The Qualitative Report, Volume 1, Number 1
THE QUALITATIVE REPORT
AN ONLINE JOURNAL OF QUALITATIVE RESEARCH AND CRITICAL INQUIRY
NOVA SOUTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
VOLUME 1, NUMBER 1, SUMMER 1990
THE QUALITATIVE REPORT
Ron Chenail, Nova Southeastern University
Brent Atkinson, Northern Illinois University
Pat Cole, Nova Southeastern University
Jerry Gale, University of Georgia
Tony Heath, Northern Illinois University
Lisa Hoshmand, California State University-Fullerton
Harvey Joanning, Iowa State University
Marilyn Lichtman, Virginia Tech University-Falls Church
Marguerite McCorkle, Mental Research Institute
Sidney Moon, Purdue University
Neal Newfield, University of West Virginia
Karl Tomm, University of Calgary
Linda Wark, Ohio State University
Estella Martinez, Nova Southeastern University
The Qualitative Report (ISSN 1052-0147) is devoted to writing
and discussion of and about qualitative research and critical inquiry.
The Qualitative Report serves as a forum and sounding board for
researchers, scholars, practitioners, and other reflective-minded
individuals who are passionate about ideas, methods, and analyses
permeating qualitative and critical study. These pages are open to a
variety of forms: original, scholarly activity such as qualitative
research studies, critical commentaries, editorials, or debates concerning
pertinent issues and topics; news of networking and research
possibilities; and other sorts of journalistic shapes which may interest
and pique readers
The Qualitative Report is published through the School of
Social and Systemic Studies of Nova Southeastern University.
Contributions should be submitted to: Ron Chenail, Co-Editor, The
Qualitative Report, School of Social and Systemic Studies, Nova
University, 3301 College Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33314, or
e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
Volume 1, Number 1, Summer 1990
Table of Contents
Ronald J. Chenail, Ph.D.
Alternative Paradigms in Education
Brent Atkinson, Ph.D.
Read More About It
Marilyn Lichtman, Ph.D.
A Novel Experience: A Classroom Exercise
for Exploring Patterns
Jerry Gale, Ph.D.
Recursiveness in Qualitative Research:
The Story about the Story
Kenneth Stewart, Ph.D. & La Nae Valentine, Ph.D.
Past, Present, and Future: An Interview with Ralph LaRossa
on Qualitative Research
Pat Cole, Ph.D.
Ronald J. Chenail, Ph.D.
Ronald J. Chenail, Ph.D.
History, rejecting absolutes, gives no comfort to the many able, subtle,
dedicated minds that crave finality and certitude.
Jacques Barzun (1974, p. 146)
Barzun's unsettling depiction of history is a fitting beginning to
The Qualitative Report in that a narrative of qualitative and critical
inquiry also rejects absolute, finality, and authority and embraces
ambiguities, uncertainties, and diversities of human experience. Just as
talk of qualitative and critical reflection is a multiversed experience,
so too is talk about that talk: What are possible and impossible shapes
and forms of a twelve or so page publication dedicated to re- presenting a
phenomenon which seems to resist and to tease con-formity? To that
question there is no answer; and thus begins a journal.
In the search for form--when sincere and honest--the action is twofold: to
create form; and to diagnose the created form. Accordingly, as the artist
proceeds with his[/her] creation, there simultaneously develops a
rationalizing yet unwritten analysis of the work.
Eliel Saarinen (1948/1985, p. v)
One certainty, at least so far, for The Qualitative Report is the
choice of the written word as foil for contributors in an on-going
discussion juxtaposing created form, possibly extant studies or
somewhat-held positions and ideologies, with diagnoses of that preexisting
created form, which may be in shapes of reactions, musings, misgivings,
and even inspired non sequiturs. Through the wonders of time, acts
devoted to diagnosing created form evolve into another created form, which
in turn becomes fair game for new and subsequent perusals, evocations, and
Let us get nearer to the fire, so that we can see what we are saying.
The Bubis of Fernando Po (cited in Ogden & Richards, 1946, p. 1)
The Qualitative Report is a calling for words and images inspired by
qualitative and critical inquiry and reflections on those inquires.
Papers, poems, and paragraphs; fragments, figments, and well-formed
arguments; butts, rebuts, and re-rebuts are all desired and appreciated in
an attempt to create a journalistic form somewhat in the shape of collage:
"To write...on the model of collage would be to avoid the portrayal of
cultures as organic wholes or as unified, realistic worlds subject to a
continuous explanatory discourse" (Clifford, 1988, p. 146). Of course
some may choose to rebut such a position, but then again, that is the
Barzun, J. (1974). Clio and the doctors: Psycho-history,
quanto-history, and history. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Clifford, J. (1988). On ethnographic surrealism. In J. Clifford
(Ed.), The predicament of culture: Twentieth-century ethnography,
literature, and art (pp. 117-151). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Ogden, C. K., & Richards, I. A. (1946). The meaning of meaning: A
study of the influence of language upon thought and the science of
symbolism (8th ed.).London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co.
