The epistemology of qualitative research into sport: ethical and erotetic?

Graham McFee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The paper urges that researches into the social scientific aspects of sport centrally depend on distinctive epistemological assumptions, ignored at researchers’ peril. Given the ‘question‐and‐answer’ (i.e. erotetic) relation between research questions and research methods in sport, ‘qualitative research’ into sport is best recognised as research dealing with persons viewed as persons. But such interpersonal conceptions automatically import an ethical dimension; and much of this research will involve a degree of covertness. How can such research designs be accommodated, given the scientism prevalent in sports studies? As an epistemological argument, the presentation is largely given abstractly. One part of that argument lies in recognising just how pervasive such scientism is: even an explicit rejection of scientism (fuelled by postmodernism, perhaps) can still take its bearings from a scientistic account of truth – that is what is being denied! Further, such denial can seem to be a rejection of the concept of truth. But the search for truth is fundamental to any research worth the name. So a second part articulates a conception of human truth. Such a conception can be given a philosophical underpinning by a particularist contextualism, although this is merely sketched in the paper. A third consideration lays out the distinctiveness of this account of truth, highlighting its appropriateness to social research, given its congruence with the picture of ‘research into persons’ from which the paper began.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)297-311
Number of pages15
JournalQualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2009


  • epistemology
  • erotetic
  • naturalistic
  • scientism
  • postmodernism
  • evidence
  • finite totality


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