Objective: In this article, I want to promote theoretical awareness and commitment among qualitative researchers in general practice and suggest adequate and feasible theoretical approaches.
Approach: I discuss different theoretical aspects of qualitative research and present the basic foundations of the interpretative paradigm. Associations between paradigms, philosophies, methodologies and methods are examined and different strategies for theoretical commitment presented. Finally, I discuss the impact of theory for interpretation and the development of general practice knowledge.
Main points: A scientific theory is a consistent and soundly based set of assumptions about a specific aspect of the world, predicting or explaining a phenomenon. Qualitative research is situated in an interpretative paradigm where notions about particular human experiences in context are recognized from different subject positions. Basic theoretical features from the philosophy of science explain why and how this is different from positivism. Reflexivity, including theoretical awareness and consistency, demonstrates interpretative assumptions, accounting for situated knowledge. Different types of theoretical commitment in qualitative analysis are presented, emphasizing substantive theories to sharpen the interpretative focus. Such approaches are clearly within reach for a general practice researcher contributing to clinical practice by doing more than summarizing what the participants talked about, without trying to become a philosopher.
Conclusions: Qualitative studies from general practice deserve stronger theoretical awareness and commitment than what is currently established. Persistent attention to and respect for the distinctive domain of knowledge and practice where the research deliveries are targeted is necessary to choose adequate theoretical endeavours.
Keywords: Qualitative research; general practice; interpretation; methods; philosophy; theory.
© 2015 the Nordic Societies of Public Health.