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Competing Paradigms in Qualitative Research
In Conclusion
The researcher-as-bricoleur cannot afford to be a stranger to any of the
paradigms discussed in this part of the Handbook. He or she must understand
the basic ontological, epistemological, and methodological assumptions of
each, and be able to engage them in dialogue (Guba, 1990). The differences
between paradigms have significant and important implications at the practi
cal, everyday, empiricalleveL A resolution of paradigm differences, Guba and
Lincoln cogently note in Chapter 6, is most likely to occur "if and when
proponents of these several [paradigms] come together to discuss their differ
ences, not to argue the sanctity of their views."
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IN this chapter we analyze four paradigms that
currently are competing, or have until recently com
peted, for acceptance as the paradigm of choice in
inforrning and guiding inquiry, especially qualitative
inquiry: positivism, postpositivism, critical theory
and related ideological positions, and construcliv
ism. We aeknowledge at once our own commitment
to conslructivism (which we earlier called "natural
istic inquiry"; Lineoln & Guba, 1985); Ihe reader
may wish to take that faet into accounl in judging
Ihe appropriateness and usefulness of our analysis.
Although the title of this volume, Handbook o[
Qualitative Research, implies that the term qualita
tive is an umbrella term superior to Ihe lerm para
digm (and, indeed, Ihat usage is not uncommon), it
is our position that it is a term Ihat ought to be
reserved for a description of types of methods. From
our perspective, bothqua!itative and quantitative
methods may be wilh ay re:.
serch jiaradljin:-QueJitions of melhod are
dary to questions -of-paradigm,. we delie as
basic belief system or worldview tlllgliiill!:Hne
investrgtlf;'-ot onWiCl'roreen'f metliod buf in
ntOlogica1lylltdlipsteffirogrcaIlYfudamental ways.
It is certairly-ile 'case'ffirintresfln 'liili:rve
paradigms has been stimulated by a growing dissat
case for a renewed interest in qualitalive approaches,
it became clear Ihat Ihe metaphysical assumptions
undergirding the conventional paradigm (the "re
ceived view") musl be seriously questioned. Thus
Ihe emphasis of this chapter is on paradigms, their
assumplions, and the implicalions of Ihose assump
lions for a variety of research issues, not on the
relative utility of qualilative versus quantitative
methods. Nevertheless, as discussions of para
digms/methods over Ihe past decade have often be
gun with a consideralion of problems associated
wilh overquantification, we will also begin Ihere,
shifting only later lo our predominant interes!.
The Quantitative/Qualitative
Historically, there has been a heavy emphasis
on quantification in science. Mathematics is often
termed the "queen of sciences," and those sei
ences, such as physicsand chemistry, that lend
themselves especially well to quantificalion are
gene rally known as "hard." Less quantifiable are
isfaelion wilh !he patent overemphasis on quantita nas, such as biology (although that is rapidly
N 'DEN'1:;1--) o( Y. (....'}l GeLJ..) (-e.oU..) (.-(G,,",,) k tive melhods. But as efforts were made lo build a changing) and particularly the social sciences, are
AUTHORS' NOTE: We are grateful to Henry Giroux and Robert Stake for their very helpful critiques of an earlicr

draft of tbis chapter.
referred to as "50ft," less with pejorative intent
than to signal their (putative) imprecision and
Iack of dependability. Scientific maturity is com
believed t&emerge as the degree of quan
found within a given field increases.
That this is the case is hardly surprising. The
"received view" of science (positivism, transformed
over the course of this century into postpositiv
ism; see below) focuses on efforts to verfy (posi
tivism) or falsify (postpositivism) a priori hy
potheses, most usefully stated as mathematical
(quantitative) propositions or propositions that
can be easi1y converted into precise mathematical
formulas expressing functional relationships. For
mulaic precision has enormous utlity when the
aim of scicnce is the prediction and control of
natural phenomena. Further, there is already avail
able a powerful aITay of statistical and mathemati
cal models. Finally, there exists a widespread
conviction that only.quantitative data are ulti
valid, or of high quality (Sechrest, 1992).
Stuart Mili (1843/1906) is sald to have been
the first to urge social scientists to emulate their
older, "harder" cousins, promising that ifhis advice
were followed, rapid maturation of these fields, as
wel! as their emancipation from the philosophical
and theological strictures that limited them, would
fol!ow. Social scientists took this counsel to heart
(probably to a degree that would greatly surprise
Mill if he were alive today)for other reasons as well.
They were the "new kids on the block"; if quantifi
cation could lead to the fulfillment of Mili' s prom
ise, status and political leverage would ac:crue that
would enormously profit the new practitioners. ]mi
tation might thus lead both to greater acceptance and
to more valid knowledge.
Critiques of the Received View
In recent years, however, strong counterpressures
against quantification have emerged. Two critiques,
one internal to the conventional paradigm (that is,
in terms of those metaphysical assumptioris that
define the nature of positivist inquiry) and one ex
temal to it (that is, in terms of those assumptions
defining altemative paradigms), have been mounted
that seem not only to warrant a reconsideration of
the utility of qualitative data but to question the very
assumptions on which the putative superiority of
quantification has been based.
]nternal (Intraparadigm) Critiques
A variety of implicit problems have surfaced to
chaIlenge conventional wisdom; several ofthese are
described below.
COn/ext stripping. Precise quantitative approaches
that focus on selected subsets of variables neces
sari1y "strip" from consideration, through appro
priate controls or randomization, other variables
that exist in the context that might, if allowed to
exert their effects, great1y alter findings. Further,
such exclusionary designs, while increasing the
theoretical rigor of a study, detract from its rele
vanee, that is, its applicability or generalizability,
because their outcomes can be properiy applied
only in other similarly truncated or contextually
stripped situations (another laboratory, for exam
pIe). Qualitative data, it is argued, can redress that
imbalance by providing contextual information.
Exclusion ofmeaning and purpose. Human be
havior, unlike that of physical objects, cannot be
understood without reference to the meanings and
purposes attached by human actors to their activi
ties. Qualitative data, it is asserted, can provide
rich insight into human behavior.
