Generalising from Qualitative Research: history, self-justification and contemporary responses

Year: 2018

Author: Guenther, John, Falk, Ian

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In this paper, the authors debunk a long-held myth that generalisation is primarily the domain of quantitative research. The foundations of generalisation from qualitative research  (GQR) are built on a history of natural philosophy spanning millennia. Based on a review of modern and historical approaches to generalisation, they argue that GQR can be achieved, not through a discourse of self-justification (as argued by some qualitative researchers in the 1970s and 1980s), but through defensible and rigorous research design and methods. The authors go on to consider examples from their own qualitative research work in the field of education, spanning the last 20 years. From these examples they offer mechanisms that qualitative researchers can employ to generalise from their findings. They suggest that generalisation is achieved through a process of generalisation cycles (GCs) which produce normative truth statements (NTSs), which in turn can be contested or confirmed with theory and empirical evidence.A recognition of the validity of GQR may have profound implications for the development of policy and 'evidence-based practice' and move discussions away from 'what works' based on quantitative data, to a more nuanced 'how and why policy or practice does or maybe does not work'.