Saturday, November 24, 2007

Falsifiability - Can we use this concept in qualitative research?

As for falsifiability, I think that the underlying assumption of this concept may be at odds with the underlying concepts within qualitative studies. I did a lot of reading on the distinction between quantitative and qualitative theory today and some postulating about the assumptions that both take. In the end, I see a clear distinction being drawn between both, in that quantitative studies relate to explaining or controlling variables; these variances can be double checked in future similar studies, by re-creating similar if not exact conditions within future experiments. Qualitative studies on the other hand try to look at things more holistically. I think that in qualitative studies, it is harder to say something is either right or wrong, as the phenomena under investigation is viewed more loosely and with greater flexibility. In addition, the kinds of things that qualitative studies focus on are reliant on context. That is they are specific to the particular classroom, or based on a specific problem of a smaller group. The theories that may come out (within say, a Funnel approach) are related to smaller and more specific groups, within a certain time frame. That said, it is difficult to come up with conditions that reject the findings of this kind of qualitative study, as it would be more difficult to correlate the findings (not having numerical data) with other similar groups in the future, without validity issues.
From what I gather, falsifiability is about understanding that there may be a case that your theory may be disproved, and in such a case you need to modify your thinking or may even have to reject it. Unless we take a time machine (or utilize historical organization in a qualitative study), we are unable to create the exact conditions necessary to disprove the findings. So, what can we do?
We can look into the validity of the qualitative research by checking the organization of the arguments presented and the usefulness of the descriptive analysis. If the study is logical and presents exceptional descriptions, then how can it be falsified?
One may say that the theory produced for that particular group may not suit present groups, ‘cause the conditions or context is different. Is it now falsified?????
What is the purpose to a qualitative study? How much can we depend on the universals that come out of such studies to make inferences about other groups? Do we use them as only a guide????
Maybe I am way off track, but I thought that the falsifiability idea better suits hard numerical data, which can more easily be disproved…Plus I think more important issues with qualitative studies are with how well the generalizations fit with the context of the study, and what happens soon after with that particular group…I don’t know, I think I m starting to confuse myself….
Steven M.
Wiersma & Jurs (2005) Research Methods in Education, Pearson, USA