Qualitative Inquiry in the History of Psychology


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Abstract

Despite the importance and ubiquity of qualitative inquiry, a comprehensive account of its history in psychology has not been written. Phases and landmark moments of qualitative inquiry are evident in variations that range from informal, implicit, and unacknowledged practices to philosophically informed and scientifically sophisticated methodologies with norms and carefully specified procedures. After the founding of psychology in 1879, qualitative inquiries were conducted by Wilhelm Wundt, Sigmund Freud, and William James, who assumed their scientific status. During the 20th century, with a rising emphasis on hypothesis testing by means of quantification, psychologists continued to use qualitative practices but did not include them in general accounts of scientific research methods. Although Gordon Allport (1942) called for bold innovation and an increasingly rigorous accountability, a delay in the systematic development of qualitative methodology took place even as practices continued to yield fruitful research in work such as Flanagan (1954); Maslow (1954, 1959), and Kohlberg (1963). Only between the late 1960s and 1990 did phenomenologists, grounded theorists, discourse analysts, narrative researchers, and others articulate and assert the general scientific value, methodologies, and applicable tools of qualitative inquiry in psychology. Between the 1990s and the present, a revolutionary institutionalization of qualitative methods has taken place in publications, educational curricula, and professional organizations. Examples of ground breaking, well-known psychological research using qualitative methods have begun to be examined by research methodologists. The historical study of qualitative methods offers a treasure trove for the growing comprehension of qualitative methods and their integration with quantitative inquiry.

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