research can provide much more robust information than is available
through surveys, controlled experiments, or other quantitative methods
of data analysis. However, for a variety of reasons, quantitative
research methods remain the primary means for data collection in
criminology research. This paper examines the ratio of quantitative
to qualitative research and offers several explanations for an imbalance
that strongly favors quantitative research.
can be difficult to clearly define qualitative and quantitative research.
For the purposes of this paper we will adopt very simple definitions.
We will define quantitative research as that which seeks to reduce
events or phenomena to a set of numbers which can be statistically
manipulated. We will further limit our definition through reference
to the methods used, primarily survey based data collection and experiments
in which researchers attempt to limit the effects of spurious variables.
In contrast, qualitative research includes a wider variety of techniques.
For the purpose of this paper we will limit our examples, and much
of the discussion, to attempts to collect data through the use of
relatively unstructured interviews. Data, to the qualitative researcher,
consists of words, subjective observations, and in many cases documents
collected in the course of interviews and observations.
researchers report results based on data that is very different from
that used by the quantitative researcher. This difference is not
indicative of quality, in reality, many of the classic works in the
field of criminology have used qualitative methods. Many researchers
have developed very clear understandings of crime and justice issues
by asking questions of those involved in the criminal justice process.
As the title of this paper suggests, "why don't we just ask?" There
is no clear indication that interview data is consistently inferior
to quantitative data, that the results of qualitative analysis are
somehow less helpful in our efforts to understand the crime and justice,
or that quantitative methods provide advantages related to quality.
quality is accepted, we see significant quantity differences, as
indicated by the number of quantitative works relative to those that
rely on qualitative methods. At this time it appears that the field
of criminology,2 at least as it is represented in major
journals, is failing to utilize the full variety of research tools
available. Reasons for this apparent underutilization are discussed
Related Sources of Resistance
is an active field of research. Much work is being completed and
published. At this time I will make no effort to assess the quality
of that research. Instead, the focus will be the quantity of qualitative
versus qualitative research published between 1990 and 1996. It may
seem ironic that I use quantitative methods to suggest that more
quantitative research is needed. This is done in light of two realities,
each of which is related to the themes presented in this paper.
it can be difficult to assess the quality of criminal justice research.
Some of this research is clearly superior to the majority, other
research is clearly situated at the other end of the spectrum. My
reluctance to assess quality is related to the fact that I believe
much quantitative research is uninteresting, uninspiring, and not
particularly helpful in our quest for understanding. In looking at
the research that is nearer the middle of the spectrum, my assessment
of quality may be biased. This reality becomes associated with the
theme of this paper when we consider the fact that others are more
than willing to assess quality. In particular, editors and senior
faculty. Those who evaluate research for publication may suffer from
a bias that is the opposite of mine. This bias may lead to a high
ratio of quantitative to qualitative research. Similarly, a bias
against qualitative research may also become apparent in the tenure
second reason for using a rather simplistic method of quantity measurement
is related to time. A qualitative assessment of the body of criminology
research would be very time consuming and would involve a significant
use of resources. A quantitative assessment involves a simple count
of articles in major journals. This can be accomplished by reliance
on a research assistant who is willing and able to complete the legwork,
although limited in mindwork, that is needed to compile this count.
Researchers who are under tenure clock pressure may not have the
resources needed to complete a time consuming qualitative research
project, especially if that project may be less likely to be published
or be taken seriously in the tenure review process. This cost benefit
analysis may lead to reduced efforts in the area of qualitative research.
an effort to assess the ratio of quantitative to qualitative research
key criminology publications, along with several other major journals
in which criminology papers frequently appear, were reviewed for
this research. Review of articles published from 1990 to 1996 included
a brief examination of the methods used, rejection of articles that
were commentary or purely theoretical in nature, and categorization
of those that included a clear research design. Quantitative research
methods were used in a majority of the articles. Seventeen percent
of the research based articles in Justice Quarterly used
qualitative methodologies. Articles published in Criminology used
qualitative methods 4 percent of the time, in Crime and Delinquency these
methods were used in 11 percent of the articles. The numbers were
similar in journals that publish in wider topic areas. Of those articles
with a criminology focus, 10 percent of those published in the American
Sociological Review relied on qualitative methods. Criminology
oriented papers published in the Law and Society Review used
qualitative methods 13 percent of the time, while 29 percent of the
criminology papers published in Social Problems relied on
mentioned above, the low ratio of qualitative to quantitative research
articles may be related to bias on the part of reviewers. This bias,
if it exist, may be related to several factors. Reviewers may be
skeptical about qualitative methods, believing that these methods
are "unscientific" (Toch, 1987). This distrust leads reviewers to
quickly discount the merits of research that relies on qualitative
data collection. Another factor is related to the experiences of
those who become reviewers. Perhaps those who become editors and
reviewers are in a position of editorial review based in part on
their publication track record. If the numbers above are any indication,
this track record is most likely heavily weighted toward quantitative
research. This bias could be reduced through an editor's efforts
to include reviewers with a wider range of research methods expertise.
