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The Genetic Epistemologist

The Journal of the Jean Piaget Society

Volume 26, Number 2 (1998)

Genetic Epistemologist Homepage

Table of Contents:

  1. ADAPT: A Multidisciplinary Piagetian-based Program for College Freshmen (Robert Fuller)

  2. JPS Symposium 1999 - México

  3. 15th Advanced Course of the Archives Jean Piaget

  4. Call for Nominations to the JPS Board

  5. Reflections of a Closet Qualitative Researcher (Leon Kuczynski)

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a 2-part article by Robert G. Fuller describing his efforts at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln to create a program of instruction for college freshman based on Piagetian principles. The program ran from 1975 to 1997.

ADAPT: A Multidisciplinary Piagetian-based Program for College Freshmen

Robert G. Fuller

ADAPT Program Director and Professor of Physics
University of Nebraska—Lincoln

In the beginning

At 9:30 am, on Thursday, February 1, 1973, I was sitting in the Trianon Ballroom in the Hilton Hotel in New York City listening to a talk by John W. Renner on "Intellectual Development and Science Teaching", based on the work of Jean Piaget (Renner, 1972). During his discussion of how the world looked to a science student using concrete reasoning I had an "ah-ha" experience. When I got back to the UNL campus, I found out that Renner’s talk was based on his earlier paper in the American Journal of Physics, "Are Colleges Concerned With Intellectual Development?" (McKinnon & Renner, 1971). These two presentations of Piaget’s work by Professor Renner had convinced me that there was, in Piaget’s work, a way of understanding the inexplicable performances of college students in my physics courses. As I began to explore these ideas with other faculty, I discovered a small number of faculty members in other disciplines who were able to understand student difficulties within their disciplines in a similar manner. We decided to try to do something about it.

First, we needed to know more about the work of Piaget as it applied to college students. We invited John Renner (University of Oklahoma) and Robert Karplus (University of California, Berkeley) to our campus to give seminars on their understandings of Piaget’s work. We were also mentored by Carol Tomlinson-Keasey (UNL) who had done Ph.D. research on formal operations in high school women students, college women students and 54-year-old women (Tomlinson-Keasey, 1972). During 1974, we tried to envision what a Piagetian-based program for college students would be and we submitted a proposal for financial support to the Exxon Education Foundation under the title of "A Multidisciplinary Piagetian-based Program for College Freshmen." During that year, I served on a national committee of physics educators with Professor Karplus to create a workshop for physics teachers based on the work of Piaget. Both of those activities culminated in January, 1975. The Exxon Education Foundation funded our proposal for almost $100,000 and the Piaget workshop was first offered to physics teachers at a national meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) under the title "Workshop on Physics Teaching and the Development of Reasoning" (Karplus, et al., 1975).

It was immediately recognized that we could never recruit students for a program with the title of our project proposal. My suggestion of PABLUM (Piagetian-based Approach to Basic Learning by Undergraduate Members) had already been rejected by my faculty colleagues. The name of the program, ADAPT, by suggested by Jerry Petr, stood for "Accent on Developing Abstract Processes of Thought" and became the official name of the program in January, 1975.

During the spring semester of 1975, we studied Piaget together as a team under the leadership of Dr. Tomlinson-Keasey and were joined by Elizabeth Carpenter who had been using Piagetian-based methods to teach logic. We hosted a weekly public seminar for faculty in the student union building and took turns teaching a lesson in our discipline that we thought was based on Piagetian principles. We also broadened the AAPT materials into a workshop for all college faculty entitled "College Teaching and the Development of Reasoning" which we offered in March, 1975. Finally, we culminated our work together for the semester with a group trip to the Jean Piaget Society meeting in Philadelphia, where we heard Jean Piaget himself give a presentation on his latest work. Now we were ready to try our first year of teaching in a Piagetian-based program for college students.