Saarinen, E. (1985). The search for form in art and architecture. New
York: Dover Publications. (Orginal work published 1948)
Alternative Paradigms in Education
A new book will be released by Sage Publications this autumn (1990)
titled, The Paradigm Dialog (edited by Egon Guba). The book contains
papers given at a remarkable conference I attended last year called
"Alternative Paradigms in Social Inquiry," which preceded the annual
meeting at the American Educational Research Association in San Francisco.
As interest in qualitative research has mushroomed in the field of
education, it has become evident that qualitative researchers vary widely
regarding basic assumptions they hold about the nature of "knowledge," and
the role that researchers play in the development of knowledge. This has
made for quite a bit of confusion and frustration in conversations between
qualitative researchers. The "Alternative Paradigms" conference was
designed to clarify differences and generate dialogue between
representatives of three paradigms that have emerged as alternatives to
the conventional positivist paradigm: post-positivist, critical science,
Following keynote addresses given by Denis Phillips (representing
"post- positivism"), Thomas Popkewitz (representing "critical science"),
and Yvonna Lincoln (representing "constructivism"), a series of papers
were given clarifying how each paradigm addresses the following issues:
accommodation between paradigms; the accumulation of knowledge; criteria
for addressing quality of research; values in research; ethical
considerations in research; methodological considerations; strategies for
implementing research; and implications for training future researchers.
Each of these papers were then critiqued by other prominent qualitative
researchers in education. Finally, discussion was promoted regarding
issues raised in each paper.
Participating in this conference was a fascinating experience for me.
Like many family therapists, in recent years I have recognized how deep,
paradigmatic assumptions about knowledge inform and influence my practice.
After attending this conference I'd say its possible that on the average,
practicing family therapists may be more familiar with paradigm
alternatives than practicing educators. However, it also seemed clear to
me that family therapy researchers have devoted considerably less energy
to the task of exploring research applications of alternative paradigms
than have their colleagues in education.
While some qualitative researchers in education have made deliberate,
informed choices to ground their research in positivist assumptions, many
have incorporated qualitative methods into a positivist framework by
default, because they have not had the opportunity to explore paradigmatic
alternatives that have arisen in recent decades. The Paradigm Dialog will
contribute much toward paradigmatic clarification and informed choices
among qualitative researchers in education. This book may similarly aid
family therapy researchers who are interested in qualitative inquiry.
Read More About It
Family therapy researchers might be interested to know about the
acceptance of qualitative research paradigms in other disciplines. In
this article I'm going to give you the latest information about the field
I wandered through the corridors of the hotel in San Francisco last
October at the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
Convention, looking for those family therapists who might be interested in
qualitative research. I found a few very interesting presentations at the
poster sessions and one very lively, albeit small, group of individuals
willing to give up a Sunday afternoon in San Francisco to consider
I made a similar excursion in Boston hotels in April this year at the
American Educational Research Association (AERA) Convention. I found many
interesting presentations addressing methodological issues and reporting
on the results of completed research. It struck me as odd that the field
of family therapy has not yet "found" qualitative research to the extent
that education has. So I'd like to share some of what is going on in
Qualitative research has been of interest to educational researchers
for some time, although the bulk of research published in education
continues to be of an experimental or quasi-experimental nature. Many
educational research departments adopt the more traditional stance of the
experimentalist or logical positivist view of research.
Those who espouse the virtues of qualitative research have not often
had publication avenues open to them and, when they do, they are not
usually in the mainstream. Their manuscripts, while sometimes published,
may not always find their way into journals that have the widest
So it has been very exciting to witness a significant change in
position by the major journal of the professional association in
educational research. The American Educational Research Journal (AERJ),
the primary research journal in education published by AERA, has taken a
strong stance in favor of qualitative research. A public call for
"manuscripts based on qualitative research" was made in 1987 by Mary Lee
Smith in an invited article.
In her careful paper (Smith, 1987), she acknowledges some of the
difficulties in opening up the journal to qualitative research. These
ranged from differing labels (What is meant by qualitative research?),
differing views of reality (Is there a reality separate from the
observer?), of the objects to be studied (Should we study an institution,
an individual, or what?), and of the criteria for judging studies. Most
importantly, she suggests that such a policy "can only mean that editors
will use different criteria to judge and select such studies from those
they use for experiments and surveys" (p. 182). While she does not
specifically address criteria that will be used to evaluate manuscripts,
she admonishes editors to "become ethnographers of the culture of
qualitative research. Then reviews can be fairly solicited and properly
understood" (p. 182).
By 1990, the Association had made moves to live up to its words. It
divided the editorial tasks of AERJ into two areas and assigned two
separate editors. Wayne Urban, the editor of the Section on Social and
Institutional Analysis, says he is looking for manuscripts that are not
necessarily of a psychological or experimental orientation. Presumably,
qualitative research would fit under the rubric of "historical,
rhetorical, interpretive, narrative, comparative, legal and critical
approaches." Hilda Borko, the other editor, does not specify methodology
when she identifies articles to be sent to the Section on Teaching,
Learning, and Human Development. Presumably experimental research is not
the only valued methodology.
