Qualitative social research

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In the social sciences, qualitative social research is understood to mean the collection of non-standardized data and their evaluation. Interpretive and hermeneutic methods are particularly often used as analysis tools.


The theoretical foundations of qualitative methodologies in the social sciences are provided by theoretical traditions such as phenomenological sociology or symbolic interactionism , which are often summarized under the designation interpretative paradigm or interpretative sociology .

In everyday life and in the lifeworld shared by scientists and non-scientists , constructions of meaning and the reasonable character of social action in specific cultural contexts are always given before sociological analysis even turns to its subject. In contrast to scientific facts, the social science object has always been pre-structured in a certain way by the persons examined and interviewed and is thus reflexive. The method tradition of qualitative research tries to take account of this special character of social science subject areas through the open character of the data collection and the interpretative character of the data evaluation. Qualitative social researchers usually attach great importance to recording the actor's perspective and the action orientation and interpretation patterns of the respondents, especially if they feel obliged to interpretive sociology.

Method dispute

Critics of qualitative research methods, who consider the use of quantitative methods to be more appropriate for most social science subject areas, sometimes accuse qualitative social researchers of unscientificness: On the one hand, they criticize the subjectivity and arbitrariness of the data collected (which are not collected using a uniform standardized scheme) and the analysis results and interpretations based on this. On the other hand, it is criticized that qualitative social research (because of the great effort involved in conducting qualitative interviews and their interpretative analysis, for example) only works with very small numbers of cases and therefore cannot produce representative results. Overall, the quality criteria and quality standards of empirical social research such as objectivity , reliability and validity would not be met. Representatives of the qualitative research tradition, on the other hand, claim that if the social sciences were to forego qualitative, hermeneutic methods, essential social phenomena could no longer be investigated because they defy standardized methods such as questionnaires or the analysis of demographic data . Furthermore, qualitative researchers argue that every method, regardless of whether it is qualitative or quantitative, creates specific knowledge. A positivistic view that takes a separation of knowledge and context for granted ignores the fact that knowledge only arises in this very context. The reflection of the effects of the methods used in research is sometimes neglected in quantitative research, while it is an essential component in qualitative research.

In order to counter the accusation that qualitative methods only produce subjective or arbitrary results, a number of methodically controlled processes of qualitative social research have been developed such as grounded theory , hermeneutic sociology of knowledge , objective hermeneutics , qualitative content analysis , the documentary method according to Bohnsack or the qualitative type formation, which claim to provide documentable and intersubjectively discussed processes. At the same time, the quality criteria and quality standards of qualitative research have been increasingly discussed in recent years.

Development and history

List of social reports, milieu studies, field research studies and milieu novels

The first qualitative studies were carried out by cultural anthropologists and ethnologists such as Franz Boas and Bronisław Malinowski at the beginning of the 20th century. The social researchers of the Chicago School of Sociology later adopted these methods to study urban subcultures . As early as the 1920s, the application of qualitative methods was criticized by some sociologists as being pseudoscientific . The discussion about the scientific nature of qualitative processes continues to this day. Many aspects of an old methodological dispute can be found here , which has been waged since the beginnings of sociology as a scientific discipline between the supporters of the scientific and unified scientific method ideal and the opponents of its adoption in the social sciences. Among other things, this dispute led to the dispute known as the positivism dispute, which came to a head in the 1960s as a result of a lecture on the “logic of the social sciences” given by Karl Popper and Theodor W. Adorno at a working conference of the German Society for Sociology in 1961 .

Since the 1980s, qualitative methods have gained increasing attention and qualitatively oriented projects and research approaches have become increasingly widespread, so that in 1988 Mayring diagnosed a "qualitative turnaround". A growing willingness developed to accept the respective relevance of the different research approaches for a specific question and to recognize the limits of one's own direction. This development finally found expression in the establishment of a working group “Methods of Qualitative Social Research” in the German Society for Sociology (DGS) in October 1997 and the establishment of a section of the same name in November 2003 (which was accompanied by heated discussions) .

The breadth of the different qualitative approaches has increased significantly since the middle of the 20th century. Today's spectrum ranges from software-supported text analyzes, which also enable quantifications (mixed methods), to more strongly codified methods such as narration analysis , hermeneutic sociology of knowledge, reconstructive social research, discourse analysis and objective hermeneutics , and open methods of participatory field research to targeted ins Field encroaching action research .

Since around 2001 there have been increased efforts, particularly in English-speaking countries, to use creative and artistic methods in the acquisition, presentation and implementation of research results. Processes of visualization, multimedia, theater, etc. are used, for example. B. in prejudice research . The presentations of research results count as speech acts . Such approaches are usually referred to as performative social science .


