Qualitative Research is enjoying a new found respectability in medical sociology, derived in part from an increasing willingness to submit to positivist criteria of reliability and validity. Whilst such claims to 'scientific' credibility have raised the status of the approach, this has only been achieved by driving a wedge between ethnographic methods of data-collection and their origins in the phenomenological strands of sociological thought. One consequence of this schism has been to rob qualitative research of its critical potential, transforming it from a means of challenging discursive formations into a mechanism of surveillance. This paper defines the broad contours of a qualitative methodology synthesised with the perspective of social critique. Positivist arguments are rebutted and validity is re-conceptualised as reflexive management of the relationship between the testimony of informants and a broader process of historical and structural analysis. The process of managing validity is illustrated for each stage of the research cycle.

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