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Phronesis, Aporia and Qualitative Research

posted on 2023-05-22, 14:00 authored by Macklin, R, Whiteford, G

Qualitative researchers sometimes adopt an interpretive orientation, thereby promoting a form of professional practice not underpinned by positivist reasoning processes but by practical rationality. In this chapter, we contend that what we call 'interpretive' qualitative research does not stand the test of standard conceptions of scientific reason. However, we also contend that the test of such conceptions of scientific reasoning is not an appropriate test for interpretively oriented qualitative research.

By 'scientific reason,' we refer to reason that in the research arena is best exemplified by quantitative research methods and is underpinned by a commitment to conceptions of the scientific method in which reason is viewed as a neutral, impartial, universal, and generalisable approach to knowledge generation: that is, reasoning that assumes that the truth can best be revealed by, inter alia, ensuring that knowledge is arrived at through objective techniques, which exclude the personal values and agenda of the researcher.

By 'interpretive' qualitative research, we refer to qualitative research approaches that accept research as being inevitably open to the circumstances, situations, values, and interpretations of both the researcher and the researched. Such research does not seek to be unencumbered by the personal hopes, fears, and values of the researcher, or by the circumstances and idiosyncrasies surrounding data collection and the individual research subject (see Denzin & Lincoln, 1994, for a discussion of some of these approaches). Thus, interpretive qualitative research does not accord with the strict tenets of the standard scientific method. Compared with quantitative approaches, interpretive qualitative research is far more interpretive, flexible, participatory, and reflexive. Indeed, the extent to which qualitative research is judged to be trustworthy is relative to its foregrounding of the researcher as an engaged subject within and throughout the research process.

This description can be taken to mean that interpretive qualitative researchii is suspect and unprofessional; however, we argue that qualitative research practices are underpinned, and appropriately so, by a form of rationality called practical rationality. Practical rationality involves evaluating multiple factors in concrete situations and taking into account people's beliefs, interests, and norms, in addition to the specific demands of a particular context, to arrive at a sound practical judgement (Bernstein, 1983).

We use an example of the deliberations and judgements associated with qualitative research to illustrate the practical reasoning process. This example is also used to demonstrate that practical rationality requires researchers to deal with what Jacques Derrida (1990) called aporia (impossible puzzles and paradoxes). We further argue that the context and conditions of aporia should be admitted and, indeed, valued rather than concealed. Finally, we conclude that recognising practical rationality as underpinning qualitative research, and aporia as an inevitable feature of this type of research, has implications for research training. Qualitative research involves a different fonn of rationality from that which underpins quantitative research methods. Qualitative research requires instruction in the practice of practical judgement as opposed to the technical training required for quantitative research.


Publication title

Phronesis as Professional Knowledge: Practical Wisdom in The Professions


E Kinsella, A Pitman, and The University of Western Ohio








Sense Publishers

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The Netherlands



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Copyright 2012 Sense Publishers

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