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Journal of College Student Development 44.4 (2003) 566-568
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Qualitative Research in Practice: Examples for Discussion and Analysis. Sharan B. Merriam and Associates. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002, 439 pages.
Within higher education, qualitative inquiry has reached mainstream status as evidenced by the proliferation of books, journals, manuscripts, websites, conference presentations, and professional organizations available to researchers and consumers of educational research. A question persists at the outset of our reading of Qualitative Research in Practice: Examples for Discussion and Analysis—Does the research community need another book about qualitative inquiry? Sensitive to this question, Merriam crafted a niche book that complements the many theoretical, how-to, and case study inquiry books that flood the education trade book market each year.
The heart of Qualitative Research in Practice is a collection of sixteen essays exemplifying eight kinds of qualitative inquiry (i.e., basic interpretive qualitative research, phenomenology, grounded theory, case study, ethnography, narrative analysis, critical research, and postmodern research). Merriam purposefully includes two exemplars for each of the eight strands, drawing from an eclectic array of scholarly sources. At the conclusion of each of the sixteen exemplar chapters is a short reflective essay written by one or more of the authors that retrospectively makes sense of a qualitative inquiry issue introduced in the chapter. The intention of these exemplar and reflective chapters is to stimulate discussion and analysis about the conceptualizing and conducting of qualitative inquiry. Merriam's contributions to the book include two introductory qualitative inquiry chapters, eight introductory overviews of the approaches to inquiry showcased in the book, and a final cross-case analysis chapter that integrates and synthesizes ideas gleaned from the sixteen essays. In total, the book is a unique and worthwhile, yet not an entirely satisfying, compendium for an introductory qualitative inquiry graduate seminar or for readers familiar with qualitative inquiry who want easy access to a collection of research reports (e.g., journal articles, book chapters).
An asset of the book is Merriam's commitment to introducing and showcasing diverse qualitative inquiry discourses. The succinct and educational primer chapters introducing the eight strands of qualitative inquiry (which are by no means exhaustive or discrete entities) coupled with the in-depth exemplars remind readers that qualitative inquiry is neither a monolithic entity nor a mystical and nebulous process. Merriam's commitment to diversity is evident throughout the book. Contributors are both novice and seasoned researchers representing many academic disciplines (e.g., developmental psychology, sociology, cultural studies) and ideologies.
The book contributors study diverse research participants (e.g., Arab-American immigrant children, college women, school counselors, a gifted black child, heavy metal club attendees, and an older African American woman). The diverse research respondents illuminate how qualitative research [End Page 566] enriches understanding of complex issues such as race, gender, and sexual orientation. Merriam also includes examples of diverse research domains (e.g., spirituality, identity development, supervision, teen pregnancy, a children's book, and consumer education textbooks) that remind aspiring researchers they can employ qualitative methodologies to study a variety of research domains and research settings (e.g., Malaysia, an electronic bulletin board Lesbian Café, and in-church and televised worship). The discussions of the eight diverse qualitative research approaches remind readers that qualitative inquirers do not speak with one voice, while the reflective chapters accentuate complex ethical struggles associated with qualitative inquiry often absent in how-to inquiry textbooks. The diverse publication outlets for the 16 research exemplars (e.g., Adult Education Quarterly, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Harvard Educational Review, and The Journal of College Student Development) remind readers that there are numerous publication venues, each with distinct core beliefs about what counts as good qualitative research.
Another asset is the editor's attentiveness to meeting the needs of the intended audience: graduate students and practitioners with little formal training in qualitative inquiry. The opening two chapters written by Merriam are accessible primers for novice qualitative researchers. Predictably, she juxtaposes qualitative with positivist/post-positivist research, then introduces multiple...