Title

The Future of Qualitative Data Analysis Software: Moving Beyond “Outsider” Critiques toward a Thoughtful Research Agenda

Location

3033

Format Type

Paper

Format Type

Paper

Start Date

January 2016

End Date

January 2016

Abstract

Critics of qualitative data analysis software (QDAS) go back as early as Coffey, Holbrook and Atkinson (1996), who warned against the tendency toward methodological homogeneity in the use of QDAS, particularly regarding an association between QDAS and grounded theory. Although this critique was refuted by Fielding and Lee (1996), and software capabilities have changed considerably since then, many scholars still cite this expository critique, or argue against QDAS with similarly alarmist allegations. For example, St. Pierre (in press), asserts that using software is merely “unthinkable in interpretive social science”. As QDAS educators, we regularly encounter misconceptions about QDAS not only in the literature but also from our students and colleagues. Some of these core critiques include beliefs that the software 1) “distances” the researcher from their data; 2) drives the method by supporting one kind of analysis or requiring the researcher to code/quantify the data in superficial/mechanistic ways; 3) is not useful for small data-sets; and/or 4) is overly complex.

We acknowledge that the relationship between qualitative research and technology is not neutral and has been under-theorized; however, the recurring criticisms of QDAS have too often come from an “outsider” rather than “insider” perspective. In this presentation we will provide a historical overview of the core critiques of QDAS that appear in the literature, identify logical fallacies and propose more relevant critiques from our insider perspectives. We include an outline for a QDAS research agenda that could move the conversation in a more productive direction.

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The Future of Qualitative Data Analysis Software: Moving Beyond “Outsider” Critiques toward a Thoughtful Research Agenda

3033

Critics of qualitative data analysis software (QDAS) go back as early as Coffey, Holbrook and Atkinson (1996), who warned against the tendency toward methodological homogeneity in the use of QDAS, particularly regarding an association between QDAS and grounded theory. Although this critique was refuted by Fielding and Lee (1996), and software capabilities have changed considerably since then, many scholars still cite this expository critique, or argue against QDAS with similarly alarmist allegations. For example, St. Pierre (in press), asserts that using software is merely “unthinkable in interpretive social science”. As QDAS educators, we regularly encounter misconceptions about QDAS not only in the literature but also from our students and colleagues. Some of these core critiques include beliefs that the software 1) “distances” the researcher from their data; 2) drives the method by supporting one kind of analysis or requiring the researcher to code/quantify the data in superficial/mechanistic ways; 3) is not useful for small data-sets; and/or 4) is overly complex.

We acknowledge that the relationship between qualitative research and technology is not neutral and has been under-theorized; however, the recurring criticisms of QDAS have too often come from an “outsider” rather than “insider” perspective. In this presentation we will provide a historical overview of the core critiques of QDAS that appear in the literature, identify logical fallacies and propose more relevant critiques from our insider perspectives. We include an outline for a QDAS research agenda that could move the conversation in a more productive direction.