a small but distinguished tradition of qualitative studies of the poor has beenjoined by a growing body of both positivist and interpretive work.
From case studies to econometric analysis, policy research has a long tradition of employing both qualitative and quantitative methods, but the usual juxtaposition of qualitative research against quantitative research makes it easy to miss the fact that qualitative research itself encompasses a multitude of different approaches. Qualitative work can be positivist: It can attempt to document practices that lead consistently to one set of outcomes rather than another. to identify characteristics that commonly are related to some policy problem, or to find strategic patterns that hold across different venues and with different actors. Qualitative work also can be inkrpretivist: It can seek to... [continues]
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