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Qualitative Psychology © 2014 American Psychological Association

2014, Vol. 1, No. 1, 49 – 60 2326-3598/14/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/qup0000002

Pursuing Excellence in Qualitative Inquiry

Kenneth J. Gergen
Swarthmore College

Psychological science is now in a period of major transition. After almost a century of
dominance by a foundational view of empirical science, a new pluralism is sweeping
the field. We witness the rapid and global expansion of perspectives, visions, and goals
of inquiry. Partly owing to the traditional distinction between quantitative and quali-
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.

tative research, these pluralistic pursuits are typically gathered under the qualitative
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.

umbrella. As I will first propose, the criteria of excellence applicable to traditional
empirical research are mistakenly applied to most forms of qualitative inquiry. Fur-
thermore, because of their differing ontologies, epistemologies, and aims of inquiry,
there are no adequate criteria of excellence applicable across the qualitative spectrum.
Thus explored is the emergence and sustainability of criteria within communities of
practice. Within such communities, criteria of excellence become evident. At the same
time, when criteria are solidified, their rigorous application is inimical to the well-being
of the field and its contributions to society. Discussions of excellence ultimately may
profit from an orientation of reflective pragmatism.

Keywords: evaluating qualitative research, reflective pragmatism, methodological pluralism

The field of psychology has slowly begun to methods have burgeoned, along with a spate of
participate in a momentous movement occur- new journals (Qualitative Psychology, Qualita-
ring within the social sciences more generally. tive Research in Psychology, Qualitative In-
Of special significance, we find a deterioration quiry, the Qualitative Report, Forum: Qualita-
in scientific foundationalism, an increased pres- tive Social Research). On the Internet, there are
ence of ethnic and minority voices in the social now over 12 million websites containing the
sciences, and an inability of traditional experi- phrase “narrative method” alone. In the British
mental methods to speak to pressing issues of Psychological Society, the Section on Qualita-
society. As a result, interest in nontraditional tive Methods in Psychology was instituted in
forms of inquiry has burgeoned. Owing to the 2005. At present, it is the largest sections in the
traditional distinction between quantitative and BPS.
qualitative research, such explorations are typ- Among the significant issues raised by this
ically—though misleadingly— gathered under expanding movement is the challenge of evalu-
the rubric of qualitative research. Only one in- ating the emerging forms of research. With the
dicator of the emerging sea-change is the phe- traditional animus toward qualitative inquiry in
nomenal success of Denzin and Lincoln’s scientific psychology, there is little in the way
(2011) pivotal volume, The Sage Handbook of of accumulated experience in carrying out and
Qualitative Research, first published in 1994. judging qualitative work. How can newcomers
So active and innovative is the field, that by
to such inquiry proceed if they cannot ascertain
2011 this work had gone through four new
what counts as “good work?” And how can
editions. Additional handbooks on practices of
journal editors and reviewers conduct responsi-
action research, feminist research, narrative in-
quiry, field research, interviewing, and mixed ble evaluations if the criteria for excellence are
obscure? As well, the range and variation in
practices of inquiry steadily expands. Thus,
even for seasoned qualitative researchers, the
route to excellence is seldom clear. For exam-
Correspondence concerning this article should be ad-
dressed to Kenneth J. Gergen, Department of Psychology,
ple, the practice of autoethnography was intro-
Swarthmore College, 500 College Ave, Swarthmore, PA duced into the social sciences less than 20 years
19086. E-mail: ago. Yet, since its inception, scholars have now

