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Approaches to Qualitative Research in Mathematics Education

Angelika Bikner-Ahsbahs, Christine Knipping, and Norma Presmeg, editors
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
Advances in Mathematics Education
[Reviewed by
Woong Lim
, on

Over the last twenty years, qualitative research has fought hard to earn legitimacy as opposed to the critical eyes of the positivist approach. Slowly these have emerged as complementary paradigms of scientific inquiry. It is still not uncommon, however, for colleagues and students to ridicule qualitative research methods as being loose, unscientific, or illegitimate. Approaches to Qualitative Research in Mathematics Education: Examples of Methodology and Methods is a clever gift for the skeptics who believe that pursuing truth is only possible through traditional empirical research.

In the book are 19 total chapters that cover the theories and methodologies of qualitative inquiry for research in mathematics education. Each chapter includes an abstract, keywords, sections and references. Together they cohesively showcase the variety of theories and methods within the broad framework of qualitative research and focus on connecting theories and research methods along with rich research examples. The theories and methods covered in the book include grounded theory, ideal type construction, theory of argumentation, the Vygotskian semiotic approach, networking of theories, mixed methods, multilevel analysis, qualitative content analysis, triangulation, and design-based research.

The book is too thick to be read in several days, but this is not a bad thing. Still, I doubt that the book can serve as an effective text for undergraduate students. Given the academic and technical nature of this book, it will better serve doctoral students in mathematics education, particularly students interested in examples of theoretical framework, design, and methods for qualitative study; as well as mathematics education researchers interested in gaining a current snapshot of advanced qualitative methodologies in the field.

It should be noted that each chapter stands alone: the chapters are neither interconnected nor presented in sequence. So readers may search for theories or methods in the subject index and read their chapters of interest. The author index is useful as well. For example, I was interested in how students develop abstract knowledge in the mathematics classroom. I searched the subject index and found an entry for abstractions, which led me to Chapter 8, titled “The Nested Epistemic Actions Model for Abstraction in Context.” The abstract for the chapter stated, “abstraction in context is a theoretical framework for studying students; processes of constructing abstract mathematical knowledge as it occurs in a context that includes specific mathematical, curricular and social components as well as a particular learning environment (p.185).” I was hooked and kept reading. The chapter provided an outline of the theoretical framework of Abstraction in Context, background information on the methodology, and a detailed account of how the theory and methodology supported one another in research design along with findings and analysis.

The work of the contributors inspires researchers in the field of mathematics education to replicate the studies and, more importantly, creates opportunities to further reflect on the ways theories inform qualitative research designs and methods. Whether the editors meant to achieve this or not, one thing is clear from reading the collective scholarly work: the book offers endless possibilities for our field to pursue truth beyond statistical significance in the phenomena of teaching and learning mathematics.

Woong Lim ( is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education at University of New Mexico. His research interests include interrelations between language and mathematics, content knowledge for teaching, and social justice issues in mathematics education.