Friday, 2 April 2021


I read a new term the other day: methodolatry (Bazeley, 2021). It was coined by Valerie Janesick (1994, 2000), a portmanteau word of methodology and idolatry, meaning:

"a preoccupation with selecting and defending methods to the exclusion of the actual substance of the story being told. Methodolatry is the slavish attachment and devotion to method that [... may overtake the research]. In my lifetime I have witnessed an almost constant obsession with the trinity of validity, reliability, and generalizability" (1994, p. 215)

"at its worst [, it] is found in the cases of survey researchers who throw out survey responses that don’t match the answers they are looking for in order that they might do the only statistical techniques they were taught (and this is aside from the ethical issues raised by such practices)" (2000, p. 390).

Ouch. Methodolatry is a great term: instead of letting form follow function, wedging the function into the form. It can be tempting to do that. We need to understand our ontology and epistemology. We need to have performed a broad literature review to understand what other researchers have done in the field. We need to be guided by the voices of experts, but not confined by them. We need to let our data, our research question, our 'natural' inclinations, and our skills lead our methods.

I was also interested in was Janesick's mention of validity, reliability and generalisability: three quality measures which don't really apply to qualitative data. However, Janesick further explores these, saying:

  1. Validity: "a set of technical microdefinitions of which the reader is most likely well aware. Validity in qualitative research has to do with [...] is the explanation credible?" (1994, p. 2016). Janesick draws on Donmoyer (1990) in suggesting that the likelihood of only one "correct" meaning is pretty thin.
  2. Reliability: Janesick implies that it is reliability which is verified by either participant or independent data cross-checks. While she thinks this is useful in publicly funded research, she doesn't think that these checks add any value to research (1994).
  3. Generalisability: Again, drawing on Donmoyer, Janesick (1994) says that generalisability is a flawed principle in qualitative research, but does not explain further. Donmoyer (1990, p. 178) suggests that "human action is constructed, not caused, and that to expect Newton-like generalizations describing human action [...] is to engage in a process akin to 'waiting for Godot'." Generalisability turns on focus: social science qualitative research focuses on a few carefully interrogated cases; physical sciences focus on many. "Determining where a particular leaf would land when it falls off a tree would be a task no less complex" (p. 178) for physical scientists than for social scientists... except the physical scientist is not interested in the leaf, but in the forest.

This last point may be why some researchers avoid the word generalisability, instead using 'trustworthiness' as a marker within qualitative research (Denzin & Lincoln, 2018). Some also vehemently oppose the change (Bazeley, 2021; Morse, 2015).

A topic for another day!



  • Bazeley, P. (2021). Qualitative Data Analysis: Practical strategies (2nd ed.). SAGE Publication Ltd.
  • Denzin, N. K. & Lincoln, Y. S. (Eds.) (2018). The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research (5th ed.). SAGE Publications, Inc.
  • Donmoyer, R. (1990). Generalizability and the single case study. In E. W. Eisner & A. Peshkin (Eds.), Qualitative inquiry in education: The continuing debate (pp. 175-200). Teachers College Press.
  • Janesick, V. J. (1994). Chapter 12: The Dance of Qualitative Research Design: Metaphor, Methodolatry, and Meaning. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.) The SAGE handbook of qualitative research (1st ed., pp. 209–219). SAGE Publications, Inc.
  • Janesick, V. J. (2000). Chapter 13: The choreography of qualitative research design: Minuets, improvisations, and crystallization. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.) The SAGE handbook of qualitative research (2nd ed., pp. 397–400). SAGE Publications, Inc.
  • Morse, J. M. (2015). Analytic strategies and sample size. Qualitative Health Research, 25(10), 1317-1318.

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