The term ‘qualitative research’ is an umbrella concept that encompasses many different forms of inquiry and methodological practices that frame ‘reality’ and science as being critically mediated by human interpretation and meaning, by language and discourses, by socio-political processes, institutions and social structures, and by the positionality of the researcher. Qualitative research aims to understand and explain phenomena and their interrelationships in non-numeric terms, and variously incorporates such data collection and analysis methods as observation, individual and group interviewing, textual and visual data analysis. This form of inquiry depends primarily on matters of quality than quantity (e.g., an in-depth understanding of the form and nature of a phenomenon rather than its frequency, regularity or distribution).
The term ‘critical’ refers to the capacity to inquire ‘against the grain’: to question the conceptual and theoretical bases of knowledge and method, to ask questions that go beyond prevailing assumptions and understandings, and to acknowledge the role of power and social position in health-related phenomena. The notion includes self-critique, a critical posture vis a vis qualitative inquiry itself.