posted on November 20, 2012 15:55
Book by Jennifer C. Greene
Review by J. Valdés
Florida International University (Miami)
We are said to be “mixing apples and oranges” when we combine things of different types. Yet, in social science research, some of the richest data actually emerges from mixing very distinctive philosophical stances and methodological approaches. For Greene, highlighting the rationale and benefits behind such deliberate integration is central to inspiring researchers to expand their inquiry repertoires. To meet this aim, the author offers a predictable, yet logical, outline that includes three distinct parts: framing, practicing, and valuing mixed methods investigation. Less predictable but very helpful is the author’s inclusion of an “Interlude” at the end of each part that contains practical examples from the field.
Part one of the book (Ch. 1-5) serves as a primer of sorts to the “philosophical and conceptual issues” (p. 1) that inform mixed methods investigation, including historical roots and rise (Ch. 2) and paradigmatic positions and practices (Ch. 4-5). Attention is given to the differences between positivist and constructivist viewpoints, but more importantly, to the shift toward interpretive ideas rooted in “ideologically oriented paradigms of participation, social action, and social justice” (p. 36). Incidentally, Lincoln and Guba’s influential work Naturalistic Inquiry (1985) will serve the reader well in gaining deeper insights into constructivist thought.
Amid these interesting issues and discussions lies the book’s unifying theme—understanding and appreciating mental models, defined here as “the set of assumptions, understandings, predispositions, and values and beliefs with which all social inquirers approach their work” (p. 12). Greene argues that mixed methods inquiry is first and foremost rooted in honoring the “plurality” inherent in mental models. In doing so, researchers are challenged to (a) acknowledge their own mental models and how these influence their research questions, and (b) appreciate how other mental models may further inform those questions. Together, these key elements support a more holistic representation and understanding of the problem under consideration.
Part two of the book (Ch. 6-10) quickly involves the reader into the actual practices of mixed methods research. Prior to any discussion of design and analysis, however, Greene quickly reminds us that skilled researchers do not merely set out to create mixed methods studies. Rather, they consider research questions that help inform their method of choice. Of course, the expectation here is that the well-rounded and well-intended researcher allows for diverse mental models as a starting point to initiating those questions. This is one of the simplest tenets in methodology, but one that is always worthy of reminder. The topics in this section include: defining the study’s purpose and design (Ch. 6-7), data analysis and judging quality (Ch. 8-9), and final write-up (Ch. 10). Each topic is given its due attention and many are supplemented with detailed examples and convenient tables. That said, the reader is advised that the information on data analysis is conceptual in nature and does not offer the level of detail often expected from chapters of this nature. Additionally, many of the examples offered in this latter half of the book are taken from evaluation research.
The third and last part of the book (Ch. 11) serves as an epilogue to uphold the author’s view that mixed methods inquiry is critical and applicable to the work of social scientists regardless of their areas of interest. Such advocacy is rooted in a genuine interest on the part of the author to expose researchers to a wider array of methodological choices and opportunities for collaboration.
Mixed methods in social inquiry is well organized and well written. It should be especially valuable to those advisors and administrators who are actively engaged in research and considering a mixed methodology approach. Useful examples are plentiful throughout the book and the author’s anecdotes are relevant and clearly demonstrate a passion for the topic. Perhaps nothing reflects this more than a section titled, “My Mixed Methods Story.” Here, the author offers her own candid evolution from that of a novice graduate student who understood good research to be that which focused on proper and systematic application as the primary means of getting to the “truth and tenure” (p. 60) to that of a skilled mixed methods researcher who learned to value “deep and meaningful engagement with different ways of knowing and being” (p. 65).
Mixed Methods in Social Inquiry (2007). Book by Jennifer C. Greene. Review by J. Valdés, Ed.D. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 216 pp. $45.00 (paperback). ISBN: 978-0-78798-382-6