Challenging relativism: The problem of assessment criteria

Hammersley, Martyn (2009). Challenging relativism: The problem of assessment criteria. Qualitative Inquiry, 15(1) pp. 3–29.



This article raises serious questions about the relativist approach to assessing qualitative research that has been championed by John K. Smith and various colleagues. They reject not just empiricism but also what they refer to as "neorealism." Against both these positions, they advance an antirealist, anti-ontological argument to the effect that we should not assume the reality of social phenomena as existing independently of our knowledge claims about them; insist that assessing the value of research findings is always a practical matter, rather than an issue of method; and claim that we must abandon epistemic in favor of moral criteria in assessing social research. On the basis of detailed scrutiny of their arguments, it is shown that neither the critique of neorealism they present nor the alternative approach they recommend is coherent or convincing.

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