However, editors and editorial boards, in an effort to assist in
the development of a "scientific" discipline, may be reluctant to
encourage articles that some may perceive as lacking in scientific
publication issue is related to the tenure process. If we are under
the mistaken belief that "science" and "quantitative" necessarily
go hand in hand, faculty who are involved in an often confusing and
rigorous tenure quest may be reluctant to direct their resources
toward qualitative research. Negatives related to publication potential
and fears of a negative reaction on the part of senior faculty may
lead researchers toward quantitative methods. Time concerns are also
related to a reluctance to work on qualitative research projects.
Young faculty, armed with the knowledge that publication may occur
a considerable time after an article is submitted, may not want to
delay submission by engaging in a lengthy research project.
Related Sources of Resistance
to qualitative research can come from within the field of criminology
in ways not directly related to publication. Critical criminologists
have been among the most active proponents of qualitative methods.
This appears to be related to several issues. First, critical criminologists
do not accept the proposition that all research must be value free.
In fact, they will most likely assert that the majority of the discipline
is fooled to the extent that they believe quantitative research is
value free. Escaping the belief in value free research allows the
researcher to chose from a wider range of methods. While this may
not impress "old school" tenure review boards, it can be liberating
to the researcher, who is able to reduce, or openly acknowledge,
the bias that may be present in his or her research.
second reason critical criminologists may choose to avoid quantitative
research is related to issues regarding the discipline's collective
knowledge of crime and justice. Quantitative methods are most helpful
in a situation where you are attempting to expand on existing knowledge.
In short, you understand an issue well enough to know what questions
to include and what data to collected. The critical criminologist
is looking for new, and presumably clearer, understandings of crime
and related issues. The idea that we know the issues well enough
to limit our investigation is unacceptable to the critical criminologist.
I personally feel this is unfortunate, the critical criminologist
may not be the best spokesperson for qualitative methods. While the
message is logical and clear, it is being presented from within a
section of criminology that many do not take seriously. A message
presented from a marginalized source is less likely to become mainstream.
If critical criminologists are the only producers and consumers of
qualitative research, these methods are further separated from the "mainstream." Discipline
related resistance is apparent to the critical criminologist, and
is apparent in areas far broader than the methods we use to gather
and analyze data.
stated above, this paper is being prepared for presentation at the
annual conference of the American Society of Criminology. Many of
us have been to these and similar meetings in the past. How often
have you been present in well attended sessions where the majority
of the presentation involved overheads that summarize the complex
statistical analysis of quantitative data? In an obvious departure
from neutrality, I am predicting that as I present this paper much
better attendance can be expected in sessions where quantitative
data is being shared with others. Is the presentation of quantitative
data the dominant means of professional communication at these meetings?
If this is the case, either real or perceived, should faculty and
other researchers who are attempting to show their work, develop
working relationships with others, and earn a reputation among peers
do so with work that may appear to be less than scientific? Many
will choose the path of least resistance. At this time, this path
includes quantitative research methods and statistical data analysis.
Resistance to Qualitative Methods
major source of resistance to qualitative methods is the increasing
influence of Institutional Review Boards (IRB's). The institution,
in fear of lawsuits, encourages research that is removed from actual
human contact. Universities are concerned with researchers as well
as the people or issues these researchers are attempting to understand.
Research conducted by students can pose unique issues (Wright and
Stein, 1996) that IRB's take very seriously. Research directed at
certain populations can also be problematic. For example, educational
institutions may have strict rules against contact with prisoners.
This is clearly not a positive development for researchers with specialties
in corrections. In reality, the effects of IRB's are much broader.
