An Analysis of Qualitative Research Methods
Qualitative political and historical researchers seek to analyze social or political phenomena from multiple perspectives in order to gain an in-depth understanding of their research topic, as well as insight into the broader scope of their disciplines. They accomplish these goals by using case-specific methods that are designed to generate knowledge and yet are limiting in that same area. Because of their selectively designed character, each of these methods will neither generate a multi-dimensional analysis of a given research topic, nor address the serious validity issues often associated with qualitative research. Nonetheless, they are productive approaches for evaluating the "truth" carried by certain hypotheses and well-structured for qualitative analysis. Though they have apparent weaknesses, these methods do indeed satisfy the major goals of qualitative research.
Historians and political scientists seek to have a broad yet deep understanding of society and politics based on multiple perspectives (Bogdan, 38). Very often, they want both a theoretical and empirical understanding of a given topic, as that suggests knowledge of general concepts along with detailed information. They aim to describe-though somewhat scientifically-and to form arguments mainly by explaining in qualitative terms the noteworthy attributes of a given social or political event or trend. Fundamentally, the two underlying goals behind such research are: (a) to understand the complex nature of politics and power in the context of human affairs, and (b) to explain political behavior (Marsh, 152; Johnson, 37).
The way in which qualitative researchers pursue these goals is through methodologies that are designed to generate a specific type of analysis. This means that qualitative researchers approach the process of analyzing a phenomenon or set thereof by gathering data and designing an ordered, multi-step method to analyze and then synthesize that data. Essentially, the method itself is a process that is tailored to accomplish specific research goals, which include generating a specific type of understanding of a given state of affairs. Depending on the type of understanding desired, "researchers may adopt particular methodological positions which establish how they go about studying a phenomenon" (Seale, 328). The design of each of these methods is to be distinguished from quantitative models, which are usually founded on statistical and rigorous mathematical paradigms. In contrast, qualitative researchers-especially in history and political science-often engage in descriptive research, which involves broader concepts of design and less math. Harrison (2001) writes, "qualitative research 'tends to focus on exploring, in as much detail as possible, smaller numbers of instances [than quantitative designs] or examples which are seen as being interesting or illuminating, and aims to achieve "depth" rather than...