Disjunction of grand theories with local con
/ex/s: The e/ic/emic dilemma. The etic (outsider)
theory brought to bear on an inquiry by an inves
tigator (or the hypotheses proposed to be tested)
may have little or no meaning within the emie
(insider) view of studied individuals, groups, so
cieties. or cultures. Qualitative data, it is affirmed,
are useful for uncovering emic views; theories, to
be valid, should be qualitatively grounded (Glaser
& Strauss, 1967; Strauss & Corbin, 1990). Such
grounding is particularly crucial in view of the
mounting criticism of social science as failing to
pro vide adequate accounts of nonrnainstream lives
(the "other") or to provide the material for a
criticism of our own Westem culture (Marcus &
Fischer, 1986).
lnapplicability of general dala /0 individual
cases. This problem is sometimes described as the
nomothetididiographic disjunction. Generaliza
tions, although perhaps statistically meaningful,
have no applicability in the individual case (the
fact. say. that 80% of individuals presenting given
symptoms have lung cancer is at best incomplete
evidence that a particular patient presenting with
such symptoms has lung cancer). Qualitative data,
it is held, can help to avoid such ambiguities.
Exclusion of /he discovery dimension in inquiry.
Conventional emphasis on the verificalion of spe
cific, a priori hypotheses glosses over the source of
those hypotheses. usually arrived at by what is com
monly termed the discovery process. In the received
view only empiricaI inquiry deserves to be called
"science." Quantitative normative methodology is
thus privileged over the insights of creative and
divergent thinkers. The cal! for qualitative inputs
is ex pected to redress this imbalance.
Compe/ing in Qualita/ive Research
External (Extraparadigm) Critiques
The intraparadigm problems noted aboye offer
a weighty challenge 10 conventional methodol
ogy, but could tie eliminated, or at least amelio
rated, by greater use of qualitative data. Many
critics of the received view are content to stop at
that point; hence many of the calls fm more quali
tative nputs have been Hmited to this methods
level accommodation. But an even weightier chal
lenge has been mounted by critics who have
proposed alterna/ive paradigms that involve not
only qualification of approaches but fu ndamental
adjustments in the basic assumptions that guide
inquiry altogether. Their rejection of the received
view can be justified on a number of grounds
(Bernstein, 1988; Guba, 1990; Hesse, 1980; Lin
coln & Guba, 1985; Reason & Rowan, 1981), but
chief among them are the following.
The theory-ladenness of faets. Conventional
approaches to research involving the verification
or falsification of hypotheses assume the inde
pendence of theoretical and observational lan
guages. If an inquiry is to be objective, hypotheses
must be stated in ways that are independent of the
way in which the facts needed to test them are
collected. But it now seems established beyond ob
jection that theories and facts are quite in/e rdepend
en/-that is, that facts are facts only within sorne
theoretical frarnework. Thus a fundamental assump
tion of the received view is exposed as dubious. If
hypotheses and observations are not independent,
"facts" can be viewed only through a theoretical
"window" and objectivity is undennined.
The underdetermination of theory. This prob
lem is also known as the problem of induction.
Not only are facts determined by the theory win
dow through which one looks for them, but dif
ferent theory windows might be equally well sup
ported by the same set of "facts." Although it may
be possible. given a coherent theory, to derive by
deduction what facts ought to exist, it is never
possible, given a coherent set of facts. to arrive
by induction at a single, ineluctable theory. ]n
deed, it is this difficulty that led philosophers
such as Popper (1968) to reject the notion of
theory verifica/ion in favor of the notion of theory
falsifica/ion. Whereas a million white swans can
never establish, with complete confidence, the
proposition that all swans are white, one black
swan can completely falsify it. The historieal po
sition of science that it can, by its methods, ulti
mately converge on the "real" truth is thus brought
sharply into question.
The value-ladenness of fac/s. Just as theories
and facts are not independent, neither are values
and facts. Indeed, it can be argued that theories
107 '
are themse)ves value statements. Thus putative
"facts" are viewed not only through a theory win
dow but through a value window as well. The value
free posture of the rece/ved view is compromised.
The in/eraetive nature of the inquirer-inquired
nto dyad. The received view of science piclures
the inquirer as standing behind a one-way mirror,
viewing natural phenomena as they happen and
recording them objectively. The inquiier (when
using proper methodology) does not influence the
phenomena or vice versa. But evidence such as
the Heisenberg uncertainty principie and the Bohr
complementarity principie have shattered that ideal
in the hard scences (Lincoln & Guba, 1985); even
greater skepticism must exist for the social sci
ences. ]ndeed, the notion that findngs are created
through the interaction of inquirer and phenorne
non (which, in the social sciences, is usual
pie) is oflen a more plausible descripton
inquiry process than is the notion that findings are
discovered through objective observation "as they
really are, and as they really work."
The intraparadigm critiques, although expos
ing many inherent problems in the received view
and, indeed, proposing sorne useful responses to
them, are nevertheless of much less interest-<lr
weight-than the extraparadigm critiques, which
raise problems of such consequence that the re
ceived view is being widely questioned. Several
alternative paradigms have been proposcd. sorne
of which rest on quite unconventional assump
tions. It is useful, therefore, to inquire about the
nature of paradigms and what it is that distin
guishes one inquiry paradigm from another.
1: /1 .,'
"\. t
Tbe Nature of Paradigms
VeJ.-r .. "
Paradigms as Basic Belief Systems
{'v1 .....,L
Based on Ontological, Epistemological,
and Methodological Assumptions
A paradigm may be viewed as a set oY basic
beliefs (or metaphysics) that deals with ultimates
or first principIes. ]t represents a worldview that
defines, for i15 holder, the nature of the "world,"
the individual' s place in it, and the range of pos
sible relationships to that world and its parts, as,
for example. cosmologies and theologiesdo.
beliefs are basic in the sense that they must be
accepted simply on faith (however well argued);
there is no way to establish their ultimate truth
fulness. lf there were, the phlosophical debates
reflected in these pages would have been resolved
millennia ago.
