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EDUC.6922: Qualitative Research Methods for Practitioner Scholars

What is a framework?

Underlying any research is a structure of ideas and understandings. Some of these are so universal that they are implied rather than described explicitly in the research. Other ideas are philosophical (theories or concepts) that need to be explained in order for the research to be fully understood. If the research project is intended to explore data to construct a new theory of understanding, the researcher may not want to set forth a framework of understanding ahead of time, but instead will wait to see where the data leads. Savin-Baden and Major devote Chapter 9 to parsing the various views about theoretical and conceptual frameworks. Here, I'll give examples. 

1. In advertising, success depends on the advertiser's understanding that there is a relationship between the speaker, the audience, and the message. An advertisement for women's body wash features a model purported to look "real" with a message that the product empowers women. An advertisement for teen boys' body wash features a cartoonishly sexy model with a message that using this product will attract girls. In both cases, the advertiser is using the theoretical framework (ethos and pathos) set forth in classical rhetoric by Aristotle in the 4th century B.C.E. The theory is the prediction that the company will sell more body wash by establishing each model's credibility as a desirable person and appealing to specific customers' emotions. The theoretical framework is the model of understanding (classical rhetoric) informing the advertiser's assumptions.

  • How deeply do you need to consider theories and theoretical frameworks?
    • The advertiser surely understands the theory but may not state it outright and may not understand the theoretical framework on which it is based.
    • A researcher engaging in sociological research about gendered advertising should be able to articulate the theory and also understand the theoretical framework. Researchers disagree about the extent to which theoretical frameworks should inform or guide the research.

2. Economist Amartya Sen proposed the "capability approach" in apportioning resources. Rather than distributing resources equally, Sen's concept described apportioning resources based on what individuals need to achieve the capability they find valuable. For example, if one person needs transportation but another does not, it makes little sense to provide both with intermittent transportation; the relevant consideration is the individual's ability to turn resources into meaningful activities or freedoms. Martha Nussbaum applied Sen's conceptual framework to her philosophical work on disability (among other topics).  

  • How deeply do you need to consider concepts and conceptual frameworks? 
    • A scholar writing about Nussbaum's philosophy should understand and cite Sen's conceptual framework. 
    • A researcher developing additional theories about other applications for the capability approach concept should develop a conceptual framework situating the study alongside the existing concepts and literature. 

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