Observations on positivism and pseudoscience in qualitative nursing research


  • Martin Johnson RN MSc PhD

    1. Professor and Head of Department of Acute and Critical Care Nursing, University of Central Lancashire, Preston PR1 2HE, England
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Observations on positivism and pseudoscience in qualitative nursing research

In this paper I will examine the boundaries between positivism, interpretivism and pseudoscience, arguing that some qualitative researchers may risk the credibility of nursing research by utilizing concepts from the margins of science. There are two major threats to the perceived rigour and credibility of qualitative research in its many forms. First is a trend in some work towards a mystical view of both the methods and the content of the qualitative enterprise. This can be detected, I will argue, in the work of Rosemary Parse in particular. The second potentially damaging trend is almost its epistemological opposite, towards excessive reliance on precise procedures, strict definitions and verification exemplified by Juliet Corbin and others. I will suggest that this is nothing to fear, but something to be clear about. This is not social constructionism or interpretivism but a ‘qualitative’ version of positivism. The paper concludes that students and researchers should be cautious in the uncritical acceptance of theories and ‘research’ which approach the boundaries of pseudoscience on the one hand, and ‘hard’ science on the other.