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The good, the bad and the relative, part two: Goodness and the criterion problem in qualitative research


  • Carolyn Emden Rn PhD,

    1. Scholar in Residence, School of Nursing, The Flinders University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia,
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  • Margarete Sandelowski Rn PhD

    1. Professor, Department of Women’s and Children’s Health, School of Nursing, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, United States of America
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Dr Carolyn Emden PO Box 187, Lobethal, SA 5241, Australia. Fax: +61 88201 3410; Email: <>


This (part two) paper finds ‘the problem of the criterion’ at the heart of disputes about what constitutes goodness in qualitative research, an ancient philosophic conundrum as to how best represent reality. Ways around the problem are considered, including conceiving criteria as open-ended ‘lists’, and ‘enabling conditions’. Discussion principally concerns the impact of postmodernist thinking on the topic, and how qualitative researchers might usefully juxtapose the rationality of a modern world (in which notions such as reliability and validity are prized) with a mounting postmodern sensibility that acknowledges irrationality, fragmentation, and uncertainty. Part one of the paper traced efforts to define ‘goodness’ in qualitative research within various fields, including nursing. Disputes were found to centre on how the traditional concepts of reliability and validity related to qualitative research. In reviewing various sets of criteria of goodness, these concepts were consequently conceived as being championed, translated, exiled, redeemed, and surpassed.