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recording, and textual analysis), and analytic procedures

(for example, grounded theory, analytic

induction, or negative case analysis). While they

share a general regard for the subjective dimensions

of social life, qualitative research methods

are also marked by significant divergences

and sometimes even disputes among their various

practitioners. These divergences and disputes

are best understood as a reflection of the maturation

and flourishing of qualitative social science

rather than any failure to develop beyond

pre-scientific or pre-paradigmatic disagreements.

Whereas sociological research that employs numerical

approaches to the collection and analysis of

data tends to emphasize objective social structures

and their objective relationships with one another,

qualitative research methods tend to emphasize

the subjective meanings social actors find in their

lives and the interactional processes through

which they engage one another and the wider

world. Qualitative research is overwhelmingly

predicated on the presumption that meaning and

human practice merit scientific interest as important

phenomena in their own right and not merely

as reflections of more general and anonymous

social structural relationships. Though this presumption

hails from a variety of distinct historical

sources, its most commonly cited source in the

annals of social science history is the Methodenstreit,

or “dispute over method,” which took place

in late nineteenth-century Germany.

The Methodenstreit came to embroil some of Germany’s

finest social thinkers in debate concerning

the specific nature of social life and its amenability

to the methods of analysis found in the

physical sciences. Thinkers like Wilhelm Dilthey

(1833–1911), Hans-Georg Gadamer, Georg Simmel,

and Max Weber became figureheads for an

intellectual movement that sought to distinguish

the social sciences decisively from the physical

sciences, on the grounds that their methods and/or

subject matters were irreducibly unique. Scholars

argued that whereas physical scientists study

lower life forms and inanimate objects, social scientists

study people. Unlike the behavior of inanimate

objects or lower life forms, the behavior of

human beings is not caused by uniform laws but by

sentient, creative subjects imbued with an understanding

of the worlds within which they live and

act. Hence, any effort to grasp the nature of social

life must begin with an appreciation of one’s

research subjects’ own understandings of their


These ideas were appropriated by the pioneers of

qualitative research methods in the social sciences.

But unlike some of the more romantically inclined

among the German theorists, the pioneers of qualitative

research methods generally insisted that

we combine an appreciation of human creativity

with an equally serious regard for scientific rigor.

Though committed to understanding the subjective

dimensions of social life, early proponents of qualitative

researchmethods, like Franz Boas and Bronislaw

Malinowski in anthropology and W. I. Thomas

and Robert Ezra Park in sociology, were equally

committed to the idea that they must do so scientifically.

Theirs was decidedly not a campaign to

critique science and exalt the humanities. Instead

their aim was to distinguish the nature of the

social sciences from orthodox understandings of

the physical sciences. It must be said, however,

that, despite programmatic pronouncements of scientific

rigor, the earliest excursions into systematic

qualitative field research were rather woolly by

contemporary standards. They were usually predicated

on a diffusely holistic sense of social groups

as relatively situated, relatively distinctive, and

relatively homogeneous both in terms of the objective

conditions under which members of the

group were compelled to live and in the customary

mental attitudes and practical responses to those


conditions they developed. Empirical research was

designed to illuminate these dimensions of a particular

group’s existence and facilitate efforts to

link them to one another theoretically. At first

such efforts were fairly unselfconscious, opportunistic,

and eclectic.Data were drawnfroma variety of

sources and analysis was often miscellaneous and

more implicit than explicit. Eventually, though, a

variety of historical events converged to constrain

this original eclecticism.

The two most salient of these historical events

were the rise of scientism in American sociology,

and the progressive expansion of the academy and

its division into an ever larger number of distinct

disciplines and sub-disciplines. As the discipline of

sociology grew larger, more diverse, and more

thoroughly ensconced in the academy, disputes

arose among sociologists as to the kinds of investigations

that were to qualify as genuinely scientific

studies of social life. These disputes often focused

on the comparative strengths and weaknesses of

qualitative and quantitative research methods.

During the 1930s and 1940s, the largely qualitative

case study tradition associated with the University

of Chicago came under serious attack from

a coterie of sociologists fiercely committed to fashioning

sociology in the image of the natural sciences.