Inquiry paradigms define for inquirers what it
is they are about, and what falls within and out.
side the limts of legitimate inquiry. The basic
beliefs that define inquiry paradigms can be sumo
marizd by the responses given by proponents of
any given paradigm to three fundamental ques
Iions, which are interconnected in such a way that
the answer given to any one question, taken in any
order, constrains how the others may be answered.
We have selected an order that we believe reflects
a logical (if not necessary) primacy:
l. The ontological queslion. Wbat is the form
and nature of reality and, therefore, wbat is
there that can be known about it? For example,
if a "real" world is assumed, then what can be
known about it is "how things really are" and
"how things really work." Then only those
questions that relate to matters of"real" existo
ence and "real" aetion are admissible; other
questions, sueh as those coneeming matters of
aesthetic or moral significance, fall outside the
realm o legitimate scientific inquiry.
2. The epistefn{)logical queslion. Wbat is the
nature of the relationship between the knower
or wouldbe knower and wbat can be known?
Tbe answer Ihal can be given to this ques
lion is conslrained by the answer already
given lO lhe ontological question; that is, not
jusI any relationship can now be postulated.
So if, for example, a "real" reality is as
sumed, tben the posture of the knower must
be one of objecti ve detaehment or value
freedom in order to be able to discover "how
tbings really are" and "how things really
work." (Conversely, assumption of an ob
jectivist posture implies the existence of a
"real" world to be objective about.)
3. The melhodological queslion. How can the
inquirer (would-be knower) go about finding
out w batever he or she believes can be known?
Agaln, the answer lbat can be given to this
question is constrained by answers already
given lo the firsttwo questions; Ihat is, nOI jusI
any methodology is appropriate. For example,
a "real" reality pursued by an "objective" in
quirer manda les control of possible confound
ing faclOrs, wbether the methods are qualita
live (say, observational) or quantitative (say,
analysis of covariance). (Conversely, selection
of a manipulative methodology-the experi
ment, say-implies the ability to be objective
and a real world to be objective about.) Tbe
methodological question cannot be reduced to
a question of methods; methods must be tit
ted to a predetermined methodology.
These three questions serve as the major foci
around wbicb we will analyze each of the four
paradigms lO be considered.
Paradigms as Human Construclions
We bave already noted that paradigms, as sets
of basic beliefs, are not open to proof in any
conventional sense; tbere s no way to elevate one
over another on tbe basis of ultimate, founda.
Iional critera. (We should note, however, that
tbat state of affairs does not doom us to a radical
relativist posture; see Guba, 1992.) In our opn
ion, any given paradigm represenls simply the
most informed and sophisticated view that ls
proponents have been able to devise, given the
way tbey have cbosen to respond to tbe three
defnng questions. And, we argue, tbe seIS of
answers given are in all cases human construc
lions; that is, they are all inventions of the human
mnd and bence subject to human error. No con
struction is or can be ncontrovertibly right; ad
vocates of any particular construction must rely
on persuasiveness and ufility rather than proof in
arguing ther posilon.
What is true of paradigms s true of our analyses
as welL Everything that we shall say subsequently
is also a human constructon: ours. The reader can
not be compelled to accept our analyses, or our
argumenlS, on the bass of incontestable logic or
indisputable evidence; we can only hope to be per
suasive and to demonstrate the utilty of our position
for, sayo the public policy arena (Guba & Lincoln,
1989; House, 1977). We do ask the reader to sus
pend his or her disbelief until our argument is com
plete and can be judged as a whole.
The Basic Beliefs of Received
and Alternative Inquiry Paradigms
We begin our analysis with descriptions of the
responses that we believe proponents of each
paradigm would make to the three questions out
Iined aboye. Tbese responses (as constructed by
us) are displayed in Table 6.1, whicb consists of
three rows corresponding to the ontological, epis
temological, and metbodological questions, and
four columns corresponding to the four paradigms
to be discussed. The term positivism denotes the
"received view" that has dominaled the formal
dscourse in the physical and social sciences for
sorne 400 years. wbereas postpositivism repre-
Competing Paradigms in Qualilalive Resllarch
TABLE 6.1 Basic Beliefs (Metaphysics) of Altemative Inquiry Paradigms
ltem Positivism Postpositivism Critical Theory et al. Constructivism
Ontology naive realsm critical realsm historical realism relativism-local and
"real" reality bul "real" realty but only virtual reality shaped. specific constructed
apprehendable imperfectly and by social, politeal, realities
probabilistcally cultural, economic,
apprebendable elhnic, and gender
values; cryslaIlized
over time
Epislemo]ogy dualistlobjectivist; modified dualistl transactonalJ transaclionall
findings true objectivisl; crilical subjectvisl; valuc subjectivist; created
traditioolcommunity; mediated findings findings
findings probably
Melhodology expermentalJ modified experi dialogic/dialeclical hermeneuticalJdialeclical
manipulalive; mental/manipulalive;
verficalon of crlical multiplism;
hypotheses; chiefly falsificaton of
quanlilative hypotheses; may
melhods include qualitative
sents efforls of Ihe past few decades to respond in
a Iimited way (that is, while remaining within
essentially tbe same set o basic beliefs) to the
mosl problemalic Crilicisms o positivismo The
term critical theory is (for us) a blanket term
denoting a sel of several a1temative paradgms,
nc!udng additionally (but not Iimited to) neo
Marxism, feminism, materialism, and participa
tory inquiry. Indeed, critical theory may itself
usefully be divided into three substrands: post
structuralism, postmodernism, and a blending of
these Iwo. Whalever their differences, Ihe com
mon breakaway assumption of all tbese varianl.
is that of the value-determined nature of inquiry
an epistemological difference. Our grouping of
Ibese positlons into a single category is a judg
ment call; we will not try lo do justice to the
individual poinl. of view. The term constructiv
ism denotes an aJternative paradigm wbose break
away assumplion is Ihe move from ontological
realism lo onlological relativism. These positions
will become clear in tbe subsequent exposition.
Two important caveats need to be mentioned.
