Summary and Keywords
The role of theory in qualitative data analysis is continually shifting and offers researchers many choices. The dynamic and inclusive nature of qualitative research has encouraged the entry of a number of interested disciplines into the field. These discipline groups have introduced new theoretical practices that have influenced and diversified methodological approaches. To add to these, broader shifts in chronological theoretical orientations in qualitative research can be seen in the four waves of paradigmatic change; the first wave showed a developing concern with the limitations of researcher objectivity, and empirical observation of evidence based data, leading to the second wave with its focus on realities - mutually constructed by researcher and researched, participant subjectivity, and the remedying of societal inequalities and mal-distributed power. The third wave was prompted by the advent of Postmodernism and Post- structuralism with their emphasis on chaos, complexity, intertextuality and multiple realities; and most recently the fourth wave brought a focus on visual images, performance, both an active researcher and an interactive audience, and the crossing of the theoretical divide between social science and classical physics. The methods and methodological changes, which have evolved from these paradigm shifts, can be seen to have followed a similar pattern of change. The researcher now has multiple paradigms, co-methodologies, diverse methods and a variety of theoretical choices, to consider. This continuum of change has shifted the field of qualitative research dramatically from limited choices to multiple options, requiring clarification of researcher decisions and transparency of process. However, there still remains the difficult question of the role that theory will now play in such a high level of complex design and critical researcher reflexivity.
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