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The question of meaning-a momentous issue for qualitative research

Journal article
Authors Helena Dahlberg
Karin Dahlberg
Published in International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-Being
Volume 14
Issue 1
ISSN 1748-2623
Publication year 2019
Published at Institute of Health and Care Sciences
Language en
Keywords Qualitative research, meaning, content analysis, phenomenology, method, description, nursing-research, care
Subject categories Theory of science regarding care and nursing


In this article, we identify some worrying problems in the contemporary practice of qualitative research, such as the confusion regarding content and meaning in content analysis, the frequent use of standardized methods that avoids philosophy, as well as the description/interpretation dichotomy in empirical research. Since they all arise from a failure to understand the concept of meaning, we return to the question of meaning as the axis that qualitative research pivots around. We examine the meaning of meaning, and how meaning differs from content, and we then ask what consequences this has for research. Even though our analysis is rooted in phenomenological philosophy, we argue that that the ideas that we present are valid for any qualitative research approach. The question of understanding and relating to meaning, we argue, is a momentous issue for qualitative research, where we either continue safeguarding the very essence of qualitative research as dealing with human phenomena, or give it up in favor of more pragmatic and clear-cut methods that seemingly does away with the question of meaning.

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