CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1This collectively written work – 29 contributions – is designed for students, teachers and researchers interested in conducting qualitative studies in the area of health. It is multidisciplinary, and contributors include French-speaking academics working for the most part in the social sciences and public health, physicians, educational science professors and specialists of communication. The material is also accessible to non-specialists wishing to understand and possibly conduct qualitative surveys, and it is enriched with interdisciplinary dialogue and field study experiences. The book skilfully instructs readers in how to carry out surveys or studies with rigour and forethought.

2It opens with a reminder of the fundamental methodological principles of the social sciences (Part I) and proceeds to show how they may be applied in part to studies on health subjects (Part II). The first chapters take up the ethics-related issues of research into medical questions and present interview and observation methods as well as how to use documents, including internet material (e-health studies). Part III presents examples of qualitative studies on health that illustrate the specific issues involved in conducting research into medical and public health subjects as well as working within theoretical frameworks such as phenomenology or applying particular methods such as focus groups and mixed methods.

3The notion of “qualitative research” adopted here is quite broad and defined in opposition, as it were, to research based on health databases. The last chapter suggests that in this intensely multidisciplinary field, the qual/quant opposition is methodologically and epistemologically inoperative. However, distinct disciplines and approaches – which researchers are not always fully familiar with – do come into play, and interactions between them are necessary. The authors put forward three recommendations for “good” practice of qualitative health studies, practice in which researchers can work effectively together: 1) grounding the research in a theoretical framework that researchers are familiar with and know how to apply; 2) making a point of interacting with other disciplines – this constitutes a research objective in itself; 3) acquiring a better understanding of the approaches and strengths of other disciplines so as to facilitate multidisciplinary dialogue and publications.

4One major contribution of this work is its well-argued plea for rigorous practice of social science methods. In the field of health it is particularly important for researchers to master methodologies (methods and their theoretical frameworks) because of the ineluctable confrontation between qualitative research approaches and the framework of biomedical thinking. For example, the importance of the notion of representativeness in that framework may lead those researchers to doubt the scientificity or robustness of the social sciences. Having solid knowledge of social science methodologies and epistemological foundations will prevent this and enable researchers doing qualitative studies to assert themselves as scientists both in the field and when writing up their findings. As the authors recall, doing social science of health through field studies and as part of a research team requires being well-versed in one’s own discipline; this is what will make it possible to interact constructively with practitioners of other disciplines.

  • Kivits Joëlle, Balard Frédéric, Fournier Cécile, Winance Myriam, 2016, Les recherches qualitatives en santé, Paris, Armand Colin, 329 p.
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