Finally, I refer you to a very interesting new book edited by Elliot
Eisner and Alan Peshkin (1990). Qualitative Inquiry in Education: The
Continuing Debate includes those papers that were presented at a meeting
at Stanford in 1988. This small conference (some thirty invited guests)
was co-sponsored by Teachers College Press. Five issues were addressed at
the conference: subjectivity and objectivity, validity, generalizability,
ethics, and the uses of qualitative inquiry. In addition to the two
invited speakers for each topic, there was also an invited discussant.
The introduction to the book tells it all. "New ways of thinking
about knowing and knowledge are emerging, fresh conceptions of
generalization are being offered up for consideration, validity and
reliability are being nudged by concepts that are quite the same. In
short, the conversation is getting deeper, more complex, and more
problematic" (Eisner & Peshkin, 1990, p. 11). Family therapy researchers
will welcome those refreshing and thought-provoking papers.
Other interesting advances in education include new journals,
conferences, and symposia remain to be discussed at a later date. I
invite those of you in family therapy to become acquainted with these new
Eisner, E. W., & Peshkin, A. (1990). Qualitative inquiry in
education: The continuing debate. New York: Teachers College Press.
Smith, M. L. (1987). Publishing qualitative research. American
Educational Research Journal, 24, 173-183.
Marilyn Lichtman, Ed.D. is Associate Professor in the Research and
Evaluation Program in the College of Education, Virginia Tech University,
A Novel Experience: A Classroom Exercise
for Exploring Patterns
Naming a pattern is the mosaic gloss that is imposed by (re)searchers
in their search for meaning. What is pattern though? Watching the
stocastic movements of "snow static" on a television screen, the viewer
typically sees no structure or rhyme to the snow. However, define a
boundary within the frame of the television screen (a frame within a
frame), and the viewer will begin to see/name structures and patterns
emerging. Is the pattern within the snow, imposed by the viewer, or in
the interaction of the two?
As clinicians, we are constantly seeing (creating?) patterns in the
dances with our clients. While many avoid attributing (at least out loud)
direct "causes" of the actions/behaviors observed, patterns (with names)
are frequently applied. But two questions that can be asked are: "Whose
pattern is it?" and "What is the significance of the pattern?"
Qualitative research methodologies evoke various approaches to
address these issues. Having the (re)searcher present his or her biases,
getting feedback from the participants themselves of their understanding
of the data and analysis, analyzing the text of the text of the text,
persistent observation, constant comparison analysis, triangulation and
negative case analysis (among others) are all strategies currently
employed by qualitative researchers to claim validity of the pattern
named. But how does one learn to see (feel, sense, smell, etc.) through
the labyrinth of possible patterns to consider the plethora of assumptions
embedded within and throughout? How does one cut through these
multi-layered contexts of meaning? How does one learn not to be blinded
by the reflection of his or her own shadow?
A Novel Experience
In order to help students/(re)searchers learn to experience these
questions (not necessarily answer them), as well as to encourage them to
challenge their own pattern making practices, the following assignment,
originally developed by Douglas Flemons at Nova Southeastern University,
was derived from a suggestion of Milton H. Erickson's (Zeig, 1980) to read
a novel backwards chapter by chapter. The assignment involved the reader
reading the last chapter first, then the second from last chapter next, on
down to the first chapter. At the conclusion of each chapter reading, the
reader writes a prediction of the previous chapter's contents as well as a
prediction of the first chapter's contents. By the time the reader
reaches chapter one, there are multiple descriptions and predictions of
what the author actually composed in the opening chapter. The reader then
compares the various predictions and expresses what he or she learned from
This task was recently assigned to students in a class taught at the
University of Georgia. A variety of responses were reported by the
students. While most found the assignment beneficial, many felt confused,
disoriented and uncomfortable during the process of doing the task.
Several students reported surprise (and concern) that what they predicted
was not actually there. Some were very good at predicting the future
(i.e., the past) events. Others were surprised at the continuity and
cohesiveness of the novel that existed even in reverse reading. Some were
challenged to determine what was important in the story and what was
by-product. Still others challenged their own assumptions of what was the
right and proper way of reading a book. One student noted how she had a
pattern of skipping by the middle chapters and going straight towards the
end (beginning), while another noted how she got bored and impatient and
had wanted "to get on with it."
There were those who compared the exercise to doing therapy, as a
therapist works to uncover the earlier chapters of a client's history.
One student commented (that he noted) that he often "provide(s) (his) own
interpretation of a client's past without inquiring directly into it...and
thus produce(s) a completely fictional client, or version of the client
which bares little resemblance to the person (he is) attempting to help."
Still another student saw the connection of this exercise to designing a
therapeutic intervention and wondering how the client will read the
In a discussion with the class upon the completion of the assignment,
the collection of their journals, and the reading of the above commentary
(albeit, an earlier draft), other commentaries were given. Many in the
class said it gave them a new appreciation of how meaning(s) and
pattern(s) are imposed on the clients by the therapist (himself or
herself). Many reported that the assignment helped point out how easy it
is to be induced into believing a particular story pattern and not to ask
challenging questions. Also, many stated that this assignment helped them
to challenge their own assumptions and their linear (simple cause and
effect) thinking both about themselves and about their clients.
