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Record Type: Review   ID: 193

Qualitative Inquiry: A Dictionary of Terms

Schwandt, Thomas A.

Schwandt takes a refreshing approach to his choice of terms and the ways he defines them. It is postmodern in that he recognizes the living nature of terms and concepts and how they change depending on who is using them and the context. In a sense, there is no "right" definition that fits every circumstance and user. A person who uses a term can only use it based on what he or she knows. Instead of pretending this is not the case (or believing it is), Schwandt writes: "The choice of entries and the construction of their definitions reflect my particular understanding of various concepts and issues that help define the field. I have tried to make the definition of entries inviting, inclusive of multiple and often contested points of view, and occasionally provocative. My aim has been to write definitions in such a way that discussion of concepts and issues is stimulated and not foreclosed" (pp. vii-viii).

He used several criteria for selecting terms: (a) those graduate students inquire about most frequently; (b) "terms that are constitutive of the methodologies of qualitative inquiry" that are discussed extensively in the literature; (c) and terms that are most frequently not used properly or are misunderstood. He emphasizes methodological and philo-sophical concepts rather than those involving technical methodological concerns, which are dealt with in depth in the literature on qualitative methods. Finally, he admits that his "own prejudices about what makes for sound social inquiry" (p. vii) as well as his teaching experience with courses on educational and social research guided his choices. Finally, he does not attempt to provide exhaustive definitions but rather "an adequate introduction to the terms that help constitute the practices of qualitative inquiry" (p. ix). Moreover, it is not simply a book about qualitative research but he also evaluates the terms. He also took the additional important step of providing references to encourage more extended understanding of some of the terms, especially the complexity of the issues involved.

Thomas Schwandt, who is a model of what a compiler of a reference work should be, especially when dealing with qualitative methods and human inquiry, provides an introduction in which he sets forth his "reflections on the preconceptions that shaped (and were in turn reshaped in) the act of writing this Dictionary." He did this because these recollections could assist the reader in understanding this particular text. He also offers some alternate ideas for teaching and learning the practice of qualitative inquiry. The framework of the introduction and the book cover issues he considers basic to thinking about qualitative inquiry: Grand Synthesis or Constellations, the Pedagogical Encounter with Qualitative "Texts"; the Theory-Versus-Practice Divide; and On Framing Qualitative Studies.

The entries are liberal, from a half page to two and a half pages. He also provides several cross-references to related terms. Not only are terms like Coding, Field Journal, Inscription, and Triangulation included, but also much broader terms such as Empiricism, Science, Metaphysics, Text, and Understanding. If an interested person were to read this book, and it is a dictionary one can read no matter where one opens the volume, and follow up on the references, he or she would learn much not only about qualitative research but the entire scope of human inquiry, including Western philosophy and science in general. The reference list of works cited is organized by broad subject, with some citations given under more than one. To keep it relatively contained, only books and book chapters are cited. For persons interested in research into exceptional human experience, it should be very helpful in suggesting new and refining old research methods. I’m keeping it on my ready reference shelf.

Publisher Information:Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1997. Pp. xxiii + 183. Chapnotes: xxii-xxiii; 1 fig; refs. & sugg. rdg: 178-182
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