Before describing the ADAPT program, I want to digress, from a years-later perspective, to suggest what I now think we got right in the beginning. Piaget’s work offered us some very powerful insights. First, as the Galileo of cognitive science, Piaget took seriously children’s "wrong" answers and he set up systematic, semi-clinical interviews of children. He wanted to see how they reasoned about nature and he then built a mental model to understand their reasoning. Today, perhaps, this does not seem very radical. But it went against everything we faculty knew as professionals. The whole of our training had focused on the content of our disciplines and getting that sorted out for ourselves before presenting that sorted out version of "reality" to the students so that they could grasp it as we did. There was no awareness in our professional training that students might come to our courses with their own pre-shaped version of "reality" and be somewhat reluctant to give that up to adopt our versions. The simple act of hearing students’ "wrong" answers and trying to figure out what that told us about how they were thinking about concepts in our discipline was a new task for all of us. But it was an essential act if we were to build learning experiences that were able to foster the intellectual growth of our students.

Second, Piaget’s affirmation, that every human being goes through stages in the development of logical thought toward a highest level that he called Formal Operations or what we came to call scientific reasoning, or if-then-therefore logic, can put students’ "wrong" answers in a new category. These answers can show the students as human beings who are evolving through the stages of mental development by a process Piaget called Self Regulation. What we found interesting was that many of the mistakes students make in college courses arise because they use concrete operations in situations that demand formal operations.

Third, Piaget’s discussion of self regulation as the process by which people grow from one stage of intellectual development to another was taken by Karplus and translated into a classroom instructional strategy which he called a "Learning Cycle" (Karplus, 1974). Karplus told us that he knew of no college programs that were trying to use the Learning Cycle approach to foster intellectual development by college students. So we decided to put together a college program that focused on self regulation rather than just content mastery and see if we could push college freshmen to develop the kind of advanced reasoning that is needed to do successful college work. Furthermore, we had the sense that the pushing would need to be done in more than one discipline if it were to be successful. Students needed to discover that formal operational reasoning can lead to success in humanities and social studies as well as in physics and mathematics. That was our goal.

Down from the mountain top

The ADAPT faculty had been to the mountain top (the Jean Piaget Society meeting in Philadelphia) and had heard the master (Piaget himself) speak. Now they had to return to Nebraska and spend the summer translating their understandings of Piagetian ideas into a college program for freshmen that would live up to the promises they had made in the brochures that had been mailed to about five thousand of the incoming students to recruit them for the program.

The ADAPT faculty, from the beginning, had a struggle to figure out how to describe the program to the entering students and their parents. The Piagetian framework that the faculty used to inform their curriculum and their teaching strategy seemed to them to have little, or perhaps negative, street value. High school seniors had little experience with alternative teaching and/or learning strategies. Parents and school councilors had only two categories for special programs, honors or remedial. In the following two pages are the first attempts by the ADAPT faculty to explain the program with integrity while still making the program attractive to freshmen students.

The paragraphs displayed in Figures 1 and 2 were taken from the brochure mailed to all prospective University of Nebraska-Lincoln freshmen. Forty students who expressed an interest in the ADAPT courses from the brochure were selected for the program. No attempt was made to select students on the basis of their previous school work or test scores. Rather, the program faculty wanted students in the program to be a representative cross section of the first year students coming to the University of Nebraska with no previous college experience.

Figure 1: Selections from the original ADAPT brochure to recruit students, 1975.


ADAPT is a special program designed for freshmen. It consists of special courses in various departments. Content from these courses is closely interwoven and makes maximum use of your own experience.

As an ADAPT student, you will work closely with experienced professors. Your classes will be much smaller than most freshman classes, and you will get to know your professors and your fellow students. Your advisor will be a member of the program so he will be able to discuss your program and goals with unusual understanding.

ADAPT men and women earn 15 credits each semester, like most full time freshmen. These a credits will apply to group requirements in the Arts and Science College and most other colleges, so that you will be prepared to go on to advanced courses. Your adviser will help you divide your credits among the English, Mathematics and Logic, Natural Science (including lab), and Social Sciences requirements.

At the end of your freshmen year you will be well on your way to satisfying the group requirements for the BA or BS degree.


ADAPT stands for Accent on Developing Abstract Processes of Thought. A program unique in the nation, ADAPT is a comprehensive and coordinated introduction to expectations of university-level work.

Since many freshmen throughout the nation experience some difficulty in meeting their own objectives in university work and are often unsure of their own potential and their career plans, the ADAPT courses will stress the students’ ability to develop sound reasoning skills while gaining information and insights into several major disciplines.