Criminology research will be very limited if forced to proceed in
a sterile, risk free environment. The qualitative interview is especially
problematic if the goal is to speak with gang members, juvenile offenders,
assault victims, or any real humans who have experience with real
issues. The public is increasing led to believe that contact with
certain individuals is inherently dangerous. This belief increases
the chance that IRB's will react negatively to any effort to interact
with these individuals in a meaningful way.
source of educational resistance is related to the teaching of research
methods. In the past, criminologists learned research methods in
many ways. For example, many of us learned research methods as presented
within sociology departments. These courses often included clear
presentations of qualitative methods. We may have even had an opportunity
to take courses that were entirely devoted to qualitative methods.
Today, as criminal justice is becoming a distinct field of inquiry
and education, we are teaching methods within departments with a
narrower focus. This narrow focus, combined with a faculty that is
often much smaller than that of many sociology departments, may lead
to a narrowing of educational requirements and options. This chance
is apparent when we consider that just 1 of 29 criminal justice doctoral
programs requires a course in qualitative methods (DiChristina, 1997).
research has become an option in criminal justice education. This
may be related to the changing nature of criminal justice education.
While my goal is not to comment on free standing criminal justice
departments, it is clear that these departments may not have the
resources necessary for multiple courses in research methods. A related
issue is that a number of texts are now being written specifically
for criminal justice methods courses. These texts are often arranged
in a way that allows the professor to omit the chapter (if that)
in which qualitative methods are discussed.
number of criminal justice research methods textbooks were reviewed
for this paper. In general, coverage of qualitative methods is very
limited in these texts. The discussion is usually focused on definition
rather than on an effort to encourage the development of qualitative
research skills. Hagen was one of the first to write a methods book
specifically for criminal justice students. His text, now available
in a 4th edition (1997), includes chapters on interviewing and participant
observation. The chapter on interviewing is of little help to those
interested in teaching or learning the skills necessary to become
an effective interviewer. Open-ended or unstructured interviews are
discussed in less than two pages. The majority of cites on these
pages are over 20 years old. Hagen writes that "such interviews are
excellent for hypothesis-gathering or exploratory research" (1997:166,
quoting a 1956 publication). In the 3rd edition, Hagen writes that "open-ended
items may present a tabulation nightmare, but provide the qualitative
detail and complexity of response that may be required, particularly
if the subject of study is little known" (1993:157). As other disciplines
began to embrace the use of qualitative methods they moved beyond
the "interviews as preliminary legwork" view of unstructured interviews.
Criminal justice research, at least as presented by Hagen, has not
reached this stage.
majority of Hagen's discussion, like the authors of many of these
texts, is limited to the use of structured interviews. Much of the
chapter is devoted to a discussion of the National Crime Survey.
The word "qualitative" does not appear in the subject index of Hagen's
textbook. Maxfield and Babbie's (1995) text is similar in its coverage.
Interviews are discussed in the chapter on surveys. Interview data
is intended to be reduced to quantitative data. Maxfield and Babbie
also include a chapter on field research. "Qualitative" is not included
in the index and does not appear to be used in the text. Fitzgerald
and Cox (1994) also fail to use the term. One page of their text
discussed unstructured interviews, like the others, the discussion
is definitional rather than instructive.
(1994) and Senese (1997) provide a more thorough discussion of qualitative
research methods. Taylor includes a chapter on qualitative field
research. The chapter is helpful and includes several examples of
qualitative research. However, the discussion of unstructured interviews
is very limited. In fact, in the subject index, the word "interview" tells
the reader to "see surveys" (1994:369). Senese, in a new addition
to the criminal justice research methods textbook market, provides
a relatively thorough chapter on qualitative data analysis. Although
a major improvement over the other textbooks, the chapter still seems
like a bit of an "add-on" that is not fully integrated with the remainder
of the text. His text includes information on computer aided qualitative
data analysis, a topic that is not mentioned in any of the other
texts. Like the other textbooks, discussion of interviews is limited
to structured interviews in all chapters but the one devoted to qualitative
(1993) provides the most complete coverage of interviews. His chapter
provides good examples of in depth interviews and provides helpful
information to researchers interested in attempting to sharpen their
interviewing skills. Much of the chapter is devoted to discussion
of the advantages and disadvantages of interviews in criminal justice
research. While Champion's coverage of the qualitative interview
is limited, his coverage is not likely to discourage the student
with interests in this type of data collection. A negative regarding
Champion's coverage is that he, like the other authors, presents
this material in a context in which qualitative methods receive a
great deal of attention. Four of the 17 chapters in his book are
devoted to statistical analysis of quantitative data.
is becoming increasingly technological to many of these authors.
