what is ‘good’(i.e.qualitative) and ‘bad’(i.e.quantitative) research.In fact,thechoice between different research methods should depend upon what you aretrying to find out.For instance,if you want to discover how people intend to vote,then a quan-titative method,like a social survey,may seem the most appropriate choice.On theother hand,if you are concerned with exploring people’s life histories or every-day behaviour,then qualitative methods may be favoured.Table 2.1 gives threemore examples ofhow your research topic should guide your use of quantitativeor qualitative methods.
Attempt Exercise 2.1 about now
Later in this chapter,we consider whether the kind of issues shown in Table 2.1may sometimes make it sensible to adopt both quantitative and qualitativeapproaches.However,you also have to bear in mind that these methods are oftenevaluated differently.This is shown in Table 2.2 which is drawn from the termsused by speakers at a conference on research methods.
TABLE 2.1Qualitative or quantitative methods?
1Imagine you want to study ambulance crews’responses to emergency calls.One way to do this wouldbe to examine statistics giving the time which crews take to get to an emergency.However, such statisticsmay not tell the whole story.For instance, when does the timing of the emergency services’response begin(when the caller picks up the phone, or when the ambulance crew receives the information from theoperator)? And isn’t it also important to examine how operators and ambulance services gradethe seriousness of calls? If so, qualitative research may be needed to investigate how statistics are collected,e.g.when timing starts and what locally counts as a ‘serious’incident.Note that this is not just an issue ofthe statistics being biased (which quantitative researchers recognize) but also an issue of the inevitable(and necessary) intrusion of common-sense judgements into practical decision-making (Garfinkel,1967).2Say you are interested in what determines adolescents’diet.So you do a survey which asks them aboutthe influences on their choice of food (e.g.parents, siblings, peer groups, advertisements etc.).But is‘influence’really a suitable way of describing the phenomenon? For instance, a qualitative study may showthat eating patterns arise in a variety of contexts including negotiations with parents over such practicalmatters as who does the cooking and when the food is served.Hence young people’s diet is not a simpleoutcome of different sets of ‘influences’(Eldridge and Murcott, 2000).3Imagine you want to study decisions by the police to charge juvenile offenders with a crime.It looks likebeing found with a weapon will lead to a criminal charge.But what kind of weapon? To answer this question,you code official records, giving a code of ‘1’to the use of a firearm and a ‘2’to the use of a blunt instrumentsuch as a baseball bat.But what are you to do if some offenders used
weapons (Marvasti, 2004:9–10)?Do you just modify your coding system, or do you add a qualitative study of meetings where police and publicprosecutors grade the ‘seriousness’of an offence and the likelihood of obtaining a conviction in decidingwhether to charge a juvenile with a crime (Sudnow, 1968a)?
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