in what follows empiricist. as Ruthellen tematic and repeatable practices of research. Clearly. 1999. empiricist program is problematic. enrich and expand upon bare-bones statistical Horsburgh. Devers. to coding categories. Josselson (2013) proposes. many qualitative research- This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly. both with each other and researchers find the concept of research meth- with traditional empiricist methods. This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers. qualitative researchers see their goals as differ- ing from this program. With this up. to be sure. by “research methods” is tied to a positivist/ traditional standards the questions asked in a empiricist vision of scientific truth. sense. the differing paradigms of research are atic application of these ideas to the span of incommensurable. it will be fecting social change. sug- gesting as it does a counterproductive disciplin- Within the field of psychology. flourishing of new practices. for a vast number in the freau & Jack. the longstanding asso- cussion will set the stage for a discussion of ciation of the concept with the positivist/ evaluation within communities of practice. research are longstanding. re. the interview is a Experimental methods offer the most sophisti. how can the tic violence. and more. First. the objective tracing of cause and across all respondents. oppression. empiricist emerging qualitative practices. 2010. reducing societal alienation. Fossey. Reicher. aspiring researcher or responsible gatekeeper— Yet. complex relational process and can unfold in cated means of achieving the scientific goals of ways that either invite or suppress the respon- prediction and control. This dis. To cite but one example. 2000. in particular. 2011. Further. and responses submitted effect relations among variables requires sys. 2002. and statistical infer. & Zech. & Rennie. directly ef- useful entries into this dialogue. a hypothesis. and with the recent There are. predictions may be useful. McDermott. Many along with their potentials and limitations. reports. and performative autoethnogra. there are no fixed qualitative community the goals of inquiry dif- answers to questions of evaluation. However. experienced researcher—to say nothing of the and educational outcomes are illustrative. accident rates. criteria of research excellence are either tangen- ist mix of contemporary orientations to inquiry. The domain of mixed-methods research well. more testable propositions might emerge. 2003. is not generally to verify 1999. tainly many circumstances in which behavioral ethnography. It is policymakers or the public judge such research? precisely this presumption to which the great Debate on criteria of excellence in qualitative bulk of qualitative inquiry forms a challenge. respondents may supply far richer ence (see Shaughnessy. In a Kuhnian (1962) search methods in psychology and the problem. 2003. There are cer. Max. exposing conditions of useful to consider the traditional notions of re. and ongoing fer substantially from those of the traditional dialogue is essential. 2010). 50 GERGEN added duo-autoethnography. Fischer. A premium is thus dent’s offerings. community mental health needs. Ger. and more illuminating views than can ever be meister. In contrast. Guba & Lincoln. Zechmeister. Putting aside the question of obtained through standardization. Morse. However. Jean. ing. ods alien. there is intense ers who work within the empiricist tradition. From the plural. Predictions of vot- phy to the resources for inquiry. These researchers may variously be I will introduce a number of considerations that concerned with understanding others’ experi- may serve for psychologists. the concept of ing of inquiry. domes- heaval in research practices. employee turnover. With the interviewer’s keen placed on valid and nuanced measurement. not all forms of psychological inquiry know how to proceed? By what criteria should share the goal of prediction and control. I will then consider five approaches that offer It is in this latter context that many qualitative illuminating contrasts. flexibility. In such contexts. 1994. in this case. Lietz & Zayas. From this research interview should be standardized standpoint. At the outset. Their aim. con- world can have pragmatic utility. or to gen.” most psychologists would qualitative researchers concerned with the com- agree that empirically supported accounts of the plexities and nuances of human meaning. but to supply insights from which Harvey. trolled measurement is both obstructive and . & Gergen. sensitivity to the relationship and a continuing liability of observations. & Davidson. Others reject the term From Methodology to Practices of Inquiry method because of its restrictive power. for “empirical truth. as ences. tial or inapplicable. dialogue across the social sciences (cf. Elliott. 2000. collaborative auto. is illustrative. 2009).

Iconic is lieve that understanding another’s experiences Gadamer’s (1975/2004) volume. for movement in the humanities and science. and important distinctions have emerged criteria of excellence. genuine understanding between people. flexible. Because science terns of language use in conversations). can be objectively measured through standard- namic process of interpretation. psychology largely re. Yet. and the range of assumptions ically in recent years (see. course—whether meaning or cognitive pro- nologist’s ontology is substantially different. cess—is irrelevant or misleading. set the stage for asking more explicitly about 2012). In terms of their goals. While sharing with cognitive psychology a is opposed to dualism. in hopes of establishing movement harbors not one. the advent of be. Experience itself those “inner” structures or processes that sup- is a derivative or epiphenomenon. manist movement. but multiple alter. while phenomenologists be- mains open. behav. ontological. As phenomenologists play a central role in the hu- Wertz (2011) describes. e. In what follows. Most important for the present ar. Johnstone. mon to all these orientations. epistemologies. In effect. phe- inent characteristic of the qualitative commu. & Hamilton. is an iorist/empiricists reasoned. the ontologies. While cognitive researchers set “practices of inquiry. one that re. Multiple Worlds of Inquiry phenomenologists are concerned with under- This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers. nomenologists resist the common pursuit of nity in psychology. among its many forms. This will nen. Schiffrin. ized instruments. course analysis (with its expanded concern with ture in psychological study. Gee. of inquiry. these diverse aims are couched in quite disparate epistemological.g. What lies “beneath” dis- concern with internal processes. For committed to value neutrality in their practices many in the qualitative movement there is rea. It is partly for the latter reason that the enormous range of available practices. the qualitative prediction and control. standing others’ experiences in their own If there is one important hallmark of the terms—thus drawing themselves closer to their qualitative movement in the social sciences it is subjects. In ef- natives to the empiricist concern with prediction fect.. critical dis- While phenomenology was once a major fix. 2007. among traditional Phenomenology discourse analysis (focused on specific samples of spoken or written discourse). Required is a dy. Discourse For phenomenologists. a classic critique of systematizing and cess of interpretation. Com- should be concerned with observables. goals of these traditions are quite separate. Discourse Analysis and ideological assumptions. Important distinctions can be made. pluralism is the prom.” out to verify abstract hypotheses—functioning then at a distance from their subjects of study— This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly. ideology and cultural context). and conversation haviorism in the 1930s reduced its adherents to analysis (with its focus on interdependent pat- a small but dedicated number. concrete experience of analysis is largely a child of the poststructural the world is a reality that demands attention. and and control. but with a strong contrast in the son for replacing “methods of research” with implicit ethics. the phenome. scientific. 2001. and cognitive psychologists the ontological givens most of its practitioners have resultantly aban- are the cognitive processes that supposedly give doned concern with the longstanding search for rise to conscious experience. Both orientations are standardizing practices of interpreting texts. At the same posedly give rise to behavior. values. guments. the cognitivist holds that internal process analyst might say. however. with the later success of the Whereas these orientations are typically viewed cognitive revolution. as dualist—with a firm distinction between in- neged on its demands for an observable subject ner process and outward behavior—the dis- matter. for example. and empathic. Tan- and values in which they are lodged. The door again opened to phenomenol. I briefly contrast five different orientations to the The study of discourse has expanded dramat- aims of inquiry. As the discourse time. Truth and necessitates a sophisticated and unfolding pro- Method. phenomenology’s ontology that differs dramatically from both subject matter— human experience—was not phenomenology and cognitive psychology. EXCELLENCE IN QUALITATIVE INQUIRY 51 misleading in its outcomes. “Here we have people’s spo- . course analysis community generally avoids or ogy.