Phone interviewing, random dialing, computerized data input and analysis,
and other recent innovations are discussed. Unstructured interviews
are seldom mentioned and are not taught. The focus on structure,
technology, and efficiency runs counter to the dominant themes offered
in methods texts used by other disciplines. In light of the fact
that there is no evidence that qualitative methods are inappropriate
for criminal justice research, it is unfortunate that criminal justice
education is so far behind the learning curve.
textbooks fail to provide students will a well rounded introduction
to qualitative methods. This failure is especially apparent in the
area of unstructured interviews. The minimal coverage is likely to
lead students to conclude that unstructured interviews are not among
the skills necessary in an effort to more thoroughly understand the
criminal justice system. After reviewing these texts, it should come
as no surprise that many criminologists have failed to develop a
well rounded repertoire of research methods skills.
interrelated sources of resistance to qualitative research have been
examined in this paper. Publication issues, the discipline of criminology,
and the education system can each serve to limit the use of qualitative
research methods. Each of these sources is active in a circular process
which further reduces the use of qualitative methods.
which is clearly related to the discipline as well as education,
appears to favor the quantitative researcher. The researcher who
works toward publication is likely to be aware of obstacles that
he or she will face if qualitative methods are chosen. These obstacles,
related to time, tenure, and the odds of publication, each favor
the selection of quantitative research methods. As tenure requirements
become more demanding, and competition for publication and tenure
grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to publish in the "top journals." If
researchers believe, whether correct or not, that publication is
more likely if certain research methods are used, he or she is likely
to choose the favored methods. DiChristina writes that quantitative
knowledge "may continue to be emphasized despite its acknowledged
limitations because this kind of knowledge sells, but it sells largely
because it is emphasized" (1997:191).
discipline, as reflected in its publications, meetings, and attitudes
toward certain modes of inquiry (whether theoretical or methodological)
also appears to discourage qualitative research. Is criminology moving
away from face to face contact with individuals who happen to have
become embroiled in our system of justice? If criminology becomes
increasingly separated from the people and issues it seeks to understand,
the chance of real knowledge is diminished. Educational sources of
resistance also lead to the creation of a circular process in which
a move toward increased use of qualitative methods becomes unlikely.
Limited coverage of qualitative methods, often presented as an afterthought
in a textbook overflowing with quantitative methods, may leave the
impression that good science generally includes statistics. As a
result, students reject qualitative methods. Many of these students,
lacking in qualitative research skills, will become professors. Their
ability to teach a variety of research strategies is limited by their
education and experience. These future professors may be tempted
to skip the easily detachable chapter on qualitative methods. As
a result of limited experience and knowledge, few of them will feel
comfortable supplementing the text in an effort to provide a thorough
introduction to qualitative research methods.
(1953) talked with jazz musicians who happened to be marijuana users.
This led to an understanding of learning that applies to many "deviant" or "criminal" behaviors.
Scully and Marolla (1984) interviewed rapists and taught us about
the motives, excuses, and justifications that men use to explain
the sexual abuse of women. Lynch (1983) instructed his students to
interview people who have frequent contact with those defined as "crazy." The
result was an insightful description of the process through which "normal" is
socially constructed. Goldstein (1990) interviewed a number of "experts" on
delinquency, the "delinquents" themselves. Currie (1991) provides
a clear and compelling picture of the lives of young men and women
caught up in a culture of drug use. Currie's data was reported by
using the words of those interviewed.
these examples remind us, qualitative interviewing has clearly led
to the collection and reporting of very insightful information. Those
involved in our system of justice are experts in relation to the
effect their experiences have had on their lives. Criminologists
should be asking them about these experiences. If we remain in the
quantitative mode we fail to appreciate the personal, cultural, and
historical roots of these experiences and the system in which the
experiences occur. If we, as criminologists, expect to be fully involved
in the policy process we must make an effort to understand the real
world implications of our policies.
should look for opportunities to create a more balanced use of the
methods available to qualitative, as well as quantitative, researchers.
This effort is not likely to occur if we are unable to free ourselves
from the believe that good research includes statistics. Criminology
must begin to accept and teach qualitative methods in an effort to
minimize costs associated with their use. A strong argument can be
made that the benefits of qualitative research outweigh the costs.
Nevertheless, criminologists should take steps to reduce these costs
in an attempt to include real people in our efforts to understand
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