Persons who are exploring career opportunities as well as those who have already selected a major field will find the ADAPT program an ideal way to start their university education.

The ADAPT program is made possible by a grant from the Exxon Education Foundation. Exxon funds are only awarded to programs that hold promise of effective nationwide application. This program is another in a series of innovative educational programs at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Figure 2: Selections from the original ADAPT brochure to recruit students, 1975.


  • Explore many fields of study before starting on your chosen major.
  • Meet in small informal classes with experienced professors.
  • Be in close contact with faculty members interested in your performance and welfare.
  • Share several of your classes with some of the same students and get to know them personally.
  • Take courses that fit together and build toward a common educational goal.
  • Total academic work is evenly spread through-out the semester. This means that ADAPT men and women will never have several tests on the same day.


You may not necessarily find these courses listed in the various college catalogs, or the First Semester Schedule of Classes, since these classes are for ADAPT participants only.

ADAPT requires twenty hours of classwork each week. Everyone in the program takes these special ADAPT courses:

English 198D Anthropology 198D
History 197 Mathematics 198
Economics 198 Physics 198G

These courses apply to appropriate Group Requirements for graduation from most colleges in the university.

Specific registration instructions will be given after selection.

At the first meeting of the ADAPT classes, students were given a handout that contained the class schedule (see Figure 3) and stressed the interactive aspects of the ADAPT program:

"The ADAPT program stresses activity centered learning. Your involvement in the total variety of classroom experiences provided in this program is essential. Many of the ADAPT classes will begin topics with open-ended, flexible exploration experiences. On the basis of what you and your student colleagues learn from these exploration activities, the ADAPT instructors will help you invent definitions and concepts and apply them to new experiences. In order to benefit from the ADAPT program, you should plan to actively participate in all of the scheduled ADAPT classes and seminars."

Figure 3: Weekly schedule of the ADAPT Program, 1975.











































Phys Lab




Phys Lab







The ADAPT faculty met weekly for lunch and discussion. The social/collective effects of the program on the students became apparently almost immediately. The faculty had been concentrating so much on the cognitive development aspects of the program that its unique social dimensions had been overlooked.

From the beginning of the program, the ADAPT faculty were not committed to a specific curriculum. They saw themselves and the program as offering a different way of thinking about college teaching and learning. They resisted attempts by others to try ADAPT lessons to make an ADAPT course elsewhere. The workshop model was adopted as the primary dissemination mode.

In the early weeks much of the ADAPT course content was largely shaped by the traditional content imperatives of the various disciplines with a Karplus Learning Cycle process veneer. As the semesters progressed and the faculty developed a sense of how the students were and were not mastering essential reasoning patterns, the commitment to covering specific topics weakened. The course content shifted to serve the goals of intellectual development rather than content coverage. Certain sacred topics, such as vector mathematics in beginning physics, were dropped because of the inability of students to usefully master them. For example, after nine hours of hands-on laboratory experiences with vectors most of the students who could not understand them in the beginning, were still not able to use vectors effectively. Never had so many spent so much time on such a small concept and made so little gain. It seemed clear that certain topics required formal operations and did not lend themselves to fostering the growth of reasoning.

The ADAPT faculty had offered a workshop on "College Teaching and the Development of Reasoning" on the UNL campus in March, 1975. They got a chance to take the workshop on the road in January, 1976, when they offered it for the faculty at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans at the invitation of Professor J. W. Carmichael. It was the first of more than 100 workshops the faculty would subsequently lead.

At the end of the first year, thirty students had completed both semesters of the ADAPT program. They were evaluated on formal operational thought and conceptual complexity using a pre-posttest model and compared to a control group of freshmen. On both of these measures the ADAPT students showed growth over and above that typically seen during the freshmen year. (Tomlinson-Keasey, Williams, & Eisert, 1976).

A written test to measure proportional reasoning was developed. It also revealed significant gains by the ADAPT students when compared to other UNL students (Campbell, 1976). The ADAPT students on the posttest scored like typical seniors at UNL (see Figure 4).

The first year ended on an upbeat. The faculty and evaluators saw positive intellectual growth in comparison to typical first year students. The faculty had cooperated with Dr. J.W. Carmichael at Xavier University and Dr. T. C. Campbell at Illinois Central College. They both developed Piagetian-based programs at their institutions: the SOAR (Stress On Analytical Reasoning) program at Xavier; and the DOORS (Development Of Operational Reasoning Skills) at ICC.

