The Chicago School Precedent
Lewis A. Friedland
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Kathryn B. Campbell
University of Oregon
The very term “qualitative research” implies that it is something set apart, defined by certain methods or approaches—that is, by particular “qualities. ” By implication, “qualitative research” is done in contrast to “quantitative research, ” which has its own rules for summing up social, psychological, and political life in numbers and equations. These assertions are more or less true, but they are also more or less beside the main point, at least the one we want to make in this chapter. Qualitative research, as practiced in the founding traditions of sociology at the University of Chicago, is defined not so much by how it goes about knowing, but how it defines what it wants to know about. That is to say, the goal of research in the Chicago tradition is to get as complete as possible an understanding of what is being studied, and that means always trying to understand the larger picture, or context.
Research in this tradition, called the Chicago School of sociology, often tries to look at whole communities—neighborhoods, social groups, or even big cities; occasionally, it tries to look at all of these at once in relation to each other. It is a kind of research that tries to understand people, their actions, and institutions in all of their complicated interactions with each other. Qualitative re-