"It doesn't count because it's subjective!" (Re)conceptualising the qualitative researcher role as 'validity' embraces subjectivity.

Year: 1998

Author: Smith, Bob

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The impetus for this paper arose from a recent experience where a graduate student, having qualitatively researched a government department policy, found the research dismissed by a department officer as being subjective, meaning biased and unreliable. The argument in this paper arises from the persuasiveness of the literature of the last decade or so, challenging the assumption that validity is (procedurally) satisfied when such techniques as member checks, triangulation and weighting of evidence are made integral to research designs. This assumption is flawed. "Validity is not a commodity that can be purchased with techniques" (Maxwell, 1992). Techniques impute objectivity, yet what we create through our research is socially constituted; "we can secure no unmediated grasp of things as they really are" (Eisner, 1991). The virtue of subjectivity (Peshkin, 1988) is in how it can meaningfully shape rather than distort research accounts. However, such meaningfulness demands that we qualitative researchers "investigate ourselves while we are investigating others" (Berg and Smith, 1988). It has been through such insights from the recent literature, then, that I have begun to map out the possibilities of the self-reflexive researcher role - a role that theoretically sees validity embracing subjectivity, while at the same time being "trustworthy enough to be relied upon [by research audiences] for their own work" (Mishler, 1990).