I This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly. Such work enables worlds of intelligibility. In the For purposes of contrast with the preceding. Applied Dis. unjust. private meaning. The general attempt of such inquiry is Colombian young adult children of immigrants. relies on its own forms orientations. and thus to bring about social change (see bertal and Koren (2006) provide insights into Watkins & Shulman. language itself functions in human action. 2010). and still others increasingly making its way into the field of .g. inasmuch as many of its adherents not ideology provides the motivational basis for only tend to be postmodern in temperament. For example. cultural identities. Their aims are passionate. Hal- ing. sampling. cogni. as psychologists have joined to- a form of discourse analysis. but such work. 2014). Indeed. Ethnographic research—with its aim of illu- Narrative Study minating the cultural life of a given group of people— has long been a fixture in the social There are many who view narrative study as sciences. For example. e. or discourse itself. the attempt is to “get it right” with will focus here only on the use of narrative for This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers. Riessman. More in. the chief hope is to liberate the society contrast the challenges through recent history from problematic forms of speaking and writ. 52 GERGEN ken or written utterances. Daiute. not to establish what is ultimately true. In this case there is no the goal of illuminating personal experience. narrative generally eschew value neutrality in their anal. reproductive technologies. public visibility the lives of the marginalized terestingly. and the latter of cific values to the outcomes of study. and sex education. cally. as they attempt portant only as it can reveal the experience of to illuminate forms of public discourse they the individual. How. Hammack and Cohler (2009) Rather. All of these ac. meaning. for the illumination of cultural life.” Clandinin.g. the first of which carries with it and treatments of evidence. psychiatric ciocultural processes by which identity is con- medication. assumptions or values. Willig’s (1999) edited volume. structed. and statistics. (2012) uses interview data from Domenican and leading. Thus. we find critical analyses of the distance from otherwise insulated or alienated taken-for-granted assumptions in self-help liter. And. researchers in this case view discourse as im- ysis. sume they are the outcome of some form of These are only a few of the major ways in which “inner utterance” (e. many are concerned with reliable cat. 2007. an enormous array of scholars across the disci- tive process)? Let us focus on the way the plines approach narrative inquiry (see. “getting it right. Upegui-Hernandez view as prejudicial. but it does not attempt to bracket researcher struction.. counts question the nature of these fields of practice. even with the abandonment of dualism. More specifi- example. rience is largely structured by narratives. groups and to illuminate the individual and so- ature.” The analysis is itself a con. 2007. Unlike discourse analysts. inside. they also understand that their analyses are may indirectly encourage advocacy. This form also discursive—shared ways of making sense of narrative study shares with phenomenology of others’ discourse. former case. narrative inquiry in this case brings into egorization. which can be viewed as postmodern. and the otherwise invisible con- discourse is a major means for constructing ditions in which they live. Yet. but not one relies on formalized data Autoethnography analysis. this is the very the reader to understand their lives “from the reason for studying discourse processes. in issues of identity among gay Orthodox Jews. faced by men in realizing a gay identity. or mis. and ever. respect to the outcomes of analysis. why should we pre.. either to explore the problems of living with multiple about cognition. and attaches spe- certain empiricist vestiges. the postmodernists understand that and oppressed. Narrative researchers in The critical discourse movement provides the this case begin with the assumption that expe- most striking contrast with traditionalist empir.” reveals their problems and plights. and icists. oppressive. Such work effectively functions to reduce the course Analysis. such research is character of personal meaning. others employ gether with anthropologists to create a field of narrative analysis to illuminate the narrative psychological anthropology. Each approach is also accompanied by a discourse analysts tend to split between two particular epistemology. view narratives as expressions of cultural life.

