Rethinking the empirical in higher education: post-qualitative inquiry as a less comfortable social science

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In recent years, ‘post-qualitative new empiricist’ research has been gaining ground. Such work questions the humanist ontological and epistemological orientation of much mainstream qualitative inquiry and insists on the need to take into account the more-and-other-than-human. Post-qualitative research draws on an eclectic range of theories as a means to reformulate the methodological assumptions on which humanist research rests. In doing so, it problematizes key aspects of the research process–the objects of inquiry, methods used to produce ‘data’, what ‘data’ is, coding as a practice of meaning-making, and the formal conventions of academic article writing for journal publication. Given the relative unfamiliarity of post-qualitative inquiry, this article provides an introduction to its methodological and theoretical terrain. The article has three aims: first, to provide an overview of post-qualitative new empiricisms and outline its five key foci; second, to put to work three theoretical approaches–Jane Bennett’s ‘thing-power’, Graham Harman’s object-oriented ontology and Karen Barad’s agential realism–via a specific example, as a means to formulate some empirical starting points for post-qualitative work in higher education; and third, to assess the promise of post-qualitative inquiry in rethinking the empirical more broadly.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)311-324
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Research and Method in Education
Issue number3
Early online date16 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2017


  • agential realism
  • empirical
  • methodology
  • object-oriented ontology
  • Post-qualitative
  • thing-power

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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