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REVIEW: Questioning qualitative inquiry: Critical essays

Hammersley, M. (2008) Questioning qualitative inquiry: Critical essays. London: Sage.

Hammersley’s book comes in response to questions about the validity of all research methods, including qualitative ones, in terms of the value of their findings and their impact on policy. Governments, she argues, have turned to primarily funding quantitative research, and this decision is short-sighted. Qualitative inquiry creates a complete, experiential data.

The topics of the text seek to challenge future qualitative researchers to advance the paradigm beyond its current definition and limitations. The collection of essays addresses the failings of qualitative inquiry, the rationale for qualitative research, analytic induction, interviews, discourse analysis, postmodern qualitative research, a comparison of qualitative research to rhetoric, and quality in qualitative research. The breadth of this text serves as a wide commentary on the state of qualitative research, and seeks to improve many aspects of the methodology.

Ultimately, Hammersley is arguing for a singularity of methods for social scientific research, where qualitative and quantitative approaches coexist in one research paradigm. As the title dictates, the book offers little in the way of answers to the problems of qualitative research, and social science research in general, but it does ask the questions necessary to improve the internal and external validity of findings in qualitative research.

This book encourages qualitative research to set realistic claims for its ability to understand phenomena. Further, it calls for a shared set of goals between quantitative and qualitative inquiry in their research designs. For example, the goal of research, Hammersley says, is to understand and explain an occurrence in the natural world. To that end, quantitative and qualitative research should seek to establish and build theory that explains the ways we communicate, especially with the influx of computer mediated communication.

Reading this text challenged my beliefs about research and inquiry. Hammersley’s point that unity is needed among quantitative and qualitative scholars is one that needs to be addressed at research conferences and in the classroom. The next generation of researchers needs to be trained in a way where they can get grant funding from the government and produce a worthwhile result, overcoming the weaknesses of qualitative and quantitative inquiry. A standardized procedure for research unique to the social sciences is needed, and qualitative, quantitative, and critical paradigms must be included in that standard.

Hammersley’s book serves as a guide to the big-question problems of social research and should be used as an entry point into future adjustments to research methodology. If taken seriously and applied to social scientific thinking, this text could be revolutionary in changing the face of research.

I would recommend this book be on the bookshelf or reading list of anyone who takes qualitative work seriously. This book finds the flaws throughout the discipline and by reading it, researchers can overcome these flaws.

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