The purpose of this paper is not to tell everyone to read a novel
backwards (though you might consider it), but rather, to get the reader to
challenge her or his own pattern making activities. It is hoped that
readers will find their own exercise(s) to challenge their knowingness and
surety. Both as clinicians and researchers we need to look at our own
embedded assumptions as we question the world around us. Paraphrasing
Heinz von Foerester, a blind person who sees she or he is blind is no
Zeig, J. (1980). A teaching seminar with Milton H. Erickson. New
Jerry Gale, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor in the doctoral Marriage and
Family Therapy Program of the Department of Child and Family Development
in the College of Consumer Sciences at the University of Georgia, Athens,
Recursiveness in Qualitative Research:
The Story about the Story
Kenneth Stewart & La Nae Valentine
The idea that therapy is a conversational art concerning itself with
the recording and careful widening of the narrative accounts of clients
has begun to receive more attention in both the field of family therapy
(Anderson & Goolishian, 1988; Hoffman, 1990; White & Epston 1990) and
individual psychology (Sarbin, 1986). In a recent discussion with Bradford
Keeney, we discovered we had common interests in the ways ethnography
seemed to be informing new directions in family therapy. He described his
interests in a narrative approach to therapy-- especially his current work
in creating galleries and frames within which to frame discourse in
therapy (Keeney, 1990). In discussing how these ideas might be applied to
qualitative research, he shared with us an article that he and Monte
Bobele had written on discourse in family violence (Keeney & Bobele,
1989). That article offered an analysis of the words professionals used to
describe their clients who were involved in situations of domestic
violence. These words were clustered into categories with a brief
discussion about the meaning of these categories. We found their brief
research project to be quite interesting and, when asked by Keeney if we
would be interested in conducting a follow up study, we readily agreed.
We drew up a protocol for a project on developing a "lexicon of
family violence."# However, instead of just asking the professionals, we
thought it would be interesting to ask the "male batters" and the
"battered women" themselves. We would then compare their responses with
each other and with those of the professionals. The questions we chose
which extend the Keeney and Bobele study were:
* "What words do you use to describe yourself, your situation and your
relationship with your partner ?
* What words would you use to describe the process of getting help ?"
For the professionals working with these men and women we asked:
"How would you describe the women/men? their situation? their
"What words would you use to describe what you do with them in
"Are there any words you feel uncomfortable using?"
We began setting up meetings with groups of "battered" women and
"battering" men. The women were interviewed at a local shelter for
battered women and a rape and abuse crisis counseling center. The men were
seen at a halfway house for ex-offenders that conducted court-ordered
psycho-educational groups for men who batter women. We met with them in
small groups. Data was gathered from the women and men in group settings
by setting up an easel with a large newsprint pad while one of the authors
would then solicit specific words/phrases that described self,
relationship, situation, and the process of getting help. For example, we
would ask, "What words would you use to describe yourself?" and would
begin writing down exactly their responses. These sessions usually began
cautiously but responses from the group quickly picked up steam, with
words and phrases flowing rapidly and with kind of cathartic energy.
Recursiveness within the data gathering process
During the course of our interviews, a number of events happened that
redirected our inquiry and ultimately led to a richer, more complex final
set of data. The first unplanned event during the data gathering process
occurred during one of the interviews with the battered women. While
describing their parents, one woman angrily said she wanted to describe
her mother-in-law as well. The other women quickly agreed. Wanting to be
responsive, we allowed for a deviation from our protocol and invited them
to share what was on their minds. They described their mothers-in-law as:
"controlling, demanding, a witch, stupid with their sons, enablers of
their son's behavior and deniers of their sons as abusive and alcoholic."
The intensity of their anger seemed to suggest that they were blaming the
mothers- in-law for their partners' behavior. Although they described
their fathers-in-law as: "alcoholic, abusive, flirty, a womanizer,
judgmental, overpowering, a wuss, and ball-less," they did not show the
same intensity of anger as they did toward their mothers-in-law. These two
sets of descriptions revealed a cynical and bleak picture of a context of
abuse, evasions-- misplacement of responsibility, and imbalances-- abuses
of power across at least two generations.
After gathering these spontaneous outpourings, it was decided that
before gathering words from the men, we would again deviate from our
original protocol and ask them to give us the words the would use to
describe their own mothers and fathers in order to discover how these
words compared with the women's descriptions of their in-laws. Not
surprisingly, the men described their own mothers in fairly positive
terms: "loving, caring, giving, supportive, beautiful, understanding,
sympathetic, etc." They described their fathers in both positive as well
as negative terms: "drunk, abusive, angry, hateful, ignorant, selfish, (as
well as) loving and caring, a good role model, changed in his old age,
etc."). We concluded that these two diverse sets of descriptions
dramatically pointed out the differences in perspective, depending on
whether one creates distinctions from a cared-for perspective or from an
abused perspective. That is, everyone understood by the battered women as
contributing to her own abuse--her partner and his father and mother,
received only negative descriptions.
Counting in the spirit of recursively organized research, at the end
of a data gathering session with the men, they were asked if there was
anything else they wanted to describe. They said they wanted to describe
society. They offered words representing imbalance such as: "little regard
for human life," "greedy," "unequal," and "divided into normal and not
normal." Other words described blindness to injustice such as "blind to
what's really happening" and "short sighted." To describe how they thought
society treated them they used: "they got your number," "gestapo," "laws,"
"limitations on individuals," and "railroad."
