Naturalistic Inquiry in Theory and Practice
Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 39(1), 87- 125, February 2010
Lonnie Athens, D.Crim
Criminal Justice Program
Herbert Blumer sought to develop “naturalistic inquiry” to provide sociologists, especially those who subscribe to the perspective known as “symbolic interactionism,” with an alternative methodology to positivism for them to use in their research. Since Blumer died before he could complete the job, an attempt is made to finish the work that he left undone on the method of naturalistic inquiry along the lines originally envisioned by him. Among other things, more details are provided to help researchers to carry out the two stages of naturalistic inquiry that he identified: “exploration” and “inspection.” A third stage, confirmation, is also added to the method. Although Blumer described naturalistic inquiry only in theory, it is described here both in theory and actual practice, which is essential to make the method more understandable to others. In addition to providing a more complete statement of naturalistic inquiry, the ideas that he drew on to develop the method are revealed. Several myths surrounding the method and the grounded theories that can be potentially developed from using it are also exposed. Finally, the case is made that naturalistic inquiry occupies a relatively unique position in the social sciences.