Objectivity and reliability in qualitative analysis: realist, contextualist and radical constructionist epistemologies

Br J Psychol. 2000 Feb;91 ( Pt 1):1-20. doi: 10.1348/000712600161646.


The effect of the individual analyst on research findings can create a credibility problem for qualitative approaches from the perspective of evaluative criteria utilized in quantitative psychology. This paper explicates the ways in which objectivity and reliability are understood in qualitative analysis conducted from within three distinct epistemological frameworks: realism, contextual constructionism, and radical constructionism. It is argued that quality criteria utilized in quantitative psychology are appropriate to the evaluation of qualitative analysis only to the extent that it is conducted within a naive or scientific realist framework. The discussion is illustrated with reference to the comparison of two independent grounded theory analyses of identical material. An implication of this illustration is to identify the potential to develop a radical constructionist strand of grounded theory.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Knowledge*
  • Psychometrics
  • Psychotherapy / standards*
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Research Design