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Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Criminology, Vol 1 (1) 2009

Qualitative versus Quantitative Methods: Understanding Why Qualitative Methods are Superior for Criminology and Criminal Justice Richard Tewksbury, University of Louisville

Abstract

The development of knowledge is important for criminology and criminal justice. Two predominant types of methods are available for criminologists’ to use--quantitative and qualitative methods. The value, appropriateness and necessity of using qualitative methods is discussed. Because of the unique contributions – depth of understandings being primary -- that qualitative methods can provide it is argued that such approaches should be used more frequently, be more frequently and strongly valued and seen as unique, often superior approaches to the creation of criminological and criminal justice knowledge.

Qualitative research, one of the two primary approaches to the conduct of social science research, is a superior means for conducting meaningful research in criminology and criminal justice. The numerous advantages of qualitative methods provide a depth of understanding of crime, criminals and justice system operations and processing that far exceeds that offered by detached, statistical analyses. Because of the differences in the data, how data is collected and analyzed, and what the data and analyses are able to tell us about our subjects of study, the knowledge gained through qualitative investigations is more informative, richer and offers enhanced understandings compared to that which can be obtained via quantitative research. The superiority of qualitative research arises from the core differences in what qualitative and quantitative research are, and what they are able to contribute to bodies of knowledge. At the core, qualitative research focuses on the meanings, traits and defining characteristics of

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Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Criminology, Vol 1 (1) 2009

events, people, interactions, settings/cultures and experience. As one leading proponent of qualitative methods has explained, “Quality refers to the what, how, when, and where of a thing – its essence and ambience. Qualitative research thus refers to the meanings, concepts, definitions, characteristics, metaphors, symbols, and descriptions of things.” (Berg, 2007, p. 3). Notice that what is missing from this definition is the “amount” or quantity of whatever it is that is being studied. The number, or numerical descriptions of things and their relationships is not the focus of qualitative research, that is the focus of the “other” form of social science research: quantitative methods. Quantitative research is typically considered to be the more “scientific” approach to doing social science. The focus is on using specific definitions and carefully operationalizing what particular concepts and variables mean. Qualitative research methods provide more

emphasis on interpretation and providing consumers with complete views, looking at contexts, environmental immersions and a depth of understanding of concepts So, why should social scientists use qualitative methods? What is the benefit of such an approach to the study of crime and criminal justice? In simple terms, qualitative methods are about gaining true understandings of the social aspects of how crime occurs and how the agents, structures and processes of responding to crime operate in culturally-grounded contexts. Qualitative methods provide a depth of understanding of issues that is not possible through the use of quantitative, statistically-based investigations. Qualitative methods are the approach that centralizes and places primary value on complete understandings, and how people (the social aspect of our discipline) understand, experience and operate within milieus that are dynamic, and social in their foundation and structure. 39

Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Criminology, Vol 1 (1) 2009

This is not to...
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