First, altbougb we are inclined to believe Ihat the
paradigms we are about lo describe can have
meaning even in the realm of tbe physical sci
ences, we will not defend that beliefhere. Aecord
ingly, our subsequent comments sbould be under
stood to be Iimited to tbe social scences only.
Second, we nole Ibat except for positivism, the
paradigms discussed are all still in formative stages;
no final agreements have bren reached even among
tbeir proponents about tbeir definitions. mean
ings, or implicatlons. Thus our discussion sbould
be considered tentative and subject to further re
vigion and reformulation.
We will first look down the coJumns of Table
6.1 to iIlustrate the positions of each paradigm
with respect to Ihe three questions. following with
a look across rows to compare and contrasl the
positions of the paradigms.
Limitations of space
make it impossible for us to develop our asser
tions in any depth. Tbe reader will be able to find
other evidence. pro and con, in other chapter. of
this volume. particularly in Chapters 7-11.
Intraparadigm Analyses
(Columns of Table 6.1)
Column 1: Positivism
Ontology: realism (commonly called "naive re
alism"). An apprehendable reality is assumed lo
exist, driven by immutable naturallaws and mecha
nisms. Knowledge of the "way things are" is con
ventionally summarized in the form of time and
context-free generalizations, sorne of which take
tbe form of cause-effect laws. Research can, in
principIe, converge on the "true" slale of affairs.
The basic posture of the paradigm is argued to be
both reductionist and deterministic (Hesse. 1980).
Epistemology: Dualist and objectivist. The inves
tigator and the investigated "object" are assumed to
be independent entites, and the investigator to be
capable of studying the object without influencing it
or being influenced by it. When influence in either
direction (threats to validity) is recognized, or even
suspected, various strategies are followed to reduce
or eliminate it. lnquiry takes place as through a
onc-way mirror. Values and biaSes are prevented
from influencing outcomes, so long as the pre
scribed procedures are rigorously followed. Repli
cable findings are, in faet, "true."
Methodology: Experimental and manipulative.
Questions andJor hypotheses are stated in propo
sitional form and subjected to empirica) test to
verify them; possible confounding conditions must
be carefully controlled (manipulated) to prevent
outcomes from being improperly influenced.
Column 2: Postpositivism
Ontology: Critical realismo Reality is assumed to
exist but to be only imperfectly apprehendable be
cause ofbasically flawed human intellectual mecha
nisms and the fundamentally intractable nature of
phenomena. The ontology is labeled as critical real
ism (Cook & Campbell, 1979) because of the pos
ture of proponents that claims about reality must be
subjected to tbe widest possible critical examination
lO faeiltate apprehendng reality as c10sely as pos
sible (but never perfectly).
Epistemology: Modified dualist/objectivist. Dual
ism s largely abandoned as nOI possible to main
tan, but objectivity remains a "regulatory ideal";
special emphasis is placed on external "guardi
ans" of objectivity such as critical traditions (Do
the findings "fit" witb preexisting knowledge?) and
the critical community (such as editors, referees,
and professional peers). Replicated findings are
probably true (but always subject to falsification).
Methodology: Modified experimental/manipu
lotive. Emphasis is placed on "critical multiplism"
(a refurbished version of triangulation) as a way
of falsifying (rather than verifying) hypotheses.
The methodology ams 10 redress sorne of the
problems noted aboye (intraparadigm critiques)
by doing inquiry in more natural settings, collect
ing more situational information, and reintroduc
ing discovery as an elemenl in inquiry, and, in the
social sciences particularly, soliciting emic view
points to assist in determning the meanings and
purposes that people ascribe to their actions, as
well as to contri bu te to "grounded theory" (Glaser
& Strauss, 1967; SlrausS&:c"f6;l':l90). All
these ams are accomplished largely Ihrough the
increased utilization of qualitative techniques.
Column 3: Critical Theory
and Related Ideological Positions
Ontology: Historical realismo A reality is as
sumed to be apprehendable that was once plastic,
but thal was, over lime, shaped by a congeries of
social, political, cultural, economic, ethnic, and
gender factors, and then crystallized (reified) into
a series of structures that are now (inappropri
ately) taken as "rea!," that is, natural and immu
tableo For all practical purposes the structures are
"real," a virtual or historical reality.
Epistemology: Transactional and subjectivist.
The investigator and tbe invesligated object are
assumed to be inleraetively linked, with the val
ues of the investigator (and of situated "others")
inevitably influencing the inquiry. Findings are
therefore value medated. Note that Ihis

ine,!I!i9.Wyjntertwjned wlli
!S!!.on particular investig.\.Qr,.-lI1ldJ
Tfleaashed line sepa
rating tneonlological and epistemological rows
of Table 6.1 is intended to reflect this fusiono
Methodology: Dialogic and dalectica/. The trans
actional nature of inquiry requires a dialogue be
tween the investigator and the subjects of the
inquiry; Ihat dialogue must be dialectical in nature
to transform ignorance and misapprehensions (ac
cepting historieally medialed structures as immu
table) into more informed consciousness (seeing
how the structures might be ehanged and compre
hending Ihe actions required to effect change), or,
as Giroux (1988) puts it, "as transformative intel
lectuals, ' .. lo uncover and excavate those forms
of historical and subjugated knowledges that point
to experiences of suffering, conflict, and colIec
tive struggle; ... to link the nolion of historical
understanding to elements of critique and hope"
(p. 213). Transformational inquirers demonstrate
"transformational leadership" (Burns, 1978).
(For more discussion of critical theory, see the
contri):utions in this volume by Olesen, Chapter
9; Stanfield, Chapter 10; and Kincheloe & MeLaren,
Chapter 8.)
Column 4: Constructivism
Ontology: Relativist. Realities are apprehend
able in the form of multiple, intangible mental
constructions, socially and experientially based,
local and specific in nature (although elements
are often shared among many ndividuals and
even across cultures), and dependent for their
form and content on the individual persons or
Competing Paradigms in Qualitative Research
groups holding the
are "true," in any
hut sjrn12ly more oi less informed am!lofsoj:ili.h
ticted. Coiliructions are alterable, as are their
associated "realities." Thisposilion should be'4is
-Uriguished from both nominalism and idealism
(see Reese, 1980, for an explicalion of these sev
eral ideas).
