Qualitative Validity Essay

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Validity regards how scientific knowledge is made credible. As a social construction, the very calculus of credibility has shifted across time, place, and various fields. Discourse practices of validity in contemporary qualitative research exemplify a proliferation of available framings. The traditional foundations of knowledge are challenged by an epistemological indeterminacy that weakens any ”one best way approach” to validity.

A post-epistemic focus situates validity as the power to determine the demarcation between science and not-science, for example, recent moves by the federal government to warrant experimental design as the ”gold standard” for good science. In contrast, qualitative researchers argue that the ”problem” of validity is about deep theoretical issues that technical solutions cannot begin to address. Across the earlier naturalistic and constructivist paradigms of Lincoln and Guba to discourse theory, ethnographic authority, critical, feminist, and race-based paradigms and more recent poststructuralisms, validity in qualitative research ranges from correspondence models of truth and assumptions of transparent narration to practices that take into account the crisis of representation. And some call for new imaginaries altogether, where validity is as much about the play of difference as the repetition of sameness.

Rather than exhausting the problem, post-epistemic, socially grounded practices displace normative criteria of quality and exemplify how any criteria are situated, relational, temporal/historical. Unlike standardized regulatory criteria, such criteria move toward contextually relevant practices that both disrupt referential logic and shift orientation from the object to the relations of its perception.


  1. Kvale, S. (1995) The social construction of validity. Qualitative Inquiry 1 (1): 19—40.
  2. Lather,    (1993)  Fertile  obsession:   validity after poststructuralism.   Sociological  [Quarterly   34 (4): 673-93.
  3. Lincoln, Y. & Guba, E. (1985) Naturalistic Inquiry. Sage, Newbury Park, CA.
  4. Patton, M. (1990) [1980] Qualitative Evaluation and Research Methods. Sage, Newbury Park, CA.

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