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Qualitative Research

Qualitative Research

Author: Zach Lamb

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

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

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Hello, and welcome to Sociological Studies. As always, thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to study society. The topic of today's lesson is qualitative research. This is a topic that gets me excited. I like doing qualitative research; I think it's a very powerful way to understand what happens in the social world.

So we're going to start by talking about this concept "verstehen," which is "to understand." This is a German word-- "verstehen." It's given to us by German sociologist Max Weber, who we're going to talk about a lot in this course.

And Weber thought and argued and thought that good social science should do this. He thought that it's not enough to only observe and document the behavior of others, but we need to come to understand why they do what they do. What subjective motivations do they have? What's going on in their heads? What animates their action? What meaning do they give to the events and to their lives and to the social world?

The researcher, Weber held, must come to share in the subjective meanings of others. And qualitative research is great for this. So if you're interested in these kinds of questions-- letting the questions you ask dictate the method. So like I said, if you're interested in this kind of thing, then qualitative research is what you should be doing to answer your questions. So we're going to talk about, then-- we're going to give a brief overview of various types of qualitative research.

Qualitative research is research based on non-numerical data. So just interviews, observations, and historical and cultural documents. It's great for exploring a topic in depth and for really empathizing with the research subjects to understand how they perceive themselves and identities and the social world.

So when doing qualitative research, sociologists will often use interviews. They're either one on one interviews, they can be structured, with predetermined questions, or they can be more conversational, just to let the person, then, dictate their meanings, their life world; how they see what's going on.

Or, doing qualitative research, the person or the researcher might do participant observation, where they'll go observe somebody acting in their natural setting. The goal with this is not to influence what they do, only to observe. It's a good way to see how people actually behave and do what they do. This is really the purview of historical sociology.

So a historical sociologist might be interested in the Vietnam War, for example, and the social and cultural support or denial of the Vietnam War happening in America. So I can't go out and research this topic now. I mean, sure, I could do interviews with people who were around then, which would be a vital part of the research. But another really important part would be to go back and look at the documents, look at the pamphlets t that people were producing at the time, look at the artifacts of that time period, to get a sense of what people were thinking, to understand this objective view of the war at that time. So that's just another example of qualitative research.

When doing qualitative research, these methods will often complement each other. Sociologists will often use a combination of participant observation, interviews, and background historical research to get at their questions. So they're not mutually exclusive ways to do research.

Well, I hope you enjoyed learning about qualitative research and the concept of "verstehen," given to us by Max Weber. Thank you for joining me today, and have a great rest of your day.

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.