Epstemology: Transactional and subjectivist.
The investigator and the object of investigation
are assumed to be interactively linked so that the
"findings" are lite rally created as the investiga
tion proceeds. The conventional distinction be
Iween ontology and epislemology disappears, as
in the case of critical theory. Again, the dashed
line of Table 6.1 reflects this fact.
Methodology: Hermeneutical and dialectical.
The variable and personal (intramental) nature of
social construclions suggests thal individual con
structions can be elicited and refined only through
inleraction between and among investigator and
respondents. These varying constructions are in
terpreted using conventional hermeneutical tech
niques, and are compared and contrasled through
a dialectical interchange. The final aim is to distill
a consensus construction that is more informed
and sophisticated than any of the predecessor
constructions (including, of course, the etic con
struction of the investigator).
(For more about constructivism, see also Schwandt.
Chapter 7, this volume.)
Cross-Paradigm Analyses
(Rows of Table 6.1)
Having noted briefly the positions that propo
nents of each paradigm might take with respect to
the three paradigm-defining questons, it is useful
to look across rows to compare and contrast those
positions among the several paradigms.
Moving from left to right across Table 6.1, we
note the move from
1. positivism's position of naive realism, as
suming an objective external reality upon
which inquiry can converge; to
2. postpositivism' s critical realism, which still
assumes an objective reality bul grants that
it can be apprehended only imperfectly and
probabilistically; to
3. critical theory's historical realism, which
/' assumes an apprehendable reality consist
ing of historieally situated structures that
are, in the absence of insight, as Iimiting and
confining as if they were real; to
4. constructivism's relativism, which assumes
multiple, apprehendable, and somelimes con
flicting social realilies thal are the products
of human intellects, but that may change as
their constructors become more informed
and sophisticated.
lt is the ontological position that most differentiates
conslructivism from the olher three paradgms.
We note the move from
L positivism's dualist, objectivist assumption
that enables the investigator to determine
"how things really are" and "how things
really work"; to
2. postpositivism's modified dualistlobjectivist
assumption that t is possible to approximate
(but never fully know) reality; to
3. critical theory' s transactionalisubjectivist as
sumption that knowledge is value mediated
and hence value dependent; to
4. constructivism's somewhat similar but broader
transaetionallsubjectivist assumption that sees
knowledge as created in interaction among
investigator and respondents.
1t is their epistemological positions Ihat most dif
ferentiale critical theory and constructivism from
the other two paradigms.
We note the move from
1. positivism's experimentallmanipulative meth
odology that focuses on verification of hy
potheses; to
2. postpositivism's modified experimental!
manpulative methodology invested in crilical
multiplism focusing on falsification of hy
potheses; lo
12 113
TABLE 6.2 Paradigm Positions on Selected Practical issues
lssue Positivism Postposirivism Crilical Theory el al. Constructivism
Inquiry aim explanation: prediction and control critique and trans' understanding;
formation; restitulion reconstruction
and emancipation
Nature of verified hypotheses nonfalsified hypoth strueturallbistorieal individual reconstructions
knowledge established as faelS eses that are probable insights eoalescing atound
or laws faets or laws consensus
Knowledge accretion-"building doeks" adding to historieal revjsionism: more informed and
aceumulation "edifice of knowledge"; generalizations generalization by sophistieated
and eause-effeet liakages similarity reconstructons;
viearious experienee
Goodness or eonventional henehmarks of "rigor": historieal situatedness; trustworthiness and
qualty eriteria inlemal and externa! validity, reliablity, erosion of ignoranee authentieity
and objeetivily and misapprehensions;
aetion stimulus
Values excluded-influenee denied incIuded-formative
Ethies extrinsie; ti1l toward deception intrinsje; moral tjlt intrinsk; process tUI
toward revelati on toward revelation;
special problems
Voiee "disinlerested scientist" as informer of "transformative "passionate participant"
decision makers, poliey makers. and change intellectual" as as faeilitator of multi
agents advocate and activist voiee reconstruelion
Trmning lechncal and technical; quantitative resociaJization; qualitative and quanttative;
quantitatve; and qualitati ve; history; vaJues of altruism and empowermenl
substantive theories substantive theories
Accommodation commensurable incommensurable
Hegemony in CQntrol of publieation, funding, seeking reeognition and input
promotion, and tenure
3. critical theory' S dialogic/dialectical melh
odology aimcd at the reconslruclion of pre
viously held constructions; to
4. constructivism's hermeneuticldialectic meth
odology aimed at the reconstruction of pre
viously held constructions.
lmplications of
Each Paradigm's Position
on Selected Practical Issues
(Rows of Table 6.2)
Differences in paradigm assumptions cannot be
dismissed as mere "philosophical" differences;
implicitly or explicitly, these positions have im
portant consequences for the practical conduct of
inquiry, as well as for the interpretation of find
ings and policy choices. We have elected to dis
coss these consequences for ten salient issues.
TIle entries in Table 6.2. which consists of four
columns corresponding to the four paradigms and
ten rows corresponding to the ten issues, summa
rize our interpretation of the major implications.
The reader will note Ihat the firsl four issues
(inquiry aim, nature of knowledge. knowledge
accumulation, and quality criteria) are among those
deemed especially important by positivists and
postpositivists; they are therefore Ihe issues on
which alternative paradigms are most frequently
attacked. The fifth and sixth (values and ethics)
are issues taken seriously by all paradigms, al
though conventional and emergent responses are
Competing Paradigms in Qualitative Research
quite different. Finally, the last four issues (voice.
training, accommodation, and hegemony) are those
deemed especially important by alternative pro
ponents; they represent areas on which the re
ceived view is considered particularly vulnerable.