This diversion from the protocol revealed a picture somewhat similar
to that of the women when asked to describe their relationships with their
partners: blind, unaware, unequal, powerless, discounted, and used. In
other words, the men believed that society viewed them as inadequate,
while they in turn felt degraded and controlled.
While the women felt victimized by the larger family systems, the men
felt victimized by the larger social system. Interestingly, no one
commented on this isomorphism. Without these diversions, important
directions for the clinical application of these findings might not have
1. Both may feel victimized, degraded and discounted by larger systems--
he by the larger social system and she by him and the extended family
system. However, with his greater physical strength, he may often
displace his anger onto her in an abusive manner, but where does she
go with her frustration: To the children? To herself?
2. There are important differences in these two sets of descriptions.
When victimization happens in intimate settings a person ends up with
cuts, bruises, broken bones and a pervasive feeling of terror and
mistrust. When victimization happens in the less intimate setting of
work or the social system, the person ends up with feelings of
inadequacy, incompetence, and frustration. While both of them may
have come from families with situations of abuse, the consequences
to her in the present context are quite personal, physical and
intimate. The consequences to him, on the other hand, may be
personal, but are more social and economic.
3. At the end of the interviews with the battered women, one woman
said, "Someone should write a book about what we've just told you. I
think it would be helpful to others in similar situations." In
response, the second author asked: "If you were to go ahead and
write such a book, what advice would you give to women in violent
situations similar to your own?" They said things like, "You
can't tell them what to do or to get out, they won't listen;
instead, be supportive, tell them they can call anytime to talk.
I'd let them know I understand, that I've been there...[and] this
is how I did it..." "I would encourage them to get a job and to
think about the future."
Reflections on recursiveness and "significance"
A number of observations and reflections became apparent at the close
of this process. In analyzing the data, we considered a number of
approaches, including domain analysis and end linkage analysis. We
consulted with an anthropologist/linguist from the Anthropology Department
on campus about various approaches to the analysis. In addition to
suggesting a type of domain analysis, he pointed out that the words might
represent the complementary ideals of the person. For example, if some was
called "insecure" it would imply the complement- -someone secure or
strong, since the words would reflect the values of the person uttering
them. We finally decided to cluster the words into categories and examine
those categories for recursive patterns of symmetry, complementarity, and
intergenerational dynamics. We were so impressed with the power and
intensity of the words that we wanted to ensure that any analysis
conducted would not remove us too far from the experience and emotion that
the words seemed to evoke.
At the beginning of writing this brief report, the first author told
a former graduate student from the Child Development and Family Studies
Department (who also happens to be the Program Director of the local YWCA
shelter for battered women and who assisted in the project), that that he
was writing an article on "recursively organized research," she cynically
remarked, "Well, why wouldn't you ask people what's important to them and
let them talk about it?" It was as if she was almost sarcastically saying,
"Gee, its nice research can be responsive to people." She then went on to
add: "I can understand why people wouldn't do that kind of research
because they wouldn't have control over it, and couldn't predict the
outcome. It takes the researcher out of his more important role... and is
more subject directed."
In reflecting on the clinical utility of this project, we were again
reminded of Anderson and Goolishian's (1988) premises that psychotherapy
is essentially "linguistic event" where "new descriptions arise, new
meanings are generated, and therefore, new social organization will occur
around different narratives" (p. 384). Interventions can even take place
at the level of the individual descriptors people employ to construct
meaning and inform their actions. Beginning with just the descriptive
words could be seen as fundamental to this re-languaging art. The
reauthoring wounded narratives begins with the careful introduction of
alternatives to rigidly-held constructions in order that words and frames
can be offered that not only open dialogical space between people but also
begin the healing.
Anderson, H., & Goolishian, H. A. (1988). Human systems as linguistic
systems: Preliminary and evolving ideas about the implications for
clinical theory. Family Process, 27, 371-393.
Hoffman, L. (1990). Constructing realities: An art of lenses.
Family Process, 29, 1-12.
Keeney, B. P., & Bobele, M. (1989). A brief note on family violence.
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy. 10(2), 93-95.
Keeney, B. P. (1990). Improvisational therapy. St. Paul: Systemic
Sarbin, T. (1986). (Ed.) Narrative psychology: The storied nature of
human conduct. New York: Praeger.
White, M., & Epston, D. (1990). Narrative means to therapeutic ends.
New York: W. W. Norton.
# This study will be published in 1991:
Stewart, K., & Valentine, L. (1991). Metaphors in domestic violence.
In B. P. Keeney, W. L. Madsen, & B. F. Nolan (Eds.), The Systemic Therapist,
Volume 2 (pp. 60-77). St. Paul: The Systemic Therapy Press.
Kenneth Stewart is Assistant Professor and Director of the Family Therapy
Program, Department of Child Development and Family Science, North Dakota
State University, Fargo, North Dakota.
La Nae Valentine is Assistant Professor and Acting Director of the Family
Therapy Program, Department of Human Development and Family Studies,
Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado.
