Ever since positivists applied physical science methods to social science research there has been a struggle to address those aspects of the human condition that need not just counting but understanding. Social scientists produce data but what is not generally understood is that this information demands interpretation-its meaning is not self-evident. Taking a lesson from hermeneutics, critical teacher researchers understand that the meaning of data is inseparable from human inscription and socio-cultural context. Qualitative research is dedicated to the study of this process of human meaning making. As long as educational researchers base their inquiries on concepts with such diverse meanings as, say, intelligence, qualitative judgment will (or at least should) remain a central concern of educational research (Holland and Mansell, 1983; Howe, 1985; Denzin and Lincoln, 2000).
Qualitative research is distinguished from quantitative research in that quantitative research is concerned with frequency while qualitative research is concerned with abstract characteristics of events. Qualitative researchers maintain that many natural properties cannot be expressed in quantitative terms-indeed, they will lose their reality if expressed simply in terms of frequency. Knowledge of human beings involves the understanding of qualities which cannot be described through the exclusive use of numbers. As qualitative researchers direct their attention to the meanings given to events by participants, they come to understand more than what a list of descriptions or a table of statistics could support. When positivistic researchers focus inquiry exclusively on a quantitative dimension, research in the social sciences is narrowed to those aspects which lend themselves to numerical expression. Instead of focusing on a student's disposition toward learning, her creativity, or hard-to-measure dimensions of genius, positivistic educational research will instead direct its energy to achievement-an operationally defined achievement based on standardized tests at that (Popkewitz, 1981a; Willers, 1987; Kincheloe and Well, 2001).