Scientific Reasoning as Sense-Making: Implications for Qualitative Inquiry

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This paper emphasizes continuities between the forms of reasoning used in analysis labeled “qualitative” and the forms of reasoning fundamental to scientific analysis in any domain. Science is depicted here as a set of human activities or practices intended to impose order on and make sense of the world for various purposes. Scientific inquiry constitutes one important class of sense-making activity, an active organismic response to novelty and complexity. The discussion focuses on three aspects of scientific reasoning (sense-making) for the sake of illustrating their qualitative dimensions: inductive reasoning, explanation, and model-based reasoning. The point is developed that the basic processes of selection of relevant facts or meaning units, extraction of similarities, discrimination, arrangement, and emphasis are common across many domains of science and that these are also the basic elements of qualitative inquiry. Consideration is given to the implications of these similarities for the place of qualitative inquiry in psychological science.

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