Past, Present, and Future:
An Interview with Ralph LaRossa on Qualitative Research
Ralph LaRossa, Ph.D. was selected for an interview because of his
contributions to the advancement of qualitative research, especially as
the coauthor (with Jane Wolf) of the seminal article, "On Qualitative
Family Research" (Journal of Marriage and the Family, August, 1985) and as
founding editor of the The Qualitative Family Network.
Dr. LaRossa, professor of sociology at Georgia State University, is
the author of Conflict and Power in Marriage: Expecting the First Child;
Transition to Parenthood: How Infants Change Families (with Maureen
Mulligan LaRossa); Family Case Studies: A Sociological Perspective; and
Becoming a Parent. He is currently working on a social historical study
of American fatherhood.
QUESTION: How did you become interested in qualitative research?
Dr. LaRossa answered by tracing his introduction to qualitative
research back to his days at The New School of Social Research in New York
City. While pursuing a masters degree from 1968-70 at the New School, he
studied phemomonology and symbolic interaction and was encouraged in this
qualitative work when he entered a doctoral program at the University of
His decision to use qualitative research in his dissertation proved a
lonely journey. With few colleagues for support and information, he
relied on two books to guide him through the "cookbook" method. The
intense anxiety generated by working on his own led him to publish an
article for the Journal of Marriage and the Family entitled "Ethical
Dilemmas in Qualitative Research."
QUESTION: Your 1985 article, "On Qualitative Research" pointed out the
exclusion of qualitative research in the field. Where do you see it today
Dr. LaRossa believes "qualitative research is in better shape today
than five or six years ago, at least in the world of sociology." This
belief comes from three observation:
1. The Qualitative Family Network, started in 1985 with 15 interested readers,
today has grown to over 300 subscribers.
2. More presentations on qualitative research are now offered at the
National Council of Family Relations. Students attend these
presentations, return to their universities asking for more courses on
qualitative research, and professors then have to decide if they will
encourage or discourage these courses. Regardless of their decision, the
issue of qualitative research has "moved to a level of consciousness that
wasn't there five or six years ago."
3. The feminist perspective has helped increase the level of
consciousness. Some feminists are more likely to pick qualitative methods
for ethical and idealogical reasons. With this trend, feminists "may have
more of an impact on the growth of qualitative research."
QUESTION; You mentioned The Qualitative Family Research Network. How did it
"It started unexpectantly," according to Dr. LaRossa. He presented
"On Qualitative Family Research" at a 1984 National Council of Family
Relations Conference, and, and the room was packed with colleagues
demanding, "Yes, what you did is what we suspected. Now what are we going
to do about it?" What Dr. LaRossa did was to point out between the
discrepancy beween the acknowledgement of qualitative research's
importance in the field and the infrequency of published articles in the
Journal of Marriage and the Family. This discrepancy troubled the
assembled particpants, and fifteen of them signed up for future
From this show of interest, Dr. LaRossa started the newsletter with
an emphasis on "not discrediting quanitative research, but encouraging
qualitative research." That accepting spirit had carried over with the new
editor, Jane Gilgun, Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota and treasurer,
Katherine Allen, Ph.D. at Virginia Tech University. When contacted for
comments, Dr. Allen confirmed a membership of over 300 subscribers, and
Dr. Gilgun believes, "Although qualitative research is not solving all the
problems in family research, it is certainly useful for developing
knowledge we do not currently have."
QUESTION: What is the future of qualitative research?
Dr. LaRossa predicts, "The more healthy qualitative research becomes,
the more disagreements there will be. Stage one was 'us against them',
and stage two will include more disagreement." He believes that people in
quanitative research battle all the time, so as qualitative researchers
start arguing among themselves, these differences of opinon should be
encouraged and appreciated as signs of increasing health in the field.
Ronald J. Chenail
The following is a formal proposal for a prospective journal entitled
Qualitative Reflections on Clinical Practice. The proposal, written by
Ron Chenail, has been submitted to Sage Publications, Inc. for their
consideration as new journal. Sage already publishes some journals which
concentrate on qualitative, critical, or clinical topics such as Journal
of Contemporary Ethnography, Journal of Family Psychology, and Theory,
Culture & Society; therefore they seem to be a logical choice as someone
to publish a qualitative journal which focuses on clinical work.
Presently, the proposal is being circulated by Sage among a group of
outside reviewers. Marquita Flemming, the contact editor with Sage,
believes that there should be some news on Sage's decision regarding the
Qualitative Reflections on Clinical Practice proposal sometime this fall.
The latest news of the journal's progress will be reported in future
Journal Updates. In the mean time, we at the The Qualitative Report are
interested in hearing comments on any and all aspects of the proposed
Qualitative Reflections on Clinical Practice
Statement of Purpose
The journal is dedicated to the exploration of clinically-relevant
scholarly activity of a qualitative and critical nature. The editors are
primarily concerned with examining the particularities of family therapy,
clinical social work, counseling psychology, and clinical psychology from
alternative and innovative perspectives. The pages are devoted to
interdisciplinary, dialogic, didactic, and practical discourse for
researchers and clinicians alike. The aim of the journal is to foster
interdisciplinary discussion between qualitative researchers and mental
health clinicians in order to create meaningful and relevant means of
reflection on the clinical experience.