The entries in the tabie are based only in part on
positions, given that nol ail issues have
addressed by all paradigms' proponents. In
sorne cases, therefore, we have supplied entries
that we believe foilow logically from the basic
metaphysical (ontological, epistemological. and
methodologieal) postures of tbe paradigms. To
take one example, the issue of voice is rarely
addressed directly by positivists or postpositivists,
but we believe the entry "disinlerested scientist"
is one that would be given by those proponents
were they to be challenged on this matter.
An immediately apparent difference between Ta
ble 6.1 and Table 6.2 is that whereas in the former
case it was possible to make a distinct entry for every
cell, in the case of Table 6.2 there is considerable
overlap within rows. particularly for the positivist
and postpositivist colurnns. Indeed, even for those
issues in which the entrles in those two columns are
different, the differences appear to be minor. In
contrasto one may note the major differences found
between Ibese two paradigms and the criticallheory
and constructivist paradigms, which tend a1so to
differ among themselves.
We have formulated the issues as questions,
which follow.
Row 1: What is
the aim or purpose of inquiry?
Positivism and postpositivism. For both these
paradigms the aim of inquiry is exp/anaton (von
Wright. 1971), ultimately enabling the predction
and control of phenomena. whether physical or
human. As Hesse (1980) has suggested, the ultimate
criterion for progress in these paradigrns s that the
of "scientists" to predict and control
improve over time. The reductionism and
determinism implied by this position should be
noted. TIle inquirer is cast in the role of "expert," a
situation thal seems to award speeial, perhaps even
unmerited. privilege to the nvestigator.
Critical theory. 1J!e aim of inquiry is the cri
lique and transformation of the socIal, pohhcaJ,
'culturaI,'eeonOmc,eili1C, and'gedersti:uctllfes"
that constfattt 'dexplOit
men! in 'eonfrontl1tlon, evn coriflict.
ri'on for progrss is tnat overim,'estrftion arid
e'mancipatan sbouldoccillnd persisto Advocacy'
llt"t!oterrole- '!ir ifI!fig.fi:ano .J2..1!:F'!y' mg
that the iii(jTrer priori .Vf.ht trliS:
'formations are we should note (hit
sorne of the more radical slances in the eri ticali st
camp hold that judgment about needed transfor
mations should be reserved to those whose lives
are most affected by transformations: the inquiry
participants themselves (Uneoln, in press).
Constructivism. TIle aim of inquiry is under
. stooding aOO :e.cQnstrnciion of ilie cos1iCtiosiliit
eopIe (including theiqUlfr)iiiruylOla,w.irug
toward"corisensus bu! stiTr open t ti-ew iiiterpret
. tioos asipJ.9:rJll!ltlOl) an4sophisticiTii'iprove. 'I'lfe
criterion for progress is thai' overum'!,'evetyone
forrnulates more informed and sophisticated con
structions and becomes more aware of the content
and meaning of competing constructions. Advocacy
and activism are also key concepts is this view. The
inquireris cast in the role ofparticpant and faclitator
in this procesS. a positioo that sorne critics have
faulted on tbe grounds that it expands the nquire:r' s
role beyond reasonable expectations ofexpertise and
competence (Carr & Kemrnis. 1986).
Row 2: What is
the nature of knowledge'?
Positivism. Knowledge consists of verifed hy
potheses that can be accepted as facts or laws.
Pos/positivismo Knowledge consists of nonfal
sified hypotheses that can be regarded as probable
facts or Jaws.
Critical theory. Knowledge consists of a series
of structurallhistrical insights that wll be trins:
"form:d as time-passes.'
when imoranee and misapprehensions
COTUilructivsm. Knowledge consists of those
about"Wftcli fhere is relatvecon
at ea'si"s"te"ivernent toward con
sensus) among those competent (and, in the case
of more arcane material, trusted) to interpret the
substance of the construction. Multiple "knowl,
.illles'':' cao coexist when equally'compeienT(or
trusted) interp,reters and/or c1epnding
on social. poltical, cultural; economic, ethni,
a,nd genderrctors tha(differentiate the interpret
;u..Ihese constructions are subject to continuous
revision, with changes most Iikely to occur when
relatively different constructions are brought into
juxtapositon in a dialectical context.
Row 3: How does knowledge accumulate?
Positivism and postpositivism. Knowledge ac
cumulates by a process of accretion. with eacb
faet (or probable fact) serving as a kind of build ity (paralleling internal validity), transferability
ing block that, when placed into its proper niche, (paralleling external validty), dependabiliJY.(paral
adds lo the growing "cdifice of knowledge." Whcn leling relability), and confirmability,(paralleling
the facts take the fonn of generalizations or cause objectivity)(Guba, 19i1l; Lincoln & Guba, 1985);
cffect linkages, they may be used most efficientiy !l_nd the authellticity criteria of
for prediction and control. Generalizations may (enlarges personal constructions),
then be made, with predictable confidence, to a educative authenticity (leads to improved under
population of settings. standing ofconstructions ofothers), catalytic authen
(stimulates to action), and authenticity
Critical not aecumu (empowers action) (Guba & Lincoln, 1989). The
latein an If.]i;o\\t1iJ. former set represents an early effort 10 resol ve the
changes through a dialectical process ofhistorical quality issue for constnlctivism; although these
rev!sion th1:!n01'!rtnOl1sly roaes' ign'ance ana. criteria have been well
ild ellarges more inforI]:lI;d 10 positivist criteria, makes themsuspect. The
Generalization can occur when the mix latter set overlaps to sorne extent those of critical
of social, political, cultural, economic, ethnic, theory but goes beyond them, particularly the two
and gender circumstances and values ls similar of ontological authenticity and educative authen
across settings. ticity. The issue of quality criteriajn constructiy
ism is neverthelessn()Lwelbesolved, and further
Constructivism. KnowledgeacC\lmlllates only in iseede;f'
a relative sense through the formation of ever more
infonned a'nd sjJhisticated constnlctlm; vii
henneneuticalldialectical Row 5: What is the
struc(il)ilS alorogl/r1lojuxtaposition. One im role of values in inquiry?
portant mechanism foilfimstei' from
one settlllg to another is the provision of vicrious Positivism and postpositivism. In both these
experience, often supplied by. case study reports (see paradigms values are specfically excluded; in
Stake, Chapter 14, this volume). deed, Ihe paradigm is claimed to be "value free"
by virtue of its epistemological posture . .values
are seen as confounding variables thal cannot be
Row 4: What criteria are aJlowed a role in a pulatvely objective inquiry
appropriate for judging the (even when objectivity is, in the caseof postpo
goodness or quality of an inquiry? sitivism, but a regulatory ideal).