A confluence of several complex changes

within the Department of Sociology at the University

of Chicago, in the discipline of sociology

more generally, in academia, and in American

society as a whole, eventually tipped the balance

of power between practitioners of qualitative

and quantitative approaches towards the latter.

Whether they opposed them, endorsed them, or

strove for some other manner of conciliation,

qualitative sociologists have experienced powerful

institutional pressures to attend to the methodological

arguments of their quantitative colleagues.

This has had profound effects on the development

of qualitative research methods in sociology.

The survey researchers who rose to power in

the 1940s and 1950s tried to measure the value

of qualitative research in terms of their own positivistic

philosophy of science. By suppressing or

ignoring issues of meaning and human agency,

positivist sociologists ascribed a second-class

status to qualitative research. Though the doctrines

that sustained the positivist ascendancy

have long since been discredited among philosophers

of science themselves, news of their demise

has traveled slowly through the social sciences.

Regrettably, some still disparage qualitative

research for its putative non-conformity to an

antiquated and hopelessly flawed conception of

scientific work. But there can be little doubt that

the situation is rapidly improving. Virtually every

major social theorist since the mid-1970s has

come down in opposition to the positivism

that alienated qualitative research from the mainstream

of the social sciences. And at an institutional

level, qualitative researchers have

successfully carved out niches for themselves

throughout the academic world. Beyond sociology

and anthropology, one can now find growing qualitative

contingents in such fields as business administration,

communications, education, folklore,

linguistics, nursing, political science, and public

health. And, indeed, there is growing interest in

qualitative research beyond the confines of the


In order to illustrate the variety of qualitative

approaches now flourishing in the social sciences,

the rest of this entry will briefly describe

four distinct genres of contemporary qualitative

research: (1) qualitative interviewing; (2) ethnographic

observation; (3) conversational analysis;

and (4) the study of material artifacts.

Qualitative interviews are distinct from questionnaires

insofar as they rely to a greater extent on

open-ended questions. Whereas survey questionnaires

generally provide a fixed range of answer

options, qualitative interviews invite respondents

to answer questions in whatever fashion they like.

Of course, this difference is one of degree rather

than kind. Many qualitative interviewers variously

delimit the nature of the answers they elicit and

survey questionnaires can also include open-ended

questions (though such questions do complicate

numerical analysis).

Some of the advantages of the qualitative interview

are: (1) it reduces the risk of putting words in

respondents’ mouths; (2) it allows investigation of

unanticipated themes that emerge in the course of

the interview; (3) it allows the study of people or

themes about which very little is already known; (4)

it allows us to maximize the extent to which respondents’

“own voice” may be preserved in our

data; (5) it allows analysis of not only what respondents

tell us but how they do so; and (6) it allows

us discretion to pursue particular themes with

respondents in depth.

Ethnography entails placing oneself in direct

personal contact with a social group as they go

about their routine affairs. In contrast to interview

techniques, wherein we ask people to tell us

about their lives, ethnography entails observing

people’s lives and circumstances first-hand. While

combining interviews and observations remains

pervasive (and is very often extremely useful),

qualitative research qualitative research


qualitative researchers have more recently begun

to distinguish ethnographic research from studies

that rely on qualitative interviewing. One reason

for this is simply that interviewing and observation

require different sorts of skills. Good interviewers

are not necessarily good observers and vice versa.

Secondly, when we interview people we must

always contemplate what they are including and

what they are leaving out of their responses to our

questions, how it is being included and how it is

being left out, and, of course, why. When we observe

directly, however, our encounter with local

meanings and practices is not mediated by respondents’

