Cox, Dr. Laurence
Discovery and dialectics: Gerhard Kleining's methodology of qualitative research.
"[N]either Method nor Theory alone can be taken as part of the actual work of the social studies. In fact, both are often just the opposite: they are statesmanlike withdrawals from the problems of social science. Usually, we have seen, they are based on some grand model of inquiry with which other people are beat on the head. That this grand model is not capable of altogether full use is not, perhaps, too important, for it may still be used ritualistically."
(Mills 1970 (originally 1959): 136).
This paper aims to present the Hamburg sociologist Gerhard Kleining's perspective on the methodology of qualitative social research to an English-speaking audience. In a context where methodological discussion seems to have become more or less concentrated on specific fields there may be some value in opening up otherwise neglected issues and in presenting unfamiliar perspectives on familiar problems, even if that means seeming a bit naï¶¥. By exploring Kleining's central argument, that direct discovery (and not simply interpretation) of social reality can be made possible by a strategy of openness (rather than closure) in research, I want to examine some of the destinations that we might reach by following alternative paths (1).
In this paper I will try to bracket as far as possible the question of whether Kleining is right in his arguments. This is partly a "post-methodological" move: I think that some of the issues raised by the question are ultimately unresolveable ones, at least within the social sciences. The argument between materialist and idealist approaches is a case in point: we can cite philosophers and psychologists to support our own points of view, but it is not clear to me that as social scientists we can resolve these issues (if in fact a resolution is possible). Similarly, the argument between relational conceptions of humanity and what has become known as "methodological individualism" (2) (Elster 1985: 5-8) may not be open to a genuine resolution except insofar as so many qualifiers are built in to the models as to render them indistinguishable in practice. The argument between rational and explicitly non-rational modes of thought is by definition not one which can be resolved through discussion (3). Lastly, I think it may be impossible to devise a method to demonstrate the validity of any statement about how human beings investigate the validity of statements about themselves. "Human beings", says Marx, "have to demonstrate the truth, i.e. the reality and power, the this-worldliness of their thought, in practice" (Marx n.d.: 113), and this is as far as I want to take the matter of ultimate validity.
My aim in this paper, then, will be simply to demonstrate the interest of Kleining's approach; I will first give an account of it in its own terms. Following this, I will attempt to isolate some important theoretical points about the approach, particularly in relation to a Marxist tradition. Lastly, I will try to identify some useful insights into problems of practical research which are offered or opened up by this approach.
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