Introduction to Qualitative Research


Prof. Martin Packer


Psych 513-01


Tu 3:30 – 5:45



This course will seek to provide you with a thorough introduction to Interpretive Research in psychology. The coverage will be primarily theoretical, but practical exercises will be used throughout to illustrate and supplement theoretical considerations.


Since the 1970s interest has been growing throughout the social or human sciences in the conduct of research in a manner that escapes from the strictures of the mainstream empirical-analytic approach. However, if we are to judge the adoption of such new approaches to research, psychology remains the most tardy of the non-natural sciences.


The interest in a new interpretive methodology began with a “linguistic turn,” as the power of language became appreciated (along with its limitations and vexations). Human science research has also taken a “cultural turn,” exploring the complexity of the way human life is lived in multiple cultural contexts. And research has also explored a “critical turn,” engaging in an analysis of power and a critique of ideology and exploitation. The course is organized in terms of these three turns, considered in sequence.


The following are your responsibilities in the class: You will be expected to keep up with the assigned reading and to participate in class. Small weekly homework assignments will be given. In addition, you will select a topic from those discussed in the course and write a paper, due at the end of the semester—I will be happy to discuss your selection of topic with you. Each of you will give a short (10 minute) presentation on your paper topic on April 13 or 20.


The readings will be on e-reserve at the Duquesne library ( The password to access the course page will be announced in class. Each article should be read in preparation for and before the class for which it is listed.


Jan 13. Week 1:  Paradigms of Research

How should we describe empirical-analytic research? What ought to be different about an alternative approach to research in the human sciences, and in psychology in particular? We’ll begin with some basic notions from Thomas Kuhn’s post-positivist philosophy of science.


            Reading:    Michell, J. (2003). The quantitative imperative: Positivism, naive realism and the place of qualitative methods in psychology. Theory and Psychology, 13(1), 5-31.


                                     Popkewitz, T. S. (1984). Paradigms in educational science: Different meanings and purpose of theory., Paradigm and ideology in educational research: The social functions of the intellectual. (pp. Ch. 2). London: Falmer Press.


Part I: The Linguistic Turn


Jan 20. Week 2: Listening to Accounts

            Where does interpretive inquiry begin? One suggested starting point is the way our everyday reality is a ‘pre-interpreted’ domain: we want to know how people grasp, understand, and interpret events and artifacts. And some have proposed that this means we begin with people’s first-person accounts. 


            Readings:  Mishler, E. G. (1986). “Language, meaning, and narrative analysis.” In Research interviewing: Context and narrative: Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


                                    Kvale, S. (1996). “The plurality of interpretations.” In InterViews: An introduction to qualitative research interviewing. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.


Jan 27. Week 3: Obtaining and Analyzing a First-Person Account

            How should we analyze the account someone gives us, and what is the best way to obtain one?


            Readings:  Ricoeur, P. (1971). The model of the text: Meaningful action considered as a text. Social Research, 38(3), 529-562.


                        Carter, C. (1993). The place of story in the study of teaching and teacher education. Educational Researcher, 22, 5-12, 18.


Tietel, Erhard (2000, November). The interview as a relational space [20 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research [On-line Journal], 1(3). Available at:


Feb 3. Week 4: Interpretation and the Researcher

What are the researcher’s responsibilities when studying everydayness by means of first-person accounts? What are the ethical considerations? How should findings be reported?  And how best to conceptualize, theorize, what the researcher is doing?


            Readings: Kvale, S. (1996). “The social construction of validity.” In InterViews: An introduction to qualitative research interviewing. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.


Wiesenfeld, Esther (2000, June). Between prescription and action: The gap between the theory and practice of qualitative inquiries. Forum: Qualitative Social Research [On-line Journal], 1(2). Available at:


                                    Phillips, D. C. (1994). Telling it straight: Issues in assessing narrative research. Educational Psychology, 29(1), 13-21.


Part II: The Cultural Turn


Feb 10. Week 5: Studying the Games People Play

There are limits to what can be learned from the accounts that participants offer to a researcher. A time comes when we want to consider not just what people say, but what they do. From Wittgenstein to Lyotard, the notion has been entertained that social interaction is playing a game. What does this imply for the conduct of research?


            Readings:  Geertz, C. (1976/1979). From the native's point of view: The nature of anthropological understanding. Reprinted in P. Rabinow & W. M. Sullivan (Eds.), Interpretive social science: A reader (pp. 225-241). Berkeley: University of California Press.


                                    Excerpt from Wittgenstein, L. (1953). Philosophical investigations (G. E. M. Anscombe, Trans.). Oxford: Blackwell.


                                    Excerpt from MacIntyre, A. (1984). After virtue: A study in moral theory. (2nd ed.). South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.