2012). Adams. one major respect. and actively change society. Action research has played an active. qualitative inquiry are only suggestive of the pathic relationship with the reader. or legiti. performative inquiry (Gergen & Gergen. EXCELLENCE IN QUALITATIVE INQUIRY 53 psychology. give voice to oppressed minorities. reveal way of life. I choose to include it ity or social justice. 2013). in his or her own terms. atten- formation. differs dramatically from traditional empiricism Yet. In provided by the first-hand experiences of a cul. and worse still. claim its ac. In this sense. & Ellis. most autoethnography adds further ogies. This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers. researchers typically participate with groups or (for a review. there is Reason and Bradbury’s (2008) Hand- book of Action Research. subject and object. d=être of research. speak for. and indeed. Jones. Further. geoned. autoeth. pole dancer. organizations to achieve social change. . these five forms of dimension in its attempt to open a direct em. Western colonialism. The very concept of re- point or tradition. both to illustrate the contrast in genres of tional empiricists. see. this interference with objectivity. performing as a Research. and sharing much with criti- inquiry. edification. I have offered here five alternatives to the assumptions and aims of traditional em- a major impact on anthropological research piricist inquiry. With sufficient time and space. if mi- quiry. and so on This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly. role in psychology for over 50 years. such traditions have all become sus. and because it has moved with such cal discourse analysts. they nography serves as a significant alternative. search—to search and to search again—sustains and limited by their own vocabulary of de. How. it is asked. within broad sectors of the social sci. ends is linked to relevant ontologies. One broad array of practices currently in play within doesn’t typically read autoethnography for in. e. action research has bur- tural participant. liberate the reader from oppressive conven- participant provides first-hand insights into a tions. with the more recent Action Research emergence of autoethnography. all the above onant with autoethnography in its attempt to forms of qualitative inquiry. epistemol- However. Marcus & Fischer. The goals forms of cultural life through personal revela- of such inquiry echo certain aims of narrative tion. but is invited to “experience with” tion could also be directed to practices of por- the writer. the field. undermine the distance between the researcher tions make a clear separation between the and those “under study. The cultural ing. Action research is also res- ditional empiricism. avowedly value invested. However. the landscape changes significantly. Thus. this vision. and values. action research is scription and explanation? Does such study grounded in a vision of a fluid or impermanent not discredit or eliminate the voices of those world. Rather than testing hypotheses (see. (and certain genres of qualitative inquiry). Autoeth- for purposes of prediction and control. action researchers are alacrity across the social sciences disciplines. is. attempt to probe the structure of human mean- as there is no subject/object split. the International Journal of Action of living with a dying spouse. however. mulated over time. recent years. structures or processes mately characterize others? Don’t researchers about which increasing knowledge can be accu- approach “the object” from a particular stand. action being a parent of an asthmatic child. and Systemic and Action Research. Ideology is not an In terms of underlying epistemology. Each of these research focused on cultural illumination. can any researcher based on the assumption of a stable world. change. In addition to such journals as Action nographers have variously shared experiences Research.g. In contrast. for example. unlike tradi- here. Attempting to increase knowledge counts are “objectively” superior? Faced with through repeated study is problematic. All patterns of action are subject to under study. such critiques have had In sum. All these tradi. steeped in their own values. a world of entities. insights into the culture of interest are nor. Often While autoethnographic inquiry is not yet a this work is motivated by investments in equal- fixture in psychology. The empiricist project is pect. The the prospects of becoming instruments of challenge is to directly change the world.” The action orientation observer and the observed.. In the main. it is the raison shift represent a major divergence from tra. In autoethnographic in. 1986). potentially a very powerful form of traiture (Lawrence-Lightfoot & Davis (1997). living with a debilitating illness. in ences. that legitimately describe.

