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Qualitative Research

Qualitative Research

Author: Paul Hannan

Recognize the role of qualitative research and the concept of verstehen.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain Police Car; Public Domain:

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Welcome to this episode of Sociology Studies of Society. Today's lesson is on qualitative research. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind, or even fast forward to make sure you get the most out of this tutorial.

So what exactly is qualitative research? Well, qualitative research is research based in non-numerical data. Sometimes people make the mistake to assume that all research is based on numbers. Find the percent of this and measuring this and measuring that. Qualitative research is a different type of research, and it's not using numbers.

Now it's best use when you are taking a topic that is either so complex or so touchy or so something that makes it special that it can't really be easily quantified. It's not something that you can easily turn into numbers, but it's not just use when you can't do it. It actually can be a benefit to, because it really allows for a real depth of knowledge to your research, because you're not trying to simplify things to turn them into numbers, instead you can get a really in-depth look at a topic. I like to give an example when trying to explain qualitative research.

So the example I have here is a cop car. Let's say we're looking at racial profiling by police. This is something that sociologist should be interested to study, and socialists have studied it.

Now you could do a study that was quantitative, and you're looking at the numbers. Maybe you're pulling the statistics of how many cops pull over what percentage of what race of people. That's one where you could do it.

Now a qualitative approach though would maybe conduct interviews with the police officers to try to really get an in-depth deep understanding. So going beyond the numbers to really look at why racial profiling is or isn't happening-- well, it is happening-- but looking at why racial profiling is happening. Now there are a couple different ways you can do qualitative research for sociology, first one is interviews. So you can ask really open-ended questions, involve questions. That's a pretty typical way for researchers to do qualitative research.

You can also do some historical and culture review. So you can actually look at old documents or old artifacts and use that to try to understand a concept. So if you take that exam example of looking at racial profiling, you might look at some journals, or some recordings, or some videos that are historical documents that you actually can go back and look at. A third way to do qualitative research is participant observation, where you go join a group and you make meaning of the interactions by joining that group.

Now good qualitative research really requires sympathy. Part of the benefit is you're trying to get a deeper understanding of a topic. And if you don't really understand the subject, it's going to be really hard to get that deeper understanding.

Verstehen is the term that really helps explain that. And this term really just means understanding human behavior by examining the meanings that other people attached to it. So I like to really transpose that, translate to say it's really about sympathy. So you need to understand human behavior by looking at the meaning that other people attach to it.

So the takeaway message is that qualitative research is research based on non-numerical data. And verstehen is this sympathy, this understanding of human behavior by examining the meaning that other people attached to it. So that's it for this lesson. Good work, and hopefully you'll be seeing me on your screen again soon.

Terms to Know
Qualitative Research

Research aimed at gathering non-numerical data typically in the form of interviews, focus groups, observations, and work with cultural and historical documents.


To understand; understanding human action by examining the subjective meanings that people attach to their lives.