Power relations in qualitative research

Qual Health Res. 2009 Feb;19(2):279-89. doi: 10.1177/1049732308329306.


This article focuses on the tensions between the commitment to power redistribution of the qualitative paradigm and the ethical and methodological complexity inherent in clinical research. Qualitative inquiry, in general, though there are significant variations between its different paradigms and traditions, proposes to reduce power differences and encourages disclosure and authenticity between researchers and participants. It clearly departs from the traditional conception of quantitative research, whereby the researcher is the ultimate source of authority and promotes the participants' equal participation in the research process. But it is precisely this admirable desire to democratize the research process, and the tendency to question traditional role boundaries, that raises multiple ethical dilemmas and serious methodological challenges. In this article, we offer a conceptual frame for addressing questions of power distribution in qualitative research through a developmental analysis of power relations across the different stages of the research process. We discuss ethical and methodological issues.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Power, Psychological*
  • Qualitative Research*
  • Researcher-Subject Relations*