Book by Willis, J.
Review by Heather T. Zeng
Assistant Professor of Psychology
Online Instructor Evaluator
Park University

Like many instructors who teach research at the undergraduate and graduate levels, I have noted distinct challenges in working with students who come from divergent training and personal backgrounds. Whether utilizing traditional or distance learning methods, few resources exist to help address these types of academic issues.

 Foundations of Qualitative Research: Interpretive and Critical Approaches seeks to fill this void in the research genre by reviewing these topics in a distinct and more contextual way. Willis catches the student up on relevant aspects of philosophy, empiricism, history, and prevailing political influences. This building of chronology is so valuable for students in understanding the origins of specific schools of thought in relation to a paradigm. For those seeking more concrete guidance on how to proceed with their own research approach, it provides general frameworks that clarify tasks and choices within a paradigm.

This text isn’t for the individual looking for a “quick fix” to understand a paradigm; however, it is valuable to the individual who perhaps has taken an introductory research course and whose interest has been piqued.  The text also seeks to differentiate itself by not merely positing the difference between qualitative and quantitative research by a focus on mere data collection.  

In the midst of this rich context and chronology is a sharing of cases on action research and historiography with additional web resources for further inquiry. The author is frank to note that in qualitative methodology, contrary to some novice perceptions “not anything goes,” and while it is not as rigid as the quantitative approach, there are methods that one should know to assure validity. Like Wilson (2000), who affirms that often “collecting data becomes a substitute for thinking about the problem,” Willis takes a similar posture to challenge the reader toward more depth of examination.

Some authors glide over complex concepts and ideas, making the reader who is uninitiated to the term feel inferior; this is not the case here.  There are text boxes to explore more specifically a certain idea or concept.  In addition, the author includes articles of interest (almost every other page) that act as a “ready made” literature review for the reader.  These articles of interest go further in that the author talks through the merits and most relevant aspects that connect to the paradigm under consideration.

One area of notable inclusion is the author’s disdain for the mergence of what he sees as politics into the scientific domain. While exploring the progression and growth of the qualitative approach, the author shares perspectives on a “methodological backlash.”  In this section and in several other chapters, the author cites policies and approaches that have moved to narrowly affirm quantitative methods and singularly negate any other framework as valid or acceptable in the public domain.

The most interesting chapter is the last, entitled “21st Century Social Science Research: Peering into the Future.” The author notes that  “The century ended not so much on a single pleasing note as with a cacophony of loud, diverse, and uncoordinated notes (p. 321).”  This section differentiates a singular attempt to understand the movement into non linear approaches to understanding. Examinations of emerging innovative methods such as poetic logic and chaos/ complexity theory serve as a capstone to bring the prospective researcher and reader current in prevailing approaches to knowing.

As an advisor pursuing further studies that require a graduate thesis I would recommend this book prior to undertaking required research courses. Rarely does one find an almost literary approach to research writing and a full discussion of the past geared toward more effective understanding of the present. Undertaking this reading will open up a dialogue from which individuals will gain more divergent research context to engage.

Wilson, T.D. (2000). "Recent trends in user studies: action research and qualitative methods"  Information Research, 5(3) Available at: http://informationr.net/ir/5-3/paper76.html

Foundations of qualitative research: Interpretive and critical approaches (2007). Book by Willis, J. (Ed.). Review by Heather T. Zeng. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 392pp. $44.95 (paperback). ISBN # 978-1-412-927413-0
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