Numbers are not antithetical to qualitative research approach: The case of Q methodology

  • Kgope Moalusi


The study contributes to the ongoing methodological debates regarding what defines qualitative research. Some novice researchers, cursorily prefer qualitative research unaware of its theoretical underpinnings. The novice researchers’ preferences may be predicated on erroneous assumptions that qualitative research is limited to non-quantitative methods. To determine whether the study is qualitative or quantitative or subjective/objective on the basis of whether statistics is used is simplistic and may be misleading, and may reveal a misplaced emphasis (Brown, 1980; 1993). Q methodology is cited as an example and what makes it qualitative is illustrated. Q methodology is a qualitative research approach that uses quantitative methods such as correlation and factor analysis to study human subjectivity. Q methodology is typified by the following:

  • The focus of Q methodology is on life as lived from the vantage point of the participant living it and through statistical analysis Q methodology provides a systematic way for identifying perception structures that exist within the research participants (Armatas, Venn, & Watson, 2014; Stenner, 2009; Watts & Stenner, 2014).
  • From factor analysis, the perception structures or factors that emerge are not restricted by existing theory, and are only labelled a posteriori, making Q suitable for exploratory qualitative studies.

It is concluded that the use of numbers is not antithetical to qualitative research approach. However, the use of numbers should cohere with the theoretical assumptions that underpin qualitative research approach.