  • Eckard König , Peter Zedler (editor): Qualitative Research - Basics and Methods , 2nd edition, Beltz-Verlag, Weinheim and Basel 2002
  • 1888: Franz Boas : The Central Eskimo , 1888. (Reprint, Bison Book, Washington 1967) ( online )
  • 1897: Franz Boas: The Social Organization and the Secret Societies of the Kwakiutl Indians. In: Report of the US National Museum for 1895. Washington 1897, pp. 311-738. (Reprint: New York 1970) ( online )
  • 1922: Bronislaw Malinowski : Argonauts of the western Pacific. A report on the activities and adventures of the natives in the island worlds of Melanesian New Guinea , Syndikat, Frankfurt am Main 1979, ( in English online )
  • 1943: William Foote Whyte : The Street Corner Society: The Social Structure of an Italian Quarter , Berlin / New York: Walter de Gruyter 1996. After the 3rd, revised and expanded edition from 1981; first English edition 1943
  • 1980: Gareth Morgan and Linda Smircich : The Case for Qualitative Research ; The Academy of Management Review Vol. 5, No. 4 (Oct., 1980), pp. 491-500
  • 1991: Jo Reichertz : educational work. Police officers and field researchers at work. Enke, Stuttgart 1991
  • 1992: Konrad Hofer : Arbeitsstrich. Among Polish undeclared workers , publisher for social criticism, Vienna 1992
  • 1994: Roland Girtler : The Line . Sociology of a milieu. , Pocket, Vol. 1, LIT Verlag , Vienna 1994
  • 2018: Iris Stahlke: Violence in teenage relationships . Barbara Budrich Publishing House, Opladen 2018.

Akremi, Leila & Baur, Nina & Knoblauch, Hubert & Traue, Boris (2018): Handbook interpretative research. Weinheim: Beltz Juventa.

  • Bohnsack, Ralf: Reconstructive social research - introduction to qualitative methods , 7th edition. Opladen 2008.
  • Brüsemeister, Thomas: Qualitative research . Wiesbaden 2000.
  • Flick, Uwe; von Kardorff, Ernst; Steinke, Ines (ed.): Qualitative Research - A Handbook . Hamburg 2000.
  • Flick, Uwe: Qualitative social research. An introduction , 3rd edition. Reinbek near Hamburg 2005.
  • Girtler, Roland: Methods of field research , 4th edition. Vienna 2001.
  • Hitzler, Ronald & Jo Reichertz & Norbert Schröer (eds.) (1999): "Hermeneutic sociology of knowledge. Viewpoints on the theory of interpretation". Konstanz: Universitäts Verlag Konstanz.
  • Hartnack, Florian (Ed.) (2019): Qualitative research with children. Challenges, methods and concepts . Wiesbaden: Springer VS.
  • Holweg, Heiko: Methodology of Qualitative Social Research. A criticism . Bern u. a. 2005
  • Lamnek, Siegfried : Qualitative Social Research , 4th edition. Weinheim 2005.
  • Mayring, Philipp: Introduction to Qualitative Social Research , 5th revised and newly equipped edition. Weinheim and Basel 2002.
  • Przyborski, Aglaja; Wohlrab-Sahr, Monika : "Qualitative Social Research. A Workbook", 4th expanded edition, Munich 2014.
  • Reichertz, Jo: Qualitative social research - claims, premises, problems. In: Erwägen - Wissen - Ethik 18 (2007) Heft 2, pp. 195-208.
  • Reichertz, Jo (1986): "Problems of Qualitative Social Research. New York". Frankfurt / Main: Campus
  • Rosenthal, Gabriele: Interpretative Social Research - An Introduction . Weinheim and Munich 2005.

See also

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Aaron Cicourel (1974) Measurement and Method in Sociology. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp
  2. ^ Latour, Bruno and Stephen Woolgar (1986). Laboratory Life. The construction of scientific facts. Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press.
  3. Ines Steinke (1999) Criteria for Qualitative Research. Weinheim: Juventa.
  4. Philipp Mayring (1989) "The qualitative turning point. Fundamentals, techniques and integration possibilities of qualitative research in psychology." In W. Schönpflug (Ed.), Report on the 36th Congress of the German Society for Psychology in Berlin (pp. 306-313). Göttingen: Hogrefe.
  5. Hartnack, Florian (Ed.) (2019): Qualitative research with children. Challenges, methods and concepts . Wiesbaden: Springer VS.
  6. Reichertz 2007 provides a current overview of the field of qualitative social research.
  7. ^ Mary M. Gergen, Kenneth J. Gergen: Performative Social Science . In: G. Mey, K. Mruck (eds.): Handbook Qualitative Research in Psychology. Wiesbaden 2010, pp. 358-366.