                                    Giddens, “Hermeneutics and social theory.” In Giddens, A. (1982). Profiles and critiques in social theory: University of California Press.


Feb 17. Week 6: A Situational Ontology

            What is going on when we study people in their cultural contexts? What is the relationship between who they are, what they do, and where they are?


            Reading:    Packer, M. (1997). Tracing hermeneutics.  Review essay on Ferraris, M.  (1988/96).  "History of Hermeneutics." Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, 28, 106-114.


                                    Garfinkel, H. (1967). “What is ethnomethodology?” From Studies in ethnomethodology: Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.


                                    Sacks, H. (1984). On doing "being ordinary". In J. M. Atkinson & J. Heritage (Eds.), Structures of social action: Studies in conversation analysis (pp. 446). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Feb 24. Week 7: Ontological Inquiry

            How, then, do we go about the conduct of research with the resources that the cultural turn has made available, and also within the constraints that it imposes (or exposes)?


            Reading      Heritage, J., & Atkinson, J. M. (1984). Introduction to J. M. Atkinson & J. Heritage (Eds.), Structures of social action: Studies in conversation analysis (pp. 1-15). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


                                     Articles from Packer, M. J. (2000). Hermeneutic research on psychotherapy [Special issue]. Methods: A Journal for Human Science.Articles from Methods, 2001 (available at:


Mar 2. Week 8: The Crisis of Understanding

            What are the implications of the cultural turn for our understanding of the epistemological and ethical responsibilities of the researcher?  And, for that matter, for our understanding of the ontological status of the researcher?


            Readings: Marcus, G., & Fischer, M. (1986). “A crisis of representation in the human sciences.” In G. Marcus & M. Fischer (Eds.), Anthropology as cultural critique: An experimental moment in the human sciences (pp. 7-16). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.


                                    Geertz, “Being here: Whose life is it anyway?” From Geertz, C. (1988). Works and lives: The anthropologist as author: Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.


[March 9. Week 9: no class meeting: Spring Break]


Part III. The Critical Turn


Mar 16. Week 10:  Power and Inequity

            We turn now to pay explicit attention to the operation of power in the construction of both knowledge and persons. This week we’ll explore the origins of critique in Kant’s philosophy, the character of Marx’s critique of “economic life,” and critical hermeneutics.


Readings:  Excerpts from Habermas, J. (1971). Knowledge and human interests (J. Shapiro, Trans.). Boston: Beacon Press. Ch. 11: “The scientistic self-misunderstanding of metapsychology: On the logic of general interpretation” (246-273). “Appendix: knowledge and human interests: a general perspective” (301-317.


                         Excerpt from Poster, M. (1975). Existential Marxism in postwar France: From Sartre to Althusser: Princeton University Press. “Foucault’s science without scientists” (pp. 334-340).


Kant; Marx & Critical Theory; Heidegger Div II; Freud; Nietzsche


Mar 23. Week 11: Embodiment and the Cultural Field

            And this week we’ll draw on Bourdieu and Foucault to explore the necessary components of a critical inquiry.


Readings: Excerpt from Bourdieu, P. (1988/1991). The political ontology of Martin Heidegger: Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. “Introduction” (pp. 1-6).


                         Foucault, M. (unpublished). What is Enlightenment?


                             Excerpt from Gouldner, A. (1973). For sociology: Renewal and critique in sociology today. New York: Basic Books.


Mar 30. Week 12: Feminist, Deconstructivist & Culturalist Tactics


Readings:  Lather, P. (1986). Research as praxis. Harvard Educational Review, 56, 257-277.


                             Lather, P. (1991). Deconstructing/deconstructive inquiry: The politics of knowing and being known. Educational Theory, 41(2), 153-173.


                         Stanley, L. (1990). Feminist praxis and the academic mode of production. In L. Stanley (Ed.), Feminist praxis: Research, theory and epistemology in feminist sociology (pp. 3-19). London: Routledge.


                         Excerpt from Scott, J. C. (1985). Weapons of the weak: Everyday forms of peasant resistance. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 29-36.


Apr 6. Week 13: The Involved Researcher

            Once again we’ll take a reflexive look at ourselves: what does it mean for a researcher to be “involved,” rather than detached? And what is the role of the circumstances in which researchers act?


Readings:       Flinders, D. J. (1992). In search of ethical guidance: constructing a basis for dialogue. Qualitative Studies in Education, 5(2), 101-115.


Shweder, R. A. (1990). Ethical relativism: Is there a defensible version? Ethos, 18, 205-218.


Salner, M. (1986). Validity in human science research. Saybrook Review, 6, 107-131.


Apr 13. Week 14: Student presentations [and AERA]


Apr 20. Week 15: Student presentations continued; Course wrap-up & evaluation