Dissolving Dualisms: How Two Positivists Engaged With Non-Positivist Qualitative Methodology

  • Carolyn Oliver School of Social Work University of British Columbia
  • Susan Nesbit Department of Civil Engineering University of British Columbia
  • Niamh Kelly Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine University of British Columbia


This is the story of how a chemical engineer and a medical microbiologist overcame their positivist training and deeply held disciplinary attitudes to engage with non-positivist qualitative methodology. Through a series of facilitated reflections they explored what helped and hindered their transition from positivist to non-positivist inquiry. To move forward they needed to acknowledge the extent and nature of the transition they were making, find metaphors to dissolve troubling dualisms, and balance a desire to reach out to others with the need to manage the very real sense of vulnerability that came with embracing subjectivity. Their experiences suggest that pragmatism may be a useful bridging framework for the growing number of academics from the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines turning to qualitative methodologists for help to move beyond positivist research.

Author Biography

Carolyn Oliver, School of Social Work University of British Columbia
I am a social worker, currently teaching, researching and completing a PhD in Social Work at the University of British Columbia. Recent published papers address critical realist grounded theory, the relationship between symbolic interactionism and interpretive description, and social work education. My interests lie in child welfare work, the development of professional identity and interdisciplinary practice.