Figure 4: Percentage of students using Formal, Transitional, and Concrete reasoning on Proportionality Tasks.


Campbell, T. C. (1976). Assessment of Proportional Reasoning of ADAPT and Other Students. ADAPT: A Piagetian-based Program for College Freshmen, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, pp. 121-126.

Karplus, R. (1974). Science Curriculum Improvement Study: Teachers Handbook. Lawrence Hall of Science, Berkeley, CA

Karplus, R., Collea, F., Fuller, R., Paldy, L, & Renner, J. (1975). Workshop on Physics Teaching and the Development of Reasoning. Presented at the meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers.

McKinnon, J. W. & Renner, J.W. (1971). Are colleges concerned with intellectual development? American Journal of Physics, 39, 1047.

Renner, J. W. (1972). Intellectual Development and Science Teaching. AAPT Announcer, Vol. 2, No. 4, 29.

Tomlinson-Keasey, C. A. (1976). Formal operations in females aged 11 to 54 years of age. Developmental Psychology, Vol. 6, 364.

Tomlinson-Keasey, C.A., Williams V. & Eisert, D. (1976). Evaluation Report of the First Year of the ADAPT Program. ADAPT: A Piagetian-based Program for College Freshmen, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, pp. 109-120.

ADAPT Faculty 1975-76

ELIZABETH T. CARPENTER, Department of Philosophy, Ph.D. Nebraska 1966
LESLIE C. DULY, Department of History, Ph.D. Duke 1965
ROBERT G. FULLER, Department of Physics, Ph.D. Illinois 1965
ROBERT D. NARVESON, Department of English, Ph.D. Chicago 1962
MARTIN Q. PETERSON, Department of Anthropology, Ph.D. Wisconsin 1969
JERRY L. PETR, Department of Economics, Ph.D. Indiana 1967
MELVIN C. THORNTON, Department of Mathematics, Ph.D. Illinois 1965
CAROL A. TOMLINSON-KEASEY, Dept. of Educational Psychology and Measurements, Ph.D. Berkeley 1970
VERNON G. WILLIAMS, Department of Educational Psychology and Department of History and Philosophy of Education, Ph.D. Michigan 1963

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JPS Symposium 1999 - México

The 29th Annual Symposium of the Jean Piaget Society will take place in México City, June 2-5, 1999 in the magnificent Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso founded around 1588 and located in the historical center of the city. The meetings will be held in the beautiful amphitheatre decorated by Diego Rivera's first mural. Plenary sessions will be in both English and Spanish with simultaneous translation. Proposals may be submitted in either language. There are many hotels available for the symposium in the historic center of the city in the vicinity of the cathedral, the Zocalo, and the excavations of the Temple Mayor of the Aztecs.

More information, including the Call for Program Proposals, can be found on the JPS web site <www.piaget.org>. The site also contains electronic submission forms. Information and submission forms are in both English and Spanish.

Scholars interested in the development of knowledge are invited to participate, whatever their discipline. The plenary sessions will be organized around a general theme, but individual proposals do not have to be related to that theme.

General Theme

The Development of Knowledge: Reductionist Mirages

Plenary presentations (in English and/or Spanish, with simultaneous translation) will have as their central theme the analysis of reductionistic tendencies in psychology, the neurosciences, linguistics, sociology, and other disciplines with emphasis on their epistemologic implications.

Submission Requirements

Proposals either in English or Spanish will be accepted. Electronic submissions are preferred. Such proposals should follow the format prescribed on the web site

Se invita a participar a todos los investigadores interesados en el desarrollo del conocimiento, cualquiera sea su disciplina. Las sesiones plenarias se organizan alrededor de un tema central, pero las propuestas individuales no necesitan estar relacionadas con este tema.

Tema Central

Desarrollo del conocimiento: espejismos reduccionistas

Las sesiones plenarias (en español y en inglés, con traducción simultánea) tendrán como tema central el análisis de las tendencias reduccionistas en psicología, neurociencias, lingüística, sociología y otras disciplinas con énfasis en sus implicaciones epistemológicas.

