Crossing Boundaries in Qualitative Research—Towards an Empirical Reflexivity of Qualitative Methods in Germany and the United States

Stephanie Bethmann, Debora Niermann


In this article a comparison between processes of knowledge construction in qualitative research is drawn between Germany and the United States. Based on preliminary research findings, we propose a distinction between two ideal types of research practices—engaging and observing—that differ along the lines of closeness and distance towards the subject under study. Both closeness and distance are conceptualized not as inner mindsets of the researcher or as rigorously different national styles, but rather as the outcome of practices that are grounded in respective national research routines, conventions, conditions, and epistemologies. While both interactional patterns are rooted in American pragmatist thought, we discuss striking national differences in methodological references to this philosophy: In Germany, epistemological implications of American pragmatism are central to methodological debate. In contrast, in the US the political implications of an intellectual activism implied in American pragmatism are of greater importance. We close the article by arguing for an empirically grounded reflexivity in qualitative research.



sociology of scientific knowledge; ethnography; grounded theory methodology; qualitative methods; analysis; American pragmatism; epistemology; scientific common sense; reflexivity; Germany; USA


Copyright (c) 2015 Stephanie Bethmann, Debora Niermann

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