and ideological com- Excellence Within Communities of Practice mitments heavily color the practices of critical discourse analysis and action research. in. nomenology with the study of personal mean- son. Is it obscure Phenomenology or limpid in its prose. Giorgi argues for a “bracketing” of all epistemologies. grate disparate elements into a unified whole. the of qualitative endeavors. can the ers strongly influenced by Edmund Husserl. reliability. ac- tion research. interviewing (Jossel. It is useful here to draw from Lave and scriptive analysis should be driven insofar as Wenger’s (1991) concept of communities of possible by the subject’s structures of meaning practice. it is futile to gen- criteria of excellence often—though not al. Given that following point to some of the important differ. and one must distinguish among at least plausibility of the analysis. we may con- other forms of inquiry. that inte- outcome of negotiated agreements among par. numbers. sim. The third group simply uses phe- and situational analysis (Clarke. In this context. archival research (Corti. arts-based research (Barone between the first two in terms of assumptions & Eisner. oral history (Shapes. 2005). alone. forms of understanding and ces— one’s analysis should be devoid of theo- action that are unarticulated but essential for retical and ideological prefiguration. Hammersley. However. the re- univocal criteria of excellence across the range searcher begins with a hypothesis to test. it is useful to touch on some of the styles of discourse analysis. 2012). comparative purposes. Given the enormous range in the goals and poses. ever. 2004). Discourse Analysis ilarly for those involved in phenomenology. and so on. or is it capable of acti- vating the reader’s sense of social justice? This The field of phenomenology is scarcely uni. 2001). the above sider a significant aspect of Giorgi’s (2009) This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly. grounded theory methodology ing. In most This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers. In addition participation in the community (Davenport & to this essential criterion. experiences. and a way of lence. the sis does offer interesting contrasts. In terms of comparative criteria of excel- cluding information. While not relying on three different orientations. ideology) of the researcher are of paramount they demonstrate the problematics of asserting importance. analyst—like a good lawyer—make a case for . & others by Martin Heidegger. 2000). For illustrative pur. There are research. To be sure. ticipants in a community. with the researcher within the qualitative arena. It is important that they also share phenomenology— unlike many other practi- tacit knowledge. we see that all yses that focus on the individual’s experience as forms of qualitative inquiry are typically the opposed to environmental influences. Thus. and values at play preconceptions and values. among nomenology as a catchword for a large range of many others. erate criteria of excellence common to all. critical discourse analy- Although there are overlapping concerns. Such communities share a craft. we can appreciate remaining fully open to the experiences being the need for multiple orientations toward eval. 2005). there is some overlap practices that ostensibly seem to tap personal in values and assumptions among these and meaning. and practices. and a third—and Foster. Researcher’s de- uation. also valued are anal- Prusak. For ways— employed within these various domains. sophisticated which the individual is a representative. 54 GERGEN case study analysis (Gomm. participants within this community will readily be able to identify qualities of excellence. and so on. For illustrative purposes. one ences. accounts usefully demonstrate the substantial descriptive phenomenological method. its chief aim is liberation from convention. 2011). demand is closely linked to the interpretive fied. contrasts in assumptions and values extant forms of inquiry the theory (and possibly the within psychology today. samples. And by implication. 2013). if prediction and that provide insights into a larger group of and control are aims of inquiry. 2002). communicated by the subject. In the empiricist case. culturally oriented narrative researcher will seek a dominant narrative. of the most important criteria of excellence is the rhetorical power of the critique. How- Once cognizant of the multiple ontologies. purposes. the major point is that in descriptive doing things. There are subtle but significant differences (Charmaz. by far the largest group—loosely equating phe- focus groups (Fern.