Requisitos para el envío de propuestas

Se aceptan propuestas en español o en inglés. Es deseable el envío de propuestas por vía electronica. Éstas deberán seguir el formato que se indica en la página

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Working with Piaget. In memoriam Bärbel Inhelder

15th Advanced Course of the Archives Jean Piaget

Geneva, September 21-24, 1998

The name of Bärbel Inhelder is generally associated with Jean Piaget, the founder of genetic epistemology. For about 40 years, Bärbel Inhelder collaborated with the "patron" providing him with an important part of the experimental data on which he built his theory. However, her specific and determinant contribution in the development of the Piagetian theory has not yet received the credit it deserves. Very few people know, for instance, that she was at the origin of the discovery of the stage of formal operations.

Her attachment and admiration for Piaget led her to create, in 1974, the Fondation Archives Jean Piaget, a research center, whose aim is to study Piagetian theory. It is within this framework that Bärbel Inhelder organized, for many years, a series of advanced courses for researchers and advanced students. Thus it is natural that, one year after her death, the Archives Jean Piaget have decided to honor her in their next course entitled: Working with Piaget. In memoriam. Bärbel Inhelder. This course aims at bringing to the fore Bärbel Inhelder’s works, not only the ones she co-authored with Piaget, but also all those, that were personal and have partly remained unknown. Following the chronological order of these works, the advanced course will deal with various topics such as conservation, mental handicap, perspective taking, formal thought, longitudinal and intercultural research, learning of cognitive structures and strategies in problem solving. The advanced course consists in a series of one hour conferences, followed by a 15 minute discussion. Each topic will be addressed by a researcher of international renown, who will highlight Bärbel Inhelder’s contribution, as well as the actual state of the domain. In addition, 4 workshops developing the different presentations of the conference will give the opportunity to the participants to discuss and exchange actively their ideas.

One afternoon will be devoted to posters presentations related with the various themes of the course. For the guidelines for poster presentations please contact the organizers. Deadline for poster submissions: April 30, 1998.

Tentative Programme

Trevor Bond, James Cook University of North Queensland, Australia. Formal operations: Inhelder’s psychology meets Piaget’s epistemology

Terrance Brown, Chicago, Jean Piaget Society, USA. The pragmatic subject: Inhelder’s particular contribution to our concept of the one who knows

Peter Bryant, Oxford University, Great Britain. Learning and cognitive development

Michael Chandler, Jean Piaget Society & University of British Columbia, Canada. Viewpoints and visual rhetoric: A reprise of Inhelder’s contributions to the perspective-taking literature

Wolfgang Edelstein, Max Planck Institut für Bildungsforschung, Berlin, Germany. Individual development and social structure: Longitudinal investigations

Ernst von Glasersfeld, University of Amherst, USA. Scheme theory as a key to the learning paradox

Patricia Greenfield, University of California at Los Angeles, USA

Howard Gruber, Columbia University, New York, USA

Marc Lejeune, Université de Liège, Belgium. From Piaget and Inhelder’s contribution to the study of mental image to recent developments (paper in French)

Benjamin Matalon, Université de Paris 8, France

Jean-Louis Paour, Université de Provence, France. From structural to functional "diagnosis": A dynamic conception of the mentally retarded (paper in French)

Anastasia Tryphon, Archives Jean Piaget, Université de Genève, Switzerland

Jacques Vonèche, Archives Jean Piaget, Université de Genève, Switzerland

Links to up-to-date information can be found on the JPS web site.

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Call for Nominations

Michael Chandler

Dear Colleagues:

This open letter is addressed to all Members (or friends) of the Jean Piaget Society, and is a request for your participation in the process by means of which new members are added to the Society’s Board of Directors.

Article V.2 of the BYLAWS OF THE JEAN PIAGET SOCIETY states that the Board’s Nominations Committee must "at the Fall meeting of the Board, nominate and post a slate of candidates for election to the Board of Directors at the annual meeting of members, present this slate to the Board of Directors for its endorsement, and notify the Secretary of the names of endorsed candidates for publication in the "Genetic Epistemologist" and Annual Meeting Agenda." According to past practices and existing procedures, the work of the Nominations Committee includes inviting all members of the Society to help identify persons who might serve as future Officers or Board members. The purpose of this message is to invite you to contribute to the process of arriving at a slate of such nominees to be voted upon in the Spring Meeting of the Society.