Statement of Need
In the field of mental health (e.g., family therapy, clinical social
work, counseling and clinical psychology, etc.) there is no journal which
focuses on the broad range of qualitative research methods (e.g.,
phenomenology, ethnography, discourse analysis, rhetoric of inquiry,
narrative analysis, etc.) and philosophies (e.g., positivism,
post-positivism, constructivism, critical theory, post-modernism, etc.) as
applied to the study of the therapy experience. Most mental health
journals divide their pages between theory, practice, and research
articles. For the most part, "research" has meant logical positivist
inquiry of a quantitative nature. Currently, qualitative pieces in mental
health publications form a very small minority of the total journalistic
output. There is no forum in the clinical field for discussions on
innovative and creative qualitative inquiry. Given this situation, the
pages of Qualitative Reflections on Clinical Practice can become the
medium for this much needed debate.
Statement of Relation
In the field of mental health, Qualitative Reflections on Clinical
Practice is most closely related to three journals: one, Psychotherapy
Research; two, Family Therapy Case Studies: A Journal for Therapists at
the Front Line; and three, Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, and
Training. All four journals focus on the clinical experience, but
Qualitative Reflections on Clinical Practice is the only one of the group
to concentrate solely on the interaction between qualitative
methods/orientations and clinical practice. Other mental health journals
such as Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, Family Process, Social
Casework, Journal of Family Psychology, and The Counseling Psychologist
occasionally publish qualitative pieces; however, all of these journals
must divide their pages between theory, practice, and training articles,
as well as dividing the research papers between quantitative and
qualitative inquiry. Another unique feature of Qualitative Reflections on
Clinical Practice is its dedication not only to publish papers from a
positivist perspective, but also to present work which explores
non-positivistic methods and approaches to research (e.g., post-modernism,
critical theory, post- positivism, etc.).
In the field of qualitative research, Qualitative Reflections on
Clinical Practice would be the only journal dedicated to the study of
clinical work and the only publication which would attempt to publish
articles which would reflect a broad range of methods and perspectives.
Most journals in the qualitative area are either grounded in one
discipline's world-view [e.g., American Anthropologist (anthropology),
Evaluation Review: A Journal of Applied Social Research (evaluation),
Sociological Inquiry (sociology), etc.] or are focused on one general
method [e.g., JBSP: The Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology
(phenomenology), The American Journal of Semiotics (semiotics), Journal of
Contemporary Ethnography (ethnography), Discourse Processes and Discourse
and Society: International Journal for the Study of Discourse and
Communication in their Social, Political, and Cultural Contexts (discourse
and communication analyses)]. Very few journals have attempted to focus a
qualitative perspective on a particular discipline [e.g., Anthropology &
Education Quarterly and International Journal of Qualitative Studies in
Education (education); and Sociology of Health & Illness: A Journal of
Medical Sociology, Social Science & Medicine, and Evaluation & the Health
Professions (medicine)], but none so far have chosen mental health as a
Statement of Contributors and Reading Audience
There would be two distinct types of contributors to the journal:
one, researchers and practitioners from the mental health field (e.g.,
family therapists, clinical social workers, psychologists, mental health
counselors, etc.) and, two, researchers and practitioners from a variety
of qualitative research fields (e.g., anthropology, sociology,
communication, philosophy, literary criticism, etc.).
The reading audience would be those individuals from both of the
aforementioned fields who are interested in interdisciplinary discussions,
innovative methods, and relevant/practical information. Other readers
would come from related fields such as medicine and education. These
consumers would be cross- over readers interested in examining new
applications of qualitative research which could be germane to their own
fields of endeavor.
Statement of Structure
Gadamer (1960/1989, pp. 106-107) wrote that "every game has its own
proper spirit" and "the reason for this is that the to-and-fro movement
that constitutes the game is patterned in various ways." Each journal has
its own patterns and thus its own spirit. A unique sense of play
primarily emerges from the structuring of a journal's editorial board as
well as from the format of a journal itself.
Suggested Editorial Board
The editorial board for Qualitative Reflections on Clinical Practice
should be a community of scholars dedicated to difference and dialogue.
All efforts should be made to include critical voices from a wide and
divergent range of disciplines, perspectives, and philosophies. At the
same time, these diverse personalities should be willing to engage in
lively discussions meant to stimulate further conversations rather than to
stifle and suppress creative and unique talk. Probably the most important
factor to contemplate in choosing editorial board members is to consider
those scholars, researchers, and clinicians who are serious about play: a
to-and-fro movement (see Gadamer, 1960/1989, p. 103) dedicated to an
on-going, reflective, and even self-critical play on words of research and
The editorial board should have representatives from across the
varied fields which make up clinical practice and qualitative inquiry.
There should be a balance of clinicians, researchers, and
clinician-researchers. The clinicians should be chosen from the fields of
clinical social work, marriage and family therapy, the psychologies,
psychiatry, nursing, and other related groups of mental health counselors.