Positivism and postpositivism. The appropriate Critical theory and constructivism. In both these
criteria are the conventional benchmarks of "rigor": paradigl1ls . ha.ve.pr.tde
internal validity (isomorphism of findings with seen as ineluctable in, Jlhaping (in the.case.,j)f
reality), external validity (generalizability), reli collstructivis!!l, cretin,g) jnqinou!clllJll;s. Fur
ability (in the sense of stability), and objectivity Ihermore, even if it were possible, excluding val
(distanced and neutral observer). These criteria ues would not be countenanced. To do so would
depend on the realist ontological position; with be inimical to the interests of the powerless and
out the assumption, isomorphism of findings with of"at-risk" audences, whose original (emic) con
reality can have no meaning, sttict generalizabl structions deserve equal consideralion with those
ity to a parent population is impossible, stability of other, more powerful audiences and of the
cannot be assessed for inquiry into a phenomenon inquirer (etic). Constructivism, which sees the
if the phenomenon itself can change, and objec inquirer as orchestrator and facilitator of the in
ti vity cannot be achieved because there is nothing quiry process, is more lkely to stress this point
from which one can be "distant." than is critical theory, which tends to cast the
inquirer in a more authorilative role.
Critical theory. -Ihe his
of lbe joqujO( (j.e., that ifes
account of the social, political, cultural, economic, Row 6: What is the
ethnic, and gender antecedents of the studied situ place of ethics in inquiry?
ation), ,the extent to which the inquiry acts lO erode
ignorance and misap{lnih'nSlolis,an-iie extenfiO Positivism alld postpositivism. In both these
which it provides a stimulus to the paradigms ethics is an important consideration,
s:'e. and it is taken very seriously by inquirers, but it
is extrillsic to the inquiry process itself. Hence
Constructivism. Two sets of criteria have been ethical behavior is formally policed by external
proposed: Ihe trustworthilless criteria of credibi.l- mechanisms, such as professional codes of con-
Competing Paradigms in Qualitative Research
duct and human subjects committees. Further, the
rcalist ontology undergirding Ihese paradgms pro
vides a tilt toward the use of deceplion, which, it
is argued in certain cases, is warranted to deter
mine how "things really are and work" or for the
sake of sorne "higher social good" or sorne "cIcarer
trutl" (Bok, 1978, 1982; Diener & Crandall, 1978).
Critical theory. Ethics i8 morelleliflyjrurim,ic
to this paradigm, ntent lo .erode
i'gnorancc::and misapprehensions, and loll!k!'<{ull
account of values and historical situatedness in
Tlius there is mor31 tt thal
the inquirer be revelatory (in the rigorous mean
ing of "fully informed consent") rather tlan de
ceptive. Of course, these considerations do not
prevent unethical behavior, but they do provide
sorne process barriers that make it more difficult.
Constructivism. Ethics is intrinsic to Ihis para
digm also because of Ihe inclusion of paitiipant
v,all1es in the inquiry (slarting with respondents'
existing constructions and working toward in
creased infonnation and sophistication in their
constructions as well as in the inquirer' s construc
tion). There is an incentive-a process titl-for
revelation; .hiding the inquirer' s intent is destruc:
tve of lheaim of uncovering andiniproving <;:"0117.
structlblrS. rn"li1I'ffitio-;!he herneneticalZdialec
ffa:retliodology itself pro vides a strong but not
infallible safeguard against deception. However,
the close personal interactions required by Ihe
methodology may produce special and ofien slicky
problems of confidentialily and anonymity, as
well as other interpersonal difficulties (Guba &
Lincoln, 1989).
Row 7: Whal "voice" is mirrored
in the inquirer's activities,
especially Ihose directed at ehange7
Positivism and postpositivism. The inquirer' s
voice is tlat of the "disinterested scientist" in
fofming decision makers, poliey makees, and change
agenls, who independently use this scientific in
furmation, at least in part, 10 form, explain, and
justify actions, policies, and change proposals.
Critical theory. Th,e inquirer's voice iSJhat nI.
he "transformative illtellectual" (Giroux, 1988)
.;ho has eipaiided and sO ls in a
postion to confron! ignorance and misapprehen
sons. Change is faclitated as lndi viduals develop
reater insight into Ihe existing state of affaies
(the nature and extent of their exploilation) and
are stimulated lo ael on it.
the "passionate parUciant" (Lincoln, 1991) ac
tively engaged in facilitatillg the "multi voice"
reconstruction of his or her own construci!oas
as those. ofdl other participants.. J;::hange is
facilitaled as reeonstruclions are formed and in
dividuals are stmulated to act on them.
Row 8: What are the implications
of each paradigm for the
training of novice inquirers?
Positivismo Novices are trained primarly in
technical knowledge about measurement, design,
and quantltative methods, with les s but substan
tial emphasls on formal theories of the phenorn
ena in their substantive speciallies.
Postpositivism. Novices are trained in ways
paralleling the positivist mode, but wilh the addi
tion of qualitative methods, often for the purpose
of ameliorating the problems noted in the opening
paragraphs of Ihis chapter.
Critical theory and constructivism. Novices musl
fiest be resocialized from their early and usually
intense exposure 10 the received view of scieoce.
That resocialzalion cannot be accomplisled without
thorough schooling in the poslures and tecbnques
of positivism and postpositivism. Studcnts must
come lo appreciale paradigm differences (summa
rizcd in Table 6.1) and, in that context, lO master
both qualitative and quantitative metlods. The
former are essential because of their role in car
rying out Ihe dialogic/dialectical or hermeneuticall
dialectical methodologies; the atter because they
can playa useful infonnational role in al! paradigms.
