Rethinking validity in qualitative sport and exercise psychology research: a realist perspective

Noora Ronkainen, Gareth Wiltshire

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Abstract

Over the last two decades, the relativist approach has significantly shaped debates about the quality and rigour of qualitative research in sport and exercise psychology (SEP). In the absence of any published critiques of relativism in SEP, this paper problematises its central claims with a focus on the most recent contribution offered by Smith and McGannon (2018 Smith, B., & McGannon, K. R. (2018). Developing rigor in qualitative research: Problems and opportunities within sport and exercise psychology. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 11, 101–121. doi: 10.1080/1750984X.2017.1317357[Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®], , [Google Scholar]. Developing rigor in qualitative research: problems and opportunities within sport and exercise psychology. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 11, 101–121). Despite making valuable contributions to the advancement and acceptance of qualitative research, we argue that the relativist approach encounters numerous problems when attempting to reject the “anything goes” problem due to its fundamental ontological commitment to internal, multiple, mind-dependent realities. This paper then makes a constructive contribution to the field by offering an alternative position grounded in a realist understanding of validity. We first suggest that principles such as ontological plausibility, empirical adequacy and practical utility can re-orient both critical thinking and the use of practical techniques which can reduce threats to validity. Second, we suggest that Maxwell’s (1992. Understanding and validity in qualitative research. Harvard Educational Review, 62, 279–301) descriptive, interpretive and theoretical validity could be welcome concepts for qualitative researchers in SEP. The significance of this realist approach for researchers, reviewers and editors is discussed.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology
Early online date5 Jul 2019
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Jul 2019

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