Approaching the Conceptual Leap in Qualitative Research
This paper reviews the literature on an important but mysterious phenomenon in qualitative research methodology: the conceptual leap that generates abstract theoretical ideas from empirical data. Drawing on epistemological, prescriptive and reflexive writings, conceptual leaps are described as constituted by both ‘seeing’ and ‘articulating’, as grounded in abductive reasoning, and as part of an ongoing dialectical process. Methods for approaching conceptual leaps and the conditions for their realization are discussed in the context of four dialectic tensions: between deliberation and serendipity, between engagement and detachment, between knowing and not knowing, and between self-expression and social connection. The literature review suggests that conceptual leaping is best portrayed as a form of bricolage, drawing resources from the different poles of the four dialectics. Moreover, written and verbal communication play important roles in enabling synthesis. The paper concludes by calling for greater openness and legitimacy for reflexive accounts, as well as further research into the process of discovery in qualitative research.