Five Approaches and Theory
Creswell (2013) notes that qualitative research methods typically aid in researching topics where little is known about a phenomenon. Tavallaei and Talib (2010) further note that qualitative approaches are utilized “when the researcher’s variables are unclear and unknown and when a relevant theory base is missing in any sense” (p. 571). This suggests that qualitative research is less focused on testing hypothesis and relationships between variables, but the description, analysis, and interpretation of a given phenomenon (Creswell, 2013; Tavallaei & Talib, 2010). As it relates to theory, no clear consensus and agreement exists “regarding the role and significance of theory” (Creswell, 2013; Tavallaei & Talib, 2010, p. 571).
In an effort to shed some light on the role of theory in qualitative research, the following assignment will briefly discuss theory and its uses. It will further compare and contrast the role of theory within the five qualitative approaches. Finally, the assignment will conclude with a discussion regarding the use and role of theory in the final assignment, and considerations to keep in mind (Walden University, 2013).
The Role and Use of Theory
Theory in qualitative research is not as clearly defined as in quantitative research methods. It does not serve a specific, predetermined, or prescribed role, nor does it fulfill the same functions in each approach. In contrast to quantitative approaches, the basis and nature of each research method varies, and so does the use and function of theory within each (Creswell, 2010). Despite the differences in theory applications, Tavallaei and Talib (2010) note “three distinct understandings about the role of theory…: (a) Theory relates to the researcher’s chosen methodology and the epistemologies underlying it (Best & Kahn, 2003; Gay & Airasian, 2003 cited by Anfara & Mertz, 2006); (b) Qualitative research theory, compared to methodology, has a relatively more broad and extensive role (Denzin & Lincoln, 2003b), and (c) Theory does not typically have a solid relationship with qualitative research (Merriam, 1997; Schwandt, 2007)” (p. 571). Furthermore, Creswell (2010) explains that theory in qualitative research is used in several ways, including “as broad explanation for behaviors and attitudes…;” as a theoretical lens or perspective orienting and guiding the inquiry; or as an endpoint to the “inductive process of building from data to broad themes to a generalized model or theory” (p. 62). In addition, he adds that some qualitative research approaches “do not employ any explicit theory,” but seek to define the essence of a phenomenon based on participants’ shared experiences (Creswell, 2010, p. 64; Creswell, 2013). Considering the diversity in roles and uses of theory in qualitative research, one could argue that it is merely a particular process of seeking an explanation, “an organized body of concepts and principles intended to explain a particular phenomenon”...