On the Relevance of Qualitative Methods for Ergonomics

Hancock, P.A., & Szalma, J.L. (2004). On the relevance of qualitative methods for ergonomics. Theoretical Issues in Ergonomic Science5(6), 499-506.

The application of qualitative methods to ergonomics research and practice offers us a new window on the nature of the interaction between humans and technology. The method discussed by Hignett and Wilson (2004) exemplifies this potential by applying their method to explicate the attitudes of practitioners and academic researchers toward qualitative methodology itself. Their specific findings, however, may be due in part to differences between the institutional structures in which they work as well as the attitudes of the specific individuals surveyed. Here, we offer a commentary on their work and reinforce the importance of qualitative research in ergonomics, while discussing the philosophical empirical, and theoretical issues raised by the introduction of these methods. We conclude that the fundamental problems inherent in qualitative approaches are limitations on quantitative methods also, being inherent to all forms of observation. While supportive of the general thesis proposed and especially appreciative of the authors’ focus on purpose, we point to the problem of integrating different orders of knowledge as a significant barrier to future progress towards a comprehensive theory for ergonomics.

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