the criteria of excel- is a mark of excellence within various enclaves lence remain fluid. In effect. However. Lather. EXCELLENCE IN QUALITATIVE INQUIRY 55 his or her interpretation? It must also be recog. and its participants actively eschew the empiricist assumption that Criteria of narrative analysis have been observers are capable of unbiased accounts of the widely discussed (see. the pages of the how can we speak of a scientific account as book were split in various ways so the authors valid? There is no privileged language of rep. some of the criteria common to the pos- There is a more interesting and subtle point to itivist/empiricist program are relevant. could also feature their own reflections. sense of respect reflects a more general human- alism with a pragmatic view of science. Concepts such as interpretive validity. Riessman. suppression. The lives be made. alized. Writ large. other. for narrative re- that language can function as a picture (mirror searchers in this case. personal biases. this this has meant replacing empiricist foundation. then sions in the volume. circulate Autoethnography broadly within postmodern circles. In my view. e. but for useful outcomes for example. search (see especially Clandinin & Connelly. there is a resultant and important things to say about their lives. this has meant active discus. in whatever form at- This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly. the ist orientation to inquiry. the authors included still further sec- On the one hand. 1993). This line of duced readers to the experiences of women liv- reasoning has led to broad concern with the ing with HIV/AIDS. tained. resentation. plied. postmodern theory is the destruction of the pic. Rather than interviewing assumption of scientific validity. assumptions and values of traditional empiricism. 2007. a significant ethical di- or map) of the world as it is. Thus. tions that featured more formal theory and re- sion of alternatives to the notion of objective search outcomes. Bamberg. 2012). in abandoning the Because most people feel they have interesting concept of empirical validity. Most important for the autoethnographer. constitute evidence for the researcher’s This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.. ture theory of language.. and what we take to be scientific truth is the 2000). in Thus favored will be analyses that focus on the case of research attempting to provide in- dominance. sentative of the groups they are supposed to modern thought. then. e. the assumption generalizations. At the same time. the mul- nized that the community of critical discourse tiple aims of inquiry favor different orientations analysis is strongly liberal in political leaning. this is mension is added to what counts as good re- to say that theory is not driven by observation. Excellence is typically achieved by outcome of social conventions established showing respect or otherwise honoring the among communities of scientists. and similar to most qualitative arenas. In one notable case. research excellence validity (see.g. the researchers privileged relationship between theoretical con. transfor- mational. However. to standards of excellence. And because the practice is also relatively course is both misleading and divisive. From the present standpoint such critiques are inviting the reader into reflective dialogue on largely unwarranted. Gubrium & Holstein. 1989. that is. Most impor- tant for present purposes. and one’s observations. au- resistance against traditional realist rhetoric in toethnographic explorations have rapidly multi- describing one’s research outcomes. Such dis. The aim of autoethnography is not to test hypoth- Narrative Inquiry eses or build laws of behavior. relevant not only to discourse analysts of those researched should be reasonably repre- but to virtually all research influenced by post. Kvale. and humanist values were fully entwined.g. As we have seen. and catalytic validity. leagues. One of the central outcomes of represent. Further. it new to the social sciences. For many. 1995). simply included the women’s verbatim expres- cepts or categories. quest is not for Truth. and lack of generalizabil- his or her inquiry. Their stories. 2009. is to draw the reader into an ulterior form of . If there is no and interpreting their accounts. and injustice (van sight into the lives of the oppressed or margin- Dijk. as they essentially reflect the the practice of inquiry. and thus whatever sense we have of to be responsible to their more traditional col- validity must rely solely on social convention. voice of those represented. and can locate means of ity. Lather and Smithies (1997) intro- according to some set of values. critics have of discourse analysis if the researcher includes relentlessly attacked autoethnography for its unre- critical reflection on the constructed character of liability.