personal judgments regarding what

should and should not be discussed. Moreover,

much of what we might find interesting and distinctive

about our research subjects’ lives simply

may not occur to them as interesting or worthy of

mention at all. Furthermore, as the old saying

goes, actions often speak louder than words –

what people do may indicate how they orient to

certain things better than what they explicitly tell

us. Often what people consider meaningful and

important they nonetheless find difficult to put

into words. Indeed, sometimes people find certain

things hard to discuss precisely because they consider

those things so profoundly meaningful. Firsthand

observation can often help us to grasp such

matters in ways that other research methods


Conversational analysis is concerned with the

study of language as a social practice. Though

there are exceptions, conversation analysts usually

insist that analysis be confined to audio- or

video-tape-recorded instances of natural language

use. Hence, most conversation analysts decline to

use interviews, surveys, experiments that require

the manipulation of people’s behavior, observational

methods that resort to field notes or precoded

schedules, the use of native intuitions to

generate exemplary interactional scenarios, or

any other data source that includes artificial recreations

of naturally occurring talk. Such data

sources are held to distort inevitably the specific

details of naturally situated interactional conduct

and to install in their place mere idealizations

about how interaction actually works.

Conversation analysts are also wary of relying

on received categories of sociological analysis to

make sense of conversational data. This wariness

is predicated on the empirical observation that in

studying conversation, descriptively adequate

claims about the participants and the context of

their interaction are not always relevant to interactants

themselves nor procedurally implicated in

their talk itself. Moreover, too much emphasis on

the role of social structures in interaction risks

masking and thereby pre-empting the discovery

of important conversational structures.

Compared to other sorts of data, artifacts (that

is documents and material objects) endure. Hence,

for those who wish to study historically distant

peoples and events, documents and material

objects are often the only data available. Moreover,

such data may possess a special relevance

to those who wish to study people who have historically

been muted or denied voice. But, just as

with other types of data, the analysis of documents

and material artifacts must be accomplished

with respect to the particular forms of

life in which they were produced and/or used.

And it is here that methodological puzzles begin

to emerge. Just like other elements of culture,

documents and material artifacts may be analyzed

with respect to both their symbolic and their

mundane utility. One major challenge of analysis

is thus to infer the extent to which the former or

the latter should be emphasized in any particular

instance. Another distinctive complication arises

from the fact that artifacts produced in one context

may be put to use in ways that were not

originally anticipated. Many objects we have inherited

from our forebears are meaningful/useful

to us in ways quite different from the ways they

were meaningful/useful to them. Though the use

of artifacts as data undeniably presents unique

analytic challenges, these challenges can generally

be handled with techniques familiar to those

acquainted with other varieties of comparative

social research. DARIN WE INBERG

quantitative data analysis

Quantitative data are data that have been measured

numerically. A number of other entries in this dictionary

describe particular statistical techniques for

quantitative data analysis (for example regression,

factor analysis, correlation, cluster analysis, log

linear analyses, path analysis).

In the natural sciences, advances were often

associated with being able to quantify, or measure,

aspects of the physical world, for instance

temperature, electrical voltage, or the speed of

light. Some sociologists (often associated with

positivism in the philosophy of science) have assumed

that social sciences will also progress most

effectively through developing measures of sociological

phenomena. For instance, the social capital

paradigm has been distinctive in attempting to

develop measures of such social investments

that would permit one to chart changes in these

qualitative research quantitative data analysis


forms of capital over time, or to compare countries

in terms of their levels of social involvement.

Similarly, a great deal of effort has gone into

developing precise numerical measures of social

class and social stratification.

An opposing view is that reducing complex sociological

phenomena to numbers over-simplifies our

accounts of those phenomena and limits or distorts

our understanding. For instance, in making the

claim that social capital has fallen in the United

States since the mid twentieth century, researchers

have measured the change in the average number

of clubs and societies that American citizens

are members of. Or, in making claims about the

differences in the level of social capital in different

countries, researchers have typically relied on questionnaires

that ask how much individuals trust

each other or important public institutions. Critics

of such approaches argue that the nature and role

of clubs and societies has changed over time, and

that people in different countries assign a different

meaning to the word trust, so these measures are


The alternative to quantitative research is termed

qualitative research, in which typically the investigators

are more concerned with understanding the

nature and meaning of people, or the complexity

of social institutions – for example Clifford Geertz,

or proponents of hermeneutics). Examples of their

research styles would be their attempts to understand

the meanings individuals assign to phenomena

by in-depth interviews, or the nature of

institutions by conducting ethnographies.

