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A realist approach to thematic analysis: making sense of qualitative data through experiential, inferential and dispositional themes
journal contributionposted on 24.11.2021, 16:56 by Gareth WiltshireGareth Wiltshire, Noora Ronkainen
Thematic analysis (TA) is the most widely used method for analysing qualitative data. Recent debates, highlighting the binary distinctions between reflexive TA grounded within the qualitative paradigm and codebook TA with neo-positivist orientations, have emphasized the existence of numerous tensions that researchers must navigate to produce coherent and rigorous research. This article attempts to resolve some of these tensions through developing an approach to TA underpinned by realist philosophy of science. Focusing on interview data, we propose the use of three types of themes (experiential, inferential and dispositional) and the use of corresponding validity indicators (empirical adequacy, ontological plausibility and explanatory power). Using an illustrative example, we outline the conceptual foundations of a realist approach to TA and present recommendations for conducting it in practice. This approach, we claim, reconciles several existing binaries between distinctive types of TA by incorporating the contributions of both for the development of different types of themes.
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