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© 2020 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This chapter argues that some understanding of the main perspectives on the nature of the social world, and of the sort of knowledge that can be obtained through research about the social world, provides a solid foundation for good qualitative research. Having considered the broad philosophical foundations of research, encompassing how people understand the social world and how they can know about that world, the chapter discusses the role of theory in qualitative research. Theory is more likely to be used to inform decisions about data collection. Theory may also provide explanations for findings. This can be emergent and inductive as in Grounded Theory, but may also draw on existing theory such that the interpretations offered are theoretically informed. As well as drawing on theories about specific phenomena such as chronic illness or organisations, qualitative health research often makes use of higher-level social science theories, notably phenomenology, interactionism, constructionism, ethnomethodology, or critical theory.

Original publication





Book title

Qualitative Research in Health Care

Publication Date



15 - 26