Five Approaches and Theory Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Role of Theory in Qualitative Research

Five Approaches and Theory

Compare and contrast the role of theory in the five main qualitative approaches:

Ethnography, case study, narrative, phenomenology, grounded theory

Although all five major approaches to qualitative research embrace theory to some degree or another, not all of them value the use of theory to the same degree. Broadly speaking, some cultural 'theory' is usually demonstrated within an ethnography, either through a comparative approach; an attempt to understand the culture on its own terms; a theory that seeks to understand the multiple layers of meaning within the culture in a symbolic fashion; or even a universalizing construct like feminist or Marxist theory. The extent to which this theoretical approach is emphasized will depend upon the anthropologist conducting the study. Some studies may mainly focus upon observations and detail unique aspects of a foreign culture while other studies might largely subsume the details to an exploration of the 'theory' the anthropologist choose to bring to explain the actions of the participants.

In general, a good ethnography will not subsume hard data and actual observed experiences to an unyielding and unbending theory -- the theory must be modified to fit the data, not vice versa and exceptions will be noted. The aim of the approach is to use "multiple methodologies to arrive at a theoretically comprehensive understanding of a group or culture" but the theory does not purport to explain everything about the culture, given that ethnography is admittedly from an etic or outsider's point-of-view (Ethnography, 2013, Colorado State University Writing Guides).

A case study may also deploy some components of theory. For example, a psychological case study may be based upon the principles of a particular approach such as psychodynamic Freudian theory or CBT (cognitive behavior psychology). A case study approach, however, means that the idiosyncratic nature of the case as well as an explication of the theory is required. The theory may be introduced and presented at the beginning of the case study, but the theory cannot be used a formula, otherwise the value of an individualized
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case study approach is lost. "The case study final report should provide a rich (i.e., vivid and detailed) and holistic (i.e., describes the whole and its parts) description of the case and its context" (Johnson n.d.). The focus is on the richness of individual data, not the theory -- although it could be argued that quite often the specific case would not be selected, were it not for the preexisting theory. For example, a case study of a depressed patient presumes the acceptance an underlying theory of some psychological approach, given the acceptance of a definition of 'depression' as a psychological construct, even though the case study can be viewed through both purely psychological and biological lenses.

In the case of narrative, the importance of theory is even less apparent. The focus is upon storytelling, and letting the subjects speak for themselves. Implied in this technique is that anecdotes are more or equally valuable than an overarching theory. Also, even disciplines outside of the social sciences embrace the narrative approach, such as a literary, narrative approach chronicling the experiences and perspective of fourth grade girls (Narrative inquiry, 2013, Colorado State University Writing Guides). The eventual document produced by the research is often a collaborative document of both the participants and the researcher and few individuals view their life in terms of a single, all-encompassing theory. Many of the fields which use narrative inquiry do not embrace 'theory' explicitly at all, like the arts and literature: "The entire field of study is often used in disciplines such as literary theory, history, anthropology, drama, art, film, theology, philosophy, psychology, linguistics, education, politics, nutrition, medicine, and even aspects of evolutionary biological science" (Narrative inquiry, 2013,…

Sources Used in Documents:


Ethnography. (2013). Colorado State University Writing Guides. Retrieved:

Grounded theory. (2013). Colorado State University Writing Guides. Retrieved:

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