Keywords in Qualitative Methods: a Vocabulary of Research Concepts

Bloor, Michael and Wood, Fiona
Sage Publications, London
0761943315 (pb)

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Cover of book A small, almost pocket sized book that provides a useful reference source for key terms in qualitative research. Organised alphabetically, the entries are comprehensive in their coverage. Each entry contains a definition, a description of distinctive features, examples, an evaluation, and associated concepts by keyword and selected key readings. In keeping with the spirit of the text, I have endeavoured to keep this review as concise as possible.

Written in a clear style and adequately cross referenced throughout, this is a book that is primarily aimed at the undergraduate reader and will also be a useful guide to novice researchers. One of the strong features of this book is its attention to practical issues. For example, close attention is being paid to ethics, data protection and as the entry on 'dangerous fieldwork' rightly points out, fieldworker safety is often overlooked. There is also good practical advice on audio and visual recording, other forms of electronic data gathering and analysis and fieldnotes. As well as entries that cover the practical side of things, the more theoretical aspects are also covered with, for example entries that deal with analytic induction, meta ethnography, naturalism and realism, and symbolic interactionism, together with the old bête noir of methodologists, postmodernism.

At first sight, an entry on postmodernism in a pragmatic book about methods may appear to be somewhat contradictory, but here it is clearly linked in to notions of deconstruction and the role of the author and reflexivity. Despite some evident, and in my opinion justified disdain for such approaches, the authors nonetheless manage to negotiate the common pitfalls and present a complex issue in a straightforward manner.

Another set of entries deals with a number of issues arising from participation, action research, rapid appraisal and the public uses of research. I have to admit that my own general attitude towards both action research and rapid assessment is somewhat qualified and at times ambivalent, not the least because their inclusion as forms of qualitative research often implies that qualitative research is anything but numbers, and also that action research and forms of rapid assessment often employ multiple methods. Judging from the entries that cover these topics I am not alone, and once again the authors manage to guide the reader in an informed but gentle criticism.

Yet I was surprised that there was no entry on empowerment, although it has four index entries and appears in action research, bias, oral history and public/private accounts. Now empowerment is not a method, and indeed may well be an overstated ideal, but 'uses of qualitative research' gets an entry. Of course this is really a matter of how the material is organised, and the entries on citizen's juries and public participation cover the much the same ground. Another omission in the contents pages is the Data Protection Act. Now although social researchers are usually exempt from its restrictions, I still feel that a bit more signposting on this issue would have been useful if only to better inform novice researchers about its existence.

Given the generally broad approach to the subject taken by the authors, I was also surprised by the omission of an entry that dealt with the analysis of visual data, other than references to video recording, and nothing on media analysis apart from a non indexed reference in the section on documentary analysis. Of course no book is ever perfect, and overall I would recommend this volume.

Kevin Meethan
University of Plymouth