as understood by . criteria such as validity. how- searchers in terms of statistical significance. ac- quiry. while research speak- would be valued in a way that helping insurance ing to issues of good grooming would not. does ever. Goals of verisimilitude. forward way. in eralizability are simply irrelevant to most of the the autoethnographic community a premium is practices discussed above. Lietz & Zayas. the act of sharing range of inquiry. (2002) proclaim previously argued. This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly. tions. the historical vicissitudes in the concept of sci- imation to works of literature. For there are clearly limits to rigor: a report citing action researchers. scholarly. The success practice for which these would not be relevant of any project. perspective). and “writerliness” are overshad. 56 GERGEN life. rationale for research lies in its relevance to a Maxwell. Jeanfreau & Jack. population sampling. style of analytic philosophy. on pragmatic outcomes over theory (which he Devers. Postpositivist attempts to provide across-the- This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers. while most qualitative re- Attempts to generate general criteria of ex. for many scholars the very 2002. and ied—sometimes dramatically so—it has been dif. would likely pass muster. critical discourse analysis is significant pre- Criteria Beyond Community? cisely in its attempt to undermine dominant discourses. 2003. By and large. Good autoeth.e. The primary aim is to show others but questionable when applied uniformly across how they might proceed. research relevant to practices of health care helping street people to organize. This would both deny qualitative and quantitative research in its approx. 2003. of two camps: positivist or postpositivist.g. would be to assume that the concept of science nographic reporting differs from most forms of is by definition positivist. e. 1990. What is new For action researchers. information. Fossey et al. And salesmen to make more profit would not. and to linking the life-experience account to board standards are more liberal. be rigorous (thorough. owed by the desire to share practices in a straight. Other accounts run into 2010). but continue to broader theoretical issues. intellectually ficult for the community to lay down hard and fast coherent). Clarity in the service of communities of practice. because the situations in insight. such attempts fall into one similar problems of generalized prescriptions. 1999. For example. finds “pretentious”). For example. whether the subjects’ subjective meanings. and to do so in a way that the reader can value neutrality. empathy. unlike empiricists. As In their appraisal. but this potential to draw the reader close. for example. 20 scholarly articles would probably be pre- tion also differs from many other qualitative ferred to one citing 200.” knowledge for one community may be banal or And. criteria of excellence. At the same time. Morse. (i. Elliott et al. 2011. Poovey. the prominent postpositiv- Action Research ist Johnny Saldaña (2011) lays out the criteria of excellence he finds important across the full For many action researchers. 2010. as instantiations of excellence. all qualitative knowledge through scholarly exposition is a sec. 1999. applicable to people’s lives and practices. Danziger. As he proposes. a value is ence (see. Other Saldaña criteria are also compelling. and its rhetorical such practices are therefore unscientific. rhetorical would most likely be preferred to a report in the power. the ideological implica. a chatty narrative scholars. Fossey et al.. Horsburgh. having an eating disorder). theoretical framework. while valued by empiricist re. and social contexts. Within the scholarly commu- tions of the effort do make a difference. pions research that respects participant voices.. searchers would agree with Saldaña’s emphasis cellence flourish across the social sciences (cf. “we learn by our failures. 1998). the orientation to representa. Thus.. Further. It is difficult to imagine a research rules as to what counts as excellence. One could argue that placed on the quality of writing. be relevant or which action researchers are engaged are so var. And. research should provide new knowledge (fresh ondary concern. being imprisoned.. A project nity. And. positivist criteria are largely that “central to good qualitative research is inapplicable to many forms of qualitative in. one might be concerned with what count not figure as a necessary criterion of excellence. and gen- viscerally feel or identify with the author. flounder under the weight of paradigm multi- plicity. While Saldaña cham- social change is essential. typically placed on the ability of the writer to and the admission of theoretical physics into the provide insights into the lives of a particular group halls of science. trivial for another.

different practices—follows this tradition. online ethnography. each researchers have generated an enormous range of which has certain advantages and liabilities. So powerful was the grip of the em- individual experience. Recent entries into the domain of qualitative lence. and suppressing inquiry was under threat of extinction. to retain their vi- The Perils of Excellence brancy. With this freedom from foundations. Opening a space for hybrids and inno- traditions of practice. as Finlay (2002) points generally. e. Many discourse justified in using the conventional criteria. in establishing disciplined practices. 717). however.” In a foundational criteria. re. McDermott.” search contribute further to our understanding. In Andrew Sparkes’ (2002) words. Yet. Criteria of excellence may also shift and inertial movement and attendant self-satisfac- develop as the dialogue of evaluation unfolds. and researchers would indeed reject the presump. each constitutes a “discipline. and is inquiry also involve moral and political issues. minimally specifying the kinds of ac. Hard and fast As I am proposing. with ex- and values. however. communities of practice must evolve with changing circumstances. the many disparate com. to plump for hard inquiry include critical arts-based research. phasize the importance of reflexivity as a crite. summarily closing the door on any form abstract criteria leave open the possibilities for of research practice would constitute an oppres- multiple interpretations. For example. As Smith and tivities honored within the broad spectrum of Deemer (2000) note in their essay on “The qualitative inquiry.. dialogue. Frosh (2007) criticizes narrative and development of qualitative practices in psy- research for producing integrated accounts of chology. of new research practices. are illuminated” (p. standards of excellence stifle the evolutionary munities now contributing to the field of quali. 223). One limitation in the continuing discussion of nize significant shortcomings. Courses in research the present analysis—focusing as it does on five methods focus on the established practices. composite short stories. Yet. lest one form of dogma sense. I will visit this ing traditional research methods (see. while there is much to Toward a Reflective Pragmatism be said for recognizing and systematizing crite- ria of excellence. and Snyder (2002) propose. that each practice is the given conventions. research excellence is the focus on the practices nently. tion that has—for decades—stunted the growth For example. vations is essential. and a dialogue that will emerge from shifting views host of visual innovations. it is also important to recog. itative initiatives in the social sciences more rion of excellence. it may be most Smith. but would also be injurious to the panding critiques of the Western values saturat- development of new practices. Further. Not nodrama. Indeed. In my view. oral history. practices of it rigorous in design and implementation. the academic system rewards those who remain tion that subjective meanings can be illuminated within the community. thus enriching prodi- In sum.” It is the freedom from foundational con- This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly. I searchers feel comfortable by participating in have also noted. as it drifts toward setting standards of practice for its participants. eth- and fast criteria that are practice-specific. one tative inquiry each thrive on locally negotiated must resist the temptation to “seek universal agreements concerning “good science. This is not. methods into the social sciences. EXCELLENCE IN QUALITATIVE INQUIRY 57 them.g. process. there are multiple forms of reflexivity. straints that has sparked the explosion in qual- This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers. one of inquiry themselves. there is good reason for caution in giously the potentials of the socials sciences. the range of “that which could not be said. is it linked to relevant dialogues in the field. does the re. the entirety of also produces constraint. Most promi. establishing practice-wide criteria of excel. the writing coherent and understandable? Such Thus. po- only would this impede the kind of reflective etry. Problem of Criteria in the Age of Relativism. out. Many within the postpositivist arena also em. there are no rational foundations for exclusion. topic momentarily. it is precisely this at all.” inasmuch simply replaces another” (p. journal reviewers feel linked to a particular set of goals—illuminating . As Wenger. And. 1999). is And as Correa (2013) underscores. there is a mounting demand for useful to the field to share a set of highly general including the world’s offerings of indigenous criteria. thus failing to recognize piricist vision of psychology that qualitative the polyvocality of the person. specific to the various sive act.