The researchers should represent the broad spectrum of methods,
perspectives, and philosophies which are found in the qualitative inquiry
of today: ethnography, discourse and communication analyses, rhetoric of
inquiry and rhetorical criticism, phenomenology, hermeneutics, literary
criticism, frame analysis, feminist criticism, post-modern criticism,
cybernetic approaches, process/outcome methods, narrative analysis,
post-positivism, constructivism, metaphor analysis, poststructuralism,
etc. The clinician-researcher representatives would be those individuals
who regularly live and play in both the clinical and research worlds and
have unique, binocular visions which would preclude from isolating them in
either a clinical field or a research domain.
The structure of the board itself would consist of an editor or
co-editors, a small group of associate editors, a large assortment of
consulting editors, a managing editor, and assistants to the editor(s).
The editor or co-editors would oversee the general running of the journal,
help to create an environment which fosters dialogue and interaction, and
coordinate efforts across the different departments of the journal. The
associate editors would assist the editor(s) by sharing in the
responsibilities of the journal's various sections. Associate editors
could have a section for which they have editorial responsibility or
associate editors could rotate the sections to which they would
contribute. Consulting editors would assist with the reviewing process of
papers, contribute to the various sections of the journal, and guest-edit
special issues of the journal (e.g., an expert on narrative could assemble
a special issue on the analysis of the shape of story-telling across the
mental health field). The managing editor would be responsible for copy
editing, formatting, and layout of the journal. The assistants to the
editor(s) would help support the overall editorial process.
Frequency: Quarterly (January, April, July, October); First Issue:
Sample Issue (120 to 180 pages per issue):
Each issue would consist of four major sections: one,
interview/dialogue; two, original papers; three, review essays; and four,
researching research and therapy.
Interview/Dialogue (One per issue):
This section would feature an interview with a prominent researcher
or theorist from within the clinical field or from another discipline; a
dialogue between researchers and clinicians, or between researchers from
contrasting perspectives; or any other configuration which would stimulate
interesting conversations regarding clinical work and qualitative
Examples: Interview with members of the Project for the Rhetoric of
Inquiry on how therapy may be studied from the perspective of
rhetoric, metaphor, and narrative; Round table discussion on the
contrasts between post-positivist and positivist inquiry; Dialogue
between anthropologists and home-based family therapists concerning
the integration of ethnography and therapy.
Original Papers (Two to three per issue):
This section would consist of papers presenting applications of
qualitative modes of inquiry in the study of clinical practice, and/or
papers exploring theoretical, rhetorical, aesthetic, ethical, political,
etc. aspects of qualitative research and clinical practice. The format
could be paper/rebuttal/re-rebuttal, a series of unrelated papers, or
papers grouped along thematic or subject lines.
Examples: Case study descriptions as therapy evaluation for HMO
reports; High Drama: Literary Analysis of family violence
narratives; Interpretations of interpretations: Towards a
hermeneutical understanding of supervision of supervision; Act so as
to increase choice: The ethical imperative of alternative methods.
Review Essays (One per issue):
This section would consist of two parts: the first part would be an
essay summarizing or organizing a particular method, theory, or
perspective, and the second would be reviews of books, articles, and/or
presentations which relate to the opening essay. Other reviews of books,
conferences, journals, etc., unrelated to the opening essay, would then
round out this section.
Examples: The post-modern condition comes to therapy (an essay on
Lyotard and post-modernism with reviews of Steve and Martha Tyler's study
of family therapy training and Tullio Maranhao's criticism of "therapy of
stereotypes"); How to do therapy with words--Speaking about speech acts
(a review of Austin's and Searle's understanding of discourse with reviews
of papers which have employed speech acts to understand the phenomenon
of therapy); Figures of Speech: Tropical understandings of clinical
talk (an introduction to the master tropes--metaphor, metonymy,
synecdoche, and irony with reviews of George Lakoff's work on metaphor
and Anthony Wilden's utilization of metaphor and metonymy in
understanding human interaction).
Researching research and therapy (Five subsections per issue):
This section would present up-to-date and relevant information that
researchers and clinicians would need in order to stay current with the
latest trends and happenings in the worlds of qualitative research and
Grants and Grant Writing: A precis of potential funding sources for
clinicians and researchers (e.g., federal grant RFP's and RFA's,
foundation support, and other funding possibilities), suggestions for
successful grant writing, and recently awarded grants.
Works in Progress: Reviews of on-going research studies, projects, theses,
and dissertations; reports of innovative therapy programs; and
announcements of soon-to-begin projects
Hardware and Software: Reviews and suggested applications of new and
not-so-new programs and equipment for researchers and clinicians (e.g., the
latest ethnographic software, tips on buying transcription equipment, and
new technology for audio/videotaping therapy).
Read More About It: Suggested readings for clinicians and
researchers (e.g., seminal readings in post-positivism, previous
attempts at integrating discourse analysis with clinical research, and
developments in case study methods).
Conference Update: A clearinghouse for upcoming meetings and
conferences which would be pertinent to researchers and practitioners
interested in the qualitative/clinical interface.
Editor's Note: Sage subsequently passed on the idea of doing the journal.
The publishing company had just launched a new qualitative research
journal, Qualitative Health Research, and was not ready to commit to
another qualitative publication at that time. As a result, we at The
Qualitative Report decided to continue to publish the journal without