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Review: Qualitative Research: Challenging the Orthodoxies in Standard Academic Discourse(s).

Sandra G. Kouritzin, Nathalie A. C. Piquemal, & Renee Norman, Eds.

New York: Routledge, 2009

296 pp.

ISBN 978-0-8058-4838-0

The unfolding of qualitative research is an expansive narrative. It reaches back to 16th century European missionary accounts of "primitive" communities, moves through attempts at positivist and objectivist approaches in the late 19th and 20th centuries, incorporates feminist, Marxist, and postmodern views in the late 20th century, and is now making efforts to blend or even eliminate traditional distinctions between qualitative and quantitative research (Lockyer, 2008). Through its various stages of historical development, the social sciences, education, and other disciplines have produced a diversity of methods. These methods include, among others, case study research, critical and post-critical ethnography, evaluation studies, phenomenological investigation, grounded theory, narrative analysis, and action research (Berg, 2009; deMarrais & Lapan, 2004; Merriam & Associates, 2002). Each method is both a reflection of the period in which it emerged and an attempt to enhance qualitative inquiry or even move the qualitative enterprise to a place where no qualitative researcher has gone before. In all cases, qualitative methods have advanced in the context of, and in response to, a threefold developmental dynamic. This dynamic has been characterized by pressures to be rigorous (in holding to some externally validated research process), responsive (to the voices and inclusion of those traditionally viewed as "subjects," and reflexive (awareness of one's personal relationship to and impact on the research effort). Postmodernism, critical standpoints, sociological ideas, hermeneutics, the traditional hegemony of quantitative methodology, and other influences have all contributed to this tension.

In the midst of the developmental tension, researchers come forward with new and unorthodox methods that contest quantitative and qualitative research "orthodoxies." Relating and encouraging some of these methods is the purpose of Qualitative Research: Challenging the Orthodoxies in Standard Academic Discourse(s), edited by Sandra Kouritzin, Nathalie Piquemal, and Renee Norman. The book focuses on interpretive research, with the chapters reflecting an interplay of narrative inquiry description, reflexive contemplations, and hermeneutical underpinnings. As the editors note in their Preface, the book's chapters "discuss challenges in (a) the conceptualization, (b) the "doing," (c) the writing up or writing down (Wolcott 1990), (d) the "afterlife," and (e) the "living with/in of academic research" (p. xv). Each chapter gives a different researcher or set of researchers the opportunity to discuss how, through research and/or the research dissemination process, s/he has challenged and been challenged by conventional research. In addition, the authors of the chapters strive to reflect the unconventional nature of the research through their individual styles of writing (e.g., dialogue or story form) and through use of poetry, graphics, autobiography, and journal entries. Through the recounting of their research and in their individual presentation styles, the researchers "open up possibilities for revitalizing the place of the personal and the heart in our academic work" (Carl Leggo, Foreword, p. x).

The book is divided into two parts: "The Doctoral Journey: Reflections on Disruptions and Interruptions;" and "After the Journey: Reflections on the Afterlife of Research." Part 1 recounts doctoral dissertations conceived, developed, and reported in nontraditional ways and formats. Part 2 discusses the life of research and/or teaching research carried out in the context of academic employment. What follows is a sampling of chapters from both parts.

In Chapter 2, Marion Cook tells the story of her dissertation "novel" which described the educational experiences of First Nations high school students in a small town in British Columbia. Based on her interactions with actual students in this community, Cook developed a character named Trudith, and through Trudith's story, the reader learns about the needs and perspectives of students in the educational system. The format of a novel enabled Cook to infuse an "emotional climate" to the text, allowing the reader to gain a "holistic view of the situation," making the novel much harder to forget than a traditional academic paper (p. 21).

Renee Norman, in Chapter 8, uses an autobiographical style to recount the creation of her dissertation that examined women's autobiographical writings, including her own. The dissertation, House of Mirrors, was published and also received the Distinguished Dissertation Award from the Canadian Association of Curriculum Studies. Norman notes that the publication and award were gratifying given the fact that the work blurred "the boundaries between scholarly writing and poetic, narrative, and creating writing," but she also comments that there were significant struggles, both personal and in the form of her dissertation committee, which made the research/creative process challenging (p. 121).