They must a1so be helped to undeestand the social,
political, cultural, econorruc, ethnic. and gender his
tory and stnlcture that serve as the surround for their
inquiries, and to incorporate the values of altruism
and empowennent in their work.
Row 9: Are Ihese paradigms
necessarily in conflicl?
Is il possible lo accommodate
Ihese several views within
a single conceptual framework?
Positivism alld postpositivism. Proponents of
tlese two paradigms, given their foundalional
orientation, take the position llat all paradigrns
can be accommodated-that is, that Ihere exists,
or will be found to exist, some common raliona]
structure to which aU questions of difference can
be referred for resolulion. The posture is reduc
tionist and assumes the possibility of point-by
point comparisons (commensurability), an issue
about which there continues 10 be a great deal of
116 117
Critical theory and construclivism..J;'roponents
they would agree that positlvism andpostpositiv
ism are commensurable, and would probably agree
that critical theory and constructivism are com
mensurable), The basic beliefs of the paradigms
are believed to be essentially contradictory. For
constructivists, either there is a "real" reality or
there is nol (although one mght wish to resolve
this problem differently in considerng the physi
cal versus the human realms), and thus construc
tivism and positvsmlpostpositivism cannot be
logically accommodated anymore than, say, the
ideas of f1at versus round earth can be logically
accommodated. For critical theorists and con
structivists, inquiry is either value free or it is not;
agan. logical accommodation seems impossible.
Realism and relativism, value freedom and value
boundedness, cannot coexist in any intemally con
sistent metaphysical system, which condition of
consistency, it is stipulated, is essentially met by
each of the candidate paradigms. Resolution of
this dilemma will necessarily await the emer
gence of a metaparadigm that renders the older,
accommodated paradigms not less true, but sim
ply irrelevant.
Row JO: Which of the
paradigms exercises hegemony over
the others? That is,
which s predominantly influential?
Positivism and postpositivism. Proponents of
posilivism gained hegemony over the past several
centuries as earlier Aristotelian and theological
paradigms were abandoned. But the manlle of
hegemony has in recent decades gradually fallen
on the shoulders of the postpositivists, the "natu
ral" heirs of positivismo Postpositivists (and in
deed many residual positivists) tend to control
pUblication outlets, funding sources, promotion
and tenure mechanisms, dissertation committees,
and other sources of power and influence. They
were, at least until about 1980, the "in" group, and
continue to represent the strongest voice in pro
fessional decision making.
Critical theory and constructivism, Proponents
of critical theory and constru,ctivism are stiU seek
ing recognition and avenues for input. Over the
past decade, it has become more and more possi
ble for them to achieve acceptance, as attested by
increasing inclusion of relevant papers in journals
and professional meetings, the developrnent of
new joumal outlets, the growing acceptability of
"qualitative" dissertations. the inclusion of "quali
fati ve" guidelines by sorne funding agencies and
programs, and the Iike. But in alllikelihood, criti-
cal theory and constructivisrn will continue to
play secondary, although important and progres
sively more influential, roles in the near future.
The metaphor of the "paradigm wars" described
by Gage (1989) is undoubtedly overdrawn. De
scribing Ibe discussions and altercations of the
past decade or two as wars paints the malter as
more confrontational than necessary. A resolu
tion of paradigrn differences can occur only when
a new paradigm emerges that is more inforrned
and sophisticated than any existing one. That is
most likely 10 occur if and when proponen!s of
these several points of view come together 10
discuss their differences, not to argue the sanctity
of Ibeir views. Continuing dialogue arnong para
digm proponents of all stripes will afford the best
avenue for moving toward a responsive and con
genial relationship.
We hope Ibat in this chapter wehave ilIustrated
the need for such a discussion by clearly deline
ating the differences that currently exist, and by
showing that Ihose differences have significant
implications at the practical level. Paradigm is
sues are crucial; no inquirer, we maintain. ought
to go about the business of inqury without being
clear about jusI what paradigm informs and guides
his or her approach.
l. Many of Ibe objections listed here were fIrsl enun
ciated by postivisls Ihemselves; indeed, we mght ar
gue Iba! the postpositivist position represenls an atlempt
to transform positivism in ways Ihal take aeconnl of
Ibese same objeclions. The naive postivisl pos ilion of
Ibe .ixll:enlh Ihrongh Ibe nineleenlb eenturies is no
longer held by anyone even casually acquainled with
Ibese problems. AlIhough we would concede Ibal Ihe
postpositivSI position, as enuncated, for example, by
Den. Phillips (1987, 1990a, 1990b), represenls a con
siderable improvemenl over cIassic positivism, il fails
lO make a elean break. It represenls a kind of "damage
eonlrol" ralher Ihan a reformulalion ofbasic principIes.
The nolion Ibal Ibese problems required a paradigm
shft was poorly recogni:red until Ihe pnblcalion of
Thomas Kuhn's landmark work, The Structure of Sci
entific Revolutions (1962. 1970), and even Ihen pro
ceeded bul slowly. Nevertheless. Ihe contributions of
pre-Kuhnian crilies should be reeognized and applauded.
2. We are reminded by Robert Slake (personal com
municalion, 1993) Ihal !he view of paradigms Ihal we
presenl here should nol "exclude a belief thal there are
Competing Paradigms in Qualitative Research
worlds wilbin worIds, unending, each wlth ilS own
paradigms. Infinitesimals have Iheirown cosmologies."
3. It i8 unlikely Ibal a praclitioner of any paradigm
would agree Ihal our summaries cIosely describe what
he or she Ihinks or does. Workaday scen!ists rarely
have either Ihe time or Ibe inclinalion to assess whal
Ihey do in philosophical lerms. We do contend, how
ever, Ibal Ihese descriptons are apt as broad brush
strokes. f nOI always al Ibe individual leve!.
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Bok, S. (1978). Lies: Moral choice in public and privare
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Bok. S. (1982). Seerets: On Ihe ethics of coneea/menl
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Burns, J. (1978). Leadership. New York: Harper.
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Cook, T., & CampbeIl, D. T. (1979). Quasl-experlmen
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