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Journal of College Student Development 48.6 (2007) 735-737

Reviewed by
R.M. Johnson,
Iowa State University
Negotiating the Complexities of Qualitative Research in Higher Education: Fundamental Elements and Issues. Susan R. Jones, Vasti Torres, and Jan Armino. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2006, 213 pages, $34.95 (softcover)

Negotiating the Complexities of Qualitative Research in Higher Education: Fundamental Elements and Issues succeeds in providing a foundation for improving the methodological goodness of qualitative research in higher education that Jones, Torres, and Armino note as one of the guiding principles, and inspiration, for their book. In their text, they address fundamental issues that impact the rigor, goodness, and trustworthiness of qualitative research, while simultaneously illuminating the complexities of qualitative research that make it an effective and valuable strategy for attending to a diverse spectrum of research, evaluation, and assessment inquiries.

As Jones, Torres, and Armino note, each brought "differing worldviews, experiences, and training in qualitative research" (p. xi), and the reader will find this to be one of the many strengths of the book. The authors integrate their differing experiences, extensive knowledge, and qualitative training to provide the reader with a rich and comprehensive—yet concise— amount of information on the topics of situating research in a qualitative framework and the research design, continuity and congruence issues, interpreting and representing qualitative data, the influence of social identities, power and positionality, ensuring goodness, ethical issues, and the use of mixed methods research.

In the first chapter, Jones, Torres, and Armino identify six fundamental areas that the qualitative researcher should contemplate and [End Page 735] address during the planning phases of a qualitative study. These include, identifying a topic of study in which the researcher has a "compelling" interest, situating the researcher's worldview on the nature of existence (ontology) and knowledge (epistemology); situating the theoretical perspective and framework; identifying a question that presses on the researcher; identifying whether the inquiry is evaluation, research, or assessment; and exploring the researcher's positionality. It is in this chapter that the authors note and synthesize the varied definitions and uses of qualitative terminology, specifically linking terminology with its use by a number of prominent qualitative scholars. This multiplicity of definitions and uses of qualitative language illuminates one of the many complexities researchers and scholars must negotiate when conducting, writing, and reading qualitative research. Another critical complexity of qualitative inquiry identified in chapter 1 (and addressed further in chapter 2) is the vital importance of determining, aligning, and articulating the epistemology, theoretical perspective, methodology, and methods that provide the research framework for the question driving the study. Additionally, an explanation is provided for the difference between methodology and methods which often gets (mis)represented as a single component of a research study. In chapter 2, the authors expand on the elements of the research design; expressly, they address the point that good qualitative research must be grounded in its philosophical underpinnings before making a leap to what methods will be utilized to answer a research question. In this chapter, there is a description of the more frequently used methodologies (e.g., phenomenology, grounded theory, ethnography, case study) in qualitative inquiry taking care to address the characteristics that distinguish one methodological approach from another.

Chapter 3 deals with the complexities of sampling strategies in qualitative research, a component that most often draws criticism from individuals who attempt to evaluate the merits of qualitative inquiry through a positivistic or post-positivist lens. Jones, Torres, and Armino elucidate the issues pertaining to the language used in qualitative sampling, the scope of coverage in participant selection, criteria for sampling, sampling size, strategies for sampling that align with the purpose of the study, and conclude the chapter with a discussion on issues that relate to interests in a "diverse" sample. Continuity and congruence are the topics of focus in chapter four. Here, Jones, Torres, and Armino continue to emphasize the requisite need for congruence between the elements of the research design. Using their collective...


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