Engaging Theory in Qualitative Analysis and Interpretation

The role of theory in qualitative research has changed and theory is now understood as a lens through which to interpret qualitative data. This approach has been called “theorizing” qualitative data. Theorizing explicates what can be said from a data set. In theorizing, substantive theories combine with reflection and researcher positionality to yield a reading of the data. Instead of testing theories, researchers use and critique them for their applicability as explanations and interpretations.

Theorizing can be accomplished in various ways. Three common ways are:

  1. Searching for alternative interpretations
  2. Determining what is not analyzed by the theory
  3. Conducting a more inductive, emic or grounded theory type analysis

Each of these approaches focus on what is not accounted for by the theorizing. By comparing what results from each approach with the theorized account, we can gain or lose confidence in the trustworthiness of the theorized account.

Throughout the workshop, we will engage several exercises to practice theorizing:

  • We begin with a reminder exercise involving coding.
  • We will examine select theories, including theories used in applied and practice settings.
  • In groups, we will develop the key concepts and logics to be used for a chosen theory or two and prepare a “theorizing guide” for each theory.
    • We will then return to read and code the data using each theory in turn.
  • We will then use a “theorized account writing guide” to write short accounts of our theoretical readings of data.
  • Participants will compare the theorized accounts with alternative interpretations.
  • Our group activities will end with participants “performing” a theorized account. These presentations will employ a readers’ theatre format where participants create a script using the guides completed during the session.

There are no prerequisites for this workshop and no prior knowledge of theory is necessary.