The Society’s current procedures for electing Board Members is as follows:

1. There are 15 elected members of the JPS Board of Directors, each serving a 3-year term. Five new members are elected each year. The vote occurs at the annual Members’ Meeting at the Spring Society conference (JPS Symposium).

2. The Board and President appoint a Nominating Committee each year, and that committee brings a list of suggested nominees to the Board, which chooses a slate from the list. That slate is put before the membership at the annual Members’ Meeting.

3. Members of the Society can also submit alternative slates to be voted on at the Members’ Meeting. To do so, one must obtain the signatures of at least 25 members and submit them to the Secretary at least seven days before the annual meeting.

If you would like to participate in this nomination process would you please send to me:

1. A list (annotated if you wish) of names of persons that you feel would make appropriate additions to the Board; and

2. Any comments or suggestions you might have about the Board’s existing procedures for nominating and/or electing new Officers or Board members.

If you would like your nominations, suggestions or comments to be seen by everyone on the Piaget-list, send them to <piaget-list@unixg.ubc.ca>. Please be alert to the fact that the confidentiality of comments circulated on such a "list server" can not be guaranteed. If you would like to send your nominations and suggestions only to me as Chair of this year’s Nominations Committee, then send them to my mailing or E-Mail address as listed below.

Thank you for your helpfulness,

Michael Chandler
President, The Jean Piaget Society
Dept. of Psychology
University of British Columbia
Vancouver,BC, Canada, V6T 1Z4

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Reflections of a Closet Qualitative Researcher

Leon Kuczynski

I write this as a developmental psychologist who has had to struggle with the nature of his identity as a researcher. The "closet" part of the title, of course, is an analogy for the experience of identity discovery and its public disclosure or non disclosure. The analogy fits my experience as a researcher who is also interested in developing theory. My principal methods are direct observation of parent-child interaction in naturalistic settings and also interviews of parents and children about their reactions to and interpretations of each other's behavior. My research has passed for good quantitative work because I count categories and I perform statistics on them. But all is not as it seems. Although I have enjoyed the fruits of the my identity as a quantitative researcher ("He's quantitative ... he's O.K"), I have become increasingly aware that my identity may be fraudulent. This is because I attribute my best work to the fact that I am qualitative at heart (don't pass it around).

This insight into my being was very slow to develop, in part, because my training was in positivist research. I just never knew that there was any other way to be. For many years I did my work, and disseminated it thinking that I WAS positivist. I was mostly fine in print publications...I knew how to write quantitative. But when I talked about how I conceptualized my research process or how I got my categories, I would sometimes get puzzled reactions.. Sometimes people would say: "Sounds kinda hermeneutic to me".

I experienced a crisis of sorts when I joined an interdisciplinary department and first heard the word "qualitative". I went to a qualitative workshop and then I read Glasser and Strauss and both times I experienced a frisson of the familiar! I asked myself: "How is this different from the way I do my work?" Oh, sure, I count and they don't. But is counting really what its all about? After all, fundamentally, "we" all do the same thing....we create categories out of naturalistic data. We create... theory. The interesting and exciting thing....is that in this department they talked openly about HOW they constructed categories . In my discipline they never told us where categories came from... and our journal editors prefer that we be discrete about the origins of the categories that we present. And theories were especially mysterious. (They always were and they always will be.)

But I still feel rejected even in this interdisciplinary environment, again, because of surface appearances. After creating categories inductively from the observations and interviews that I obtained from my participants ...I go on to count and they don't. I get abuse for this aspect of my work. Behind my back I hear ... "numerologist"... "quantophrenic"..."postpositivist". But I don't care.

In my own heart I know what I am with the certainty that comes from having to figure it out myself. I think that it is the culture, the social sciences, that is confused about what constitutes "qualitative". Many believe that they can tell a qualitative researcher from the appearance of his or her results section. The presence or absence of numbers is what they judge by. I think that the results section is a skin deep indicator that only has to do with how one chooses to represent one's work. I believe that how one chooses to describe the products of the research process has everything to do with the purposes of the research such as whether it is meant to be nomothetic, generalizable research, or idiographic, transferable research. I believe that how one chooses to represent one's data has to be distinguished from the essence of qualitative research.

