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Tacit cultural knowledge: An instrumental qualitative case study of mixed methods research in South Africa

Debra Rena Miller, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Notwithstanding the dramatic expansion of mixed methods research, research methodologies, methods, and findings are culturally situated. Problematically, studies conducted outside the global north often embrace canonical methodologies aimed at understanding concepts more explicit than tacit. Learning about the needs of researchers and participants in South Africa may bring to light taken-for-granted assumptions in Anglo-American orientations of mixed methods. Hence, the purpose of this study is to explore aspects of tacit cultural knowledge that contextualize mixed methods research in South Africa. In-person interviews among South African professors as well as a corpus of books, sections, journal articles, and theses informed the study. Narrative, thematic, and discursive analysis served to naturalistically generalize themes of the case and to approach an integrated crystallization of findings across data sources. Findings showed that research methodology in South Africa serves as a means to an end and requires relational ethics. Relational aspects of life require communicatively embedded collaborative approaches with time for minimally structured talk and storytelling in and across data collection events. Mixed methods studies face challenges of hybrid languages and styles with even educated participants displaying multiple forms of literacies. To deal with these realities, qualitative approaches dominate across studies of all approaches and in applications of mixed methods research. Whether asked by South African researchers or by external funders, research questions need to be contextually sensitive. Sensitive contexts require researchers to connect with both heart and mind in attempting to walk in participants’ shoes. Tacit cultural knowledge involves methodologies as political identities that lead to economically based knowledge. Recommendations for research in South Africa and beyond include allowing plans to flexibly change, basing approaches to ethics on unregimented trust, considering cultural expressions of doubt when probing, and implementing fewer studies to result in more meaningful data. Ultimately, this study contributes an overview of mixed methods research conducted in South Africa for researchers on the subcontinent, and contributes an understanding of how to handle extreme cultural contrasts within a given study for audiences in the global north and south.

Subject Area

African Studies|Social research|Epistemology

Recommended Citation

Miller, Debra Rena, "Tacit cultural knowledge: An instrumental qualitative case study of mixed methods research in South Africa" (2015). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3726260.