In Chapter 9, Nathalie Piquemal and Norman Allen describe the challenges of doing "grounded collaborative research." In the context of a project examining the ethics of excavation and repatriation of burial items of religious significance, the authors critiqued the university's human subjects review process for its exclusion of study participants from that process. In the authors' words, their research journey challenged the orthodoxies in that "we have allowed ourselves to be guided in our inquiry by our personal life stories, by our shared life experiences, by the power of the surroundings, and by the challenges that we have faced demonstrating that the collaborative nature of our research was indeed ethical" (p. 135).

Karyn Cooper and Susan London McNab offer a narrative in Part 2 of the book describing their study of "questioning as a critical pedagogical tool." Cooper, a teacher educator, and McNab, a doctoral candidate, discuss their efforts to use questioning to promote democracy, social justice, and equity in schools. Starting with children's curiosity in order to build links to the larger world, 4th, 5th, and 6th graders in a science fair project were invited to "wonder about anything in the world . . . and to write down as many questions as they could possibly think of" (p. 206). Students proceeded to investigate the answer to questions such as "How does bubble gum work?," "Why are different foods different colors?," and "Why do pigs like mud?" Using other examples from their classrooms (at several educational levels), the authors demonstrate how the practice of questioning can help students and teachers "develop a critical stance" for becoming socially responsible (p. 210).

Qualitative Research accomplishes its purpose of presenting "the points of view of academics in the social sciences who challenged the 'research-as-usual' paradigm" (p. xv). It is a fascinating and informative book because of the "nonstandard" research it highlights and the demonstration of alternative presentation formats that illuminate the methods presented. On these two points, however, there are some minor critiques to be made. Although the narrative form is necessary to the purpose of the text, the reflexive nature of the writings occasionally gets in the way of understanding what, exactly, the research is. Jeong-Eun Rhee's auto-ethnography in Chapter 10 presents the "travel" experiences, both real and metaphor, of seven Korean women as a vehicle for examining "positionalities in a particular institutionalized world" (p. 163). While Rhee offers a thin outline of her study, this reviewer was left wanting additional description of the research process. Matthew Meyer's Chapter 6 on Theatre as Representation seemed a better balance of clear articulation of the research program and its various parts with simultaneous unfolding of an unorthodox research story.

Regarding chapter structures and writing styles, the authors' presentations of their research also challenge writing orthodoxy. The presence of poetry, visual aids, and other nontraditional explication forms support the reader's understanding of the research endeavor and provides exciting examples of alternative presentation formats. But an alternative writing style can also place a formidable barrier in the path of reader comprehension which, for this reviewer, was the case with the Laroche and Roth chapter. In their piece on "Educational Space as Fluid," the authors write: "Without fluid turbulence flight is impossible. Without participating in the flowing stream of collective knowing, we are unable to invent and construct wings. Within a fluid realm, the individual is no longer a fragmented unit, but the unique expression of totality, a vortex inseparable from flowing collectivity" (p. 230). Even in the context of the chapter, this highly stylized writing verges on rhetorical gibberish.

Despite the concerns mentioned above, the editors have compiled an absorbing collection of research essays. The editors and the researchers are to be commended for their commitment to research outside the mainstream and for encouraging readers, and the academy, to once again expand and re-vision their/our notion of research.


Berg, B. L. (2009). Qualitative research methods for the social sciences (7th ed.). Boston:, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

deMarrais, K., & Lapan, S. M. (2004). Foundations for research: Methods of inquiry in education and the social sciences. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Kouritzin, S. G., Piquemal, N. A. C., & Norman, R. (2009). Qualitative research: Challenging the orthodoxies in standard academic discourse(s). New York, NY: Routledge.

Lockyer, S. (2008). History of qualitative research. In L. M. Given (Ed.), The Sage encyclopedia of qualitative research methods (vol. 2, pp. 706-711). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Merriam, S. B., & Associates. (2000). Qualitative research in practice: Examples for discussion and analysis. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Amy Phillips

University of North Dakota

Grand Forks, ND

Amy Phillips is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Social Work at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, ND.
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Author:Phillips, Amy
Publication:Teaching and Learning
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2010
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