When we seek to understand or explain how and why a political institution, event, issue, or process came about, we are necessarily asking questions that can be answered through using qualitative methods. That is, research questions and answers using qualitative methods can be differentiated from quantitative or statistical methods that focus on questions of ‘how many’ to infer causality. The focus of qualitative methods in political science is on detailed, text-based answers that are often historical or include personal reflection from participants in political institutions, events, issues or processes. This is often characterized as the use of ‘thick’ description and analysis rather than broad, numerical generalizations. This chapter will show that while there has been a recent emphasis on the use of mixed methods in political science research design, there are still some essential features of qualitative methods that need to be understood. Qualitative methods tend to be used within particular sub-disciplines of political science (for example those who study political institutions rather than those who study political behaviour and use quantitative methods), by those committed to a particular approach (such as feminists), and by those coming from a non-positivist epistemological position (such as interpretivists and critical realists). As this chapter will show, however, these divides are far from straightforward and qualitative methods can be used by those with both a positivist and non-positivist epistemological position, and the difference is based on claims made about explanation, purpose and goals of research itself.
Swipe to navigate through the chapters of this book
Please log in to get access to this content
- Debating Methods: Rediscovering Qualitative Approaches
- Macmillan Education UK
- Sequence number
- Chapter number
- Chapter 12