If and the social sciences more generally.” limitations. critique. for example. epistemologies.” In asking whether the re.” “change a school system. and values—the criteria for research the effects of smoking on attention. qualitative inquiry. what visions.” and so on. zations. a reflective properly abandon the quest for univocal criteria pragmatism is essential. and if the field is to be However. it is social tific scene— bearing different epistemologies. in this sense. Such a view. this view did provide stable practice becomes muted. We now witness plish?” With the goal of inquiry now salient. a wide we come to view research practices in this way. I offer the following conclu- Would it be most useful to create a new prac. criteria of excellence . of what Cham. Such effects may be subtle. all practices of inquiry carry with them –Criteria of excellence can be recognized values. spectrum of research paradigms. Drawing from the multiple practices that may be deployed? preceding account. with both potentials and “make the case. the almost a century of dominance by a founda- question of excellence in practice per se is di. reflection on the means to an end is continuing dialogue on issues of excellence. then to a and widely shared guidelines for excellence in fully pragmatic orientation to inquiry. possess rational or ideological grounds for sources in the service of achieving one or more claiming superiority. and goals of inquiry. in thinking about research excellence responsive and responsible to the broader soci- it is also useful to reverse the emphasis. or exploring ontologies. Providential Practices of Evaluation An opening to this reversal of emphasis is found in Flick’s (2007) call for “method. however. of research excellence. Are there excellence become obscured. the ultimately injurious to the profession and public tendency to give primary attention to one’s alike. In the choice and creation of practices. Choices –Except at the most general level. and then asking about the practices of essential. critical discourse analysis and action research— and values implicit in the practices. and most within the qualitative domain is unwarranted concerned with if whether one’s practices— of and obfuscating. “predict a given activity. with the practice(s) will maximally enable the goal to be emergence of multiple new voices on the scien- achieved—whether. reducing social distance. We confront in psychology whatever sort— contributed to the outcome. And. In this the researcher’s values are transparent. none of which they would essentially become supportive re. We should welcome Yet. methods of study over the ends one hopes to achieve. regard- minished. two issues of excellence follow. Both methods of measurement con. In other instances— naturally from the ontologies. Psychological science is now entering a pe- appropriate criteria. begin. If plu- sense. that is. We move. and such values. we add to its potential endeavors. ety. In their implementation we sustain these within separate research communities. and the assumptive background of the less of its foibles. The chief inquiry. With community stability. Such goals fall rather are valued over others. reflection on the ideological and political ning with the goals we might wish to accom. the rapid and global expansion of perspectives. “what do you wish to accom. we may here can be both wise and foolish. And. community organizing. 58 GERGEN experience. The empiricist paradigm is specific goals. We have experienced search practice matches the goals of inquiry. sustained through insularity. tional view of empirical science. direct so. as in the criteria are linked to the specific conceptions case of intelligence testing and DSM categori. First. tice? In this case we would be less focused on –The wholesale application of empiricist cri- whether the research were performed according teria of excellence to a vast range of practices to a particular community’s standards. have been victims. sions. riod of major transition. by adding new practices of inquiry to the ralism is to flourish within the spectrum of discipline. clear. inquiry enabling these goals to be achieved. but insufficient. and values shared within these communities. struct a world in which certain classes of people cial change—and the like. We we favor forms of life. Inquiry without reflec- This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers. could only be question becomes. As the preceding analysis makes without attempting to legislate for all. What resources are needed to only one among many. This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly. tion on what is being favored and for whom is berlain (2000) calls “methodolatry”. consequences of one’s goals and practices is plish.

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