However, the ability to criticize and gain depth into a subject was the key factors involved in qualitative research. In order for qualitative research methods to be applied to qualitative research, these methods had to undergo some form of transformation to make them acceptable to the empirical mindset. Wainwright argues that in order to achieve this, qualitative methods had to sacrifice some of their critical elements in favor of validity and reliability. He argues that one cannot have criticism and validity at the same time.
However, this is a difficult viewpoint to accept and if one examines the method to be employed in this research, the presence of validity and controls does not limit the ability to criticize the results. Increasing validity and reliability in the qualitative research means the development of criteria on the data collection. This may be a hindrance in the traditional sociological setting, such as field observations, but for studies that wish to count the frequency of a behavior, the presence of controls does not limit the ability of the researcher. The ability to marry qualitative and quantitative methods depends on the nature of the study. In certain research settings, it may be more restrictive than in others.
The Nature of Qualitative Research
The traditional characterization of qualitative research is in the field observation setting. This method attempts to understand the meanings and definitions behind a situation. The researcher observes, or possibly interviews informants and attempts to gain an understanding of an event through their eyes. The researcher attempts to glean certain information from the informant. In doing so, they must often judge or categorize the information they gather. Qualitative research attempts to examine beliefs or belief systems. This is one of the reasons for the skepticism of the qualitative methods as far as strict empiricists are concerned (Mays and Pope, 1995).
The most common usage of qualitative research is in ethnographic studies, where a researcher from one culture attempts to understand the customs and ideology of another. In many cases, it is difficult to analyze the beliefs and customs of one culture from the viewpoint of another. There is often no frame of reference from which to make comparisons. In qualitative ethnographic research, there is no attempt to manipulate the informants or the insight that they provide. The information is taken as is, with no other measures applied. The results of this research are often colourful descriptions, but cannot be considered a study in the formal sense of the word. This is the stereotypical viewpoint held regarding qualitative research.
One of the key components of ethnographic research that the researcher attempts to be an impartial observer (Hammersley and Atkinson, 1983). They do not criticize the information that they gather. They do not attempt to place the information into a social context. This means that they regard all information from every informant equally (Wainwright, 1997). However, as we know from our own experiences, each opinion expressed by every member of society does not necessarily reflect an accurate assessment of cultural constructs. This harms the credibility of many studies from a scientific perspective. Wainwright terms this "voyeuristic relativism." This has the effect of legitimizing the set of beliefs that was discovered by the researcher. However, there is no way for the reader to know if the situation described reflects a majority of the society, or whether it simply represents a local anomaly.
As one can see, there are many difficulties associated with observational qualitative methods used in ethnographic research. The relationship is not a two-way exchange, therefore it can be questioned as to whether the research yields a result that is socially relevant (Jones, 1985). Observational ethics dictate that the researcher takes no action that could mutate or change the culture that they study.
This method results in the data without the ability to interpret the data. One cannot resolve the deep question of "why" something happens using this method. It only answers the question, "what happened?" This method fails to address the issues that were the original intent of the study. This lack of depth led to a new group of ethnographers that used "critical" techniques in combination with observational techniques (Wainwright, 1997). This new approach entails checking the validity of the statements made by the informants. It also entails looking deeper into the development of their ideology and beliefs. This approach results in greater understanding, but can be criticized for increasing the potential of introducing researcher bias.
The synthesis of traditional observational ethnography and critical social research is a difficult one. It necessitates the reconceptualization of one or both of the components (Wainwright, 1997). Wainwright feels that the synthesis of these two methods will result in a method that more closely resembles empirical research methods, yet provides the in depth knowledge of qualitative methods. One can view the process of hybridization, as Wainwright suggests, as a reconceptualization. However, it is difficult to understand how Wainwright can call the process both a synthesis and a reconceptualization. Synthesis would imply that the two processes come together with all of their parts intact. Reconceptualization infers that the two processes undergo a change in their fundamental concepts. When something undergoes such a drastic change, it always leaves the question as to whether it is still the same, or whether it represents a new concept that is completely different from the first. This is a question of taxonomy rather than philosophy.
When one considers this viewpoint, one must question whether the field of qualitative research has developed into two separate branches, one that is observational and the other that is critical (Jorgensen, 1989). It is apparent that a need developed for both. However, the combination of the two approaches into a meaningful synthesis is still questionable, regardless of Wainwright's arguments to the contrary. One could apply observation and then apply criticism, but it is difficult to imagine a scenario where "observational criticism" does not result in a plethora of biases in the research. One must separate the difference between these two methods and the situations in which they are useful.
This is an important concept to understand in light of the current research study. The data gathered by watching the reality TV shows will be observational in nature. The researcher will observe the behavior and look for certain "clues" as to the correct categorization of the characters. In a sense, the researcher must make an observation and make a judgment about the type of role model that the person represents. This violates the founding principles of observational qualitative research. However, in order to correctly asses the prevalence of negative role models in reality TV, it would appear that there is no other way than to break traditional conventions regarding observational techniques.
The "informant" in this case are the TV characters themselves. In this research setting the researcher cannot directly interact with the characters. They can only observe them and make judgments based on these observations. They do not have the ability to engage in this new form of critical research where the researcher attempts to question the behaviors of the informant and "justify" them as representative of the culture in question rather than an anomaly. This research does not represent traditional critical observation as defined by Wainwright, but represents a third type of observational research where the researcher is allowed to make judgments based on observation, but does not have the ability to interact with the informant directly.
It appears that new methods can be developed for conducting qualitative research that are justified by necessity to develop them. It appears that new forms and twists on qualitative research are being developed on a continual basis. They tend to fall into categories depending on their taxonomy. One has the traditional form of observational only research where the researcher only observes, but does not interact. The second type is "critical observation" where the researcher is allowed to criticize and make judgments about the informant. The researcher can interact with the informant, rather than simply to observe.
This research introduces a third type of qualitative research that could be considered "judgmental observation." This is where the researcher must make observations about the subject, but does not have the ability to interact with the informant directly to find out why they did something. This new type of qualitative research is a direct result of new forms of media, such as reality TV that give us the ability to view the subject via videotaping. Reality TV represents the epitome of this new form or observational research. As we observe the subjects on the TV shows via hidden cameras and such, we gain a sense of their worldview. Reality TV has transformed the casual Reality TV fan into an armchair sociologist. Every observer makes judgments about the characters based on their personal life experiences. For the casual armchair sociologist this represents a considerable amount to researcher bias on their part. However, many of these participants are involved in the process for entertainment…