Broadly, there are two approaches in collection of information for research purposes in social sciences: qualitative research and quantitative research. Quantitative research originated in the natural sciences such as chemistry, physics, biology, geology and others, and focused on investigating things the researcher could observe and measure in some way. Evidently, applicability of this approach to social science research was rather limited: social world is impossible to objectively measure in the same way as natural world.
Researchers working in the social sciences such as psychology, sociology, anthropology and others were interested in studying behaviour of human beings and various aspects of the social world inhabited by people. Attempts to explain human behaviour in simply measurable terms had only partial success: although measurements obtained with the help of quantitative research told researchers how often human beings demonstrate some or other type of behaviour or how often certain social phenomenon occur, no quantitative research could determine why people demonstrate such behaviour or why things in social world occurred in some specific way. Qualitative research is an effective alternative to find the answer to this question.
Qualitative research is defined as "multimethod in focus, involving an interpretive, naturalistic approach to its subject matter" (Denzin and Lincoln, 1994: 2). Qualitative research is based upon a solid philosophical basis which includes a number of paradigms. Theorists outline four major philosophical paradigms that formed the basis of qualitative approach in social sciences: positivism, postpositivism, critical theory, and constructivism (Guba and Lincoln, 1994).
Positivist philosophy founded by a famous French theorist A. Konte played exceptionally important role in development of qualitative research. Positivists argued that the objective reality did not depend upon the perspectives of taken by researchers. Consequently, there is no difference between reality and perception of reality, and the primary task of researchers is to disclose facts of the objective world. This paradigm is present in a diluted form in some qualitative research.
Postpositivist philosophy is a contemporary modification of Konte's positivism. Adherents of this paradigm claim that human being is not capable of perfect and comprehensive understanding of reality admitting that serious analysis and accurate collection of information can bring the researcher close to such understanding. Postpositivism exerts substantial influence on qualitative research (Shaw, 1999: 45-47).
Critical paradigm emerged in the second half of the last century in Germany. Proponents of this paradigm argued that reality could not be grasped without researcher's bias that is caused by historical, political, societal, ethnic, or gender conditions. Consequently, realisation of social conditions and values should be the primary purpose of research (Harvey, 1990). Critical ethnography, feminist research and participatory action research are the best known methods within qualitative approach which rely upon the critical paradigm.
And finally representatives of constructivist paradigm claimed that reality was not possible to study and understand 'in pieces', but only holistically and in context. Therefore, the traditional relationship between researcher and subject of research was labelled