The methods of analyzing quantitative and

qualitative data are very different, employing

statistics for the former, or qualitative research

for the latter.

Thoughout its history, sociology has spent much

time preoccupied by disputes between advocates of

quantitative and qualitative research methodologies.

More recently, many researchers have taken

a pragmatic approach and considered, for any

given research problem, which approach (or what

combination of the two) will lead to the most satisfactory

understanding of the research question. In

other cases, both are used simultaneously, for

example in triangulation. BRENDAN J . BURCHEL L

queer theory

The term queer has an interesting history. In the

United Kingdom, colloquial and ironic expressions

such as “there’s now’t as queer as folk” indicate that

the termhas been defined in termsof strangeness. It

is also used as a pejorative label for people who

participate in nonheterosexual relationships, such

as gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. More recently, with

its impetus mainly fromlesbian and Gay Studies in

the United States, queer theory engages with sex,

gender, and sexuality in two key ways.

First, at a scholarly level, queer theory seeks to

destabilize socially given identities, categories, and

subjectivities, around the commonsense distinctions

between homosexuality and heterosexuality,

men and women, and sex and gender. It does this

by establishing the social and historical specificity

of sexual categories, linking them to processes of

state and institutional control. Queer theorists

also seek to collapse the boundaries that separate

sexual normality and abnormality, suggesting that

separate discrete oppositions are mutually constitutive

rather than exclusive. Furthermore, they

contest the adequacy of matching existing sexual

categories to the complexity of people’s lived-out

experiences. Queer theorists develop the possibilities

of sexual being and doing outside the conventional

identities and subjectivities (including

gay, lesbian, and bisexual identities).

Second, at a political level, queer activists

argue that the established gay community, in campaigning

for community identity recognition

and validation by straight society, has adopted

an assimilationist position. The perceived limitations

of this political strategy are resonant of

those voiced by black radicals in the 1970s concerning

the state setting the agenda on which

racialized ethnic minority groups were to be included

within white society, on terms of liberal

acceptance rather than human rights. A major

concern for queer activists, operating from an

anti-essentialist identity position, is that mainstream

inclusion involves state regulation and

surveillance of a sexual minority identity that

implicitly produces the homosexual–heterosexual

boundary of a fixed subcultural type. Furthermore,

for queer activists, the gay movement, in

targeting its political energies towards straight

society, has not addressed a wide range of internal

sexual exclusions, including bisexuals, transsexuals,

and transgendered groups, alongside social

closures – around age, ethnicity, and disability –

arising from the narrow conception of gay identity

itself. In contrast, queer politics, adopting a

utopian stance, is open to all dissident eroticized

minorities, while simultaneously claiming that

the effect of transcending the homo/hetero divide

is to challenge the sexual regulation and repression

of the sexual majority – heterosexual desire.

There are a range of criticisms of both queer

theory and politics, including that it is a development

of a social-constructionist tradition rather

queer theory queer theory


than a radical break with established social theory;

and that, in privileging significatory systems, discourse,

and discursive power, it colludes with

postmodernism in underplaying the importance

of socioeconomic structural differences. It is also

seen as the downplaying of gender, in the critical

discussion of heterosexual relations being

viewed as the norm. Queer theory remains highly

abstract, disconnected from the way people

are living their lives within the institutional

constraints of economics, the state, and cultural

traditions. However, as a postmodern politics, it

celebrates the transgressive potential, both discursive

and social, of the implosion of existing gender

and sexuality categories, enabling us to reimagine

inhabiting a range of masculinities and femininities

and the full diversity of sexual desire.



The Webster’s Dictionary definition for questionnaire

is “A prepared set of written questions for purposes

of statistical compilation or comparison of the information

gathered; a series of questions.” It is

sometimes assumed that questionnaires refer to

the documents that people fill out for themselves

(self-completion questionnaires), but that is too

narrow a definition. The administration of questionnaires

can be self-completion or by face-to-face

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