The following extract is taken from an essay produced on the topic of Research Methods
Methodological approaches used to investigate how meaning is generated within a social context are characterised as qualitative or interpretative (Silverman, 1998). This is because the primary aim of the research is not to test an already formulated hypothesis on the chosen sample, but to understand how individuals perceive a particular phenomenon. The process of interpretation constitutes the essence of social reality according to the qualitative approach (Auerbach and Silverstin, 2004). This is because it is believed that people are conditioned by the wider social environment that surrounds them (Denzin and Lincoln, 1998a; Denzin and Lincoln, 1998b). People make use of the existing values, norms and principles from which they generate their own interpretations of their own experience. In this sense, the role of the research becomes the need to understand the social forces that help shape such an interpretation or understanding, since direct access to an objective reality is not possible (Silverman, 1998).
Even though the qualitative approach might be used as an overarching paradigm to treating social realities methods for data access vary. The prominent data collection methods are: a) Interviews, b) Case studies, c) Participant observation (Bryman, 2001). Interviews are used so that the researcher can investigate the experience of the participants and try to understand how they perceive events. The role of the researcher is to understand the more situation-dependent reasons from which the subjective experience emerges and which are specific to the individual and to her/his situation. By understanding the social context that shapes the participants’ experience, it is argued that the researcher is able to identify new relations that might not have been identified in the prior literature (Bryman, 2001; Denzin and Lincoln, 1998a).