And what is the essence of the qualitative identity?.....It's the inductive theory construction, ...stupid! It involves staying close to people's behavior as it occurs in the real world or to their reports of their lived experiences and relationships or how they think about things and then making meaning from those data by generating categories, models ...even theory. Sometimes, when I hear "qualitative" researchers talk as if their identity depended on not counting, I think to myself that I am more qualitative than they are! (Don't pass it around).

Now, that I am aware of who I am and what it is to be one, I am beginning to notice that there are colleagues in my discipline who also pass for quantitative but maybe, essentially, are not. They mostly have not come out and said it outright but there are tell tail signs in their writings... Something about how they talk about theory.

For example, Overton (1991, 1997), talks about the recursive cycle of knowing where theory, concepts, experiments, observations, along with metaphors and world views flow in a continual cycle of induction and deduction or, retroduction. Valsiner and Branco (1997) talk about the dialectical relationship between theories on the one hand and the data construction process on the other. Vuchinich Vuchinich & Coughlin (1992) write about the importance of integrating deductive and inductive paradigms. They say that qualitative methodology begins with naturalistic observations and induces general principles and, ultimately, theory from them. They also slyly point the finger at Piaget and Freud and imply that they, too, induced their concepts from naturalistic observational and interview data!

But the most revealing example is from a "how to" book on observational methods by Bakeman and Gottman (1986). These are two highly respected quantitative researchers whose book is all about quantifying observations, conditional probabilities in sequential analysis and calculating reliabilities and other numbers. The giveaway, I think, is a quote from their chapter on Developing Coding Schemes. "...sometimes we hear people ask: Do you have a coding scheme I can borrow? This seems to us a little like wearing someone else's underwear. Developing a coding scheme is very much a theoretical act, one that should begin in the privacy of one's own study, and the coding scheme represents a hypothesis, even if it is rarely treated as such. "( p 19). Whew!

I am also beginning to hint at my identity and that of my colleague in a small way. In a recent chapter (Kuczynski & Lollis, in press) we make a plea for developmental researchers to use qualitative methods more systematically in their analysis of interviews as a way of fostering new theory construction in parenting research. We note that the transformation of the field of child development since the 1970's can mostly be attributed to the qualitative aspect of observational methods and the time has come to do the same for parent and child cognitions.

Maybe, someday, we can all talk about what it really means to be qualitative and the essence of who we are. (But right now....don't pass it around.)


Bakeman R. & Gottman, J. M. (1986). Observing Interaction: An Introduction to Sequential Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge Univeristy Press.

Kuczynski, L., Harach, L.& Cortese, S.(in press) Psychology's child meets sociology's child: Agency, power and influence in parent-child relations. In (C. Shehan, Ed) Through the Eyes of the Child: Revisioning Children as Active Agents of Family Life. JAI Press.

Kuczynski, L. & Lollis, S. (in press). Four foundations for a dynamic model of parenting. In J. R.M. Gerris (Ed.) Dynamics of Parenting. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Overton, W. F. ( 1991). Metaphor, Recursive Systems, and paradox in science and developmental theory. Advances in Child Development (pp.59-71). Academic Press.

Overton. W. F. (1997). Developmental psychology: philosophy, concepts, and methodology. In R.M. Lerner (Ed.) Handbook of Child Psychology. Volume 1: Theoretical Models of Human Development. (pp 107-188). N.Y:John Wiley & Sons.

Valsiner, J. & Branco, A. U. (1997). Changing Methodologies: A co-constructivist study of goal orientations in social interactions. Psychology and Developing Societies, 9, 1. Sage Publications.

Vuchinich, S. Vuchinich, R. & Couglin, C. (1992). Family talk and parent-child relationships: toward integrating deductive and inductive paradigms. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly. 38, 69-93.

Address for correspondence:

Leon Kuczynski, Professor
Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition
College of Social and Applied Human Sciences
University of Guelph
Guelph, Ontario, Canada N1G 2W1

Reprinted with permission from Kuczynski, L. (1998). Reflections of a closet qualitative researcher. Qualitative Family Research. Special Issue on the Relationship between Qualitative Research and Theory. (Kerry Daly, editor). 11(3/4) 7-10.

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