Bridging Disciplinary Boundaries (January 11 - 14, 2007)

Friday, January 12, 2007: 2:00 PM-3:45 PM
Pacific C (Hyatt Regency San Francisco)
Evidence or Anecdotes: Exploring the Epistemological Tensions of Using Qualitative Research as Evidence for Practice
Speakers/Presenters:Shadi Martin, PhD, University of Alabama
Ian F. Shaw, PhD, University of York
Gina M. Samuels, PhD, University of Chicago
Roberta R. Iversen, PhD, University of Pennsylvania
Patricia Joyce, DSW, Adelphi University
Abstract Text:
The field of Social Work is rapidly moving toward embracing an evidence-based approach to practice. Some schools of social work have redesigned their curricula to teach future practitioners how to critically evaluate and apply research in their interventions with individuals, families, and communities (Howard, McMillen, Pollio, 2003). But what data counts as evidence and what methods can be used to provide this data? Are the current conceptualizations of "empirical data" and EBP contradictory with qualitative and interpretive episteme? This roundtable will explore the role qualitative research can play in developing practice knowledge grounded in research. Existing definitions of "empirical" and "evidence," the epistemological assumptions that undergird these definitions and the intent of EBP to promote planned and informed interventions are explored. Patricia Joyce will discuss how traditional positivist approaches and qualitative approaches "talk back" to each other in research and teaching, leading to richer and more nuanced perspectives on knowledge-building. She will evaluate how EBP's "hierarchy" of studies, from controlled trials to clinical consensus, leads to a re-examination of research and practice knowledge, and movement forward in integrating them. Ian Shaw will offer an illustrative inquiry into the implications of returning evidence and rhetoric to its practice base. He will draw upon a recent qualitative case study of practitioner inquiry in UK social work. He will outline ways in which social workers, service users, agency managers, academics, government, and universities should work to a transformative agenda for both practice and research. Gina Samuels will propose a conceptualization of EBP that challenges an exclusively positivist frame. She will argue that qualitative data can be empirical evidence and that interpretive researchers using methods that create or restructure theory are particularly well-suited for contributing to the EBP literature. She will draw examples from a longitudinal mixed-method study of 40 youth aging out of foster care to demonstrate the challenges and possibilities of using qualitative data alone, or with quantitative data while avoiding its relegation to the status of anecdotes. Shadi Martin will discuss the implications of Norman Denzin's (2005) call on the international community of qualitative researchers to resist the attempts by governments to "enforce biomedical, evidence-based models of evidence" (p. 105). She will draw upon the findings of her phenomenological studies of Hispanics and Middle Eastern immigrants' interaction with American health care system to illustrate the importance of qualitative research as evidence. Roberta Iversen argues that the wholesale rush of social work to EBP can be construed as an attempt to maintain the critical characteristics of a profession: control over entry, exclusivity over knowledge and terminology, and monopoly over a territory of clientele. In contrast, qualitative methodologies, such as her national ethnographic research, may be uniquely positioned to foster the "original" goal of EBP that Gambrill (2006, p. 352) describes as "a deeply participatory, antiauthoritarian paradigm that encourages all involved parties to question claims about what we know."

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